Death and Taxes
May 19, 2001
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Today's New York Times includes a front-page news article claiming that low taxes and less government are dangerous to your health.
Here's how the Times puts it: "In Nevada, these experts say, a long legacy of low-tax, libertarian government, rural isolation and a steely tradition of self-reliance have combined with a population growth of more than 60 percent in the last decade that has left little sense of community to create huge challenges to the state's mental and physical health."
And, lower down, here's the obligatory paragraph thrown in to give the appearance of balance: "Conservatives are quick to argue that social pathologies like suicide and smoking are not caused by low taxes or limited government, and that government's ability to solve them may be limited, too."
This is the nature of the tax debate in the pages of the New York Times: "experts say" that low taxes "create huge challenges" to "mental and physical health," while "Conservatives are quick to argue" that low taxes do not cause social pathologies.
To many readers, the statements that "social pathologies like suicide and smoking are not caused by low taxes or limited government," and that "government's ability to solve them may be limited, too" are not matters that "conservatives are quick to argue," but truths that are pretty obvious to anyone who gets information from outside the news columns of the New York Times and its "experts."
Let's take the case of smoking. The Times article reports that "Nevada has the highest adult smoking rate and the highest death rate from smoking." Well, interesting coincidence, that. One wonders how, exactly, the "death rate from smoking" is measured. After all, everyone dies, eventually, and when one does, the cause of death is usually listed as heart disease or lung cancer or emphysema, not "smoking." Well, from what Smartertimes.com can tell, the "death rate from smoking" was derived by plugging the number of smokers in a state into a government computer program that "estimates the number of smoking-related deaths" by "using attributable risk formulas based on smoking prevalence." In other words, the fact that Nevada has "the highest death rate from smoking" is based on plugging Nevada's high number of smokers into a computer program that says the more you smoke the more likely you are to die. Smartertimes.com isn't denying that smoking is bad for your health. But the idea of using the facts that "Nevada has the highest adult smoking rate and the highest death rate from smoking" as two independent statistics to hammer away at the state's low taxes -- when in fact the second statistic is an estimate derived from plugging the first statistic into a computer program -- seems tendentious. Have a look at the short government study that the smoking-related deaths statistic is based on and see for yourself if you want: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00031998.htm
Besides, the notion that smoking is caused by "low-tax, libertarian government" is just utterly contradicted by the facts. The smoking prevalence in Nevada is 38 percent for men aged 35-64, 15 percent for men 65 or over, according to the 1989 census numbers cited in that Centers for Disease Control study. In contrast, the highest male smoking prevalence in the world is in Communist Vietnam, where 72.8 percent of men smoke, according to the World Health Organization. In Communist China, according to the World Health Organization, 63 percent of adult males smoke and 61 percent of the male physicians smoke. Neither China nor Vietnam is known for its "low-tax, libertarian government."
Correction Correction: The lead item in the correction column of today's New York Times is almost word-for-word the same as the lead item in the correction column of Friday's New York Times. The correction relates to the reason that U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq. It's not as if the Times repeated the error twice, as it sometimes does; these two corrections refer back to the same Thursday news article. Maybe complaining Iraqi officials browbeat the Times into agreeing to run the correction two days in a row? We'll see if the correction runs a third time in tomorrow's paper.
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