I have very little tolerance for public service announcements on a variety of grounds. One of those grounds is a Buchanan-Tullock ground. I do not view them as harmless little information packets intended to help us live better lives. Perhaps I am too cynical, but there is no question that some group is typically benefiting at the expense of others via the promotion of these things (some of them? all of them?). A second ground is that empirically it has been shown that “better education” does not seem to have any impact on the drug war, crime recidivism, welfare behavior, and a whole lot more. But hey, let’s not let good evidence get in the way of a noble idea (the idea isn’t even noble, but that’s for another day). A third ground would be that it is not clear that this is a necessary or proper role of government – especially given point one above, I do not see that government service announcements should be any more reliable than private ones – at least in the private sphere, there is not any misrepresentation of being an absolutely right authority, individuals would be free to test competing service announcements. Fourth, and the point of this post, is that few people have the time or energy or wherewithal to check whether the darn announcements make sense.
One announcement I’ve been hearing a lot about lately is that one in eight Americans “does not know where their next meal is coming from.” In other words, not only are 12.5% of Americans really poor, they are so poor as to be starving. I’d love to see where the folks at the Ad Council and whatever agency is pushing this got their data from. Why? The most recent Census poverty data reports that 12.5% of all Americans are living at or below the poverty level. For a myriad of reasons this data does not provide nearly the information that a glance might indicate.
The fact that the 12.5% numbers coincide I hope is a coincidence, because if it is not, it shows an awful lack of rigor on the part of the experts. Maybe they get it from places like this. Really though, they do get it from the government, from someplace like this (read the language describing food insecurity, I think I would qualify). Why do I question the one in eight claim?
Maybe the problem is worse than I am giving it credit for, I admit that as a possibility. But there is simply no plausible way that 1 in 8 Americans do not know where their next meal is coming from. And if that does happen to be true, that is NOT a problem with the amount of food available, the price of food, or even the income and help available to those who are food insecure. But god forbid a public service announcement took a more cautious view of things, or pointed us to a source to learn more about the “problem.” And just think, some of these “food insecure” people are being taxed to be told that they are food insecure.