Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

More good stuff...

Had vaguely heard of Dean Baker before, but it turns out I really should have been paying more attention. Now that John Kenneth Galbraith's dead, someone's got to call the BS on conventional economic wisdom in the US, and this guy looks to be doing a sterling job. Here's a sample from his thoughts on Nanny State Conservatives:

The conservative framing of issues is so deeply embedded that it has been widely accepted by ostensibly neutral actors, such as policy professionals or the news media that report on national politics. For example, news reports routinely refer to bilateral trade agreements, such as NAFTA or CAFTA, as “free trade” agreements. This is in spite of the fact that one of the main purposes of these agreements is to increase patent protection in developing countries, effectively increasing the length and force of government-imposed monopolies. Whether or not increasing patent protection is desirable policy, it clearly is not “free trade.”

It is clever policy for proponents of these agreements to label them as “free trade” agreements (everyone likes freedom), but that is not an excuse for neutral commentators to accept this definition. Back in the 1980s, President Reagan named the controversial MX missile system the “Peacekeeper” to make it more palatable to the public. Thankfully, the media continued to use the neutral “MX” name to describe the missile system. However, when it comes to trade agreements, the media have been every bit as anxious to use the term “peacekeeper” as the proponents of the agreements, using the expression “free trade” almost exclusively to describe these agreements. (In using this term, reporters disregard their normal concern about saving space, since “trade agreement” takes less space than “free-trade agreement.”)

In fact, the media have even gone one step further — they routinely denounce the opponents of these trade agreements as “protectionists.” This would be like having the New York Times refer to the opponents of the MX missile as “warmongers” in a standard news story covering the debate over the new missile. You’re doing pretty well in a public debate when you get the media to completely accept your language and framing of issues. It’s not easy winning the argument over the MX, when the media and policy experts describe opponents of the missile as “warmongers.”


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Blogger Steve said...

While raising a number of salient points, Baker's fallacy in this argument is that the news media are neutral commentators to any meaningful degree. In these days of corporate ownership and control, the news media, knowing who pays the salaries, is about as neutral as TASS in the old Soviet Union. And if you disagree with the assertion that NAFTA et al. are "free trade", Bill O'Reilly has a fist with your name on it.

09 January, 2008 12:49  

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