As the recent stock market bubble was exploding, The Wall Street Journal headlined a section of its newspaper with "What were we thinking?"
Excesses in the dot.com and technology stocks were widely known and publicized by experienced stock market experts, and warnings to investors were everywhere. Yet the stock market had been soaring to new highs, sucking-in the unwary. And the Journal was asking, in essence, "how could we have been so stupid."
A major reason has to be the policy of newscasts and investigative reporting to balance opposite points of view. A balanced news program often means that if you have one expert who wants to warn you of an impending disaster—then you must have another expert who holds the opposite opinion.
Not only does this ensure that opposite opinions are represented, it is also good for viewer and listener ratings. Nothing stimulates interest quite like disagreement, especially if it is loud and irreverent.
Unfortunately, this kind of balance ignores the fact that 95% of expert opinion supports one position, while only 5% of opinion represents its opposite. It's especially bad when the 95% of opinion represents the conclusions of objective observers—"the market is going to crash," and the 5% represents the interests of those who will profit from the developing disaster—"keep throwing money into market so we can get out."
It's really absurd when an obvious demagogue like Rush Limbaugh is brought onto a program as a balance to a progressive economist. It's even worse when a demagogue like Bill O'Reilly is the moderater in a discussion of economic or social issues. He can not only select the discussants, he can formulate the questions and determine how long each person can talk.
Just as the Journal expressed bewilderment in its "What were we thinking" headline, in the not-to-distant future there will be need for the same headline for many other developing problems: environmental degeneration (air, land, water), wealth and income disparity between rich and everyone else, our national imperialism, and a host of social and economic issues.
Whenever these issues are discussed, the progressive position is represented by one or two spokespersons who are committed to objective analysis. The program moderator "balances" their opinions with one or two opposing spokespersons who represent ideologically-driven special interest groups who have no intention of being objective.
Confounding the process further, each side of the disagreement has facts and statistics to support its positions. It doesn't matter how the majority of expert opinion has analyzed these facts and statistics. What matters is simplistic analysis and strongly stated, crowd-pleasing opinions.
As a result, the public shrugs its collective shoulders and concludes, "you don't know who to believe, so why try." The truth seems to be somewhere in the middle of these disagreements—and propagandists for the ideologues are perfectly satisfied with this kind of result. In fact, that is probably all they're looking for, because a stalemate results in inaction on the part of voters or the government.
So—when a professor from a reputable university is balanced by a representative from the American Enterprise Institute, the truth most likely isn't in the middle somewhere, it's all on the professor's side. Take, for example…
Every time you hear globalization debated on radio or tv, or in op-ed pieces in the newspapers, you find two opinions balanced against each other. One side claims that globalization will be good for all Americans because it creates jobs and America is the most competitive country in the world.
The other side claims that it is a disaster for working-class Americans, and an evolving disaster for skilled workers (even engineers, Ph.D. chemists, etc.). It will ultimately be a disaster for our country as the wealth and income gap-between the ultra-rich and everyone who works for a living—reaches historic proportions.
Truth is not halfway between these two positions. And you don't have to read or listen to the "biased liberal news media" to conclude this. Just read our most prestigious conservative financial publications. The following two articles came out in the past two weeks, and are representative of articles that have been published for the past 15 years of "globalization."
From Business Week, June 16, 2003:
Skilled Workers—or Indentured Servants?
As jobs dry up, abuse of power over visas is on the rise
In 1998, Mohan Kutty, a Malaysian-born doctor who has practiced medicine in Hudson, Fla., since he immigrated to the U.S. more than 20 years ago, decided to open five clinics in rural Tennessee. To find physicians to take such hard-to-fill posts, he sponsored work visas for 17 doctors from a variety of countries, including India, Pakistan, and Romania. But when they showed up for work, Kutty paid them just half the $80,000 a year he had promised-and fired several after they hired a lawyer to help them out....
Such stories have become increasingly commonplace these days. Immigrants have long complained about employers who cheat or abuse them and threaten to have them deported of they protest.
Generally, the problem has been confined to the lowest rungs of the workforce, such as Mexican farm hands who enter the country illegally. But nowadays, the weak economy has sparked an outbreak of abusive treatment among the legions of white-collar employees who flocked to the U.S. on perfectly valid visas during the late-1990s boom....
Experts point out that the U.S. work-visa system gives employers tremendous power over immigrants.... "You're essentially in indentured servant."
Also from Business Week, June 23, 2003:
Savings Tip: Don't Do It Yourself
Human resources and accounting are but
two cost centers ripe for outsourcing
You would think a company as big and profitable as the $179 billion oil giant BP would count its own beans. But it doesn't-because it's cheaper to pay someone else to do it. In fact, BP is paying the Global Services Div. of IBM $1 billion to handle a chunk of its accounting for 10 years. In the first two years, BP has saved about $52 million, and over the next eight years, it expects to save $200 million more. "We're very happy with how it's working out for us," says BP Vice-President Thomas Blackwell.
BP is just one of hundreds of global corporations singing the praises of business-process outsourcing. In BPO deals, as they're known among the tech set, companies farm out entire business tasks, such as human resources, accounting, and claims processing. It's one of the few bright spots in techland—and a growing source of revenue for the 11 tech-services companies on this year's Info Tech 100.
While the total tech-services market is pegged to grow 4% this year, IDC expects the BPO market to rise 11%, to $860 billion. By 2006, the market is likely to hit $1.2 trillion. "There are almost no boundaries to the potential," says Marty Cole, managing partner for outsourcing at Accenture (ACN ) Ltd. (No. 36)….
Recently, greater savings have been realized by moving these tasks overseas, often to low-wage locales such as India, the Philippines, and the Caribbean. Of IBM Global Services' 172,000 employees, 7% work overseas doing accounting and human-resource tasks, while Cincinnati-based Convergys (CVG ) has moved 10% of its 44,000 workers abroad since 2000.
(It's important to note that damage to white-collar incomes is not just the 7% of IBM Global Services employees, or the 10% of Convergys', that went overseas. Those job losses send a powerful message to 100% of white-collar workers: "Work for less and under poorer conditions—just like they do in the Philippines—or we'll ship your jobs overseas." Today, investors have almost all the power; workers have very little.)
The above articles are just two of a series from conservative publications that celebrate the "effectiveness" of globalization, which benefits investors and corporate executives at the direct expense of all levels of workers. The real mystery: why don't wealthy conservatives realize the looming disaster—even for themselves—as jobs leave our country and the bottom 80% of Americans lose their incomes?
How long before The Wall Street Journal asks the question: "What Were We Thinking?"—about globalization? And about our other problems, some of which may be growing beyond solution?