School video wildly false and anti-capitalism

By John in Oregon

Making the rounds and being peddled into local schools is the Story of Stuff. The video by controversial environmental activist Annie Leonard mixes a decidedly anti capitalist message with kid-friendly illustrations.

But as FOX news noted some teachers are starting to worry over the one-sided nature of the presentation. Is the video an exposé of the United States obsession with things or is it a rant against free market capitalism? To answer that question FOX news decided to do a little fact checking. Ms. Leonard claims in the Video:

Now the reason the corporation looks bigger than the government is the corporation is bigger than the government. Of the largest 100 economies on earth now, 51 are corporations.

FOX news found this was false. FOX stated:

According to a 2002 study at the University of Leuven in Belgium, that number should be about 37. And even the largest corporation is tiny compared to some of the world’s biggest economies “” The error came about because environmentalists were comparing the sales of corporations to the GDP of nations, which aren’t comparable.

That’s a good one. Comparing apples to red bowling balls. Another fact check from FOX. Ms. Leonard’s video claims:

Where I live, in the United States, we have less than 4 percent of our original forests left.

FOX found this was misleading.

The U.S. Forest Service reports that 33 percent of the nation is forested, and that the number has been stable for about 100 years. It sounds like Leonard is saying that 96 percent of our forests have been cut down, but what she’s really saying is that some trees have been cut down at some point in the last 400 years in nearly every forest.

Well. It could be that for some people cutting even a single tree is the same as raping the forest and clear cutting the woods. I will leave it to the reader to conclude whether a misrepresentation is a lie.

FOX news did show potential bias in the video so I thought I would dig deeper and see what else I could find. Throughout the video Leonard uses illustrations to represent people and things. Here is how she talks about government.

Well, let’s start with the government. Now my friends tell me I should use a tank to symbolize the government and that true in many countries and increasingly in our own, after all more than 50% of our federal tax money is now going to the military.

Is that true? Are we spending half our money on the military? According to Treasury information the top four expenditures of the 2008 federal budget year are:

Health and Human Services.$701billion
Social Security ……………..$658 billion
Department of Defense ……$620 billion
Interest on the debt……….$550 billion
Total………………………….$2,529 billion

Even without considering the other departments (Housing, Education ETC) DOD spending is only number three on the list and no where near half the Federal spending.

But Ms Leonard saves her harshest condemnation for our economy.

And President Eisenhower’s council of economic advisor chairman said that the American economy’s ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods.

MORE CONSUMER GOODS??? [loud voice] Our ultimate purpose?

Not provide health care, or education, or safe transportation or sustainability or justice? Consumer goods?

Wow. The American economy cheating people by forcing them to buy things they don’t need or want. All the while the people are punished with no health care, education, transportation, shelter and food. I added the last two which are natural extensions. That is quite an indictment. The evils of the free market set against the people victimized by lack of heath care, education, transportation, shelter and food. Horrible. Just horrible.

Except. Did you notice the slight of hand here? The illusion the video creates. The illusion of a struggle between health, education, and transportation (the good) on one hand and the economy (the bad) on the other.

But, when I pay my doctor’s fee, write a check to the Montessori school, buy a car, pay my rent, or visit the grocery store I am purchasing these things in the economy. They are not separate things, not divorced from the economy, they are consumer goods and services that people want.

Should we believe the free market system efficiently provides things Ms. Leonard thinks we don’t need while suppressing things Ms. Leonard believes we do need? Apparently that’s the lesson Ms. Leonard wants to teach our children.

So what else does Ms. Leonard have to say:

I’m using a person to symbolize the government because I hold true to the vision and values that government should be of the people, by the people, for the people. It’s the government’s job to watch out for us to take care of us. That’s their job.

Very Lincoln-esk! In 1863 Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address noting the survival of a nation during time of war. Lincoln’s address was about the costs of survival and was not a vision of government values. George Washington likened government to that of fire, a great servant when controlled and a terrible master. Lincoln, looking back to the founding from the Gettysburg battlefield, said.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

I’m sorry Ms. Leonard neither Lincoln nor the founders considered government our mother to take care of us. The founders gave us liberty, we the people make our own choices and the responsibility is ours not the Government.

Ms. Leonard continues:

Guess what percentage of total material flow through this system is still in product use 6 months after their sale in North America. Fifty percent? Twenty? NO. One percent. ONE! [loud voice] in other words 99 percent of the stuff we harvest, mine, process, transport — 99 percent of the stuff we run through this system is trashed within 6 months. Now how can we run a Planet with that rate of materials throughput?

Is that true and if so then is it unreasonable? The U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) divides goods into durable goods, non-durable goods, and services. To avoid the Bush lied problem lets look at consumption expenditures in 1997, the peek of the economic spending.

The DOC defines durable goods as goods with a lifetime of three or more years. In 1997 personal consumption expenditures, consumers spent $659.4 billion on durable goods (8.2 percent of GDP), $1.593 trillion on non-durable goods (19.7 percent of GDP), and $3.237 trillion on services (40 percent of GDP).

In addition producers spent $615.2 billion on durable equipment in 1997 (7.6 percent of GDP). Exports and government purchases also contributed to durable goods resulting in an overall total of $1.316 trillion (16.3 percent of GDP).

So, 16.3 percent durable goods is quite different than the 1 percent that Ms. Leonard claims. But what about that 19.7 percent of non-durable goods that were trashed in 1997. Horrible. Evil. Waste, unacceptable waste.

Oh, what was that you ask? What were those wasteful non-durable goods. Well the major components are food, water, clothing, motor fuel, heat, lights, haircuts, ETC. I guess waste is in the eye of the beholder isnt it Ms. Leonard?

I stop here for lack of space, not lack of material from the video. Like those teachers the FOX news story quoted, I also worry about the one-sided nature of the video’s presentation. The video ill-serves our country or our children.