Macleans has been getting a lot of hits the past week for its 99 Ways The Government Wastes Your Money series of posts, which is about what you’d expect from Macleans, a magazine that for the most part started downhill in the late 90s and never looked back, instead deciding to celebrate itself for championing free speech by publishing Mark Steyn’s vaguely racist twaddle instead of, and this is just a thought, publishing a counter to it.1
But, even by the standard of “look at all the ways government wastes your money” articles, this one is really amazingly slapdash. First off, it’s just a laundry list of governmental spending at all levels: municipal, provincial, federal, et cetera. This makes it sort of meaningless, because the article isn’t a complaint about how a specific government wastes money. It’s a general complaint. It’s like writing “99 Reasons We Hate Cloudy Days And Not Looking at Puppies.” It’s generic and doesn’t actually describe any specific solution. It’s just free-form bitching. When Jim Demint writes Here Is 350 Instances Of Government Spending That I Hate, Vol. 6, he at least makes sure to stick to the federal government, because then he can actually use his findings – intellectually bankrupt as they may be – to make something resembling a point.
Worse, it’s free-form bitching that’s all over the place. The article conflates government spending that is wasteful (giving a high-paid management official an enormous pension, for example) and government spending that is malfeasant (the Tories spending government funds to advertise their policy initiatives in the run-up to the most recent election) and government spending on subsidies, economic stimulus and infrastructure that the writers even admit might have purpose, but hey it’s a recession and we all need to tighten our belts and yadda yadda yadda (spending money to build a footbridge in rural Quebec). This is ridiculously sloppy. It’s getting offended at the government spending money not because the writers object to the government spending in any particular way (wastefully, borderline illegally, to promote policies with which they disagree, whatever) but because whatever, it’s gubmint spendin’ and gubmint is baaaaaaad.
But worst of all, it’s free-form bitching without context. We ran a budget deficit of about $33 billion in Canada in fiscal 2010-2011. The spending Macleans is bitching about adds up to maybe a couple of hundred million dollars, using the most generous math and the largest figures for each item. But it`s worth remembdering that the Tories`GST cut is probably responsible for at least $10 billion of that deficit. If runaway government spending existed – and that is a premise Macleans has most certainly not proven – it is to some extent a manufactured problem. Not acknowledging this is bad journalism. But these days, unfortunately, one expects little more from a cover story in Macleans.
- Seriously, the constant backpatting by Andrew Coyne during the whole Steyn thing was kind of nausea-inducing. [↩]