Monday, September 12, 2011

The Illusion Of Objectivity

FLG has little patience for so-called objectivity and fairness in news reporting. In fact, he believes it's more a conceit than anything by liberals, again whom FLG believes are more short-term and empirically focused than conservatives, working in news outlets. GEC had a great post about this a few years ago.

Anyway, today, FLG was reading a long article on the front page of the WaPo that contains so much weaselly language just to conform to so-called objectivity standards. Here are some examples:
The rates on capital gains — which include profits from the sale of stocks, bonds and real estate — should be a key point in negotiations over how to shrink the budget deficit, some lawmakers say.

The phrase "some lawmakers say" is carte blanche for the authors to write whatever the fuck they want. For example, UFOs exist, some lawmakers say. Or perhaps, the rates on capital gains — which include profits from the sale of stocks, bonds and real estate — should NOT be a key point in negotiations over how to shrink the budget deficit, some lawmakers say. (FLG is sure he could find some if he bothered to look.)

And then we have this:
Advocates for a low capital gains rate say it spurs more investment in the U.S. economy, benefiting all Americans. But some tax experts say the evidence for that theory is murky at best. What is clear is that the capital gains tax rate disproportionately benefits the ultra-wealthy.

Some tax experts say? Not a lot. Not most. Not a majority. Just some.

And then there's this:
But others said that regardless of the economic arguments, the steady cutting of the capital gains tax rate reflects the political power of the rich, who are more likely to contribute to politicians and benefit from the work of lobbyists. In other words, inequality of wealth can lead to inequality of representation.

And so, in the end, they say ignore the economic arguments. This capital gains thing is a political issue that undermines democracy.

Look, FLG isn't going to sit here and say that the captial gains rate shouldn't be on the table when it comes to deficit reduction. Sure, like Greenspan, FLG thinks the ideal rate would be zero, but he's not unreasonable. He could live with something higher than the current rate.

To tell you the truth, his problem here is not even about the capital gains issue. It's the lie that the Washington Post and other news organizations like it are fair and objective. This article was clearly written by two people who are upset about income inequality and want the capital gains tax raised. That's fine, but put that on the Op-Ed page. It's far more honest to say:
We believe the rates on capital gains — which include profits from the sale of stocks, bonds and real estate — should be a key point in negotiations over how to shrink the budget deficit.

Rather than tacking on "some lawmakers say."

Now, in complete fairness, they did provide quotes from specific lawmakers and specific tax experts. But the entire thing was an opinion piece disguised as a news piece.


Anonymous said...

Apologies to the ad exec/critic for my slapdash copy and paste effort that leaves him uncredited with the observation but it’s probably a well-known principle in that field:

”the validity of a corporate message stands in inverse proportion to the insistence with which it is communicated.”

George Pal

Withywindle said...

FLG: I know where you're coming from, but I still don't think "empirically" best applies to liberals. Conservatives aren't claiming theoretical wisdom from out of thin air, but deriving their claims from experience--empiricism. So far as it goes, I think conservatives do have a longer-term framework in the experience they draw from--historical awareness!--but formally, when he takes the time to revise before posting, a Krugman will claim that he has just as many long-term empirical data points as does a conservative. I think both camps are formally equally empirical, and liberals are practically more short-term in their empiricism; but calling liberals more empirical smacks (in your case) of a private jargon--as opposed to when liberals say it, when it's just self-congratulation.

FLG said...


I was planning on writing a full post that will serve as a centralized place for all my pet theories and was going to expand on this point, but it's not about whether both have empirical data or both have theories. It is a question of relative emphasis. Conservatives thinking more long run have to rely more upon theory. Liberal with their more short run focus can more easily find data that is relevant because measurements occur at a certain time and then are no longer neccesarily true even a nanosecond later. Therefore to be more reliant upon empirical data is to be more short term oriented.

Withywindle said...

I think I'm going to kick strongly against "Conservatives thinking more long run have to rely more upon theory." It's certainly not our self-understanding--we take ourselves (we=some largish number of people who self-identify as conservative) to be anti-theoretical, to rely on a much thicker source of experience--history, tradition--to inform our judgments. One of the interesting winkles is whether "experience" should only be personal experience (a liberal tendency, I would say) or allows the experience of the past as well (conservative!) On this economic front, a great deal of experience has hardened into free-market theory, so it's a nice question as to whether a free-market instinct is experiential or theoretical in nature. I'd say there are a lot of people who take free markets as a theoretical truth; they may be political allies, but I think they are not my philosophical or dispositional kin. (No True Conservatives!--but I break bread with them, so perhaps I shouldn't insist on the point.)

Liberals may rely more on short-term data, but I don't think that makes them more empirical than conservatives who ruminate about Austrian economic policy in 1873, or the pot production of the Roman Empire.

Some of this turns on "data that is relevant." I think you are implicitly defining Roman pot production as irrelevant, which I think assumes the question at issue.

FLG said...


I think Austrian economic policy in 1873 or Roman pot production or Austrian pot production, for that matter, are relevant. The question is how much to weigh them.

Let me put it this way:
Conservatives are worried that excessive government debt is a problem because they look at theory and the long run, i.e. in this case, something that can't go on forever won't. Conservatives may even point to the Roman, Spanish, or British Empires as data points to support the theory.

On the other hand, you have Krugman accusing anybody who doesn't agree with him as making up entirely fictitious threats because yesterday's TED spread and T-bill rate don't show an impending fiscal apocalypse the very next day.

Withywindle said...

I would say we point to the Roman Empire first ... for values of "we" that include "me." As I say, I'm perfectly happy saying that Krugman is short-term; but I don't that yesterday's T-bills are more empirical than Roman pot production. Repeat, repeat. You can use whatever language you like--rrr!--but it does jar.

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