If an irresponsible teenager repeatedly crashed his car into a tree whenever he had a few beers, we would never say his accidents were “unexpected.” Rather, they would be foreseeable consequences of driving while drinking. Similarly, we shouldn’t let journalists get away with describing as “unexpected” the foreseeable negative consequences of bad government policies.
Blogger Glenn Reynolds recently highlighted numerous examples of the media’s increasingly frequent use of “unexpected” to describe bad economic news. Unemployment “unexpectedly” rose despite federal “stimulus.” Home sales “unexpectedly” fell despite taxpayer bailouts. ER visits unexpectedly rose in Massachusetts despite RomneyCare. Similarly, the Pundit Press blog has rounded-up dozens of examples of such “unexpected” developments since January 2011.
However, the fact that such government interventions necessarily stifle economic progress is not news. Volumes have been written on this topic. The “natural laboratories” of East Germany vs. West Germany, North Korea vs. South Korea, and communist China vs. Hong Kong amply illustrated the principle that whenever government forcibly thwarted people from furthering their happiness and their lives, the result was misery and death.
The same phenomenon can be observed in the natural laboratories within the United States. Economist Mark Perry has described how businesses are leaving California in “record numbers” for states like Texas that offer greater freedom from burdensome regulations. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that 37% of all net new American jobs since the recovery began were created in Texas.
Similarly, when the Mercatus Center released its 2011 Index of Economic and Personal Freedom ranking all 50 U.S. states, they noted two interesting facts. First, economic freedom correlated with income growth. Second, Americans “voted with their feet” and moved from states with less freedom to states with more freedom.
Ordinary Americans understand the link between freedom and prosperity. So why do so many well-educated journalists and pundits persist in describing the Obama administration’s foreseeable economic failures as “unexpected”?
Although some conspiracy theorists may believe this is a deliberate ploy by media and political elites to destroy America from within, the actual answer is worse. The problem is not a willful desire to destroy America but rather a willful blindness to the facts.
If a driver noticed that the real-world landmarks no longer matched his GPS map, he would take it as a wake-up call that his GPS unit was malfunctioning. (Tragically, every year a few motorists choose to ignore their eyes and instead continue blindly following their computer maps, resulting in what is now called “death by GPS.”)
Similarly, the repeated occurrence of “unexpected” economic news should serve as a wake-up call to supporters of increased government control over the economy. In the words of Ayn Rand, they should “check their premises.” The “unexpected” is reality’s way of telling them they should stop relying on their faulty map of bad leftist economic theories. Otherwise, America may soon face the economic equivalent of “death by GPS,” as is already unfolding in countries like Greece.
Unfortunately, too many journalists and pundits prefer to dismiss inconvenient facts that don’t fit their preconceived theories, thus abdicating their professional responsibility to report and analyze the truth to their best ability. If a doctor treated his patients with the discredited medieval medical practices of leeches and bloodletting, we would not let him off the hook simply because he later claimed his patients’ deaths were “unexpected.” Neither should we let journalists and pundits off the hook who insist on characterizing each new failure of discredited economic theories as “unexpected” or an “anomaly” or “misfortune.”
As writer Robert Heinlein once wryly observed:
Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as “bad luck.”
President Obama claimed that he wanted the country to hold an “adult conversation” about our economic future. If so, the first step will be to hold newsmen and pundits to responsible adult standards of reporting, rather than letting them get away with the journalistic equivalent of driving like drunken teenagers.