Thursday, September 23, 2010

Responsibilities of an Editor

Not many of us can muster a rational and reasoned argument anymore. We used to learn the techniques in classes in "rhetoric" or in debate clubs or in high school civics and government classes. We learned the difference between facts and assertions. We learned about non sequiturs and red herrings and strawmen. We found out about statistical significance and anecdotal evidence. We were chastised when we used phrases such as "everybody knows" or "the fact of the matter is..."

Now nobody can tell the difference between discussion of issues and sound-biting or sloganeering. Americans simply take regularly repeated assertions as foundational facts. "There were no WMD" and "George W. Bush was stupid" and "Gore won the 2000 election" and even "the economic recovery is moving forward." Pesky facts can be mustered to challenge all of those and they might prevail or they might not, but they offer adequate grounds to question the assertions.

Yet some of the most fertile ground for examples of the ignorance in our political dialog can be found in your daily newspaper on the Letters to the Editor page. I regularly used to ask classes to bring the editorial page into class where we would dissect the comments of the citizenry. One of my favorites was the refutation of poll results with the statement that "nobody ever asked me!"

The Dallas Morning News, however, takes the exercise to an entirely new level. They publish comments which are so ill-founded and baseless that I often think that they are acting cynically in choosing them. They must be sitting around the editorial production desk and nominating foolishness each day to see if anyone notices. Take this beauty for example:

Rich aren't usually hiring
Re: "Partisan arguments cloud the facts on tax cuts," Wednesday news analysis.
The Republicans claim that extending tax cuts for those making over $250,000 will stifle the economy because these are the only people who hire workers -- and if their taxes go up, they won't hire the unemployed folks.
Well, I know a lot of rich people, maybe over a hundred. I can't think of one who hires anybody except his or her maid, gardener or maybe, stockbroker.
Herman I. Morris, Fort Worth

Apparently Mr. Morris considers his acquaintances as being a significant sampling of the population. Rich, I assume, means someone with more money than he has. But, is he right? Should the editors have said, "This guy has a point. The citizens of Dallas will need to consider this."

Who hires workers? Who creates jobs? Who gets hired?

First, let's stipulate that people who get hired for a job are unemployed before they are hired. An unemployed person is the most likely to be hired. OK, maybe we should recognize that some people move from job to job, but then they are replaced in the original job by someone who was first unemployed. No eureka moment there.

Second, who "creates" a job? An employer would be my best guess. That would be someone who owns a business and (soft drum-roll, please) that would be someone well-to-do rather than someone poor. I confess, I never "created" a job. I've hired a housekeeper and someone to mow my lawn. That's not dealing with unemployment. Businesses create jobs. Wealthier people tend to own businesses. A job comes from a business having inadequate staff to meet their production needs.

A small business has twelve workers. They produce profit for the business. Employees get paid, owner takes profits and if demand is growing, eventually owner uses excess return on investment to add employees--i.e. create jobs. The goal is to grow the business.

Conversely, same business, but after producing goods/services the return on investment is paid to the government in increased taxes. Then no money is left to hire that unemployed worker and conceivably even some of the original dozen will be in jeopardy of losing their jobs. Raising taxes on small or large businesses does not enhance job creation.

It is so obvious that Mr. Morris is economically clueless that even the Dallas Morning News editors should have said, "Hey guys, we can't print this stupidity without looking for all the community to see like a bunch of buffoons...can we?"

Letting successful people keep their earned dollars rather than confiscating them in taxes will result in more than hiring of "maids, gardeners, and maybe a stockbroker."

Honestly, can you imagine the contribution that editorial responsibility with regard to selection of letters for publication could make to the level of public discourse? If they chose letters which raised meaningful and rational arguments to enhance understanding of the issues they would be performing a public service.

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