Monday, February 02, 2009

More Lies at The Times

Tibor R. Machan

As a teacher of business ethics I often encounter the quip, "Isn't that an oxymoron?" It is not but what is more interesting is how readily ordinary folks give a pass to journalistic malpractice, something there's probably more of than unethical business.

Given how often people and leaders of public opinion demean money and its making, meaning of course business, it is quite contradictory of them to be so critical of business misconduct. After all, if money isn't so important in life, why is it important that its makers misbehave? Journalistic malpractice, however, should outrage people far more since many profess to admire pundits, writers, editors and others associated with the press, in print or on the air.

If one is looking for journalistic misconduct, leafing through the Sunday editions of The New York Times is likely to be a fount of treasure. I ran across several instances just the other day when writers in The Times repeatedly presented the New Deal in a thoroughly biased fashion, as if it were uniformly accepted that its policies rescued American from the Great Depression. Even some of the writers in The New Republic observed that this is hogwash--though in more polite terms. As for example Alan Brinkley noted a couple of issues ago, “....Roosevelt’s initiatives did not, in the end, lead the country out of the Great Depression. At no time in the first eight years of the New Deal did unemployment drop below 15 percent. At no time did economic activity reach levels comparable to those of a decade earlier; and, while there were periods when the economy seemed to be recovering, none of them lasted very long. And so this bold, active, and creative moment in our history proved to be a failure at its central task. Understanding what went wrong could help us avoid making the same mistakes today....”

But never mind. In The Magazine of The Times David Leonhardt states, without any reservations that "... Once [as for instance during The New Deal] governments finally decided to use the enormous resources at their disposal, they have typically been able to shock an economy back to life. They can put to work the people, money and equipment sitting idle, until the private sector is willing to begin using them again. The prescription developed almost a century ago by John Maynard Keynes does appear to work..." No dice, as has been argued in great deal and very convincingly by Amity Shleas, in her Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, and by Jim Powell in his FDR's Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression. They support Brinkley's point with extensive research.

If you now turn to The Times' Sunday book review you will read the following from Debby Applegate: "Werth [an author whose book she is reviewing] is a gifted writer, and his subject is especially important in our current economic crisis, as Americans are reassessing their belief that social progress will grow naturally out of unfettered free-market economics." Americans believe this? Maybe four or five thousand of them but the other millions are completely captive to the governmental habit--they vote for more and more special favors from Washington, they elect as their president by a wide margin someone who champions government wealth redistribution, their colleges and universities are filled to the rim with professors of government, history, political science and the rest who favor a bloated welfare state on the model of Europe's Sweden and France. They belong to labor unions that keep asking for protectionism galore, their farmers have the same agenda, their artists want government to subsidize the arts, and so on and so forth. Yes, this evidence clearly shows that American are committed to the principles of free-market economics. Give me a break.

Oh, perhaps Ms. Applegate is just ignorant and innocently states her untruth! No chance. She is writing for a publication that has never supported free market economics, not at least for the last hundred years. Yet that same publication has reported, back on September 30, 1999, under Stephen A. Holmes' byline, that "Fannie Mae, the nation's biggest underwriter of home mortgages, has been under increasing pressure from the Clinton Administration to expand mortgage loans among low and moderate income people and felt pressure from stock holders to maintain its phenomenal growth in profits..." So the current economic crisis appears to have been prompted mainly by the expansive credit policies of the Clinton Administration which urged both Fanny Mae and Freddy Mack to lend money at very low interest so as to satisfy thoroughly anti free-market objectives, namely, to provide everyone with loans that hardly cost them anything!

Lies and more lies coming from the pages of a prominent newspaper but does anyone complain? Well, no since such complaints usually get published in newspapers and other media and just as with most professions, these folks stand shoulder to shoulder in defense of their colleagues regardless. There are, of course, some exceptions--I work for some of those publications, ones that conscientiously eschew lying and prevaricating. But not the leader of the gang, The New York Times.

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