Sunday 23 January 2022

The corrupted tobacco economist network Part 65 - Conclusions

 Overview of previous posts here

It is clear all the economists were fully aware they worked with the Tobacco Institute. Yet still I think it is possible when joining the network, some of the economists presumed they were sought to nothing but expressing their worldview. They were part of one big corporate conspiracy though, even if in the beginning not all of them might not have realized this themselves.

The tobacco industry used and exploited the libertarian bias of the economists. And the industry knew they would write the conclusions wanted by the industryBefore even contacting one, the industry was sure it would find a guy concluding taxes are evil, and that guy would be publishing it in a journal. It's not hard to find out why the industry was so sure: libertarians always conclude there shouldn't be taxes or tax-increases. The industry simply exploited their predictability.

George Berman's testimony in court shows the tobacco industry exploited Robert D. Tollison's libertarian bias to recruit him. The Tobacco Institute never told Tollison he needed to defend the tobacco industry. Instead, they fed him arguments so Tollison would come to that conclusion. in the words of Berman "we had focused a leading economist's mind on this particular problem and he was now able to be a spokesman for the solution he had come up with". Question: independently ? Berman's answer: "independently".

Of course Berman's answer "independently" isn't entirely correct: the industry fed his bias, and by doing so has been able to alter his mindset, picking up the tobacco issue. While Tollison indeed may have concluded for himself taxing is evil, his conclusion wasn't entirely independent.

The extremist worldview of the economists is obvious, and as shown even the industry sometimes had doubts on this worldview, afraid it could harm the industry being associated with people attacking tax-increases with op-eds like the one by Cotton Maher Lindsay titled excisetaxes: fascist finance, effectively comparing tobacco excise taxes to the practices of Italian fascism under dictator Benito Mussolini. A bit far-fetched, no? 

Or what to think about thois one; Tollison and Wagner writing the op-ed scientific integrity consumed by anti-smoking zealotry.  The same year the corrupted Tollison wrote a letter to the editor stating

Do remember this was written by a man heading a corrupted network, earning him well over 1 million dollars. Shameless. 

Yet at the same time, the extreme views are exactly the reason the economists were recruited. As shown, Philip Morris was interested in Dwight R. Lee *because* he was an extremist, writing giving the EPA authority over indoor air "would be likegiving a machine gun to a child".

The industry never asked Lee to take such positions. Whatever a scientific viewpoint is, there will be always be a deluded naysayer. The industry's tactic, seen in all the headhunting documents, is always showing the same pattern; the industry deliberately searches for nutcases, then giving them lots of money and making sure they receive media attention. To the laymen, the illusion then arises these extremists ' viewpoints might mean there actually is a scientific discussion. This is the doubt the industry wanted to create, because many people think when two different opinions exist, both must have some merit; Quod non, one can be completely wrong.

Were the economists corrupt ? Were they lobbyists, or just a pragmatic free-marketeers: was libertarianism the motivation driving the economists ? Or were they really for sale ? The Legacy Tobacco Documents Library doesn't provide a clear answer to these questions. Ultimately, it depends on the definition of corruption: the first thing we think of hearing the word probably will be: people doing or telling things they wouldn't do if not being paid.

Following that definition, it is clear some economists were probably dishonest: they signed things they  knew were flawed (Poulson), or lied being independent citizens (Militello). But this necessarily mean they defended work they did not believe in at all.

There's also another form of corruption: people being paid to tell ... exactly the same thing they would be saying if they would not receive money. In the case of the economists, I think it's clear that if they would not have accepted money from the tobacco industry, they still would be objecting any form of taxation.

This form of corruption isn't so much about whàt they said, but what they did not say. The website has done a tremendous job looking at the activities of the social cost consultants, giving a chronological order of the documents regarding the individual members. In 2011  Dominick Armentano wrote an error loaded reply (at the bottom of the page) addressing one strawman after another.

I guess the most interesting part in Dominick Armentano's reply, is the mere fact Armentano thinks his actions are defendable.

His answer misses a couple of points. ScienceCorruption's reply summarizes the entire problem with the activities of the network:

And those five points imply that every member of the network who ever delivered any output for the industry was corrupt.

Some economists seem to never have produced anything for the industry. But they accepted to join a network knowing they would be working for the industry. And several economists in the network accepted they would testify if being asked so by the industry. The fact some were never asked to testify, doesn't alter the fact they accepted to deliver testimonials if they would be asked to. It might not have been illegal (I don't know the american legal system), but it is clear there are some moral problems with their activities.

Further Research

Even though this series of blogposts isn't exactly short, there's much more to add to the tale of social cost and the economists network.

I have not fully explored the fact so many economists belonged to just two universities (George Mason University and Clemson University). What exactly was the role of GMU and Clemson ? Were these university aware of their activities ? What's the connection between the think tanks and GMU, the connection with the libertarian foundations, etc.

Another open question is how the economists ended up in think tanks. Did they join voluntarily ? Were they asked ? Is it coincidence they all ended up in the same think tanks, while there are literally dozens of right wing / free market think tanks ? Were some think tanks obliged by the industry to take the economists aboard ?

The 1984 Excise plan indicates the industry did not just want economists, but also wanted to recruit lawyers. We know there were attempts to create the network, but was it ever fully established ?

What was the role of the people "not on PM's list" ? Why does this document carry this strange heading? Were there other fully developed networks ?

We know some economists dropped out the network, but don't always know why. It is clear some were sacked, but were there any network members whose conscience came to play ?

On top of that, I'm pretty sure i did not discover all documents in the LTDL: the documents in the LTDL have been scanned and automatically converted to text, but the conversion sometimes failed, with letters getting switched etc. p. ex. Tollison can be found in the database as Tollison, but also Tol!ison, Toiison, Tollis0n, etc... This makes it difficult to find the right search queries...

One thing is clear: lots of questions remain unanswered...

Sunday 16 January 2022

The corrupted tobacco economist network Part 64 - Non-tobacco output

Overview of previous posts here


The tobacco industry isn't the only industry using think tanks to manipulate the audience. In 1999, the Independent Institute sponsored a full-page advertisement (Open Letter on Antitrust Protectionism) in the Washington Post and the New York Times, signed by 240 economists.

25 of the people signing were members of the Tobacco Institute's economists network.

The letter sounds familiar, it's just the same old call against regulations. The only real question is: were they following their political beliefs, or was the Independent Institue not anly gaining money from the Tobacco industry, but also from Microsoft ? And is it a coincidence in 1998 tobacco network economists William F. Shughart II and Richard B. McKenzie wrote the piece is Microsoft a monopolist? or where they paid to write it ?
Well, you probably already guessed it: According to the NYT in 1999 20% of the Independent Institute's funding came from ... Microsoft: 'Unbiased' Ads for Microsoft Came at a Price

Economists for sale ? Or was it pragmatism, and was the Independent Institute just working together with the industry to reach a libertarian objective ?

Alcohol output

By 1995 the tobacco industry was already working with a lot of think tanks and businesses, trying to attack the government on all sorts of environmental sciences

It may or may not be a coincidence, but in 1997 tobacco economist Richard Wagner wrote a chapter on the social cost of alcohol in a book edited by another network member, William F. Shughart II in the book The Taxation of Alcohol and the Control of Social Cost. In Taxing Choice: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination.

But even earlier, in 1987, Robert D. Tollison and Robert B. Ekelund, Jr. wrote Economic effects of Geographic Restraints in the Malt Beverage Industry used by Tollison in a hearing before the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Monopolies, and Business Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, One Hundredth Congress, first session on S. 567 (August 4, 1987).

And more alcohol output in this one: Temporal regulation and intertemporal substitution: The effect of banning alcohol at college football games. by William J. Boyes and Roger L. Faith

It could be a coincidence the tobacco authors suddenly en messa took such interest in alcohol ?

Petroleum industry

After the  Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska (1989) there was serious outrage allover the world. So the industry could use some help, and two tobacco economists stepped in : Alaskas Other Oil Spill. January 1, 1990. Foundation for Economic Education (written by Dwight R. Lee and Stephen L. Jackstadt). 

No, the article is not about oil or protecting the environment. It's the same old story on taxes.

Saturday 15 January 2022

The corrupted tobacco economist network Part 63 - National Center for Policy Analysis

Overview of previous posts here

The National Center for Policy Analysis was another think tank where the corrupted social cost economist could spread their word

The next battleground: Indoor air

Dwight R. Lee
 in 1992 wrote the NCPA report The next environmental battleground: Indoor Air, opposing any form of regulation of indoor-air quality (IAQ). The report is also one of the first examples of a social cost economist questioning EPA's objectivity and neutrality. 

On top, it is making outrageous claims like government regulations on IAQ would kill 1900 extra people a year [sic]. 

Lee proposed the Tobacco Institute to make a presentation of the report at the EPA's 23rd International Symposium on Environmental Analytical Chemistry. 

Tobacco Institute's Karen Fernicola Suhr wasn't sure what to think of the proposal as she Lee's claims were so ridiculous:

It wasn't the only weird thing about this report. The Tobacco Institute also was wondering why the NCPA cared about Indoor Air Quality at all

The Tobacco Institute in 1992 wasn't really sure why the think tank bothered to write on indoor quality. A 1993 letter sent by Tom Hockaday (of PR-firm APCO Worldwide) to Philip Morris hints the report actually was written on the command of APCO

S. Fred Singer, Dwight R. Lee

Nor Singer (a physicist), nor Lee (an economist) have any qualifications to judge indoor air-quality science.

Meanwhile, the program of the 23rd International Symposium on Environmental Analytical Chemistry shows Lee was one of the speakers, so despite the "cookiness", the Tobacco Institute probably paid him the $9.000 he asked for. Lee wrote an article after the presentation.

It's hard to decide  which my favorite sentence is in the article: "EPA is no better at central planning than the Soviets were" or "Each polluter is better informed than EPA authorities on how to reduce pollution at least cost and is certainly more motivated"

I do understand why Karen Fernicola Suhr staed the tobacco industry had to decide if it felt comfortable with his message. And Why she felt his message borders on kookiness.

Attacking all environmental sciences

But even beofre the 1992 report above,  the National Center for Policy Analysis was already attacking almost all environmental sciences, in the 1991 report Progressive environmentalism: a pro-human, pro-science, pro-free enterprise agenda for change. The head of the taskforce writing the report was Richard L. Stroup, another tobacco economist from the network.

The taskforce consisted of an interesting list of names, besides tobacco economists there are a lot of people listed who would get known as climate skeptics.

Network economists involved in the NCPA environmental task force were (besides Stroup) : Terry L. Anderson, Allen Dalton, Bruce Johnson and of course  Dwight R. Lee

Other tobacco consultants mentioned in this task force were Thomas J. DiLorenzo, Kent Jeffreys, S. Fred Singer and  James H. Miller. And a lot of people from other think tanks, like Joseph Bast (Heartland Institute), Fred L. Smith (Competitive Enterprise Institute), David J. Theroux (Independent Institute).

The reports attacks a wild array of environmental topics. The report might be an early example showing how libertarians started attacking all environmental sciences, not because they have much knowledge on the subject, but rather because it doesn't fit their worldview.

Saturday 8 January 2022

The corrupted tobacco economist network Part 62 - Atlas Economic Research Foundation

Overview of previous posts here

The social cost economists were only one of the networks and tactics used by the industry. An example of other lobbying is found in the work of James T. Bennett and Thomas J. Di Lorenzo for the  Atlas Economic Research Foundation (nowadays the Atlas network)

James T. Bennett, author of CancerScam: The Diversion of Federal Cancer Funds to Politics (co-author: Thomas J. Di Lorenzo) wrote a letter in 1995 to R.J. Reynolds 

James T. Bennett

Again, we see a think tank operating as a front for a tobacco funded book. And while the authors are not part of the social cost economist, just like the economists the authors both are ... libertarians active in numerous think tanks

James T. Bennett is/was associated with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, the Virginia Institute for Public Policy, the John Locke Institute and currently is on the advisory board of the global warming denying Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow

Thomas J. Di Lorenzo from his side has ties with the Independent Institute, Capital Research Center, the Ludwig from Mises Institute, the Property and Freedom Society, the Heartland Institute, the National Center for Policy Analysis, and the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow

Or in other words: the authors are active in the same kind of thinks as the social cost economists... And both have been working at George Mason University, just like the core-members of the economists network. Something seems rotten there.

The industry paid the Atlas Economic Association in 1995 for the book CancerScam, but a year before it also paid $5000 to the Independent Institute for work done by Thomas J. Di Lorenzo, as this letter by the its president Donald J.Theroux demonstrates

And this is how think tanks became one blur of economists/lobbyists, the same think tanks that became the ideological basis for a big part of the American GOP in the early 21st century.