Thursday, February 16, 2006

Journalism blinders

How can it be any good if no one reviews it?

I come from a journalism background (although I'm recovering nicely) and that kept me from understanding blogging for a long time. I had a process drilled into my head where content does not have any value unless it's been vetted by at least two or three people. Blogging just seemed so ... unprofessional.

However, what this does is expand the pool of reviewing editors a thousandfold. Maybe not for my particular blog (yet), but if you look at all the content produced every day by thousands of bloggers, there is a powerful, unseen corrective action going on. It's similar to the "unseen hand" Adam Smith talked about in Wealth of Nations. In a free market economy, there is no overall plan. Thousands of individuals freely choose to interact with someone else for mutual advantage (I want his chicken more than I want the bushel of corn I trade for it, and vice versa). The net effect of all those uncontrolled transactions is a postive good for the group. Everyone ultimately gets the goods they want and need. It would be impossible for a panel of smart guys to distribute resources as effectively.

The same is true of ideas. A reporter is generally not an expert on any subject he covers. He talks to a few sources (at least three, generally) and makes a decision about what facts to include, and what to exclude. That is an incredibly tiny window from which to make decisions.

People talk about liberal bias in the media. It is there, but its not a conspiracy. It's nothing more than the inevitable result of limited perspective. People who work in newsrooms are almost always on the liberal side - they seem drawn to modern journalism's "crusading activist" approach (we give voice to the powerless, etc.). Because the perspective is so limited, they have a hard time processing new information.

For example, when you cut taxes governments lose money, right? Well, not exactly. If you own a business you make a little bit of money off each sale. If you need more money, you can either try to raise your prices and make more on each transaction, or you can lower your prices and make less on each individual transaction, but make more overall because more people come to your store. So what do you do? Advertise a sale and bring in more traffic.

Government works the same way. It takes a percentage off the top of economic activity. If the percentage off the top is smaller, you get more economic activity. When you cut taxes, revenues go up because the money that used to go to the government is free for more productive use.

Journalists often don't see this because they tend to lack any business or economics training. If I cut my salary by 20%, I make less money ... therefore if the government cuts taxes by 20% it will make less money and calamity follows.

It's a perspective problem. Blogs are the cure. For every reporter who puts out a boilerplate "tax cuts will ruin us all" article, there are dozens of economists on blogs correcting the record by expanding the perspective.

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