Ari Armstrong, Media, Original Report

Armstrong: Colorado journalists cheerlead government interference

I worry about those who disparage “the media” without context or specific complaints. Badmouthing journalists can be a way to dodge reporting you don’t like. But there is such a thing as media bias, or at least biases within media. That’s not surprising. Journalists are people, and most people harbor some bias or other. But news publications, I think, have a responsibility to try to counteract rather than feed their reporters’ biases.

Here I address a couple of recent cases of journalists cheerleading government interference. We might call this a “pro-state bias.” This bias is pronounced with three of Colorado’s leading news outlets, Colorado Public Radio, the Denver Post, and the Colorado Sun. Here I’ll look at examples from the last two.

The pro-nannyist Post

We have a term for treating people basically as children in need of government tending: Nannyism. The alternative to Nannyism is the view that as adults we are autonomous and self-responsible individuals. We look to government not to run our lives for us and not to save us from our own mistakes but mainly to protect us from violence and fraud.

Here is an obvious Nannyist headline from the Post: “Colorado has some of the lowest alcohol taxes and highest drinking deaths. That’s no coincidence, experts say.” Already packed into the headline is the idea that, if some people drink alcohol irresponsibly, it is government’s job to save them from themselves, and in this case government should do so by imposing higher “sin” taxes.

That is not news. That is a political viewpoint. That the Post cloaks its Nannyist political commentary in the overused “experts say” line no excuse. Obviously the Post is choosing particular “experts” to quote to advance a political position.

Meg Wingerter’s lede continues in the same vein: “Colorado’s taxes on alcohol are among the lowest in the country, and even though the state consistently ranks as one of the worst for drinking deaths, lawmakers have shown little interest in making beer, wine and spirits more expensive.”

Here, in brief, is the case against such Nannyism. The main point is the one about self-responsibility mentioned before. It’s just not government’s proper job to coerce us to live “better.” When it comes to drunk driving, obviously government has a crucial role to play, as drunk driving endangers others. In some cases parental drunkenness can endanger children. And government has a role to play in restricting children’s access to dangerous substances. Otherwise, someone’s drinking behaviors are just none of the government’s damn business.

Nannyists also jump headlong down the slippery slope. If it’s government’s job to save us from our drinking, is it also government’s job to save us from eating added sugar and not exercising? Far and away the biggest U.S. killers in 2021 were heart disease, cancer, and Covid. Obviously those are all impacted by diet and exercise. The American Cancer Society estimates that “18% of cancer cases and 16% of cancer deaths are related to a combination of eating poorly, drinking too much alcohol, not getting enough physical activity, and being overweight.” So, if we’re going to have more “sin” taxes on alcohol, should we also have “sin” taxes on walking fewer than 10,000 steps per day or the equivalent?

Another problem with Nannyism is that it imposes collective guilt. Does everyone who drinks alcohol do so dangerously or unhealthily or irresponsibly? No, obviously not. Even if you want to say that drinking alcohol is inherently unhealthy—and some research does suggest that—the risks with moderate drinking are (predictably) moderate. But Nannyism is concerned with averages, not individuals. Nannyists want to impose “sin” taxes even on people who do not sin, in order to “help” those who do.

Sin taxes are not the Post’s only recommendation. In another piece, Wingerter notes that a political “workgroup” “issued a simple recommendation: cut back on when and where people can buy alcohol.” Who is doing the “cutting back,” and by what means? It’s the government, by use of force, specifically, threatening to confiscate people’s wealth, shut down their businesses, or, in the extreme, lock them in cages. But Nannyists rarely spell out these implications of their proposals.

The alternative view is that people should be able to make their own decisions regarding how to run their businesses and how to shop, so long as they are not engaging in force or fraud.

Amazingly, people can actually act to improve their lives without government “help.” I know this will blow some people’s minds, but . . . a person can just choose to drink less. People also can encourage their friends and associates to drink less or more responsibly, and they can band together in voluntary groups to promote that message.

One thing I like about Wingerter’s article is that she describes a community group, Mountain Youth in Edwards, that proactively encourages healthier lifestyles. The organization “offers substance-free activities and works with teens to craft education campaigns reminding them that most of their peers aren’t actually getting drunk every Saturday,” Wingerter reports.

I do recommend that people read Wingerter’s four-part series on alcohol and seriously reflect on their personal choices. My wife and I already have conversations with our eight-year-old about the dangers of drug abuse. One need not buy Wingerter’s Nannyist presumptions to share her concerns about unhealthy alcohol use.

The subsidy-loving Sun

I’ll wager that almost no one reading this article has heard of Colorado Creative Industries before. I hadn’t heard of it or else I’d forgotten the name. Yet, according to a Colorado Sun opinion piece masquerading as a news article, this government agency obviously needs more of your tax dollars.

From start to finish, the article by Parker Yamasaki and Tamara Chuang reads like a paid promotional by the government agency. Start with the headline, which declares that’s “what’s working” is that “Colorado’s arts budget . . . could more than double.” The subhead mocks, “Even Utah’s got us beat” on such funding.

The lede says that, although “Colorado ranks #1 in the country for per capita participation in the arts,” our state “ranks 46th in per capita funding for the arts.” Regarding the participation stat, the authors link to a Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade web page, which summarizes a National Endowment for the Arts study as saying “Colorado ranks number 1 in the percentage of residents who personally perform or create artworks.” Regarding the funding stat, the authors cite a document about “state arts agency revenues.”

Let’s pause there. The authors of the Sun piece equate “per capita funding for the arts” with government funding for the arts, as though private, voluntary funding for the arts were some mythic fantasy. Another thing: given we’re first in art participation, maybe government funding for the arts isn’t such a big deal?

The authors inform us that “Colorado Creative Industries, or CCI,” is the state “designated arts agency that distributes state and federal funding to creative communities.” Here’s how I would put it: It’s the state agency that redistributes forcibly confiscated dollars to politically favored “creative” people, with government bureaucrats deciding which sorts of “creativity” merit government attention.

Anyway, the authors tell us, “Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ proposed budget . . . includes . . . an additional $2.5 million for CCI’s annual budget and a $540,000 cash fund for Colorado Creative Districts, which are supported by CCI.”

“The infusion of extra cash would be incredible, said Josh Blanchard, director of CCI,” the Sun reports. Wow, how surprising that government bureaucrats want larger budgets for their agencies. Really digging deep here!

Among CCI’s accomplishments, the Sun reports, is to convert “an old feed and grain complex into a community space, . . . a former hardware store into a food hall, [and] a historic firehouse into a restaurant.” So, this is largely just classic corporate welfare. Why do some restaurants get state subsidies while others do not? Do we really want or need bureaucrats deciding which restaurants and other private businesses are sufficiently “creative” to collect corporate welfare?

Never mind that the Colorado Constitution explicitly forbids corporate welfare. Legislators and bureaucrats just flagrantly ignore that bit and have done so for years. Specifically, Article XI, Section 2 starts off, “Neither the state, nor any county, city, town, township, or school district shall make any donation or grant to, or in aid of, or become a subscriber to, or shareholder in any corporation or company or a joint owner with any person, company, or corporation, public or private, in or out of the state . . .” There are some exceptions but corporate welfare ain’t one.

Here’s a thought: We could—and I know this is just an astounding idea to government bureaucrats and their sycophants in the news media—let people decide how to spend their own money on restaurants and the like.

Colorado Creative Industries also doles out subsidies for “affordable workforce housing,” the Sun reports. Doesn’t this strike you as a bit far afield given the agency’s purported mission? Anyway, here we have a state agency taking a teaspoon to the mountain-level problem of unaffordable housing, which is caused mainly by building restrictions of local governments.

God forbid that we, you know, actually solve the underlying problem instead of trying haplessly to subsidize our way out of it. A cynic might think that government screws up the real estate market just so government can help control it. We couldn’t possibly have a free market in real estate.

When it is not handing out corporate welfare to food businesses or subsidizing housing, “CCI also supports individual artists and arts organizations through a variety of grants,” the Sun reports. This seems like the most directly “creative” part of the subsidies, and probably the most sympathetic to many taxpayers.

The rest of the story

It’s interesting to read the critics of government art funding quoted by the Sun. Ha! You won’t find a single critical word of such funding in this article; it’s pure cheerleading.

So let me go ahead and outline the main arguments against such funding. From the artist’s point of view, having to grovel before government bureaucrats to convince them you are sufficiently “creative” to merit political favoritism is inherently degrading and contrary to the creative spirit.

If we’re concerned about “starving artists” (and some artists do quite well!), then why is government favoring some professions over others? If we think government should subsidize the less-well-off, then it should do so evenly and not discriminate on the basis of “creativity” as determined by government bureaucrats. That’s just wrong.

From the aesthete’s point of view, individuals have a moral right to decide which artistic works merit their attention and funding. Ceding to some bureaucrat even in part the role of selecting sufficiently “creative” works is a perversion of the relationship between artist and enjoyer of art, a relationship that should be based on consent rather than coercion.

There is some economic argument for subsidizing “public goods.” That might justify things like public sculptures. Of course, then we sometimes end up with such artistic monstrosities as the Red Pile of Penises near the 16th Street Pedestrian Bridge. It might also justify things like educational programs related to the arts. It would not justify government spending on things like corporate welfare or subsidies for private spaces and works. And there’s a good case that even for public works we should rely on private funding.

Yamasaki and Chuang do get into some of the political wrangling over the money, and that’s helpful reporting. They point out, “Community revitalization grants also skew rural, with 57% of projects funded in rural areas.” The reporters quote Rep. Leslie Herod: “The vast majority of our Black artists live in our urban corridors. If we exclude urban corridors, we’re explicitly excluding our Black artists.” To me, the inherent politicization of government art spending counts as a reason to do away with it (at least for private projects) and reduce tax burdens accordingly so people can decide how to spend their own money.

Obviously journalists can and should include the pro-interference point of view in their stories. But is it too much to ask that journalists don’t presume out of the gate that expanding state power is automatically the right answer to a given problem?

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.


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