Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Graydon Carter delusion

I love Vanity Fair magazine. I have some spats with it every once in a while and, sometimes, I let the subscription lapse. For the most part, I've enjoyed its journalism. It is worth the $12 to $15 a year I spend on the magazine.
However, its editor, Graydon Carter, can really drive me bonkers sometimes, especially when he completely mangles the facts. Of course, that is an editor's privilege to be able to choose which facts you want to admit to when making a point. Every editor is guilty of that ... it's part of the job. However, Carter has a tendency to do this each and every month, over and over and over again.
While I was against the Iraq invasion and didn't vote for or ever support George W. Bush, it got so that I almost canceled my subscription because I was really sick and tired of reading his rants about W. I didn't, in the end. Instead, I just didn't read the Editor's Letter. Maybe that is the solution to the future after reading this month's Editor's Letter.
Carter published this for the May edition: ["The 1 Percent Dissolution"].
Let me preface my comments by saying that I hate the fact that my commentary about taxes looks as if I'm defending or protecting the super rich with words. They don't need my protection. And no, I'm not super rich. That is not the point of my commentary.
My points are about what the best solutions are to the federal government problem. And it is a problem. Simply put, again, neither political party has a lock on the truth or the answers. The solutions are about both the role of government and helping those in need. The solutions are about reducing the size of the federal government, in order to reduce the deficit and debt, and then coming up with a revenue stream to pay for that structure that is fair and equitable.
Income - the fruit of one's labor - should be taxed as little as possible. Period. Personally, I don't have a problem with taxing unearned income higher than earned income. I believe in transaction taxes on Wall Street and sensible corporate taxes that charge every business a minimum tax, without deductions. I also believe in tariffs on imports too. So that's where I come down on things, generalizing as simply as possible. In other words, I'm not a tax-cutting right-wing nut.
In his letter this month, he writes the following:
Cohen and Kudlow are prime examples of the danger of trying to live in your own socio-economic comfort bubble and wanting to have a public voice at the same time.
So is reading the Carter Editor's Letter each month too. Look in the mirror buddy. And, while you're at it, why don't you venture outside your Manhattan to Los Angeles axis to find out what is going on in the real world sometime. Vanity Fair's journalism will be a lot better for it.
Noting that Larry Kudlow used to work for BearStearns a quarter of a century ago, Carter writes:
Today, the top 1 percent of Americans takes in twice as much of the country’s income as it did then—nearly 25 percent. And, incredibly, the richest 1 percent now controls 40 percent of the nation’s wealth.
OK, yes, that's true. But Carter, they also pay 40 percent of the income taxes right now too. Or, did you not Google long enough to figure that stat out? Yes, dear readers, it's true: "The rich get richer, The poor get the picture, The bombs never hit you when you're down so low," as Midnight Oil used to sing. However, the rich also already pay 40 percent of the income taxes now. How much more is enough? Forty-five percent? Fifty? How about just take it all? Well, if you take it all, the federal government still won't have enough money. Taking every penny the rich people make will only cover one-fourth of the FY10 federal budget. In other words, the federal government is just too big.
Carter writes:
History, [Stiglitz] says, has not been kind to societies so heavily skewed toward the rich. When wealth is concentrated in a small group, so is power—and power is almost invariably used to keep that wealth concentrated in those few soft hands. The result? Investment in education and infrastructure dries up. Laws meant to level the playing field are changed to make it tilt. A sense of national common purpose slowly, and then quickly, erodes.
Well, it's true about power corrupting and absolute power absolutely corrupting. As well, as Thomas Jefferson wrote: "I may err in my measures, but never shall deflect from the intention to fortify the public liberty by every possible means, and to put it out of the power of the few to riot on the labors of the many." Which is why Jefferson wrote to John Adams, years before, about the need for rebellion from time to time. However, where does Carter get off challenging that education and infrastructure are being starved? In what world?
As noted by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation and many other organizations and studies of public education expenses in the United States, during the last 30 years, spending has increased by 61 percent above inflation (doubled in actual spending) without any clear, positive results of a similar increase in student achievement. So, if funding has increased by 61 percent above inflation or even doubled, how is "investment in education" drying up? Well, it's not. It's a flat out lie.
Let's look at infrastructure. While Carter has said that funding has dried up, the exact opposite is true.
Since 1956, spending on infrastructure as determined by the Congressional Budget Office - meaning roads, bridges, schools, utility pipelines, etc. - has increased by 300 percent. On roads and water pipelines alone, the increase was nearly 500 percent. It is true that as a percentage of the gross domestic product, infrastructure has decreased from 1.6 percent to 1.2 percent during the same time period. But that is only because the size of the federal budget and the economy has grown significantly during the last 60 years thereby making the percentage of GDP smaller. But in actual dollar amounts, no, Carter, infrastructure has not dried up either. Another lie.
I guess, one would ask, when does someone write an editor's note about Carter completely lying about the facts? From now on, let's just call it "The Graydon Carter delusion," a dangerous thing when you live inside your own bubble of Northeastern liberalism (instead of classic American liberalism) and have control of a multimillion dollar magazine. I'll keep buying Vanity Fair magazine but, instead, vent a little, about its delusional editor.


Mark de Zabaleta said...

Good comment. I also read this magazine. Every point of view is relative. And the 80/20 Pareto is present everywhere. Normally 80% of wealth in the hands of 20% of the population ... a long time!

Tony said...

Thanks for the note, Mark. I sense that this goes on in a lot of countries, if not all. Doesn't mean it's right; it just means it's not abnormal. The key now will be how do we undo our banana republic? It would seem that neither party is focusing on the correct way to do that, since one side is leading to social socialism and the other side is leading to corporate socialism ...