Friday, May 14, 2010

What are they smokin’ at the Coastal Journal??

Its failings notwithstanding, there is much to be said in favor of journalism in that by giving us the opinion of the uneducated, it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.
                                                        -Oscar Wilde

I’ve made sport of Gina Hamilton and The Coastal Journal on more than one occasion.  And in each case, I thought it was well deserved.

Every now and then, I feel inspired to cut her and the CJ some slack, which, it turns out, must be an omen.  Next thing you know, here comes a hanging curve ball about 12 inches in diameter, traveling just fast enough not to hit the ground before it crosses the plate.

Gina is a one girl journalistic band: editor, columnist, editorial writer, policy and economic “analyst,” and anything else that she feels moved to undertake.  Under the circumstances, we should expect her to exhibit some basic competencies, and she should expect even more of herself and her publication.

As a multi-degreed engineer, I learned early on in a variety of classes that there is something called a “test of reasonableness.”  It’s an instinct you develop, an intuition, that allows you to assess whether the answer you have calculated to a complex problem is, in fact, ‘reasonable,’ as distinct from ‘correct.’ 

If the answer does not seem reasonable to you, chances are very good that you screwed up somewhere.  Generally speaking, we’re talking about magnitudes, not accuracy.  $10, $1000, $1,000,000.  That sort of thing.

Let me give you an example or two.  If you go to lunch at McDonald’s and pay with a $100 bill, and you get $47 in change, you don’t have to do the math to know that something is wrong.  The change amount is not ‘reasonable’ on its face.  Or if you go to buy four new tires for your car, and the bill is $119, most of us would know immediately that the figure is wrong, even if we choose not to tell the employee.

Based on her “Drug policy and immigration control” editorial in this week’s edition, it’s clear that the otherwise cute and perky Gina suffers from  RID (reasonability instinct deficiency.)  And the magnitude or the errors in this week’s offering are sufficient to render her unqualified to engage in economic policy analysis on our behalf. 

(I just checked the CJ web site, and it seems woefully out of date; the item of which I speak has not been posted.  So you’ll just have to take my word for it.)

We’re not talking a few typos here; we’ve talking numerical errors of several orders of magnitude.  That latter term may be one Gina is unfamiliar with, and that alone would be a telling clue.

Here’s the first passage of Gina’s that immediately tripped my reasonability detector.

“A conservative estimate from 2005 suggests that if marijuana was legal and taxed at a rate like alcohol or cigarettes, each year the federal government could bring in $6.2 billion.  That’s billion with a b. That’s roughly a quarter of what we spend on health care as a nation , every year, and about two-thirds of what the government expects to pay for health care reform over a ten-year period.”

I don’t have the exact figures at hand, but as I recall, health care is about 1/6 of our total economy, which put’s the annual number in the range of about $2 Trillion.  That’s trillion with a t. Meaning we spend about 2,000 billion, so Gina is off by a factor of 80 or so.

The most optimistic of estimates for the new “health care reform” have been in the range of $1 Trillion over 10 years, and that number is already being revised upward.  $6.2 billion is not even 1% of that amount, let alone ‘two-thirds’ of it.  Gina’s off by a factor (or order of magnitude) of about 100 here as well.

Which makes us wonder, what have you been smokin’ Gina?

She closes with this wondrous thought: “Imagine what could be done if all marijuana sold in Maine were taxed.  What budget shortfall?”

In round numbers, Maine’s recent shortfalls are in the range of $500 million a year.  That’s million with an m.  Making that up with a 5% sales tax on weed would require taxable sales of $10 billion a year.  That’s billion with a b.

Assuming the little ones would not buy it, and we’d have to limit the buyers to the million or so adults in the state, that means each and every adult would have to spend $10,000 a year on weed.  That’s thousand with a t.

Dolce far out, dudes and dudettes!

And whatever it is you are smoking Gina, it’s not making you a better editorialist.  And it isn’t helping your credibility as an ‘analyst’ either.

Based on this effort, I wouldn’t trust you to make change for a dollar.  Even if I was buying some good smoke, man.

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