Lines In The Sand

A popular network news program has been running a series on “Buy American” for some time now. By and large it has been directed at things the private sector can do to help get the economy moving, and it has done an admirable job of demonstrating that buying local can be cost effective while making a real contribution to growth.

However, I was disappointed to see a recent segment revert to Keynesian saber rattling. The issue certainly has merit: billions of dollars in infrastructure improvements going to Chinese firms. My problem is with how the story was presented.

The media have an obligation to report the facts – all of the facts – from a neutral perspective. And if they choose to interpret those facts they have a duty to also offer alternative opinions.

In this case the focus was on a few high-profile instances, primarily in California, but only following a blatantly political replay of footage taken from Obama’s campaign speeches calling for us to buy American. Once they had our focus squarely on the Federal government, they were able to slip this statement through unnoticed: “The state turned down federal money for a major portion of the bridge.”

The choice of Chinese contractors was a state decision – the government has no say if federal money isn’t involved. In fact there is a mandate to buy American unless there is a considerable difference in cost, which also was mentioned as an insignificant aside.

Other information vital to reaching an informed opinion was left out entirely. The problem in California is not quite so black and white. In the last two weeks three major cities have filed chapter 9 bankruptcy, the latest being San Bernardino. Something has to give.

One must keep an open mind to the possibility that the prevailing economic theory may be flawed. There are a great number of economists, equally erudite as those of the dominant school, who believe that government spending cannot cure any crisis and in the long run it always does harm. We have a right to hear that side of the story as well.

This segment brought up a singularly important issue, yet it played strongly on emotions rather than on reason. Rather than give us food for thought it only told us what to think. Back in the Cold War such reporting was called propaganda.

If I were to point to just one overarching cause for the condition we are in today it would be that we Americans have forfeited our right and duty to think for ourselves. We have drawn lines in the sand, not where dictated by informed and well-reasoned thought but where we have been told to draw them.

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