John McCary of the Wall Street Journal reports today on the Bayh-Voinovich
bill, an anti-counterfeiting bill which got nowhere in 2005 but which has slightly
better prospects now, in the wake of minor revisions.
There’s really nothing objectionable about the bill itself, which "ensure
that agencies like the Treasury and Justice departments share information on
counterfeiting investigations, including those involving terrorist financing,"
according to McCary. At worst, this is a minor waste of time, especially if
no counterfeiting investigations turn up any connection to terrorist financing.
At best, it could increase the chances of catching counterfeiters and terrorists
What is objectionable, however, is the rhetoric involved.
"If thousands of our businesspeople were being held up at gunpoint in
a foreign country, if our laboratories and research facilities were being
raided and shut down by unidentified individuals, there would be a sense of
alarm," said Sen. Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, referring to the persistence
of product piracy. "That is in effect what is happening today."
Er, no. No US businesspeople are being "held up at gunpoint" –
in fact, guns tend to be conspicuously absent from any counterfeiting investigations.
No US labs or research facilities are being raided or shut down, either. So
quite why Bayh insists on this kind of hyperbole is unclear. But politicians
are prone to hyperbole: it’s the press which is meant to keep them in some kind
of check. McCary never says that Bayh’s assertions are ridiculously over-the-top
– maybe he reckons that’s so obvious that he doesn’t need to. But then
he writes this, with a completely straight face:
Counterfeiting is estimated to cost U.S. companies more than $250 billion
in lost revenue each year. Globally, its costs have been estimated at $600
billion annually. The World Health Organization estimates that up to 10% of
the world’s pharmaceuticals may be counterfeit. Both the U.S. government and
Interpol, the international police organization, have pointed to connections
between counterfeit sales and terrorist financing.
US companies don’t lose anything close to $250 billion due to counterfeiting,
and the global costs aren’t anywhere near $600 billion. These are invented figures,
with no empirical basis at all. They should not be represented as facts in the
Wall Street Journal, even when they’re immodestly covered with an "estimated
As for the connections
between counterfeiting and terrorist financing, they’re tenuous at best, and
generally consist of typical underworld linkages between criminals and paramilitaries
in places such as Northern Ireland, Kosovo, and Chechnya.
The one somewhat reassuring part of McCary’s article is when he mentions, en
passant, that ‘the Justice Department said in a letter to Judiciary Committee
Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy that the bill has "serious flaws" and
that the agency wouldn’t support it.’ Maybe there are still some parts of the
US government which are more interested in substance than spin.