Lie by Numbers

Folks in government regularly lie with statistics.

A ReasonTV interview by historian Thaddeus Russell of Maggie McNeill, a former sex worker, illustrates this well. Russell quoted a U.S. State Department website that claims there are presently “up to 27 million slaves in the world,” and asked Ms. McNeill where that number on “human trafficking” came from.

An expert at a UN conference concocted the startling figure from a complex formula based on government reporting, his own arbitrary compensation for likely under-reporting, and extra points thrown in for media coverage.

Not scientific. At all. “When you are using media reports in the middle of a panic,” McNeill argues, “your numbers are going to keep increasing.”

Further, she notes that there is no way to know the real number of sex workers, voluntary or enslaved — the very fact of prostitution’s illegality not unreasonably engenders distrust amongst sex workers in medical as well as police officials.

“Stand up and be counted” appears ominous when “counted” really means “jailed.”

Human trafficking numbers are also over-estimated because government officials tend to define all criminal sex work as involuntary, lumping call girls, escorts and streetwalkers in with actual sex slaves. The argument, of course, is that voluntary sex workers are “victims”; their decisions downgraded on a theoretical level — because of disapproval.

Sure, they are all “victims” in some sense. (A preacher could marshal the argument better than I.) But there remains a difference between a person who goes into an illegal trade seeking a comparative advantage, and somebody kidnapped, imprisoned, and threatened to do the work.

Recognizing such distinctions makes for better public policies than fuzzing them up.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Mercy as a Calling

The cause of immigration reform hit a huge speed bump in recent weeks, with the arrival at the border of thousands upon thousands of children from war-torn Central America.

War-torn? Yes. Gangs — micro-governments in the olden style — fed by drug money have turned the Latin American states to our south into war zones, alas not too dissimilar to the gang warfare that beset some of our great American cities.

Only worse.

No wonder the people in those countries are scared, and desperate. “Coyotes” are taking advantage of U.S. politicians’ inability to secure the border, or even cook up a coherent immigration policy, and charge large amounts of money to transport children to “safety” in the U.S.

Where they are gathered and detained.

In the midst of all the partisan bickering — a legitimate clash of ideologies, really — stands one hero: Glenn Beck. While President Obama avoids the border crisis as if avoidance solves problems, radio/TV/Internet sensation Beck is taking his trucks and buses and volunteers directly to the area Obama avoids, the detention centers and surrounding cities and churches.

He’s taking food, clothing, and comforts for the children.

Last night on The O’Reilly Factor he explained  that governments are instituted to provide justice. He laments the lack of justice on  immigration coming from Washington. But the business of the people — of caring Americans — is not primarily justice.

It’s mercy, Beck says. He’s raised millions, and he’s personally taking aid to where it’s needed.

Heroic. And very neighborly.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Border Problems, Solutions?

Bill Maher began the panel segment of his latest Real Time with Bill Maher episode taking on the “children at the border” problem. He identified the underlying cause: drug cartels.

His solution? Legalize all psychoactive drugs, particularly cocaine.

Wait a minute. The best response to a border crisis is to legalize drugs?

Seems orthogonal to the issue. “Out of left field.”

Which is not to say I don’t support legalizing drugs. But I try not to bring it up every discussion. Could Maher have drugs a tad too much on his brain?

Be that as it may or may not, for the facts I then turned to . . . Cato Institute.

Only to have the good folks at Cato back up Maher’s assertions.

On July 8, Ted Galen Carpenter, a Cato senior fellow, pinpointed the growth in drug cartels’ power in Central America as central to the whole issue. The drug cartels are “driving vulnerable populations northward to the United States to enhance their own profits.”

But the whole picture is more complicated.

A month earlier, Alex Nowrasteh, Cato’s immigration policy analyst, focused on two American border policies that “likely” and “unintentionally” incentivized “some of the migration and the smugglers that carry many of the migrants,” leading to the current debacle of thousands of unaccompanied minors now being housed — in poor conditions — in detainee centers.

True to form, Nowrasteh notes that “some American politicians who blame American law for the surge actually voted for that American law in the past.”

Which is more horrifying: The idea that politicians make things worse? Or that comedians make more sense than our elected representatives?

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Townhall: Hoodwinked Voters, Empowered Politicians

On Townhall.com, the honor of politicians is called into question — by their very own action. Specifics? We’ve got specifics! Judgment? That’s up to you, this time.

(But you know on whose side Paul Jacob serves.)

Relevant references for the column:

Video: How and Why Millennials Vote

They aren’t voting Republican. For a reason.

Read the poll results here.

Mr. Majesty

Are American presidents becoming (or have they long since become) tantamount to elected kings?

Cato Institute scholar Gene Healy has penned volumes about the super-sized presidency (The Cult of the Presidency and False Idol: Barack Obama and the Continuing Cult of the Presidency, for two). So he’s well-qualified to assess conservative law professor F.H. Buckley’s Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America.

Buckley both credits our Constitution for protecting our liberty and indicts it for fostering the modern assaults on that liberty.

Our government has lapsed into an “elective monarchy,” which also afflicts parliamentary systems but to which presidential systems are especially susceptible. For “presidentialism fosters the rise of Crown government.” It “encourages messianism by making the head of government the head of state,” insulating him from legislative accountability and making it harder to remove him.

Though Healy finds the argument well-defended in many respects, he isn’t entirely convinced. He’d like more evidence, for example, that parliamentary systems are as better equipped to reverse big and bad policies as they are at imposing them.

I’ll let these two argue the nuances regarding which form of out-of-control national government is most dangerously constituted. We can be grateful, at least, that our own elected king is curbed by term limits much less easily shucked than has proved the case in other presidentially governed countries.

Like these others, we may have an elected monarch. But, pre- and post-FDR, he is not a monarch-for-life. Not yet.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Greek Recipe for Disaster

Several years ago, Despina Antypa and her husband worked at a leading newspaper in Athens.

Then came the economic crisis.

The bad news was “just a whisper” at first. But when friends began losing work, she had the foresight and discipline to plan a new career. One unrestricted by language or country — just in case they ever had to leave Greece. She chose pastry, taking classes every weekday for two years, practicing techniques on weekends.

Sure enough, in 2011 the couple lost their own jobs. Despina threw herself into the task of confecting a signature delicacy good enough to sell; some 3,000 trials and errors (“mostly errors”) later, she was satisfied.

Then came the work of developing a website, packaging, selling.

Orders poured in. The labors were paying off. Except that—

The business was killed in its crib by bureaucrats.

The Greek government demanded a lot, including

  • advance taxes equal to “50 percent of estimated profit in the first two years” (money never to be returned were the business to fail);
  • minimum square footage for her shop much greater than necessary; and
  • a separate toilet for walk-in customers (although there would be no walk-in customers).

The arbitrary burdens proved too great. In 2013, her husband got a job offer that meant moving to Brussels. They jumped at the chance. There they forged the new life they could have forged in Greece — had they been allowed to.

It seems that the road to recovery is not helped by hobbling the runners.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.