There’s been a simmering debate of late in op-ed pages and the blogosphere about the prepoderance of men in the political opinion biz. As an old white guy with no significant influence over who gets to say what in any venue, I figured there was no reason this side of masochism for weighing in, but as a final Lenten discipline, I’ll offer a few scattered thoughts.There are at least three separate issues being kicked around. One is the small number of women represented on the op-ed pages of Big Opinion Leading newspapers like the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. A second is the male domination of influential but seletively read political magazines like The New Republic, The Nation, The Washington Monthly, etc. And the third is the decisively masculine cast of well-linked and well-supported political blogs.The first two issues, in reality, have to do with the ancient canons of the traditional journalism profession.Op-ed columns in all but the largest circulation newspapers have often served as the Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow for that hearty, underpaid tribe of political reporters. (I learned this personally when I tried to make a lateral transfer from government policy work into editorial writing, and was informed that giving me a job would screw up the entire career ladder). Thus, today’s columnists are yesterday’s ink-stained wretches, which means that the Editorial side of the business should eventually catch up with the growing gender balance of the News side.For the Big Papers, though, the problem is that there are so few editorial spots available, and, unlike their smaller competitors, no real market pressure to turn things over. I don’t want to name names, but in my judgment, nearly half of the columnists in the Big Papers, most of them white men, are just filling up space with Left-Right CW that could be, and for all I know, may be written by a computer.That’s why I think an aggressive affirmative action program for Big and Small Paper editorial staffs makes sense, so long as some care is taken to give some protection to those relatively few White Guys, regardless of seniority or connections, who have actually expressed an original thought now and then. It shouldn’t be that hard to find them. Perhaps we can have a Survivor-type contest.Political magazines are a different matter, partially because of ideological factors that complicate the usual “professional” issues about bylines. But as Katha Pollit of The Nation points out, some magazines have selection criteria that tend to discriminate against women. Of course, one magazine she fingers, The New Republic, has a reputation for discrimimating against anybody who didn’t get an Ivy League education (which doesn’t keep Un-Ivied me from reading every line). And many magazines discriminate against writers who doesn’t tow the party line, which gives the white guys who’ve been towing this or that party line since adolescence yet another advantage. The only quick way I can imagine to loosen up the magazines is to encourage them to keep losing money, which might in turn encourage them to diversify their voices, in many cases by tapping the more diverse voices they already feature in online editions.And then, ah yes, there’s the blogosphere, where the gender bias can’t exactly be blamed on Old Guys like me, since the median age of notable bloggers is about 25. And here there is a chicken-and-egg dilemma, since the demographic of inveterate blog readers seems to echo the smart-ass-white-boy demographic of blog writers.But the good thing about blogs is that for all the complaining about sponsors and back-scratching links and mainstream infestation, any woman can get out there and compete, and the recent effort to get more notice for female bloggers is an example of healthy market-based initiative.Personally, I’m paralyzed by ignorance and inertia from providing blogroll links to much of anybody I didn’t know about when I started this thing last fall. If that means I’m paying less attention to wo-bloggers than I should it’s certainly not a matter of bias; I’ve long considered myself a lesbian trapped in a man’s body. So I’m more than happy to discover and link to women who share my general point of view, and/or have something distinctive to say.In the end, the best way for women to get their fair share of the bloviating biz is for us all to push for a meritocracy that elevates talent and a distinctive voice over “representantive” versions of the same old Left-Right CV. And unfairly but inevitably, women will earn those prized high-profile journalistic gigs by performing at a level that makes bias or tokenism or role-playing irrelevant. It will require, in the words of Lucinda Williams, “real live bloody fingers and broken guitar strings.”UPCATEGORY: Ed Kilgore’s New Donkey
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By Ed Kilgore
All the talk of renewed inflation brought back some terrible memories for me, and I wrote about them at New York:
When I was a freshman college debater at Emory University in the fall of 1970, the national debate topic was not Vietnam, but the desirability of wage and price controls. Little did we know that just months ahead a Republican president would impose a wage-price freeze, long the anti-inflationary prescription of the left wing of the Democratic Party. But the surprise known in financial circles as the “Nixon shock,” nearly a half-century ago (on August 15, 1971) showed how pervasive the fear of inflation — running at just over 5 percent in 1970 — had become.
That’s ancient history now, even to those of us who remember the double-digit inflation of the late 1970s, and the particularly horrid scourge of “stagflation” (high inflation and unemployment simultaneously). Inflation seems to have been tamed by wise monetary policies. The periodic warnings from 21st-century conservatives that low interest rates and federal budget deficits would create inflation didn’t much bother me. It was like hearing an old priest chant a forgotten litany in a lost language — just one among many ritualistic arguments for the tight credit and reactionary social policies these people favored instinctively as a sort of class self-defense posture.The current surge in consumer prices doesn’t necessarily change that picture; the current post-pandemic (we hope) economic environment was sure to produce a spike in wages and prices that cannot be projected into a future where something approaching normalcy will surely return (though the real-estate bubble is indeed troubling). But now I am beginning to hear echoes of the inflation panics of the not-so-distant past, which make me tremble.
Like Tim Noah, I suspect there may be a generational lapse in understanding the politics of inflation:
“I don’t care to be condescended to by a bunch of Gen Xers and Millennials about my ’70s-bred fear of inflation. It feels too much like the condescension we Boomers directed toward Depression babies whenever they warned us that we were playing with fire in deregulating the financial markets. Poor dears, we thought, traumatized for life by the 1929 crash and one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.
“The Depression babies turned out to be right, of course.”
Noah makes it clear he’s not arguing inflation per se is bad for the economy. It is, however, bad for progressive politics, and not just because “stagflation” probably killed the Carter presidency and ushered in the Reagan era far more than the Iranian hostage crisis or other better-remembered Democratic foibles. The deflationary economic strategies of the 1980s weren’t called “austerity,” but rather a corrective for undisciplined policies that fed wage and price spirals which in turned hammered the value of savings, the living standards of those on fixed incomes, and the political case for federal domestic spending.
Most lethally for progressivism, the conservative supply-side tax-cutting when combined with inflationary fears can create enormous pressure for public disinvestment and the shredding of safety nets (which is why reactionaries happily labeled the intended result “starving the beast”). We are still living with some of the long-term consequences of anti-inflationary backlash. As Noah points out, California’s Proposition 13 ballot initiative in 1978 and similar “tax revolts” were a by-product of price spirals that boosted tax assessments on property and income alike.
But sometimes lost in an examination of the right’s exploitation of inflation fears is the abiding fact that the left has no clear prescription for dealing with it, either, other than by denying its existence or significance (sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly). Ironically, that was made most evident by the supposedly illiberal Richard Nixon’s surprising use of the great liberal instrument for taming inflation.
The veteran ex-conservative economic and political analyst Bruce Bartlett has penned an exceptional explainer on the background and consequences of the “Nixon shock,” particularly its international dimensions, and the role played by Treasury Secretary John Connally, who like his boss and ally Nixon was more focused on short-term politics than on long-term economic realities. What’s clear is that Nixon was convinced a recession induced by the Eisenhower administration and its Federal Reserve Board appointees designed to kill inflationary pressures also killed his 1960 presidential candidacy. As prices spiked in 1970, he was terrified the same thing could happen in 1972.
Nixon had inherited (and temporarily extended) an income-tax surcharge from LBJ that was designed to pay for the skyrocketing costs of the Vietnam War, but its effects were limited. So with his signature televised bombshell reveal (the one he deployed a month earlier to announce his trip to China), amid great secrecy, Nixon rolled out a combo platter of initiatives to fight inflation and international economic instability. They included a suspension of fixed currency exchange rates and the convertibility of the dollar to gold (to head off a raid on gold supplies triggered by a British demand for a major conversion); an import surcharge (to prevent a worsening of the trade balance); and most significantly for most Americans, a 90-day freeze on wages and prices to be followed by an indefinite period of controls by federal panels.
As political theater, Nixon’s speech announcing a “new economic policy” was, well, Nixonian. He began with dessert: an assortment of tax breaks and job-creation incentives balanced by mostly unspecified spending cuts; only then did he mention the wage-price freeze. After promising to “break the vicious circle of spiraling prices and costs,” Nixon moved on to his international proposals, which he downplayed as “very technical,” while assuring viewers that “if you are among the overwhelming majority of Americans who buy American-made products in America, your dollar will be worth just as much tomorrow as it is today.”
Nixon’s wage and price controls were initially very popular (as polls had told the White House they would be) and did indeed hold down inflation through the reelection year of 1972, when Nixon won his famous landslide reelection over poor George McGovern, in part by goosing federal appropriations to create a mini-boom. By then the administration had moved on to a more discretionary system for regulating wage and price increases, which generated rumors of employers currying favor with generous donations to CREEP (the Committee to Reelect the President), the notoriously corrupt operation heavily complicit in the Watergate scandals that brought down the Nixon presidency. Between the suppressed and eventually unleashed inflationary pressures and the oil-price shock Nixon’s international economic policies helped create, the country paid a very high economic price for the brief respite from inflation the wage-price freeze earned him. He sowed the wind with even greater inflation, and his successors Gerald Ford (whose feckless “Whip Inflation Now” campaign was widely mocked) and Jimmy Carter reaped the whirlwind.
Before you dismiss these events from 50 years ago as irrelevant, consider how much Nixon’s short-sighted approach sounds like something President Donald Trump might have done if inflation had became a political problem during his tenure (or in, God help us, a future term). Indeed, any president mulling Nixon’s choice of recession-inducing fiscal or monetary policies might be tempted to resort to the easy-to-understand, if dangerous, strategy of wage and price controls in which the pain is mostly back-loaded, particularly in or near an election year. Old folks remember how it preceded Nixon’s landslide 1972 win, followed by a decade of economic pain and multiple decades of political misery for progressives.