Researcher and Writer in Washington, DC

Government Information and Propaganda: How to Draw a Line?

Department of Labor vine video and tweet promoting a policy change.

Department of Labor vine video and tweet promoting a policy change.

A government cannot be held accountable if citizens don’t know its policies, its plans and its progress in implementing them. Democratic governments must be transparent about much they spend each year and for what purposes. Deploying modern tools to collect and analyze data also can help the public make informed decisions on questions large and small. As one example, businesses rely on U.S. Commerce Department trade statistics to assess foreign markets. As another, the National Weather Service tells us if we need to take an umbrella when we go outdoors.

But that same massive information machinery sometimes goes beyond enlightening citizens and is employed instead to persuade the public to favor certain policies. Is democracy well-served when the government uses taxpayer dollars to shape voter opinions?

A notable example can be found in a recent U.S. Labor Department campaign in favor of raising the minimum wage, a topic on which there is considerable congressional and academic debate. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has pointed out that raising the minimum wage would eliminate some jobs. Yet, the Labor Department’s webpage treats raising the minimum wage as an unalloyed good and labels possible job losses a “myth.”

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