Monday, August 15, 2005

Playing the numbers

In that great big gambling game Republicans like to call "Governance", the real prize does not come when your man wins the Presidency. Nope, the real prize comes when your man puts his weasels into the administrative agencies. Only then, can you really load the dice in your favor and begin to reap the rewards of elective office. Whether we're talking about ergonomics rules in workplaces, media ownership limits in local markets, or FTEs filled for Clean Air Act enforcement, the last five years have proven that President Bush is willing to stick every corporate give away he can think of up our collective rectum.

Of course, while he is busy lubing the national anus for another deregulatory assault, he has to comply with that annoying thing called "the law". The real trick for President Bush and his crony weasels is to stick with the letter of "the law" while finding ways to circumvent its spirit. One excellent way they have found to do this is by way of cost-benefit analysis, which has been required of most or all federal regulations since atleast the 1970s. Since that time, OMB has been analyzing regulations to ensure that the burdens and benfits of a regulation are in some way commensurate.

The Bush Administration has become adept at developing new ways of driving down the estimated benefits of regulations, thus making it possible to argue that the such regulations should not be implemented due to their heavy burden. Back in 2002, for example, the Administration started using valuations that estimated that old people's lives were worth only 63% of a younger person's. Through this actuarial sleight of hand, the Administration could then argue that regulation of pollutants which disproportionately harmed older people provided too few monetary benefits relative to the cost imposed on the polluter. Nice, eh?

In any case, to the informed observer of this Administration, it came as no surprise when it was reported this morning that the Forest Service is scaling back estimated values of recreational benefits created by national forest resources. What is the net effect of such a decision? First and foremost, it increases the relative value of logging and other resource extracting activities in national forests. And this is important why? Because economic value is one of the factors included in timber sale decisions. An excellent way of arguing for the approval of a timber sale is to show that it will produce net economic benefits. If recreational values decrease relative to extraction value, that job becomes immediately easier.

The question, of course, is whether the Bush Administration artificially de-valued recreational values, or whether the Clinton Administration artificially inflated recreational values. It's hard to say but a 90% reduction certainly seems extreme to me.