Thursday, May 6, 2010

Is The Last Word doing enough?

I wrote recently on how identifying with a political perspective can shape what questions journalists think to ask about the world. My example was the question that journalists often put to politicians about some social ill: "is the government doing enough?"

The post was partly inspired by my recent experience on Twitter, where I now follow a number of Irish journalists. Today, election day in the UK, has seen a lot of excitement as the journalists post articles urging people to vote in different ways, and mock the excessive editorialising of the tabloids.

So far, I have seen none supporting the Conservative Party. None supporting UKIP, BNP or the Greens. There may be some minor support for the Liberal Democrats - the rest are gung ho for Labour.

That's perfectly fine, but perhaps does indicate a tendancy among a lot of Irish journalists towards sharing a particular political perspective.

(I, partly because I think such consensus is unhealthy, and partly out of mischief, have been pointing out that Labour invaded Iraq while everyone's favourite bad boys BNP and UKIP told them not to.)

Anyway, back to governments doing enough. The Last Word, an interesting current affairs radio show on Today FM, just tweeted this:

In negative equity? Struggling to pay mortgage? Are govt & banks doing enough to tackle this prob? Pls email us lastwordfinance@todayfm.com

Are government and banks doing enough? Here we go again.

There is nothing inevitable about this argument, that more government intervention is naturally the solution to economic problems. In 1999 Christina Romer wrote in The Journal of Economic Perspectives that recessions in the United States have actually grown longer after the US government began to engage more with the economy:

In fact, she found the average length of recessions from 1887 to 1929 was 10.3 months. If the current recession ended in August [2009], then the average postwar recession lasted one month longer—11.3 months. The longest recession from 1887 to 1929 lasted 16 months. But there have been three recessions since 1973 that lasted at least that long.

More government causes longer recessions? Perhaps, perhaps not, but we need this perspective too, I think. Someone to say: "is the government doing too much?"

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