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
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 detail 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.