Monday, February 11, 2008

The Saginaw News

The Saginaw News is the paper of my hometown.  While it keeps Michigan (and Saginaw in particular) residents abreast of what's going on, I've put together a list of ways in which it could improve.
  1. It has a complete lack of focus on global -- or even national -- events, insulating residents from the rest of the world. In the news today (Monday, 11 Feb), for example, the only nonlocal news coverage I found included 3 articles on sports in the corner of the sports page and a few articles on travel -- which tend to focus on travel for Michiganders. The paper seems to stress the fact that its readers are expected to be Michiganders, pushing away any chance at the paper appealing to anyone outside the area.
  2. In the cases in which the paper looks beyond Michigan (and even within Michigan), it is rather conservative. Its opinions page is peppered with support for Bush, and its news articles never cover problems faced by the current [Bush] administration. The problem here is not that the paper fails to espouse my (admittedly more liberal) beliefs; it's that the paper is so far to the right that they never publish problems with conservative politics.
  3. It is overtly religious. Spewing "Merry Christmas" across the top of the front page on December 25th should make my point. While this is probably because the readers in the area tend to be Christian, behavior like this alienates the Jewish and Muslim residents of Michigan.
Some might argue that the Saginaw News is intended to provide local news: if readers want to read national or international news, they can read the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. This is true, but most readers -- especially those who subscribe to the Saginaw News, those in Michigan's struggling economy -- have neither the time nor extra money to devote to multiple newspapers. These are also exactly the people who deserve coverage of the global economy the most, given that Michigan's economic troubles are largely due to both national and international changes in the economic landscape (I won't argue that this paper helped to insulate the state's residents from appropriate awareness of global trends, but I could imagine a reasonable essay on this topic). While I can respect the paper's right to publish anything it wants, my main concern lies in how the paper can best fulfill its journalism mandate: inform readers about news and events that will best inform the readers of (and engage them about) the world around them.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

You are what you earn

Today the New York Times published a very misleading editorial claiming that the discrepancy between the rich and the poor is not such a big deal after all.

The gist of the article is that the income gap in American society isn't as big a deal as it's made out to be. It claims that looking at the income alone is misleading because, instead of comparing income at various quantiles, we should instead be comparing personal consumption across quantiles. The authors move on to claim that consumption per person does not vary much within these households, e.g. "the average person in the middle fifth consumes just 29 percent more than someone living in a bottom-fifth household." Finally, the authors show a graph of adoption of various pieces of technology and make the claim that quick, universal adoption of technology means everyone is doing just great.

Here is why the authors are wrong:
First, most complaints about the income gap focus on the skew at the very top; for example, the top 1 percent earn 21.2 percent of the nation's income, and this fact is diluted by mixing these very wealthy with the rest of the top quartile.
Second, although the authors acknowledge that the bottom quartile include those living off savings like the elderly and those between jobs, they ignore this fact and move on. This is a very important part of the analysis, and it greatly skews the data set, ignoring those who are truly poor and the fact that the very poor cannot maintain a negative gross income.
Third, the authors make the claim that everyone is better off because we are adopting technology faster, and everyone has access to this technology. They use a graph to demonstrate this but ignore the fact that adoption of some of the earlier technologies (phone, electricity, and stoves) have heavy infrastructure costs not required by new, smaller pieces of technology (microwave, VCR, and Computer). The authors suggest that this is really all we should use to measure differences in "income", completely ignoring the much higher availability of education and real estate to the wealthy and lack of availability of this to the poor.

The authors, W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm, head the Federal Reserve bank of Dallas and have written a book called Myths of Rich & Poor: Why We're Better Off Than We Think. The bad comments on Amazon about this book suggest that it uses statistics to mislead.  Speaking of the Reserve bank of Dallas:  it has a very unnecessary (and slightly disturbing) essay in each annual report about how great the world is doing because of capitalism.

Going to start blogging more.

I'm going to start blogging a little more frequently, getting myself into slightly better shape regarding political writing. This may come in handy for the upcoming presidential elections.