Friday, January 20, 2012

Lessons in Good Journalism from the Opinion Pages of the Wall Street Journal – Review What They Do and Do the Opposite

Do The Need a Disclaimer on Their Opinion Pieces – Like “None of This is True”

[Editor’s Note:  Prior to relocating to the Volunteer State The Dismal Political Economist spent several decades in Western New York.  Unlike the author of the WSJ opinion piece on Buffalo he actually knows the area and its economy.]

Here is how to do a commentary, at least according to procedures that commentaries that appear in the Wall Street Journal must do.

  1. Determine the conclusion, for example, determine that government support of the economy of Buffalo, New York is what caused its decline

  1. Search the history of Buffalo, New York to find where there was economic decline at the same time there was government programs trying to help Buffalo.

  1. Examine all government programs that succeeded in helping Buffalo, New York in economic development and disregard them.

  1. Consider all weather climate factors that might have affected the economic climate of Buffalo, New York, and other extraneous factors and since they do not fit the conclusions, ignore them.

  1. Distort the current economic conditions of Buffalo, New York so that the case of government programs hurting the city and region is even greater.

  1. Repeat as necessary.

So what is the evidence that the above is in fact the situation?  It is this opinion piece by Steven Malanga of the Manhattan Institute, one of the apparently unlimited number of so-called “think tanks” funded by Conservative thinking money and home to non-thinking scholars.

This is an old story for Buffalo. Ever since the city began losing its manufacturing base in the 1950s and gradually declined into one of America's poorest cities (the poverty rate today is nearly 29%), the federal and state governments have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into subsidized redevelopment schemes that have yielded few tangible benefits.

Wow, that is pretty damning, or at least it would be if the conclusion that government was ineffective in helping Buffalo.  But let’s look at reality rather than ideology.  First of all Buffalo has been in decline, but here’s why.

  1. The manufacturing base of the northeast and the Midwest declined as the nation shifted to a service economy. In Buffalo at one time Bethlehem Steel employed 23,000 people at its Lackawanna facility.  Those jobs are all gone, independent of what government did or did not do.

  1. The weather of Buffalo is a huge cost and a huge disincentive for people to live there.  The last time anyone looked government was not responsible for the weather. (well Liberals maybe have caused a lot of snow in the city).

  1. The St. Lawrence Seaway opened and allowed ships from the Great Lakes to by-pass the port of Buffalo. 

  1. In New York State there is the New York City region and the rest of the state.  State government effectively ignores the state that is not part of the NYC Metropolitan area.  Far from having too much government assistance, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, the Mohawk Valley and the Southern Tier all suffer from lack of state resources.

But has government really been ineffective in Buffalo?  Well one would reach that conclusion if, like Mr. Malanga one simply ignores the great successes of government program, or if, like Mr. Malanga one is simply ignorant.

  1. New York State and local government has provided the impetus for the development of a medical corridor that combines medical education, medical research and medical treatment in a complex just outside of the downtown area.  It is a national and internationally known medical center.  Employment and development are booming in the corridor.

  1. The Niagara Power project creates a huge amount of low cost electricity from hydo-electric generating facilities on the Niagara River.  The benefits to the area would be even greater if it wasn’t for the fact that a significant amount of the low cost power is diverted downstate.

  1. Government, working with GM and Ford has resulted in increases in manufacturing facilities by those companies.

  1. There are two state sponsored college, Buffalo State College and the State University of New York at Buffalo.  These two institutions have contributed significantly to the economic growth and development and to employment in the region.

    Doug Benz for The New York Times
    The audience at Shea's
    Performing Arts Center
    waits for “The Addams Family”
     to begin.
    Doug Benz for The New York Times
    The Shea's Performing Arts
     Center in Buffalo.
  1. The city of Buffalo works with private groups to  develop outstanding cultural facilities.  A gushing report in the New York Times lauded Buffalo’s Sheas Theater for the Performing Arts.  Government partners with other cultural groups, the result being outstanding cultural centers.
  2. When a Republican anti-tax, anti government spending County Executive tried to cut government support for many cultural groups, he was resoundingly voted out of office.

Ok, there’s a lot more but you get the picture.  Mr. Malanga doesn’t, because the real picture conflicts with his ideologically driven conclusions.  And so he doesn’t deserve the sobriquet of “Commentator”, and instead is consigned to the category of “Hack”.

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