You Need Experience to Write for the Washington Post? Nah

Speaking of our vaunted media and its penchant for incompetent columnists, Pennsylvania blogger and Bush bete noir eRobin of Fact-esque caught the WaPo hiring a new economics columnist who doesn’t know anything about economics.

How can I be sure that you’re qualified to write for the pro-war WaPo?   Because some guy named Michael Fletcher, who is going to write about Economics for the paper, doesn’t seem to know anything about Economics:

Later in the discussion, a questioner noted that Bush is funding the war by “putting it on the credit card,” and asked Fletcher, “How can you have a balanced budget when the billions being spent to prosecute a war going into its fifth year are all off the books as emergency appropriations, with the notes held by foreign entities such as China?” Fletcher replied, “Maybe I’ll be able to give you an intelligent answer once I’ve written about economics for a while.”

“Maybe.”  Because, you know, that’s hard stuff.  But what the hell!  Get back to me in like six months.  I should know more by then because I’ll have been writing about it and, therefore, learning about it.

With hiring standards that low, as Rob says, anybody could write for a major national daily. Me, you, your Aunt Sadie with the hat decorated by stuffed birds and pineapples who thinks global warming is a gadget that replaces microwave ovens.

Of course, it’s not that simple. Fletcher is, in fact, already a WaPo political reporter who specializes in Bushian Stenographic Apologetics. Normally, he seems to spruce up Admin press releases a bit and then hand them in. So of course he’s the perfect stooge to defend the disastrous conservative economic policies beloved by the paper’s owners. He’s already announced his presence with a fawning piece on Treasury Sec Henry Paulson’s recent attempt to re-interest the Democratic Congress in privatizing SocSec. 

It’s a choice that brings into stark relief just how determined our national press is to continue infiltrating right-wing propagandists into their reporting staffs despite the now-obvious fact that as a class they’ve been just as hopelessly wrong as the right-wing political reporters. Here’s the “paper of record” putting somebody who knows nothing about economics and can’t answer the simplest question about it but is a reliable conservative drum-beater into its economic dept to counter the likes of Paul Krugman and David Cay Johnston.

Yeah, well, good luck with that, Mike. I will follow your future career with considerable interest. And when your inevitable crash-and-burn goes down, I promise not to actually, you know, cheer.

7 Responses to “You Need Experience to Write for the Washington Post? Nah”

  1. Obviously this guy has no idea what he’s doing and has no understanding of economics. But to claim that he believes in conservative economics is totally off-base- economics is, frankly, a very conservative field, and increasingly so. The reason for this is very simple- Keynes has largely been proven wrong, and Hayek has largely been proven right. This is why conservative (really libertarians who conservatives falsely claim as their own) economists have a pretty good track record of winning Nobel Prizes in economics.

    But no one with any understanding of Hayekian/Chicago School economics would ever claim that deficit spending on wars is a good thing or has a net zero effect on the economy. That is an almost purely Keynesian argument and is inapposite to free market economics. Also- if you understood the writings of the king of all libertarian/conservative economics, Milton Friedman, you would know that real conservative economics despises war and war spending. Keep in mind also that it was Friedman who played the biggest role in ending the draft. He famously confronted Westmoreland over the concept of a volunteer vs. conscripted military.

    You have to separate conservative/Republican political thought from conservative/libertarian economic thought- the two are distinctly different.

  2. eRobin says:

    Hayek seems like a free market utopian to me whereas Keynes is a realist, who supports mixed economies. When was Keynes proven wrong, by the way?

  3. mick says:

    But to claim that he believes in conservative economics…

    Actually, Mark, I doubt he believes in anything. He’s not there to “believe”. His previous writings suggest pretty strongly he’s there to provide a conservative counterpoint and plump for Bush’s policies. Neither belief nor reality enter into it.

    As for the rest, I’m not an economist but I’ve read enough about the Chicago School by people who are to be profoundly skeptical. I’m certainly not expert enough to speak to monetarism, but I can say that his arguments for a totally unrestricted market and the trickle-down theory that evolved from his work have proven to be disasters, along with the militant low-tax policies and mindless de-regulation they led to. At best, Friedman’s contributions can be considered mixed, at worst an unmitigated failure.

  4. When, exactly, was Friedman or Hayek shown to be an economic disaster? The most prosperous eras in recent years- the 80s and 90s (and here, Clinton deserves a lot of credit) have come at times when government’s economic role has been least, and Chicago/Austrian economics were at their peak in the policy world. As for your suggestion about deregulation being a disaster- it depends on what deregulation you’re referring to; the deregulation of the energy markets was for the most part done idiotically, paying only lip service to free market economics (unfortunately politicians ,being what they are, love to adopt the language of free markets while doing things that are totally inconsistent with free markets; the media, being the automotons they are, then believe politicians are creating free markets).

    In any event, it’s generally understood that Keynesianism could not possibly explain the stagflation of the 70’s, and that the existence of stagflation pretty much disproves Keynes (or, if you are a defender of Keynes, showed that global circumstances had sufficiently changed to make Keynesianism irrelevant). In any event, Hayek won his Nobel decades after Keynesianism had supposedly won the day in the 1930s; his receipt of that prize strongly suggests a grudging acceptance that Keynes was wrong.

    You also seem to misunderstand Hayek- he did not advocate a completely unrestricted market (though he came quite close), something for which the anarcho-capitalists have never forgiven him. Also worth pointing out is that, while Keynes ultimately disagreed with Hayek, he held Hayek in extremely high regard, saying of Hayek’s most important book The Road to Serfdom: “Morally and philosophically I find myself in agree- ment with virtually the whole of it: and not only in agreement with it, but in deeply moved agreement.”

    There have been rumors that, at the end of his life, Keynes himself had begun to reject his own ideas; at the very least, it’s known that he was one to adjust his theories frequently as circumstances changed. He allegedly told Hayek just before he died (in response to a question about the fact that policymakers were still implementing his ideas): “Oh, they’re [Keynesian policy makers] just fools. These ideas were frightfully impor- tant in the 1930s, but if these ideas ever become dangerous. you can trust me–I’m going to turn public opinion around like this.” Nowadays, Keynesianism is considered much more useful on a micro rather than macro level since it has a deep tendency to ignore the long-run implications of policy (something Keynes famously acknowledged when he said “in the long-run, we’re all dead”).

    Something I might add, which is admittedly the subject of controversy in the economics world, is that I think the unprecedented length and depth of the Great Depression strongly suggest Keynesian stimuli were not particularly successful. The US for instance did not come out of the Depression until after the conservative coalition started to roll back some of FDR’s programs and, importantly, the start of the war.

  5. mick says:

    The most prosperous eras in recent years- the 80s and 90s (and here, Clinton deserves a lot of credit) have come at times when government’s economic role has been least, and Chicago/Austrian economics were at their peak in the policy world.

    I’m so tired of this lie, so angry every time I hear it, I could spit nails, as my mother used to say. Or maybe I should say “part lie” because there’s some truth in it: the truth that “prosperous” depended, for the first time in our history, on who you were. What the Chicago School did was prove that “a rising tide lifts all boats” wasn’t true in an economy geared to making sure the money flowed to the top.

    That you repeat it tells me you must have been in the tiny demographic that did well, like Wall Street, at everybody else’s expense. Because the rest of us – the mass of us – were NOT “prosperous” in the 80’s. We were hanging on by our fingernails. We were scratching to keep our heads above the rising tides: millions and millions laid off after Jack the Axe proved that Wall Street would reward even profitable companies only if they sacrificed employees to increase those profits, the employees who kept their jobs exhausting themselves trying to do the work of five other people; the beginning of off-shoring manufacturing to low-wage, low-tax countries – millions more laid off; the corporate appropriation of pension funds that left hundreds of thousands of 30-yr employees to retire on half-pensions or no pension at all; having to accept as little as half the pay you’d been getting before if you wanted to keep your job; health care disappearing as a benefit.

    I could go on but I’ve said it all before. There’s a fuller explanation here with numbers to back it up. (Click on the link for a graph.) Poppy Bush’s presidency was the nadir. Maybe you don’t remember it but he lost to Clinton precisely because he kept bragging about how “prosperous” the economy was while 85% of the population was going under for the third time. He wasn’t lying, tho. The people he cared about, the only people he knew, the people in that top 15%, were “prosperous”. The trouble was, they were the only ones who were.

    The “stagflation” myth was used to justify policies intended, as David Stockman later infamously confessed, to break the middle class and shift wealth to the upper tiers. The whole concept was an illusion cooked up in the basements of the Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institute as a fear-mongering tactic to frighten everyone into sacrificing when they didn’t really have to. “Trickle down” was a scam solution to a fake problem, which is what the right-wing specializes in. It allowed the top 15% to have a party the rest of us paid for in blood and struggle. Our jobs disappeared for no reason (GM, crying “POVERTY!” and shedding acxres of crocodile tears, closed many of its plants here and moved most of its operations overseas in the 80’s despite an average $$$11-15BILLION$$$ yearly profit). Our pensions were stolen, often illegally, and neither Reagan nor Poppy did a goddamn thing to stop it. Pay rated were cut in half, often, as one owner said to me, for no reason except that he could “get away with it now.”

    “Prosperous” my ass.

    The 90’s were somewhat better, not because we regained any of the ground we’d lost because we didn’t, but because Clinton’s policies slowed the slide to a crawl. Wages stagnated – they haven’t budged since ’91 – but at least we stopped losing ground. Inflation – the Great Bugaboo of the rich – didn’t raise its ugly head because labor costs were low. Of course, that meant the creation of a new underclass, the “working poor”, but what did the investor class care about that? Inflation was “under control” and not only didn’t it cost them anything, it allowed them to get even richer.

    The 80’s and 90’s may have been a party for you but we paid for it and we weren’t even invited. Tacky.

    As for them other conservative myths I mentioned, I’ve already written elsewhere – at length – about their utter failure. Should you be interested:

    On the failure of deregulation

    On the failure of low-tax policies and privatization

    On the trickle-down scam: here and here.

  6. Mark says:

    If you really believe “stagflation” was a myth and a big conspiracy, then there is really nothing I can say to convince you- such concepts are no less out there than other conspiracy theories that you regularly make fun of here. Indeed, do a google search for “stagflation myth”- you will find that this very thread is the first and only hit, which kind of suggests a lack of foundation. As for the concept that things got worse for the majority of people in the 80s, I would strongly suggest you first read Gregg Easterbrook’s “Progress Paradox.” Also worth pointing out is that Carter, not Reagan, began the process of deregulation. As for personal experiences, yes- my family did well in the 80s. But my family also started the decade off with quite literally nothing in the bank account- and, no, there wasn’t a “rich uncle” who came in to save the day.

    Next, the issue of pension plans suffers from the same flawed logic as Social Security- you simply cannot guarantee people an income for the rest of their lives and expect the bank account for that guarantee to remain fully funded when the recipients are living longer on average than the plan ever anticipated. I’m also sick of hearing “profit” derided as a horrible thing- the entire purpose for going in to business in the first place is “profit.” You don’t start a business of any sort to lose money or just break even- you start it so you can earn as large a profit as you can. If you have a problem with “profit”, then you are essentially saying that businesses shouldn’t exist in the first place, and that everyone would be best off if we were in a subsistence economy.

    Regarding Clinton’s victory over Bush- it’s worth pointing out that the election that year fell right in the middle of an historically short recession- compare that to, say, the Great Depression, and you get the idea.

    On to your previous articles:
    1. Deregulation- first of all, anyone who said that the free market would necessarily mean short-term declines in prices was lying to begin with. There is a big difference between pricing in the long run and pricing in the short run, especially when the pre-existing system is a system with price caps, which have their own substantially negative unintended consequences on the economy since they are effectively subsidies that attempt to insulate people from the true costs of the services. I’ve said before that there are various types of deregulation, but that deregulation is rarely truly “market-based.” In the airline industry, though, deregulation was mostly (not completely) market based and has ultimately been a success thanks in part to the newer carriers like Southwest. Deregulation in the energy industry has had varied success, depending on the state and the manner of “deregulation” used. In many cases, though, “deregulation” really just amounted to a government issued monopoly and protection thereof- which is hardly a free market problem.

    2. “Failure of low-tax policies”- your article doesn’t really show any such failure, other than a reduction in revenue streams, which is entirely acceptable. Your article makes the assumption that public funding for programs always works, and that more funding is always good. Yet, a comparison of improvements in educational systems around the globe shows a zero (ie, neither positive nor negative) correlation between changes in spending on education and educational performance. If you want to see the effects of high taxes and a business unfriendly environment, I suggest you look no further than the story of Buffalo (http://www.city-journal.org/html/17_4_buffalo_ny.html), a city near and dear to my own heart that is now trying to reverse its course by doing something just as bad- offer all sorts of subsidies to attract one business (a freaking Bass Pro Shop!) that it hopes (irrationally) will save the city. The city does have one hope, though (http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2007/10/more_buffalo_blogging.cfm), but that relies on freer cross-border trade with Canada, something the Bush Administration has now made all but impossible thanks to its idiotic institution of passport requirements for traveling to Canada.

    3. As for the problems of “privatization”, I am mostly in agreement, except for one important distinction. There are two types of “privatization”: one is by just as you say “outsourcing” to a private company- this is the worst of all worlds and has nothing to do with the free market (something that will be the subject of a detailed post on my own blog next week), but instead just adds another layer of bureaucracy and, as I have said before, results in a situation where the company’s customer is the government bureaucrat rather than the people themselves. The other form of privatization, which is rarely implemented, would involve private companies paying the government for the right to provide a service, rather than the government paying the private company to provide the service.

    4. “Trickle-down” economics- the NYT article is a straw man that grossly misrepresents free market concepts, and moreover assumes the economy is a vacuum with no external factors (which is the problem with almost all economic policy). Indeed, the term “trickle-down economics” is itself a straw man that completely misstates the proposition- Thomas Sowell has noted that there is not a single economist who ever advocated anything that could be described as “trickle down economics.” Worth noting is also that much “supply-side” economics is really just Keynesianism applied to industry rather than the public- in other words, it isn’t free market economics at all.

    In sum, you continue to conflate Republican economic policy with free market economics- they are not the same at all.

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