Monday, November 24, 2008

NYT Editorial Prejudices

Tibor R. Machan

In its November 24 editorial, “Return of the Predators,” The New York Times reaffirmed its utter hostility toward and prejudice against those who work in the market place. It appears that given that in the market people strive to profit, there is no way The Times will ever give it credit for anything worthwhile.

This time it is “for profit loan modifiers” who are the targets of The Times’ prejudice. Modifiers are folks who aim to make some money off renegotiating previously made deals between homeowners and mortgage companies. Some of this is done by non-profit agents who, of course, are completely embraced by The Times and all those who demean the free market. That’s because they “work for no fee.”

There are too many levels at which this disdain of market agents is seriously flawed. For one, people who try to earn a profit from providing their skills to clients are by no means greedy monsters, any more than The New York Times reporter who latches on to a hot story before a competing paper grabs it must be some kind of fiend. The profit motive doesn’t create corruption. Moreover, non-profit seekers face their own ethical pitfalls, such as becoming insufferable buttinskies, folks who thrive on running other people’s lives and may even enjoy being depended upon by others who might benefit from some help.

As public choice theorists have demonstrated, the so called public service that motivates many who enter the non-profit market is often nothing but a personal agenda that gives these people their own type of profit or satisfaction. To think of these folks as if they were saints aiming to get nothing out of what they do is delusional. Nor need there be anything amiss with what they do to try and gain something from their non-profit endeavors. The point is that they do try to gain something from it. The pure altruist is rare and, frankly, no all that virtuous, given that his or her claim to be disinterested is usually a lie.

If those at The Times, and the rest of the anti-capitalists, gave the matter a bit more thought than they do, they might acknowledge that the mutual-benefit arrangements that take place in market transactions are normally completely decent ones. Just consider, The Times benefits substantially from all its advertisers and readers, for whom it provides a service or two, if I am not mistaken. How come its profit seeking conduct manages to be above suspicion but not that of the for profit loan modifier? When there is evidence of malpractice in market transactions, it is, as in all other cases of criminal misconduct, necessary to ferret it out, not simply assumed it to be part of such deals as The Times’ editorial writers do.

Taking it as given that when people embark upon profit making, including in the loan-modification industry, they must be doing something shady is like assuming that when people write for a living they must engage in shady conduct like plagiarism or slander. But this is silly and to think that way betrays a deep seated prejudice, not insight or wisdom. It is no different from suspecting all the reporters at The New York Times of professional mal-practice before any evidence of it had been uncovered.

Of course, for profit loan-modifiers are capable of malpractice, of corruption and such, just as are journalists or doctors or teachers. We know well enough from recent history that The New York Times had writers who were guilty of such corruption. But this does not justify suspecting everyone at the paper of the same.

Similarly, because some of those in the for profit lending or modifying industry have engaged in malpractice it does not follow that most do or will. For The Times to alleged that such people are less likely to be honorable than are reporters as they carry on with their work is rank injustice.

Indeed, all those who indict profit makers of being more susceptible of corruption than non-profit professionals need to rethink their view of human nature. By implication they are claiming that all men and women who seek to earn a living at some type of commerce must be inclined toward vice and crime. There is no evidence of this, certainly less than there is for the contention that all those who seek political office and work in government are likely to be crooks.

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