The Outstater

June 12, 2024

Eco-Devo: The Missing Studies

THE GOOD NEWS is that the national media is losing its clout. The bad news is that so is the local media.

Here is Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal on our newly acquired hype immunity:

“Older voters a decade or two ago assumed anything on a screen had the authority of the evening news. Now they understand that graphically ornate, professional-looking rubbish is still rubbish. Indeed, the big challenge for media outlets, at least those that aspire to be trusted arbiters, is to reverse the impression, not unwarranted, that they have also ventured into delivering rubbish.”

Now the bad news. These last decades of hype-mania (we used to call it “boosterism”) have overrun local media. And don’t write to tell me that there still are some great local news outlets. Many of them, not coincidentally, are members of this foundation. 

The concern, rather, is with the larger metro newsrooms. They are filled with editors, producers and reporters padding resumes to escape Indiana for what they assume is hype heaven in the larger markets. Nobody, including politicians, much care what they say.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, pick up a copy of Gannett’s Indianapolis Star.

The result is that Indiana is left without honest media having both motivation and staff to cover the large, more complicated frauds. And yes, I have an example in mind.

There is nary a proposed public subsidy or bond for an Indiana stadium, hotel or convention center in a mid-sized city or larger where the true cost has been fully discussed. In practically every case powerful people whom you don’t know end up meeting behind closed doors to determine who gets millions of dollars in taxpayer-leveraged money.

True, there have been “economic impact” studies that city councilmen pretend to understand. These often carry important-sounding titles such as IMPLAN (Impact Analysis for Planning), CUM (Capacity Utilization Model) or REMI (Regional Economic Model, Inc.). They are to real economic analysis what a husband says to his wife when she asks him, “Does this make my butt look fat?”

The John Locke Foundation explains how it works: 

“The formula is simple, predictable and effective. A special interest group that stands to benefit from the project funds an economic impact study that purports to provide hard numbers on the number of jobs, the increase in wages, and the additional output that will be generated by the project or subsidy, and it will do this on an industry-by-industry basis. It makes grandiose claims about how much overall economic growth will be enhanced for the state or region generally. Once the report is completed, the special interest group that paid for the study will tout these results in press releases that will be picked up by the largely uncritical media establishment, ensuring that the political decision-makers and others who determine the fate of the project receive political cover.” 

There are exceptions to this, although not here. A few years ago, a state senator in South Carolina grew suspicious of the dazzling numbers projected for a proposed headquarters and practice facility for the Carolina Panthers professional football team. All told, promoters said the project would yield an astounding $3.8 billion on a $115-million public investment.

The senator, however, hired an independent economist to check those numbers. Paid for it himself. Here is what he found: 

Our projects, by contrast, just keep rolling along picking up easy money from gullible councilmen on imaginary multipliers, rarely facing a challenge. We need a state legislator or two to step forward next time and fund an independent study.

The trick will be finding a statewide media outlet willing to publish the results — or finding a statewide media outlet at all. — tcl


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