Economics, News Media, and Propaganda

While many high-end journalists and editors will deny it, there is definitely an ideology present at newspapers like the NY Times and the Washington Post. Economist Dean Baker has the details (boldface mine):

I got a taste of this propaganda effort first hand earlier this year when I was asked by an editor at the Washington Post to write a piece on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). While I’m largely sympathetic to MMT (it’s essentially Keynesianism – that’s not an insult, the name is taken from a phrase in the Treatise on Money), I have some differences. In particular, I am not willing to give up having the Fed as a check on inflation.

I also think the proposal for a job guarantee is a very big lift. It is a good idea in principle, but one that must be moved towards gradually with smaller programs like this one recently proposed by Senator Chris Van Hollen. Jumping to a program that could add 20 to 30 million people to the government payroll strikes me as a recipe for disaster.

There are also Twitter MMTers who view it as meaning the government can spend whatever it wants on things like Green New Deal or Medicare for All. This is not a view that the leading promulgaters of MMT hold, but for some this is what the theory means.

Anyhow, I was happy to make these points in a column in the Post, as I have done elsewhere. I went through a couple of rounds of edits, with the editor both times making the piece more critical. I decided to throw in the towel after round two. The editor wanted me to include a needlessly snide remark from a MMT critic and had me referring to the theory as “dangerous.”

That comment left little doubt that they wanted a different column than the one I had written. MMT is dangerous?

How much output has the austerity pushed by the Post’s regular contingent of commentators and reporters cost the country? More importantly how many lives have been ruined by needless unemployment and the resulting loss of income and poverty?

Seeing the needless hardship the country has endured because of austerity since the Great Recession, it really takes some nerve to refer to MMT as “dangerous.” Anyhow, I suspect the Post’s editors are immune to criticism. Just like the millions who mindlessly pledge allegiance to Donald Trump, they will push the austerity line they have always pushed regardless of the evidence.

Faced with the existential crisis of the Trump presidency, there is the temptation, along a need, to view the Washington Post which, despite a handful of columnists, is clearly in the anti-Trump camp, as an ally. If they are an ally, they are allies of convenience. If Democrats regain power in 2021, have no doubt that their sweeping incrementalism will come to the fore again. Removing Trump is the first step. The work of preventing a smarter, more diligent and ruthless Trump will be much harder.

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