Why Is the Media So Much Smarter About Legislation After it is Passed

I have decided there is something that is very predictable about the media:  they usually are very sympathetic to legislation expanding government powers or spending when the legislation is being discussed in Congress.  Then, after the legislation is passed, and there is nothing that can be done to get rid of it, the media gets really insightful all of a sudden, running thoughtful pieces about the hidden problems and unintended consequences of the legislation.  I remember that they did this with the ethanol mandates, when I summarized:

All this stuff was known long before Congress voted for the most recent ethanol mandates.  Why is it that the media, who cheerled such mandates for years, is able to apply any institutional skepticism only after the mandates have become law?

And now we are seeing it with the stimulus bill:

A federal spending surge of more than $20 billion for roads and bridges in President Barack Obama's first stimulus has had no effect on local unemployment rates, raising questions about his argument for billions more to address an "urgent need to accelerate job growth."An Associated Press analysis of stimulus spending found that it didn't matter if a lot of money was spent on highways or none at all: Local unemployment rates rose and fell regardless. And the stimulus spending only barely helped the beleaguered construction industry, the analysis showed.

With the nation's unemployment rate at 10 percent and expected to rise, Obama wants a second stimulus bill from Congress including billions of additional dollars for roads and bridges "” projects the president says are "at the heart of our effort to accelerate job growth."...

Even within the construction industry, which stood to benefit most from transportation money, the AP's analysis found there was nearly no connection between stimulus money and the number of construction workers hired or fired since Congress passed the recovery program. The effect was so small, one economist compared it to trying to move the Empire State Building by pushing against it.

Well, better late than never.  And actually moderately timely in this case because we are considering a second stimulus bill.  It even includes this insight which is almost NEVER raised in stimulus-related discussions:

"As a policy tool for creating jobs, this doesn't seem to have much bite," said Emory University economist Thomas Smith, who supported the stimulus and reviewed AP's analysis. "In terms of creating jobs, it doesn't seem like it's created very many. It may well be employing lots of people but those two things are very different."

Exactly.  Stealing $10 million from Peter so Paul can hire three more people doesn't net increase jobs until you understand what Peter would have done with the money.  One has to argue that the market did a poor job in allocating capital to Peter and that the government will employ this capital more productively (hah!)

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood defended the administration's recovery program Monday, writing on his blog that "DOT-administered stimulus spending is the only thing propping up the transportation construction industry."

Well, as the article goes on to say, this turns out not to be the case.  But even if it were true, what industries were gutted by having their capital taken away so that one government-favored industry could be stimulated.

By the way, never underestimate the power of politicians to use every tool up to and including malfeasance to get more money and power for themselves (because that is exactly what the stimulus bills are -- a substitution of the markets with Congress in the capital allocation process).

It is also becoming more difficult to obtain an accurate count of stimulus jobs. Those who receive stimulus money can now credit jobs to the program even if they were never in jeopardy of being lost, according to new rules outlined by the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

The new rules, reported Monday by the Internet site ProPublica, allow any job paid for with stimulus money to count as a position saved or created.


  1. DrTorch:

    The media have a vested interest in keeping problems high...that's what bolsters ratings and sales.

    It's all about incentives.

  2. K:

    There is an unstated belief that freedom of the press will keep media somewhat objective and/or neutral about politics and government.

    That belief is mistaken. The management at media companies has nothing to gain by restraining any government activity so long as they themselves are allowed to make a profit and live well. In fact the more government controls information the less competition the MSM will face.

    The US MSM challenges government less with each passing decade. Almost never opposes a government expansion and loudly endorses whatever most expands government power, such as ObamaCare. Individuals within media do sometimes challenge government and government officials. In the MSM this chatter is tolerated if it does not imperil the larger agenda.

    At this time there are Alternatives to the MSM. The growth of the internet, talk radio, and the exceptional behavior of FOX introduced an unforeseen and unwelcome factor into news and information distribution. The government and most media are responding limiting internet content and "balancing" radio. And similar attempts will be made to somehow handicap or punish FOX and similar operations until they keep quiet or perish.

    One response to the Alternatives is that news not created by the MSM is very unwelcome. Usually the stories just disappear. They never happened or had no merit whatever.

  3. ColoComment:

    MSM journalists give every indication of being generally illiterate w/r/t economics (as well as finance and history). No one should be allowed to leave high school, much less move into journalism, without having read (or been forced to read and discuss) a copy of Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson. At least he would have a basic understanding of "Peter v. Paul."

    If EIOL served at all to pique the reader's interest, he could then move on to Sowell's Basic Economics. (Both books should be mandatory reading for any voter.)

  4. Lorenzo (from downunder):

    Before they are published, legislative bills are, in effect, statements of intent. It is easy to judge their intentions. The intentions will, almost invariably, be "positive". So, judged by their intentions, and as long as the intentions "are good", they cannot be wrong.

    Judging their actual effects requires an understanding of the bills mechanisms and how they will work in practice. Much messier. Particularly ahead of time.

    Once the bill has become law, those effects become a little easier to judge. At this point, folk in the media are more likely to see beyond stated intentions. Hence the pattern you have noticed.

  5. ADiff:


    And, one might add, hindsight always at least thinks it's '20/20'.....

  6. Dr. T:

    "The new rules, reported Monday by the Internet site ProPublica, allow any job paid for with stimulus money to count as a position saved or created."

    If you think this is bad, wait until you see what the Obama administration does to the 2010 census.

  7. traderpaul:

    MSM is only criticizing new legislation in order to lay the groundwork for the next round of legislation. The solutions proposed never ever suggest that the current legislation be rescinded.

  8. YT:

    Coyote your argument would make more sense if the gubmint had a balanced budget. As it is, that money was borrowed or printed. Its robbing future Peter to pay Paul.