Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Capitalist Media

A couple of days ago I picked up How Capitalism Saved America, by Thomas J. DiLorenzo. In the second chapter, DiLorenzo discusses the anticapitalists—particularly intellectuals as the responsible for “secondhand dealers” of neo-mercantilism. Of these secondhand dealers, DiLorenzo pays special attention to the media: they claim the trade deficit means something (it doesn’t), they imply tariffs are good for the economy (they aren’t), they suggest economics is a zero-sum game (it isn’t) and they even outright state that outsourcing is draining away our economy (while it actually enhances it).

DiLorenzo claims the media is “liberal.” Inspired by their Democratic professors, the media echoes their protectionist mantra for the common ear. The accusation of the “liberal media” isn’t new—conservatives have made the same claims for decades using arguments similar to DiLorenzo’s. But such twisted logic doesn’t hold water.

People change from college to career, probably because they enter the “real world” and face new challenges (like taxes). And DiLorenzo’s argument has inconsistencies. Liberal intellectuals also favor open immigration policies, international involvement and gay marriages. Yet the modern media shouts down immigration as poor economics (which it isn’t), often shrinks international coverage to a minute or less (unless some Americans died) and refuses to put gay marriage in a positive light—coverage of studies that praise gay marriage are crowded out by preachers and conservatives saying it’s evil. (The only time homosexuals are featured in the mass media is in sitcoms, where they function as comic relief.) If the media was truly “liberal,” then these examples would not exist.

So why does the mass media favor protectionism, if it isn’t because of their former professors’ influence? DiLorenzo should know—he wrote it on page 13 of his book, quoting Mises:
Neither the entrepreneurs not the farmers nor the capitalists determine what has to be produced. The consumers do that.
The consumer is king. That’s what all these distortions have in common: they all are what the people want. The trade arguments resonate with average viewer. The immigration jargon “seems right” to Joe Everyman. Downplaying international news leaves more time for cute stories about local people. Focusing on anti-gay marriage arguments is favored in a country where most of the population doesn’t like gay marriage. All of these distinctions about the media have pithy arguments—arguments than can easily be captured in a sound bite. The mass media panders to the masses, not to their former professors.

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