Marketing Plutocracy

February 1st, 2016 · No Comments · budget policy, economy, Fact Check, financial coverage, journalism, social safety net, tax policy

By Arthur Alpert

It may not be much of a newspaper but – credit where credit is due – in its marketing of plutocracy, the Albuquerque Journal is single-minded.

Today, Monday, Feb. 1, there’s Page One box headlined “Bad news for NM permanent funds”. It refers readers to a story in the Business Outlook section, which inspires the lead editorial on A6. They add up to an argument against using public funds to better fund the public schools for fear the state’s permanent funds will be depleted.

The editorial sits next to a Robert Samuelson column chastising the leading candidates for playing “Russian roulette” by ignoring the “economic dangers of excessive debt.”

This, two days after George Will’s latest foray into economics, wherein he urges tax reforms (breaks for corporations) to jump start economic growth by a full percentage point.

And there you have the Journal’s total marketing message. Spending is very bad. Deficits are evil. Economic revival depends on making the rich richer.

This is the plutocrats’ story, with a few caveats. Spending is not bad when it subsidizes mega-enterprises or transfers public money into private hands. Deficits are not evil when they result from gifts to the One Percent, including tax transfers.

The Journal can and should make those arguments in its editorials. Journalism, however, rests on fairness and requires that newspapers present a range of opinion. And it most definitely precludes campaigns like the one I’m describing where the editors deceptively spin news stories, opinion and editorials to promote an agenda.

And spin it is.

Look at that headline on the front-page box. How bad is the news? Well, as I read Kevin Robinson-Avila’s story, not very.

Yes, the funds were down 1.2 percent in 2015 and things could get worse if the economy weakens. But, he writes in paragraph nine, “On the plus side the permanent funds are coming off a prolonged run up in value from the oil boom and from previously robust stock markets that helped drive /up total assets to all-time records.”

This was in his 10th graph:

“Today, the permanent funds are 24 percent higher than before the recession.”

The front-page rubric wasn’t quite right.

As for the editorial, once again the Journal rested its case on the back of John Arthur Smith, the conservative Democrat from Deming. It’s a favorite ploy, using Smith to suggest something’s wise because, look, both parties agree.

The Journal never reports that New Mexico has two conservative political parties. Instead, management promotes the fiction that we can grasp New Mexico politics through the party prism.

Aside: I’m reminded here that former State Senator Dede Feldman, a friend, wrote and published “Inside the New Mexico Senate: Boots, Suits and Citizens” to describe the complexity of state politics. The Journal never found it worthy of review. It remains an indictment of the Journal’s approach, which is:

See no complexity, hear no complexity, and so on.

But back to the newspaper’s mission, i.e., marketing for the plutocracy. This must be why the Journal keeps publishing Samuelson, who beats the same drum in almost every column – cut Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid before they bankrupt us.

That age-old scare tactic on debt might be more persuasive if only the financial markets weren’t so darn calm. And if only interest on the debt, what the kids must pay because we geezers are living high on the hog, wasn’t less than it was in 1990. Less.

And – this is a big “and” – if only the best way to a vibrant economy wasn’t to increase the debt, temporarily, giving most of us the purchasing power to encourage businesses to hire so they can produce the goods and services we want.

And then there is George Will. How does one describe that state wherein really smart people are consistently wrong? I’m toying with, “The Higher Stupidity.”

This time around, Will has discovered how to produce big economic growth, just revamp the tax code, making life easier for corporate enterprise. This will raise economic growth by a whole percentage point.

Uh-uh. That doesn’t happen. Tax policies affect growth by tiny increments of that. But what’s most important is that Will is re-selling the Reagan and George W. Bush tax cuts again.

You remember how well they worked.

Darn, now I’m arguing with George Will. Yes, he taxes one’s patience, but I must resist the temptation to be political. As a journalist critiquing the daily paper, I need to focus on how it spins.

It spins by publishing ideas on political economy from bright fans of laissez-faire (Will) and dull Establishment reporters on economics (Samuelson) and others (including Koch-supported voices) – all of whose nostrums comfort the plutocrats.

While declining to publish essayists concerned with how the middle and lower classes are faring.

Real newspapers, even Establishment organs like the Wall Street Journal, the N.Y Times, Washington Post and business magazines including The Economist, Bloomberg BusinessWeek and Forbes, offer a gamut of opinion.

Which puts the Journal in a class by itself, single-minded in service to a narrow political agenda. Promoting plutocracy. Mocking journalism.

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