Sunday, 3 May 2020

The tobacco economists network - or how the Tobacco Institute recruited over 100 American economics professors. Part 5 of many

Overview of the previous chapters here

Turning social cost into a lobbying-strategy

It is clear the industry simply researched the social cost issue to be able to create an instrument for lobbying. When the research of their consultants was finished, the next step for the industry was to decide which research could be used in its lobbying-strategy. This strategy was written down in the TI Cigarette Excise Tax Plan, subject of the blogpost after this one.

As seen in previous postin 1979 and 1980 the industry started researching several different possible arguments (philosophical, anthropological, economical, . . .) to adress the social cost issue. 

By 1984 the industry seems to have abandoned the idea of using anthropological arguments to deny tobacco had a real social cost. Nor would the industry use 'philosophical' arguments to attack "social cost" as a valid scientific tool, simply because this kind of philosophical thinking is hard to turn into facile and misleading arguments. The turning point seems to have been a workshop held in 1984 where the different social cost researchers presented their conclusions. Tobacco employee Ed Battison attended the workshop and concluded:
Some of these points present a structure for defense of prosmoking views that are applicable to legislative hearings and lobbying during 1985 and 1986.

After the workshop most of the non-economic research must have been considered a dead end, because it did not appear in the TI Cigarette Excise Tax Plan. Even the economic arguments were basically narrowed down to attacks on excise taxes by claiming they were not a valid tool to translate the social costs of tobacco, or claiming there was no social cost at all. The industry would also use the argument that taxes harmed the economy, so that addressing social cost by imposing excise taxes would prove to be ineffective.

The outcome of the research done by the extreme free-market researchers fitted their worldview, as Battison's summary illustrates:

He sees San Francisco ordinance as unwarranted and an infringement on individual liberty. Smokers should have more than zero rights in public buildings. He also finds W.H.O. philosophy to be rife with paternalism and social engineering.

William F. Shughart II and Robert D. Tollison (two future members of the economists network):
a law like the San Francisco ordinance has no real case for intervention. Nonsmokers benefit at the expense of smokers, who lose their rights as nonsmokers' gain.
Peter Berger (Battison's emphasis):
identifies antismoking movement—ASH, GASP as volunteer operations of activists, and the bureaucracy as government agencies like O.S.&H. who are cautious but feel that the scientific evidence is undeniable and definitive. They are paternalistic to smokers and believe that smokers do not know what is good or bad for them.

argues compellingly for common sense in public policy on smoking. If each one succeeds in banning all of one's dislikes, everyone will be worse off. Self respect and tolerance are needed.

Robert Tollison:
Tollison concludes that antismoking movement can lead to restricting other forms of behavior as well, and could result in totally regulated society.

The industry did not drop all the non-economic arguments completely after the workshop and they still appeared in the 1985 book Smoking and Society: Toward a More Balanced Assessment, edited by Tollison. But the decision to produce the book was made in 1983 and the industry probably did not want to abort the ongoing writing as it might offend the authors/allies. It is not unlikely the industry still hoped in the future it might be able to use (at least some of) the work of the other consultants.

Sherwin Feinhandler's cultural arguments were further explored but in 1991 Feinhandler received his Dear John letter
Dear Sherwin, 
Many thanks for your letter of the 14th November, outlining the range of work that Social Systems Analysts inc. are involved in (...) Although there was interest in your paper, unfortunately no immediate need for this type of project was foreseen. There is, however, now an awareness of your work and we do have close contacts with a number of your clients who would no doubt be willing to recommend Social Systems Analysts inc. I am sorry not to be of any help at present but I wish you success for the new year and look forward to meeting with you again at future conferences.
Yet Feinhandler would reappear in 1994 through ARISE, a tobacco funded organization telling smoking cannot be too bad because it brings people 'joy'. It seems the industry discovered Feinhandler's arguments could be turned into a lobbying strategy after all. . .

It is not clear what happened with Robert Nozick's argumentation on personal freedom. In the LTDL-documents his name suddenly disappeared. Perhaps the industry simply did not need any further research on the ‘freedom’ argument because it appears the industry was already aware that using people's bias and gut-feelings (like the ‘freedom idea’ of libertarians) would be a good way to recruit new consultants. 

The 1984 strategy document was still looking for a ring leader to set up the social cost consultant network. That all the names circulating were libertarians, was hardly a coincidence. 

Finally, Robert Tollison, a Professor of Economics at George Mason University and James M. Savarese, a consultant, would be asked to create a network of economists working with the industry to fight excise taxes. While the writings of the economists show (at least some of) the economists accepted the existence of a tobacco related social cost, they all objected the practical use of social cost as an instrument to address to tobacco issue. As libertarians, they certainly objected any form of taxes.

In the next post, we'll see how the network of social cost consultants fitted a much broader lobbying strategy written down in the Cigarette Excise Tax Plan.

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