A Half-Vast Gamut of Economic Ideas

October 12th, 2011 · No Comments · Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

I’ve often noted here that the Albuquerque Journal’s gamut of economic ideas is half-vast.

That’s to say it runs from center-right to far right on the horizontal scale. Nothing left of center.

Vertically speaking, these ideas mostly emanate from the wealthy and corporate.

But the near-ban on economic thinking representing other interests doesn’t mean I don’t get a kick out of reading the Journal’s all-rightists -almost-all-the-time copy.

For it contains two strands. One is traditional, conservative and pro-business, the other radically laissez-faire.

Long-time Journal readers will remember when the paper was totally dedicated to the conservative, as personified by then-Senator Pete Domenici. He’s no longer a sacred cow, but the Journal still treats him with kid gloves; they’ve never wondered, for example, about his renewed dedication to balanced budgets after an eight-year-long episode of amnesia. But the paper no longer prays to him.

In fact, judging from the never-ending stream of essays and letters originating from the Rio Grande Foundation and other laissez-faire devotees, management now worships at the church of the “free market.”

And that’s where the fun comes in, watching how the editors interweave the strands, navigating the gap between Sen. Domenici’s corporate welfare and RGF’s condemnation of all government intervention in the (sacred, free) market.

For a colorful case in point, consider the Rail Runner caper that began July 5. It left the station with an editorial titled, “Rail Runner Chugging Toward Reality Check” on the financial obstacles Rail Runner faces.

Next came a news report headlined: “Rail Runner Faces Hidden Costs”. It ran atop the front page July 9.

Here the Journal editors masterfully incorporated the work of an excellent local journalist into management’s agenda.

This time, Colleen Heild, the crackerjack investigative reporter, did what appears to be her usual top-flight job, explaining the commuter train’s costs in detail and with reference to the project’s history and future.

Oh, how I regret not being a fly on the wall when she got the assignment. Probably she was asked to find out where the Rail Runner stands financially – and just that.

It wasn’t her job to go further.

If so, the next question at a real newspaper would be, “How do we put this in context?”

Ms. Heild’s assignment makes sense, after all, only if you assume the Rail Runner should pay for itself. But we, the people, subsidize every major mode of transportation. Why, then, the hullabaloo about Rail Runner?

There was no sidebar, no context.

The Journal did not compare Rail Runner with other rail projects nor delve into how it subsidizes business. Nothing ran on its supposed environmental benefits or how it fits regionally alongside planes, buses and private autos. And not a scintilla of American transportation history sullied the Journal’s pages.

(Book alert! See “Railroaded”, by Richard White, for a history of the trans-continentals. Not the triumph of free enterprise we were taught.)

To recapitulate, Journal management used a reporter’s excellent (if narrowly circumscribed) news story to make an editorial point.

It may have been a miscalculation.

A day later, this letter to the editor came from Belen:

“For those who argue the Rain Runner should be self-supporting, do they mean self-supporting the way city streets are self-supporting?”

And a Santa Fean wrote, “There is not a mode of transportation in the world that is not government subsidized.”

More significantly, the traditional business community weighed in against the paper’s laissez-faire tilt. Heavy hitter Terri Cole of the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce wrote one with Paul Silverman, vice-chair of the Transportation Planning Council.

They described the Rail Runner as a “public resource” and urged that we not “nickel-and-dime” it while solving its problems.

Journal editorialists returned to the fray July 19 to recommend “Financial Surgery, Not Band-Aid.”

But that wasn’t the last word.

Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation had that, urging the train be put out of its misery in an August 31 Op Ed.

Thus, did the Rail Runner caper wind down, for the time being at least, with the very evident split between “Libertarian” opponents of public transportation and business community backers.

If, as I suspect, Journal editors lose sleep over when to paper over that difference and when not, it‘s no wonder they’re reluctant to take on more.

Imagine if they published a broad range of economic ideas, including the dangerous left-wing ravings of, say, Reagan administration alumni David Stockman and Bruce Bartlett, both close these days to economists Paul Krugman, Dean Baker and Joseph Stieglitz.

No, don’t imagine. The Journal is committed to its half-vast gamut of ideas.

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  • Roland

    It has long been standard practice to evaluate projects like the Rail Runner using a “cost-benefit” analysis. The ABQ Journal, along with the current crop of neo-cons who are hell-bent on abolishing everything in which government plays any role at all, constantly reduce this a “cost-alone” analysis. Instead of expanding understanding of the issues, they reduce it to a dollar-sign sound byte. Anyone with a brain should realize that the corridor from Santa Fe to Albuq. to Belen is steadily growing into an interconnected urban nexus and it is common sense to plan for a practical mass transit system to accommodate the future. It reminds me of how Albuq. is constantly playing catchup adding storm drains under streets, which were regarded as superfluous back in the 1950s when the city’s runaway growth was taking off. I always marvel at how European social democracies manage to plan rationally for mass transit and clean energy needs, while the USA rushes backwards to embrace the 19th century.

  • Arthur Alpert

    Roland, you wrote a mouthful. What jumps out at me is “abolishing” a government role. That reflects the Rightist (and Communist) view that economics is everything! Which means economics trumps non-economic values including patriotism, love and justice.
    Arthur Alpert

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