Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lies, Damn Lies and CTV

A highschool friend posted this CTV "news" report on facebook (yes I caved, and joined a couple of months ago). If CTV had bothered to read beyond the conclusions of the "study" that concludes Canadian public services are a "bargain", they'd have reached this little gem (emphasis mine):

It should be emphasized at the outset that by virtue of our use of Statistics Canada’s government expenditure data as the basis for the analysis, we are following the convention in public accounting of valuing public services at their cost. To the extent that public programs are supported by a cost-benefit analysis, our implicit assumption is that the net benefit from public services is zero — an extremely conservative assumption.
So to paraphrase - every dollar spent by government is a dollar well spent on services worth at least a dollar - and this is an "extremely conservative assumption"! As lies goes, they don't get much more baldfaced than this. Turn it around, and you would call this, more appropriately, a study of the overwhelming size of government spending and the encroachment of government services thrust on people that they may not want, need or see as valuable enough to pay for it themselves.

The report also includes all government spending including sewage, quasi-public utilities and the public pension system and attempts to boil it down into average spending per capita by economic group. Never mind for instance, that nearly a third of federal spending, is in the form of provincial transfer payments (taking money from supposedly rich provinces to poor ones).

Words like value and worth are bandied about ad nauseum but you would think that people who supposedly studied economics (or even those with IQs higher than room temperature) would realize that value and worth are not established in a vacuum. If you replaced every instance of the words "worth" and "value" with "expense" and "costs" the report might only be marginally more accurate. Governments aren't creators of value - they are destroyers of it. While Canadians are often warm and fuzzy types who like to defer to government, but ask them specifically as to services that they have received and it's a different matter. A better (and more amusing) analogy on the role of government in value creation comes [via] Sissy Willis (via Instapundit):
Zombies are dead creatures that don't produce anything and must devour the lives of others, even though once everyone becomes a zombie, there'll be nothing left for anyone to eat. Government is exactly the same. It doesn't start businesses, it doesn't create wealth, it doesn't invent anything. It devours all the stuff that you make.

You bar the door against property tax, they come in through a sales tax. You board the windows against income tax, they reach in through an energy tax.

Now, there are some differences between the movie zombies and the government kind. In the movie the zombies didn't try to tell their victims that being devoured was good for them … or, my favorite, let me devour your flesh because I know how to use it better than you do.
Of course don't tell CTV's newsdesk that even quotes the authors of the report as saying "for the vast majority of Canada's population, public services are, to put it bluntly, the best deal they are ever going to get". For the sake of all Canadians, I certainly hope that's not the case. I can also only assume this means the authors accept all prices at face value and never consider alternatives.

I'm not sure if this is a greater indictment of a public union funded organization that plays fast and loose with the facts, or CTV for reporting it bereft of any form of critical thought/analysis. Should CTV ultimately fail, may this report serve reminder that despite whatever CTV's newsdesk's fantasies may be, they forgot Canadians have choice and they went in search for quality and accurate news elsewhere.

Update: As Sissy notes in the comments, the quote is from Andrew Klavan, but I'm glad she picked up on it!


Sissy Willis said...

Thanks for the link. I'm hoping Andrew Klavan's bit will be widely promulgated. It could open a few sleepy eyes out there. :-)

Clement Wan said...

Thanks for dropping by! I definitely like the Zombie analogy :). Congrats on the instalanche!