"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, June 27, 2005

Perhaps U.S. journalism has no class

Samantha Henig at Columbia Journalism Review Daily chided copycat journalism in The New York Times series on "Class In America" and curiously similar Wall Street Journal version. Then she added this cranky comment about my own piece in the latter paper:

"Reynolds' critique is worth reading," she writes, "simply for the fact that it's so cranky. . . But Reynolds' contention begs a point, perhaps because he did not include the Los Angeles Times in his jeremiad: If the issue is so agenda-driven, why is the Los Angeles paper the only one of the three that comes close to putting forward an actual agenda?"

My cranky answer appears on the CJR's blog, which may be a fun place to stir things up a bit.

7 comments:

Jay D. Homnick said...

Perhaps this is my own eccentric observation, but I always find that being cranky has one great advantage - it says that you're not a crank!

Cranks are relentlessly shrill. It is only the normal, the healthy, those comfortable in rationality, that get cranky when the world is askew.

Hunter Baker said...

I think the real problem is that journalists, quite frequently, don't know anything other than popular wisdom, which is frequently wrong. Media outlets would do far better to hire people with advanced degrees who happen to write well.

Tlaloc said...

Sure Hunter, except that people with advanced economics degrees know even less. They get obsessed with what works on paper and ignore how it works in real life. Again we come back to Reaganomics. Looks great, works terrible.

Alan Reynolds said...

For Tlaloc (not that he needs the help):

Lying with Statistics:
Efforts to Discredit the Economic Achievements of the 1980s Just Don't Add Up
Alan Reynolds, National Review (14 October 1996)


The agility with which some people deny undeniable facts is quite remarkable. It usually involves some mixture of the following tricks:

1. Redefine the Eighties. This year's nomination for the annual John Berry award for economic illiteracy goes to . . . John Berry. On August 10, Berry wrote in the Washington Post that, "Despite the supply-siders' rosy view of what happened in the 1980s, productivity growth from 1986, when income tax rates reached their low point, through 1995 averaged less than 1 per cent a year." Defining 1986 to 1995 as "the 1980s" is a truly remarkable achievement in creative news reporting....

2. Compare this expansion with past recessions. In the Wall Street Journal of July 18, Steven Rattner of Lazard Frcres claimed the economy grew by only 2.4 per cent a year in the "Reagan - Bush" years. In order to come up with that low a figure Rattner had to place Reagan in the White House in 1980 rather than 1981, and have Bush leaving office in 1991 rather than 1993. Even after this artful dodging, however, Rattner still comes up with a number that is about the same as average growth during the Clinton "expansion"....

3. Forget what happened when. Another reason why it is deceptive to include the 1981 - 82 recession in any comparison with the Clinton years is that tax rates were not reduced until 1983 - 84. In a July 17 letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D., N.Y.) states that a "tax cut . . . took effect in 1981." This is flatly wrong....Since the point of Rep. Hinchey's comment is to suggest that lower tax rates did not help the economy, it makes no sense to start measuring the impact of lower tax rates before tax rates were reduced....

4. Glorify the Seventies. The Concord Coalition says, "To avoid being misled by the business cycle, growth should be measured from one business-cycle peak to the next. . . . [GDP] growth averaged 3.4 per cent from 1969 to 1980. In the 1980s, it dropped to 2.7 per cent. Clearly, the Reagan tax cuts had little effect."

Yet the period from 1969 to 1980 was not one business cycle, but three. There were nasty episodes of stagflation in 1969 - 70, 1974 -75, and 1980 - 82. The Concord Coalition is suspiciously vague about defining "the 1980s"; it appears to include recession quarters in 1980 and 1990. The figures look quite different when we actually follow the Coalition's advice and measure GDP gains "from one business cycle peak to the next." From the fourth quarter of 1973 to the first quarter of 1980, real GDP increased from $3,936 billion to $4,574 billion -- a grand total of 16.2 per cent. By the second quarter of 1990, real GDP had increased to $6,174 billion -- or 32.8 per cent. Clearly, the Concord Coalition's nostalgia about the Seventies is unwarranted, even aside from the insufferable inflation of that decade.

5. Blame President Bush for not handing Clinton a deep recession. In The New Republic (Sept. 2), Matthew Miller writes, "The boom supply-siders love to tout, the 3.8 per cent annual growth between 1982 and 1989, came mainly because we were emerging from a deep recession that left jobless rates in double digits and much idle capacity." Alan Blinder of Princeton makes this same excuse. Apparently, poor Bill Clinton was not so lucky as to inherit the same sort of mess that Jimmy Carter left on Reagan's doorstep, so it just isn't fair to compare the post - 1991 expansion with the post -1982 expansion....

6. Make assertions about facts without bothering to mention any facts. Lawrence Chimerine of the Economic Strategy Institute wrote "The Return of the Supply-Siders" in the Washington Post, July 23. Chimerine said, "The personal savings rate dropped to a postwar record low, and the overall national savings rate dropped even more sharply." The personal savings rate averaged 6.2 per cent from 1983 to 1989, compared with 4.2 per cent from 1993 to date. The national savings rate averaged 17.2 per cent from 1983 to 1989, compared with 14.6 per cent from 1993 to 1995. Chimerine wrote that "Productivity growth was extremely weak in the 1980s." But productivity growth averaged 1.6 per cent a year from 1983 to 1989, compared with 0.5 per cent since 1993....

Apologists for high tax rates have become almost comical in their arrogant ignorance even by the low standards of election years. They should be ashamed.

Tlaloc said...

You point out a few bad instances and claim they apply to everyone? The fact is that Reagan cut taxes, ran up a huge national debt and then finally gave in and raised taxes and the 80s saw at best lukewarm economic news. Clinton raised taxes and the 90s saw much better economic growth.

It certainly doesn't bolster Reagan's case that he had to lie through his teeth about fictional welfare queens in order to carry out his economic program of destitution for the lower 99%.

Tlaloc said...

Oh yeah and Clinton raised a huge government surplus. Which had Bush not pissed away we wouldn't be talking about a Social Security crisis because there wouldn't be one. Of course that's part of why he did what with the extremely underhanded republican tactic of "starve the beast."


Were republicans willing to openly say how much they just loath the poor and hate the thought of helping them I'd respect them a lot more.

Alan Reynolds said...

"Clinton raised taxes and the 90s saw much better economic growth"?

The rate of growth from 1983-89 was a bit quicker than from 1993-99, and the recession after that first boom was less painful than the second.

As for taxes, the timing is all wrong. Growth in 1993-95 was feeble -- even slower than 1992 (which Bill called "the worse economy in 50 years"). We discovered the Internet after that, and some rational but overdone tech-telecom euphoria. But we also saw the capital gains tax slashed from 28% to 20% in 1997. And the highest individual tax rate under Clinton was 39.6% --much lower than the 50% top rate of 1981-85.