Monday, December 05, 2016

A confluence of trends: trust in the mainstream media and inequality

As usual, serendipity leads the way in the topics I choose for this blog. A few days ago, I had found a post in social media about how well the economy is doing. The New York Times was advertising on Facebook and shouting the news about how great the economy was doing at 4.9% unemployment and I couldn't let that go without a reply. A casual search for the unemployment rate confirms their claim.

But hardly anyone talks about the real unemployment rate. Apparently, Gallup has figured out that the real unemployment rate is what people are thinking about and currently it's about 9.5%:

What is the real unemployment rate? The Department of Labor calls that the "U6":
U-6 Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force
In my last post, "When the jig is up, the mainstream media blames Russia", I discussed trust in the mainstream media. In that post we learn that public trust in the mainstream media has ebbed to an all time low of 32%. This is down from a high of 72% since Gallup started asking queries about trust in mainstream media. That high point was in 1976. Hmm. That seems to correlate well with another story.

In The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive, economist Dean Baker discusses what he calls "The Great Redistribution", the title for chapter 3. The story he tells in his book is that starting in the late 1970s, a policy decision was made to decouple productivity from wages. The end result is what we see here after 30 years of watching CEO pay rise and front line worker pay stagnate is an economy that is still staggering after the Great Recession. For more details on how we got here, Baker's book is highly recommended. You're simply not going to find this kind of information at the New York Times, or the Washington Post.

The mainstream media is almost completely silent on the reasons for the disconnect between productivity and wages. The MSM has maintained this silence from the beginning when the policy shift was made and implemented. What I see here is that as more and more income flowed to the top, the people at the top saw fit to ignore and suppress the story.

The only reason this information is getting out now is that we have the internet to find it with. With the internet, books by people like Dean Baker have a far wider distribution than if we had to depend on a publisher to make a print copy for everyone. Baker understands the reasons for copyrights, it seems, so he has offered the book for free as PDF and encourages readers to buy the print edition.

It's also important to understand that these policy shifts to decouple wages from productivity were made without very much input from the average working American. No American in their right mind would vote for people who supported an economic policy and legal framework which decouples wages from productivity. Unless, of course, that American was wealthy and well connected.

The political result of this policy shift is a presidential election featuring two of the most unpalatable candidates in history. Both candidates had messages that shifted in the wind during the course of their campaigns. Both candidates showed disregard for the working class and Trump continues to show that same disregard by nominating people to positions where they can do serious damage to the working class.

The same people who brought us an awful economy also brought us a political system that they can use as business opportunity. The candidates who run for office and do well when they do are chosen by the top 0.02% of the American population. Those same candidates suffer from something called tweedism. I know, it sounds like a political disease and it is.

Wait. What? "Tweedism"? From Wikiquotes:
William Magear Tweed (3 April 1823 – 12 April 1878), known as Boss Tweed and often erroneously referred to as William Marcy Tweed, was an American politician and political boss of Tammany Hall who became an icon of urban political machines. Quoted as follows:
"I don't care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating."
Tweedism refers to the idea that the right of nomination is more important than the right to vote. Most Americans have no part in the nomination process. Wealthy Americans are aware of this and have taken pains to ensure that most of us are unaware of the money primaries that decide who gets to run and do well when they run. The wealthy have created a walled garden of candidates for us to vote for.

The reason American public policy looks the way it does has nothing to do with ordinary Americans, for most of us have zero influence on the policy choices of the federal government. Ordinary Americans lack influence over public policy largely because they lack influence in the nomination process and the money needed to influence a politician once elected.

This study, Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens, shows that over 1700 issues and 20 years of legislation, ordinary Americans have near zero influence on public policy decisions. This same study is cited by former presidential candidate and Harvard professor, Larry Lessig in a TEDx talk in this video on YouTube. In this video, Larry gives us a crash course on Tweedism, too.

As inequality grew over the last 30 years, the MSM has consistently told us how great the economy is and that everything is cool. But then we had the collapse of the stock bubble in 1990s. Then we had the collapse of the housing bubble in 2007 and the subsequent Great Recession. I kid you not, every time I saw news of a layoff on CNBC, the price of the stock of the company doing the layoffs would go up. Now we see that after the Great Recession, the stock market is at all time highs, but that's not any good for most of us. Most of us own a pittance in stocks compared with the people who control the huge multinational firms that seem intent on ruling our lives.

We now know that when the MSM talks about the economy, most of the time, they're lying. They lie because they need to hide from us, just how bad inequality is in America, and how that inequality isn't due a free market. It's about who writes the rules. Watch this video to get a sense of how far off the charts, inequality is in America.

As wages disconnected from productivity our trust in the mainstream media declined. The internet gave us alternatives and still does, but we have to hunt around to find the sources we can trust again. Many once great sites for alternative news are now owned by parent corporations that make up the 6 parent companies that own 90% of MSM.

The Huffington Post is a good example. Once a bastion of good liberal news, they are now owned by AOL, which in turn is owned by Verizon. During the primaries, HuffPo demonstrated a clear bias towards Hillary Clinton, a politician who has been instrumental implementing and maintaining the disconnect between wages and productivity.

Another example is the Daily Beast. It would be easy to think of them as a good alternative news source until we learn that the parent company, IAC has Chelsea Clinton sitting on the board of directors. I've seen enough of this that I have to be quite discerning when I see news and decide whether or not to continue reading their sites.

If the mainstream media is looking for someone to blame for their loss of credibility, they need only to look in the mirror instead of blaming Russia. They could actually talk about the lost connection between productivity and wages. They could stop scaring everybody about how robots are taking our jobs when they know that's a lie.

Perhaps if the mainstream media stopped abusing the public trust they have pissed away on people like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, more people might take them seriously. In the meantime, it is up to us to find sources we trust or to become the media we need to stay informed.
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