You probably don’t remember the days when some event was so important that newspapers ran an “extra” (pronounced “wuxtra” by comic-strip newsboys in knickerbockers). This was usually a midday edition that got out ahead of the regular morning-evening news cycle. The extra edition was devoted to reporting everything that was immediately known about the event, boiled down to a garish front page, which was then slapped over the guts of the regular edition and sent out onto the street.
Today, our TV news media classify a story as important by shouting at us, “This Just In”, “Breaking News” or “Crisis at the Pop Stand,” and letting a talking head read it to us while running interminable loops of shaky iPhone videos taken by some kid in East Elbonia. Except for the inevitable debasing of the word “important,” the process, yesterday and today, is pretty much the same. That’s because the intent is the same: to get out ahead of the competition by getting out ahead of the news cycle.
The devaluation of importance comes in part from the relatively low cost of presenting a “Wuxtra Edition” on TV. A special edition of a newspaper costs a bundle and it has a short half-life. It must, by definition, be really important. On TV, all it takes is a few keystrokes to change the banner and crawler, and they can be left in front of the viewer for donkey’s years or changed capriciously at no added cost. In the perpetual search for events that will catch viewers’ eyeballs, a fair and balanced media might be expected to grab almost any fluffy kitten story that comes along. Even a biased media would do the same, wouldn’t it?
So, when the mainstream media actually misses a real news story completely, especially one that might permanently cool some of the hot air blowing at election time, it’s not because they don’t have the horsepower to report it. Often, all it takes is a little reading and a few calls to experts on both sides. It is most likely lack of will power, or “political will,” a euphemism for not wishing to upset Sugar-Daddy Bigbucks. In the following case, it is the studied ignorance of the mainstream media that is real news, worthy of a Wuxtra Edition.
First, here’s the story as best as I can relate it to you.
To Govern or Not to Govern?
Most of us agree that the market is now Society’s central organizing principle. There is, however, a great discharge of verbal gunpowder over the extent to which market forces should be the only organizing power in society.
In our world, the main alternative source of power is government. Until the last two or three decades, the debate was over degree of market intervention by government, with liberals favoring more and conservatives less. In recent years, however, moneyed interests have introduced a previously untenable, even unthinkable, proposition into the debate: that the marketplace should be completely free from government intervention.
Government, according to this view, should be limited to assisting in profit-making if it is to be of any value at all. Unhappy with government as an instrument to protect and assist the individual citizen, powerful private interests are in the process of harnessing government to their own profit-making juggernaut.
Amazingly, neither the detractors nor defenders of government have been able to dominate by presenting hard, objective evidence for their positions. As reported in the media, the argument has devolved to one between ideologies, where the biggest megaphone has the advantage, if not the facts. While liberals make the case for a government safety net under the vulnerable, conservative strategists and pundits turn that around, linking welfare, taxes, labor unions, social security, medical care and education to government, which, by their definition, is superfluous at best and harmful at worst.
Progressives and liberals have been paralyzed by this all-out attack on their cherished people-centered programs – programs like Social Security that have for decades been taken for granted. These are governmental programs, after all, that were responsible for saving America’s bacon, particularly during rough economic times. Never mind. According to conservative doctrine, government is bad.
Exposing a Fake Reality
Then, in 2010, with its decision in the Citizens United case, the U.S. Supreme Court inexplicably handed the no-government faction a stadium full of bullhorns and all the money in the world to pay for them. Immediately, pro-government politicians were blasted with a superabundance of 72-point lies and half-truths, all protected by the First Amendment. Anti-government advocates, omni-present, shout their slogans and wave their banners 24/7. Their message comes across loud enough and often enough that the mainstream media cannot ignore it. In the simple act of reporting on what conservatives are saying, the media is helping the anti-government community create a new reality, one where government all but disappears.
Meanwhile, undisciplined, fact-averse reporting in America has completely ignored what should be a game-changer of a story. That story lies buried in a recent study, in which political scientists at Baylor, Texas A&M and Notre Dame universities present robust, scientifically valid evidence that citizens in advanced industrial democracies find life more satisfying as the degree of government intervention in the economy increases.
In short, people are happier with bigger government.
Social Science at Work
Rather than directly address the politically charged and difficult to answer question of whether “intrusion” into the marketplace achieves its stated objectives (i.e., reducing poverty and inequality) or whether they produce unintended consequences (i.e., driving down economic growth and causing higher unemployment), the researchers drew on a now-vast library of studies on human well-being and happiness in countries around the world, including the United States of America, stretching back over twenty years. From these they developed a survey in which respondents self-reported on their health, interpersonal trust, church attendance, unemployment status, education, income, gender, marital status, number and ages of children and other factors. Analyzing the results of this survey, the researchers generated a model of life satisfaction.
Then they correlated degrees of self-reported life satisfaction (dependent variable) with degrees of government intervention (independent variable). “Because there is considerable scholarly debate about how to accurately quantify the size and scope of government intervention, [the study] uses four different measures”:
1) The share of the economy consumed by the state sector
2) Overall welfare expenditure
3) Extent to which citizens are protected from commodification
4) Degree of labor market regulation
The third and fourth variables need some explanation. Commodification of people (as in prostitution and exploitation through sub-living-wage jobs) results from lack of options and depth of their desperation. This variable measures welfare generosity, not just spending, that relates to ease of access to welfare benefits, income-replacement values and expansiveness of coverage across different statuses and circumstances. All of which increase life’s options and alleviate extreme stress.
Labor market regulation refers to the level of employment protection legislation that regulates “terms and conditions of permanent contracts in case of individual dismissals, additional provisions in the face of mass layoffs and regulations governing the possibility of hiring on temporary contracts.” These work to provide greater livelihood security over time.
Larger values for all four variables indicate a greater degree of state intervention into the market economy.
Back to Real Reality
The study report concludes:
“Taking the study results in their entirety, it seems that government intervention (however measured) matters, but it matters the most for specific policies (decommodification and labor market regulation) that seek to insulate citizens from the negative consequences of the market economy. Citizens living in countries where the government more actively intervenes in the market economy report higher levels of life satisfaction…. Moreover, the substantive effect rivals or exceeds that of other traditional predictors of life satisfaction. In sum, the real world impact of government intervention on whether individuals deem their lives satisfying is quite substantial.”
Interestingly, this result does not change with changes in income, i.e. high- and low-income citizens appear to find more “leftist” social policies equally conducive to their subjective well-being. Furthermore, the result is the same whether the analysis is done at the individual or the country level.
The study authors prefer to view their study as one adding to our knowledge of human happiness, rather than one offering a normative political buttress to the liberal argument. Such a cautious conclusion may be natural for researchers from Texas and Catholic institutions. Nonetheless, one might expect the mainstream media to jump all over it. Here, after all, is objective evidence that government intervention in the market economy is beneficial to human beings, as individuals and in aggregate. If nothing else, the let’s-you-and-him-fight media like our own Daily Chronicle could make a little hay by reporting the story and refereeing the ensuing street brawl.
Like so many stories that originate in the “alternative media”, the light from this one was too faint for it to be of interest. Could the mainstream media simply have missed a story that originated in academia, well outside the media’s echo chamber and cloud of mirrors? Might they have decided that the only news fit to print is that which is predigested and vetted by pundits who are trusted by prime sponsors and advertisers? Or, is it just too uncomfortable interpreting raw scientific research?
More worrying to progressives should be the apparent lack of interest shown by the Democratic Party and the establishment Left. Here is a scientifically valid study that strongly supports the progressive point of view, which is now in an unwarranted defensive position. Yet, liberals have not figured out how to use such a study to their advantage. Is it possible that in their scramble to attract moneyed interests in support of Democratic candidates, liberals have entered the echo chamber also? If so, this is more evidence that the two American political parties offer America neither a difference nor a distinction. For both parties, it seems that the pursuit of happiness, is off the table.
Jay Moor lives in Bozeman where he remains alert and upright.