I just can't ignore this one. It's too egregious - and from a journalist at the gold-standard New York Times!

Here it is, from a NYTimes blog at http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/26/dependents-of-the-state/:

Just about every aspect of America’s economic and legal infrastructure — the laissez-faire governance of the markets; a convoluted tax structure that has hedge fund managers paying less than their office cleaners; the promise of state intervention when banks go belly-up; the legal protections afforded to corporations as if they were people; the enormous subsidies given to corporations (in total, about 50 percent more than social services spending); electoral funding practices that allow the wealthy to buy influence in government — allows the rich to stay rich and get richer.

Did you see it? Did you catch that??? 50% more than social services spending!

Shall we? The brave journalist, to be commended for courage here, has a link for specifically that 50 percent statement, and here it is: http://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/corporate-welfare-federal-budget

Well, there's that! The Cato Institute, that bastion of Friedmanesque Reaganomics, neo-con scourge of all that is bloated and entitled Keynesian! Need we look farther than this? Well, sorry...we do. The source of a citation is not the citation - and I wish more people would remember this, and not just at news outlets but in academe too where the practitioners of the cited research paper can kill good research with a well-placed accusation of "doesn't know the litereature."

Let's follow the citation. It's a nice and well-written four paragraph position piece that is the obvious cover page to a lengthy study on the costs of corporate welfare. There is a single number mentioned: that corporate welfare has a price tag of around $100 billion a year. Sounds horrible, yes? Look at what is not said here though. The author of the Cato four paragraphs does not make a claim that corporate welfare costs 50% more than social services spending.

We can approach this three ways. Let's do all of them. First, what is $100 billion? I like to think of these things in terms of Trident submarines, using roughly 1990 dollars, which was the last time I priced a Trident submarine - not an illogical pursuit for someone who grew up in the town where Trident subs were built and who worked in the shipyard there at one point. A trident sub costs about $2 billion dollars from budget allocation to commissioning. So in Trident submarine units, $100 billion is 50 trident submarines. If we bought 50 trident submarines every year, the entire of economy of southern New England would go from the current blight to prosperity overnight! Oh fling me in that briar patch!

So, let us look at just Medicare. Referring to https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/ReportsTrustFunds/downloads/tr2010.pdf, specifically Table II.F1, we find that projected expenditures for Medicare Parts B and D ONLY (no Part A at all) for the year 2013 are $327.6 billion dollars - or 163.8 Trident submarine units.

I think my point makes itself. Even a fraction of our yearly social services spending exceeds that $100 billion - or 50 Trident submarine units.

Now, let us approach the problem in the second way. Where did this 50% number come from? From the Cato Institute report for which the four paragraphs were the obvious cover piece and lure? I don't know. I didn't take the time to investigate. That's not the point. The point is that the journalist who bothered to make a citation for the "50% more than social services spending" used a citation that didn't support the numbers actually cited. If the Cato Institute report was the real source, then that should have been cited instead. If I were still grading undergraduate essays at UC Davis, where I did nasty things like check citations, using bad referencing style would be worth a half to a whole grade down all by itself.

Correct citation is important. Without it, the value of the news media secondary sources upon which society depends can be completely undermined - though that's just my personal opinion, mind you.

The last approach to looking at this statement on corporate welfare: perhaps the journalist meant something different by "social services spending" than what I have chosen to interpret. This is easily answered with another quibble I would have delivered to those poor undergrads whose misadventures in writing I was once privileged to grade: when definitions matter or vary from common assumptions, define your terms! 'Nuff said.

On the flip side, a corporate welfare price tag of 50 Trident submarine units is a lot of money, says this practiced observer of the effects of defense contract cut-backs on a local economy. Of please fling some of that as contracts to the shipyard in the town where I grew up. My hometown could use the boost!