MOVING GOALPOSTS

Posted in Ed vs. Logical Fallacies on July 30th, 2012 by Ed

This news item is a bit outdated, originally appearing in April of 2012, but I came across it recently and it's full of quotes of the too-good-to-pass-up variety.

Recall last year when Florida Gov. Rick Scott – who totally doesn't own a chain of drug testing clinics, because he transferred his majority stake to his wife in the kind of "share shuffle" that is illegal in nearly every state outside of the former Confederacy – led the charge to drug-test all TANF ("welfare") recipients. Think of the money Florida will save when it can deny benefits to all Those People with their crack and their weed and their bath salts and whatnot!

Stunningly, the state did not end up saving any money. In its first four months the failure rate for benefit applicants was slightly over 2%. Since the state was obligated to reimburse the 98% who did not fail for the cost of their test, the cost to taxpayers far exceeded the amount that would have been paid in benefits to the drug using applicants. In four months, the program was almost $50,000 in the hole. In the grand scheme of a state budget this is not much money. The point, however, is that as a vehicle for fiscal responsibility this law is an abject failure. Few applicants failed the drug tests and the number of applicants was essentially unchanged.

The net savings of -$50k means that the law accomplished its real, which is to say unstated, purpose of funneling tax dollars to medical testing companies like the ones Rick Scott totally doesn't own. The problem for pro-testing lawmakers is to find a way to continue the policy now that its stated goal of saving money has been given the lie. Well that's not so hard; if you miss the goal, just move it to wherever the ball landed.

It turns out that they didn't write the law to save money. It was about morality and The Children all along!

Chris Cinquemani, the vice president of the Foundation for Government Accountability, a Florida-based public policy group that advocates drug testing and recently made a presentation in Georgia, said more than saving money was at stake.

"The drug testing law was really meant to make sure that kids were protected," he said, "that our money wasn't going to addicts, that taxpayer generosity was being used on diapers and Wheaties and food and clothing."

Florida's governor, Rick Scott, who supported the measure last year, agreed.

"Governor Scott maintains his position that TANF dollars must be spent on TANF's purposes — protecting children and getting people back to work," said Jackie Schutz, the governor's deputy press secretary.

Here is Ed's free lesson for the day: When an idea is pitched with "making sure that kids are protected" as a primary selling point, run. Run like your ass is on fire.

It's amazing how easy it is to turn a failed law into a success. Just redefine "success" on the fly and you can't go wrong. I can't see this type of argument without immediately having Iraq War flashbacks. Remember 2004? What a great year that was. It was the year in which we learned that we invaded Iraq because of al-Qaeda, and if not because of al-Qaeda then because of chemical/nuclear weapons, or human rights abuses, or Bringing the Fight to The Enemy, or establishing a foothold for democracy in the Middle East, or whatever other bullshit excuse seemed plausible at the time. Boy, moving those goalposts sounds exhausting sometimes.