Book-Cooking with Extra Salsa

Lately, governments have sought to seem more fiscally responsible by re-confabulating how they calculate a measure of economy-wide economic strength called Gross Domestic Product. (The principle involved is ancient. It’s been denominated “fudging.”)

One of the crassest number-jugglers is the Italian government.

Italy wants to comply with a European Union demand that it limit debt to 2.6% of GDP. If the country’s GDP is statistically fattened by using looser rules for calculating it, then debt as percentage of GDP becomes magically “lower” — as a statistical percentage. Italian politicians can lurch to waste more money while still fetching EU handouts.

A year ago, the American fedgov was guilty of similar fudging when it statistically padded our GDP by $500 billion.

Statistical aggregates like GDP entail much guesswork and many dubious assumptions to begin with. For one thing, why is government spending — including that huge portion that dampens or destroys economic production — included in a calculation supposedly measuring economic value?  (A better indicator of general economic strength, Gross Output, hasn’t quite caught on yet. And I don’t expect those highest up in government to push it.)

The purpose of the number-tweaking by Italy, the U.S. and other governments is hardly to improve or amend or salvage whatever is conceivably salvageable in the original number-crunching. The purpose is to disguise bad policies.

But jiggering with how the impact of awful policies is guesstimated in order to better to hide their consequences won’t erase the awfulness of those policies. And curtailing or ending awful policies can be done entirely without peering into statistic-stoked crystal balls.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Video: America, the Very Idea

From Dinesh D’Souza’s new movie, now in theaters:

Townhall: Torpedoing P2P?

Things are about to change for the better. The only thing that is standing in the way is pig-headed government.

Over at Townhall, a revolution is considered. Back here, the intellectual ammunition is provided:

When the State Spanks Parents

Be a parent, go to jail?

Should it be normal for parents to get arrested for making normal parental decisions — just because someone else believes it’s a mistake?

I’m not talking about demonstrable child abuse. I’m talking about the kind of decisions Radley Balko cites in a column on “the criminalization of parenthood.”

In one case, a South Carolina working mom was jailed for “unlawful conduct toward a child” — for letting her nine-year-old play in a well-attended park while she worked at McDonald’s. Social services took the child.

In another case, an Ohio father faces six months in jail because, unbeknownst to him, his eight-year-old son skipped church to play with friends in the neighborhood.

In a third, an Illinois woman was arrested for leaving a stubborn eight-year-old in her car for a few minutes while she dashed into a store.

We may disagree with what the parents did here (to the extent they could have done anything different). But arrest? Jail?

For six months?

One minute?

In the world that these incidents prefigure, the only way for parents to be “safe” in using our judgment will be to stop using it.

This would be life under the tyranny of “experts” and busybodies: to always project what the most skittish and punitive “authority” would require — and to do that instead of what we ourselves consider appropriate given all relevant, sometimes difficult circumstances.

Final question: What lesson does this brave new regime teach the children?

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Legislators, Tramps and Thieves

In the closing days of Arkansas’s 2013 legislative session, solons of the Natural State surreptitiously voted to put a measure on the state ballot, without fanfare or ballyhoo.

Five months later, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette finally noticed what happened, and published an editorial, “Outrage of the Year.’ It has just been reprinted. The outrage hasn’t changed. The measure would extend time in office “for state representatives from 6 to 16 years and for state senators from 8 to 16 years.”

But what an Arkansan will read on the ballot seems a tad different: “An Amendment Regulating Contributions to Candidates for State or Local Office, Barring Gifts From Lobbyists to Certain State Officials, Providing for Setting Salaries of Certain State Officials, and Setting Term Limits for Members of the General Assembly.”

“Setting” term limits? No sir. Term limits, already set by voters, would be drastically weakened.

But the good people of Arkansas are beginning to hear the good news, the truth, thanks to the campaign being waged by Arkansas Term Limits against what will be “Issue 3” on the ballot.

The group is led by Bob Porto and my brother, Tim Jacob, who are traveling the state speaking to audiences. Not surprisingly, the people are shocked and angered upon hearing the manifest fraud their representatives are perpetrating.

At a recent talk, Jacob called it “an attempt to deceive the voters,” noting “they have done it on purpose.”

Yet another argument for strict term limits . . . and fully informed voters.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Grading on the Progressive Curve

It used to be a joke.

Tom Lehrer made it about his military experience. “One of the many fine things (one has to admit) is the way that the Army has carried the American democratic ideal to its logical conclusion … not only do they prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed and color, but also on the grounds of ability.”

Now it’s becoming reality. At least at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

A fairly recent set of directives from the august institution’s faculty senate called for “proportional participation of historically underrepresented racial-ethnic groups at all levels of an institution, including high status special programs, high-demand majors, and in the distribution of grades.”

We’re told that these goals were buried in a huge document, and the academics who approved it may not have known what they were approving, exactly.

Sounds like they’re ready for Washington, DC, where lack of reading skills can be compensated for by spin skills.

The idea that the thing to be achieved is some sort of demographic microcosm of the social macrocosm, proportioned at all levels, doesn’t hold water. Apparently, if 5 percent of the population were Lower Slobovian, the institution simply must mirror that five percent in its ranks.

Including a proportion of Slobovians getting high grades.

Whether this “proportionality” means what Katherine Timpf says it means — “good grades should be distributed equally among students of different races” — I don’t know.

But I do know the standards being scuttled here: ability, achievement, merit.

It’s obvious: trendy, “progressive-minded” academics and activists have so little sense of proportion (and so little sense of humor) that they can’t tell when their earnest efforts are themselves nothing more than jokes.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Google Mugged By Reality?

Google says health care is unhealthy.

Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla has conducted what he calls a “fireside chat” with Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. In one much-cited passage, Brin observes that although he is excited about making gadgets like glucose-measuring contact lenses, health care, because “so heavily regulated,” is “just a painful business to be in. It’s not necessarily how I want to spend my time. . . . [T]he regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that I think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs.” Page echoes his colleague.

A blunt, and fair, observation. But it makes one wonder why these super-entrepreneurs have not been more critical (at least so far as their search engine can tell me) of Obamacare, which multiplies mandates and prohibitions in the medical industry by an order of magnitude.

Top Google executives are known to be liberal in their politics, and presumably have been sincere. It seems, though, that reality is not cooperating with any ideological tilt they may yet harbor in favor of government paternalism.

It’s in fields with which a businessman is best acquainted that he is most likely to recognize the value of freedom — at least his own, if not always that of competitors. So perhaps we should hope that Brin, Page and other Google principals try to achieve something great in every industry there is. That way, they can come around to consistent, principled support for freeing markets.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.