Monday, February 21, 2011

The Economist on the Events in Wisconsin

Everybody knows that The Economist is a silly piece of trash. There are, however, gradations in the degree of trashiness a magazine can achieve, and The Economist has chosen to climb to the top of the competition as to who manages to produce the crappiest piece of so-called journalism. In the past couple of years, it has become a virulent mouth-piece of the Tea Party. Given that the  Tea Partiers' knowledge of the economy is limited to the painfully stupid insistence that running a huge country's economy is just like balancing a household budget, the name of this magazine has become even more of a joke than it used to be.

Now The Economist decided to contribute on the events in Wisconsin. It published an article titled "(Government) workers of the world unite!that defies belief in its blatant manipulation of facts, horrible written style, and the number of ridiculous lies. 

Take, for example, the following asseveration:
The private sector is dominated by competition and turbulence. Performance-related pay is the norm, and redundancy commonplace. The public sector, by contrast, is a haven of security and stability. Many people have jobs for life and performance measures are rare. The result is a paradox: the typical public worker is better off than the people he is supposed to serve, and the gap has widened significantly over the past decade.
As a professor at a state university, I obviously work in the public sector and can say that this is the most egregious lie I have encountered in a while. I have just gone through an Annual Merit review which has revealed that the folder of materials I have accumulated in the past calendar year to provide accountability for my scholarly and educational activities is still insufficient and has to be reworked. Which is the reason why I am at work today, even though I don't have to be. "Performance measures" (and what a clumsy, unintelligent verbal construction this is!) take place all the time. I am expected to account for pretty much every breath I take. 

Tea Partiers often accuse the progressives of being envious of the fortunes of the ultra-rich. This article demonstrates that it's the other way round: Conservatives go out of their way to stoke envy towards the public sector employees who are so much better off than everybody else in this quasi-journalist's diseased imagination. As a result, we the spoiled public sector brats are warned not to rely on the truly hard-working people's sympathies (like we ever did): 
Now that the sovereign-debt crisis is forcing governments to put their houses in order, the growing discrepancy between conditions in the public and private sectors has eroded much of the sympathy public-sector workers might once have enjoyed. 
Note once again the meaningless cliche-ridden verbiage that is aimed at introducing patent untruths as some kind of God-given truths known to everybody. Of course, not a shred of proof is offered for a single statement. Who needs proof when your only goal is to make the stupid readers envy and hate the stinky rich public school teachers?

Of course, the real goal of the article becomes clear pretty soon: demonizing the unions is the order of the day among Conservatives. In case you were wondering who or what caused the current economic crisis, The Economist is here for you to provide the answer: the mean, horrible unions. 
Public-sector workers earn, on average, a third more than their private-sector counterparts. Left-leaning economists reply that public-sector workers are, on average, better educated. Whatever the merits of this argument, three things seem clear. Unions have suppressed wage differentials in the public sector. They have extracted excellent benefits for their members. And they have protected underperforming workers from being sacked.
Once again, there is not a shred of proof that I, a non-unionized public sector employee, will not be sacked faster than I can say "retention Review" in case I underperform. But who needs proof when you can have propaganda instead. As Dr. Goebbels used to say, in order to be believed, a lie should be grandiose. That guy definitely knew a thing or two about grandiose lies, and today's print journalists are learning these strategies as fast as they can nowadays.

Here is an example of The Economist's egregious instance of lying:
Governments tend to give their workers light workloads and generous pensions in lieu of higher wages (which have to come out of the current budget). In America teachers teach for a mere 180 days a year.
As one of those teachers who don't teach between the months of may and August, I can't fail to be shocked by the gall of a journalist who conveniently forgets to add that while I don't teach in those months, I also don't get paid. Even though I still do massive research, prepare classes, and even talk to students in need of my help. 

This so-called journalist seems to be unable to write a single sentence that isn't a complete and utter lie. take the following asseveration, for example:
Public-sector unions combine support for higher spending with vigorous opposition to more accountability. Almost everywhere they have demonised competition, transparency and flexible pay.  
At my university, we don't account for our teaching-related expenses any more. We don't account for them for one simple reason: our funding has been completely frozen. last year, I spent $878 of my own money on buying supplies for my classes: DVDs, office supplies, etc. Of course, I could have spared myself that expense and just used the textbook and nothing else. But, a greedy, spoiled public sector leech that I am, I chose to spend my own money in order to give my students what the university is refusing to. And no, I didn't render account of the money I spent to anybody because it was my own money.

The Economist wouldn't fulfill its role of kissing corporate asses until its lips are blue if it didn't extol the virtues of the corporate model that is presented in this article as so fantastic that it might even deserve sainthood:
The rigidity of the public sector does not merely reduce the quality of services. It also discourages innovation. In the private sector innovative firms routinely experiment with new business models, measure the success of those models and then expand successful ones. But whenever public-sector managers have tried to do the same—by establishing magnet schools that focus on certain subjects, or charter schools with longer teaching days, for example—the unions have opposed them.
I could ask, of course, how much experience in teaching this idiot who can barely write a sentence has had in order to pass judgments on what constitutes innovative teaching, but there is no point. Print journalism is dying. Newspapers and magazines published by irresponsible, lazy, uneducated quacks are being displaced by free access blog and websites that offer intelligent analysis and good writing to the readers. I hope The Economist, a magazine that charges extremely high subscription rates in return for this uninformed drivel, goes out of business soon. And good riddance, too.


Pagan Topologist said...

"Performance measure" is more clear than our own "evaluation metric" or sometimes "performance metric" which is defined in a piece of writing (called a document, of course) worthy of the same kind of note as the prose quoted in your subsequent post.

Clarissa said...

Yes, between the cliches of the conservatives and the jargon of the Liberals, we are all screwed. :-)

Anonymous said...

In the Army, the "performance measures" and the criteria on which I was evaluated were far more stringent than any I've ever been required to meet in a civilian job, and I've had a lot of civilian jobs.

What a terrible article.


Pagan Topologist said...

I forgot about "merit metrics" which are used to determine how much of a merit raise we qualify for each year.

Patrick said...

There was a time when "The Economist" was a decent, informative magazine - but I haven't read it in over fifteen years.

I can attest, having worked in both the private and public sector, with and without unions, that the reality is far more complex than the snippets of the article allude.

Even as an avowed conservative, with a legitimate and well founded distrust of unions, it is insulting to suggest that unions (public sector or otherwise) are remotely responsible for the current economic mess.

I guess allowing my subscription to lapse so long ago was money well saved.

Clarissa said...

My husband who is in quantitative finance used to subscribe. Every time he would hiss at the new issue, "I don't care about your opinions. Just give me facts, facts!" he doesn't subscribe any more.

"Even as an avowed conservative, with a legitimate and well founded distrust of unions, it is insulting to suggest that unions (public sector or otherwise) are remotely responsible for the current economic mess. "

-Substitute conservative for progressive, and I could sign my name to this entire statement. :-)

Tom Carter said...

I'd strongly recommend that anyone who reads this post read the entire article in The Economist. They discuss the issues across many different countries, and they make a lot of valid points. One doesn't have to agree with every word in the article to find it informative.

Here's a quote you didn't use, Clarissa:

Even people on the left are beginning to echo these complaints. Andrew Cuomo, the incoming Democratic governor of New York, is rattling his sabre against public-sector unions despite the fact that they make up an important part of his base. Davis Guggenheim, an impeccably liberal film director whose credits include Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, subjected the teachers’ unions to a merciless critique in “Waiting for Superman”, flagellating them for perpetuating a broken system and presenting Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, as “something of a foaming satanic beast”, as the Variety reviewer put it.

Clarissa said...

This last quote is as strange as the entire article. The governor of NY is "rattling his sabre". What does it mean and who cares? What is he on the left of? Sarah Palin? What does it mean to be "impeccably liberal"? Is the author at all familiar with the English language? How can any one "perpetuate a broken system"?

And most importantly, what is the name of the institution that allowed this journalist to graduate?

Spanish prof said...

I agree that The Economist has been going downhill for a while. I wouldn't call it a mouth-piece of the Tea Party movement, though (even though they had a Lexington section a while ago were they praised some aspects of it). They did endorsed Obama, and they are pretty liberal with certain issues like gay rights and abortion. I would say they are an example of extreme free-market dogmatism that can't change its ideas even in front of evidence that shows that there is something wrong with them.

eric said...

Public workers in this country are among the last remaining remnants of the post-war middle class. It doesn't take two brain cells to figure out that stirring up resentment against them in the form of some perverse inverted class warfare, in the name of "debt reduction," is but another in a long parade of schemes to transfer money and power, irrevocably, to the uber-rich.

NancyP said...

Charter schools as a group have not been shown to outperform public schools with comparable socioeconomic status students. That is WITHOUT controlling for the parental motivation factors and stable home situations that are more likely to be present in charter school applicants than in non-applicants.

The film "Waiting for Superman" presents anecdotes, not data. (All widely successful films present anecdotes because the general viewer doesn't want too many facts and talking heads interspersed with the anecdote.) Some successful charter schools are presented, but the average and disaster charter schools are not shown. Showing "a" success story is a good way to stimulate new ideas, but a bad way to formulate public policy.