Government Waste I Support, Relatively Speaking

Michael Marlow has a very good paper in Regulation questioning the effectiveness of tobacco control spending:

In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc) released a report detailing “best practice” spending recommendations for state tobacco control programs. According to the report, “Research shows that the more states spend on comprehensive tobacco control programs, the greater the reductions in smoking—and the longer states invest in such programs, the greater and faster the impact.”

Marlow points out that this research, like so much used by the public health movement, is deeply flawed. Looking carefully at the data, he concludes that:

Empirical evidence does not generally support the cdc claim that states that spend more on tobacco control deter more tobacco use than states that spend less. Contemporaneous spending on tobacco control is never found to exert an inverse effect on sales, and at times is found to exert a significant and positive effect on sales, contrary to the claims of the cdc. The true effect, however, appears to be zero based on current and past spending discounted at various rates. There is limited support for cdc claims regarding its recommendations on funding adequacy when this spending measure is discounted at rates of 5 and 10 percent, but not at rates of 15 and 20 percent. When significant, however, these effects arise at fairly low levels of confidence and with trivial effects on cigarette sales, and therefore suggest very cautious support for the cdc recommendations concerning adequacy. These conclusions are based on a battery of tests that consider various measures of contemporaneous and past spending and adequacy and are conducted over an eight-year period in which over $5 billion (in 2005 dollars), or roughly $18 per capita, was spent on tobacco control.

This study raises questions about the process by which the cdc determines its spending recommendations and whether the process is designed to reach a particular conclusion about tobacco control policy rather than to uncover policies that may best allocate resources toward controlling tobacco use.

Given that I think people smoke too little, I see the ineffectiveness of tobacco control policies as a good thing. Sure, the government extracting money from taxpayers and pouring it down the drain is a prima facie bad thing, but the alternative is for the money to be effective in promoting the healthist agenda of maximising lifespan while ignoring fun.

As Crampton and Farrant have shown, when government is evil, we should want it to be incompetent as well. Now, I don’t think health promotionists are evil, but I think they succumb to the all-too-human impulse of treating their own preferences regarding health and fun as universally valid, and assuming those in disagreement must be rescued from their own stupidity. That’s a very dangerous attitude when backed by the coercive force of government.

Money down the drain is better than money being used to efficiently take away our liberties.

2 Responses

  1. I’m reminded of a quote by M Friedman – something along the lines of: the only thing that saves us from even bigger government and more coercion is its own tremendous inefficiency.

  2. […] Update: Brad Taylor weighs in nicely. […]

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