The Denver Post Propaganda Machine

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The Denver Post Propaganda Machine

by Ari Armstrong, May 11, 2006

Denver Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. It's the logical fallacy of pompous newspaper writers who assume they can make reality conform to the beguiling and repetitive patterings of their keyboards. Apparently, The Denver Post is to be known instead as The Denver Democrat into the election season. It has offered undeclared in-kind contributions to the Democratic Party of Colorado in the form of unpaid, front-page advertisements and lead editorials. In the process, the paper has continued to spin myths about Referendum C, the pet net tax increase of the Democrats and their me-too Republican allies.

In a May 5 editorial, the Post begins, "Colorado business leaders agree that voters took an important step toward restoring this state's economic viability with passage of Referendum C last fall."

It is simply a lie that "Colorado business leaders agree" about any such thing. Various business leaders opposed Referendum C, which passed by a bare majority of voters and a small minority of the population. But some "businesses leaders" did support Referendum C, which is no surprise, given that so many businesses depend on politicians and bureaucrats for forcible wealth transfers and protectionist legislation, and given that many "business leaders" have bought into the ideologies of welfare-statism and neo-mercantilism. Some businesses will benefit directly by the passage of Referendum C; many others will benefit indirectly (or avoid retribution) by playing make-nice with tax-and-spend politicians at the state and local level.

Such "business leaders" have always opposed economic liberty. Thomas Sowell summarizes in Basic Economics, "Free market competition has often been opposed by the business community, from Adam Smith's time to our own. It was business interests which promoted the pervasive policies of government intervention known as 'mercantilism' in the centuries before Smith and others made the case for ending such interventions and establishing free markets. Then, after free market principles gained wider acceptance in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, business leaders were of course prepared to invoke those principles for political reasons... But business leaders and organizations have proven equally willing to seek government intervention..." (second edition, page 382. However, Sowell maligns principled business owners when, on page 383, he claims that no business leaders are "wedded to a free market philosophy or any other philosophy").

And, in For the New Intellectual (pages 48-49), Ayn Rand describes the "type of businessmen, the product of a 'mixed' economy, who make fortunes, not by productive ability, but by political pull, by government favors, subsidies, franchises and special privileges..." She continues, "Others are forced reluctantly into a mixed position, where they still live by productive ability, yet have to depend on government favors in order to function..." Finally, some business leaders operate "on a range-of-the-moment expediency," without thought to the long-term requirements of a free and prosperous society.

So the Post's comment about business leaders is false as a blanket statement, and irrelevant to the extent that it is true.

But the Post's claim that that the passage of Referendum C is "an important step toward restoring this state's economic viability" is so audacious and expansive a lie that its perpetrators might actually believe it.

Those who retain a grasp of reality recall that Referendum C was sold precisely on the grounds that the economy was already expected to grow dramatically, which is why the refunds related to the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) were expected to increase every year. The advocates of Referendum C argued that state spending should keep up with economic growth. (State spending was expected to continue to grow without Referendum C, only at a lower level than with the net tax increase.)

So the case for Referendum C depended on the expectation of economic growth, and, now that Referendum C has passed, it is credited for the economic growth. The Post's editorial writers have performed quite a feat of legerdemain.

Forcibly taking money out of the pockets of those who earn it and handing it over to politicians and bureaucrats does not improve the economy; quite the opposite. When individuals are forced to pay more in net taxes, they have less money to spend with local businesses, on investments, for education, etc. Moreover, while individuals have strong incentives to spend money wisely, politicians and bureaucrats have few incentives to do so, and many incentives to transfer the money to politically-powerful interest groups. Thus, Referendum C doesn't just forcibly transfer wealth; it transfers resources from more productive to less productive uses, thereby destroying wealth.

The Post worries about attracting businesses to Colorado, yet it scrupulously avoids any mention of what actually attracts productive (as opposed to politically parasitic) industries: economic freedom. Yet, as Lawrence McQuillan pointed out in his trip to Colorado last fall, and as is abundantly obvious also from international comparisons, the road to wealth is liberty, not the welfare-statism and neo-mercantilism advocated by the Post.

Yet the Post ridiculously asserts that a net tax hike promotes an "entrepreneurial culture." The paper argues that "the business community worked so hard to pass Referendum C, to maintain the higher education system and transportation network vital for balanced economic growth." Never mind the fact that an "entrepreneurial culture" is made possible only by economic liberty and is harmed by high taxes and government intervention. Never mind the fact that state spending was already high and expected to climb ever-higher without Referendum C. Never mind the fact that only a portion of the money from Referendum C will be devoted to roads and education, while the rest will be directed to welfare and other government programs, and that less useful programs could have been cut to save money. Never mind the fact that higher education is more successful than K-12 education precisely because and to the extent that government is less involved in the former, and that there is little relationship (or an inverse one) between government expenditure on education and quality of education. Never mind the fact that the University of Colorado and other subsidized schools wastes untold millions of dollars on the cult of multiculturalism -- both its study and propagation -- and the religion of environmentalism. Never mind the fact that state regulations stifle market transportation and pay-for-use options like toll roads. The Post's writers point to the relative failures of Colorado's most socialized industries -- in order to rationalize increased government control over the economy.

But, in addition to a line-up of quotes from political exploiters and anticapitalist hacks, the Post also quotes a leading bureaucrat: "Brian Vogt, director of the state's office of economic development, sums it up by saying, 'Government can't create wealth itself, but it can provide the fundamental steps toward integration, communication, culture, policy and strategy that leverage all resources supporting industry, academia and the financial community -- resources that the private sector cannot marshal on its own'."

Vogt is the bureaucrat charged with redistributing millions of dollars of corporate welfare, despite the prohibition against doing so in Colorado's constitution. (He has, incidentally, ignored my repeated requests for additional information about his agency's budget.) Beyond the fact that Vogt's job depends on and is funded by the forcible confiscation of people's wealth, which may undermine his objectivity on the matter, Vogt's statement suffers from the minor defect that it has no relationship whatsoever to any facts or rational argument. Against Vogt's bureaubabble are the facts that higher net taxes remove resources from the productive economy, that economic liberty rather than government subsidies is the demonstrated key to economic progress, and that only a system of individual rights rather than political force is compatible with the productive use of reason.

The Post does manage to raise an interesting concern on another issue. Its writers fear that Amendment 38 "would hurt economic development efforts by opening up all local government actions, including routine zoning issues, to years of delay by legal or electoral challenges." The measure would probably solve some real problems with the petition process, but I have feared that its expansion of local petitioning might be captured by special interests and turned against individual rights. However, the Post ignores the obvious solution: restore property rights and eliminate the ability of local governments to trample those rights. (As an article by Alicia Caldwell, published in the same paper on the same day, makes clear, land use is already a highly-politicized process.)

Beauprez's HEAT Proposal

Here's how Lynn Bartels relates the story in the May 8 Rocky Mountain News: "Gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez on Sunday became the first person to sign a petition for a proposed ballot measure to use excess Referendum C revenue to offset heating bills... The ballot measure -- known as Home Energy Adjustment Tax-Rebate or HEAT -- is the brainchild of one of Ref C's biggest opponents, Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute... Voters last fall approved Referendum C, which allowed the state to suspend spending limits for five years and keep tax revenues that otherwise would have been returned to taxpayers. At the time, the state predicted the pot of Ref C money at $3.7 billion, but the economy has improved enough that the latest revenue forecast put the amount at $4.1 billion, and more growth is expected. Here's how HEAT would work if Caldara were to get enough signatures to put it on the ballot, and if it won voter approval: The amount of Ref C money above the $3.7 billion mark would be divided by the total number of exemptions claimed on state income tax returns. The head of the household would receive a check each October based on how many people live in the household."

The first thing to notice about the proposal, then, is that it is indeed "a gimmick," as Bartels quotes State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. While it is alleged to have something to do with heating bills, in fact it is completely unrelated to heating bills. In typical neoconservative fashion, the measure's advocates seem to want to manipulate a gullible public (as opposed to, say, arguing on principle that the forcible redistribution of income is wrong).

The second thing to notice is that redistributing tax dollars based on household size is completely arbitrary. Why not simply refund money based on how much an individual pays in? The HEAT proposal is on net positive because it allows some people to keep some more of their own money, but it is also redistributive. But to redistribute money according to family size makes no sense even by the standards of welfare-statists, because family size is only accidentally related to family income, if at all. I'm sure family size is somewhat correlated to heating bills, but even that connection is tenuous.

The implicit moral message of the HEAT proposal is that it's okay to forcibly redistribute wealth if people "need" it and/or the cause is politically popular. It remains a mystery only to Colorado's Republicans why they are getting trounced.

But whatever the problems with the HEAT proposal, it certainly does not represent a "battle against Colorado," as the Post ridiculously asserts in a headline for a May 9 editorial. Nor would it "essentially overturn Referendum C" -- unfortunately. The Post was perfectly content to endorse Referendum C back when the five-year net tax increase was "only" expected to be $3.7 billion. So now that it is expected to bring in even more money, why is the Post so upset about the possibility of limiting the net tax hike to the amount stated to voters?

The Post also ridiculously asserts that the HEAT measure is "aimed at flouting the will of Colorado voters who approved Referendum C last November." But "the voters" did not approve Referendum C: a bare majority of them did. What is this mythic "will of Colorado voters," and how do the High Priests of the Denver Post gain mystical insight into its nature? The fact is that voters were given an estimate of the net tax hike, and now that estimate seems to have been too low (surprise, surprise). So how is it "flouting the will of Colorado voters" to tax them at the amount estimated? And how is it "flouting the will of Colorado voters" to let them vote on something? Why is the vote for Referendum C uniquely sacred, such that a vote in favor of the HEAT proposal would "flout" it?

But the more fundamental point, of course, is that the proper purpose of government is to protect individual rights, not allow the majority of voters to expropriate wealth. The Founders of our nation distrusted democracy and intentionally erected barriers to flout the will of the voters when it threatens liberty. Mob rule is not the ideal form of government.

The Post refers to Referendum C as "Colorado's hard-won economic recovery program," even though, by taking resources from the productive economy and squandering them on political objectives, it will actually harm the economy.

The Post claims that Beauprez "has giddily voted to add trillions to the federal debt." I don't know whether Beauprez was "giddy" or not, but I too have complained about his pork-barrel spending. But I somehow doubt that Bill Ritter would be more restrained in spending other people's money.

By the way, congratulations to the Post for probably sinking Marc Holtzman's campaign. As I've noted, the media have never liked Holtzman, and this is especially true of the Denver Democrat. No doubt the Post would have found a way to hammer on Holtzman through the duration of his campaign. But then Holtzman's campaign manager handed his boss's head to the Post by lying to a reporter. Steven Paulson writes in a May 5 story for the AP: "Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Holtzman's campaign manager resigned today, a week after admitting he had given false poll numbers to a reporter... On April 28, Leggitt admitted he sent fake polling figures in an e-mail to a Denver Post reporter because he suspected the reporter was forwarding e-mails from the Holtzman campaign to the campaign of Rep. Bob Beauprez, who is battling Holtzman for the gubernatorial nomination. The bogus material was published in The Post." It turns out that lying to the public tends not to engender trust and support among the public.

At this point, Mark Holtzman is Bill Ritter's best chance of becoming Colorado's next governor. While the Republican "leadership" richly deserves a Democratic sweep of state government, the rest of us do not. (Those of us concerned about the expansion of state power can only pray for gridlock.)

It's a Gift Wrap

Mark P. Couch and Chris Frates (with contributions from Lyn Alweis) gift-wrapped the front page of The Denver Post for Colorado's Democrats with their May 9 article about the legislative session.

In the opening paragraph, the writers describe as "productive" the spending of more tax dollars and the banning of smoking on select private property. No biased language there, eh? For the Post to describe the escalated violation of individual rights as "productive" is obscene. At least the Post should have the grace to save its editorializing for its editorial pages.

The second paragraph states, "The key successes of the session were paved by Colorado voters in November with the approval of Referendum C -- a ballot measure that loosened the fiscal knot that was tying up the state budget." Yet, according to the standards of individual rights and economic liberty (as well as 48 percent of voters), Referendum C is a step in the wrong direction, not a "success." And the Post's language about the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights is biased. More-neutral language would have described "a ballot measure that eased spending limits on the state budget."

The "news" writers forthrightly offer their "thanks to $800 million in extra revenues provided by Referendum C." Then they recount the alleged blessings of Referendum C -- and completely ignore the costs -- then they worship at the Alter of Romanoff:

"To tout the successes, House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, summoned reporters to his office last week. On big notepads propped on easels, Romanoff checked off 'Promises Made, Promises Kept.' Improve Public Education -- Check. Cut the Cost of Health Care - Check. Strengthen the Economy -- Check. Protect the Public -- Check. Ensure Accountability -- Check."

Sycophantic journalism -- Check.

God (or, if he's not available, Greg Almighty) forbid that a front-page "news" story quote a single line of criticism of Andrew Romanoff's economic sophisms.

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