Are left-wing journalists a problem?
Another survey has confirmed the obvious: Norwegian journalists are more left-wing than the rest of us are. 67% say they support left-of-center parties, 3% support the Progress Party. As I've written before, I don't believe left-wing dominance is the real problem with the Norwegian media, but it's an important symptom, and it's a symptom that should be acknowledged and discussed. What is going on when the media is out of touch with its readers? Can we trust a media that appears to exclude supporters of Norway's largest right-wing party?
The media itself is reluctant to talk about this, for the obvious reasons. (Media self-criticism tends to be of the superficial and hypocritical kind, on the format: Day 1 - media mob goes over the line. Day 2 - media asks "did we go over the line?" Day 3 - media mob goes over the line.) There has been some discussion, however, and even more in Norwegian blogs.
Anders Giæver writes in VG, in support of Frank Aarebrot, that journalists need to face up to their left-wing leanings, and admit that it affects their news coverage. He also makes a favourable mention of me, (mocking Paul Bjerke for having become a gatekeeper for the bourgeouis media), and says that left-wing dominance in the mainstream media has spawned a right-wing reaction in the blogs:
When the reaction comes, it comes not unexpectedly from beneath. Among Norwegian bloggers a clear conservative and/or right-wing tendency is developing, with particular aim at the despised "liberal media elite".
It's true that there is a reaction. Norway is full of smart right-wingers who over the years have grown to despise the mainstream media for its persistent soft-left slant, a slant that has grown dumb and predictable for lack of opposition. Now they've discovered a technology that allows them to counter that slant. Of course they take that opportunity, and that's why so many right-wing blogs have that "you can't shut us up any more" tone. You can't, and we intend to make the best of it.
But if you look at the Norwegian bloggers who write about politics and the media, they're not all that right-wing. Norway's best blog, document.no, is mainly written by a leftist - just not a very typical one. Øyvind Strømmen is a leftist, so is Norvegia. The Socialist Left has just launched a group blog. And then there are all those I don't know where to place. Who do you vote for, Tor Andre? I can't tell from reading. The difference between right-wingers and other bloggers is that the right-wingers wear their ideology more openly. And that is a reaction - perhaps we appreciate the political opportunities this medium gives us more than others do, because we're used to not being taken seriously by the mainstream media.
And perhaps right-wing blogs are simply more noticable to those who are unused to reading such views, particularly journalists. In either case blogs give equal voice to all kinds of people.
Blogger and journalist Lars O. Haugen does not deny that left-wingers dominate the media, but he doesn't believe it's a problem. In fact, he believes it's only natural that they should.
A hidden assumption behind this argument is that this is a bad thing, that Norwegian journalists ideally ought to have the same political opinions as the people they write for. But it's not strange that a profession which is all about carrying out the freedom of speech and information, stand up for the weak, and be critical of private and public institutions, should appeal more to liberals and the left-oriented than to conservatives, who since the days of monarchy rule and slavery have usually thought that rights were too freely distributed.
How do people come to believe that their side has a monopoly on good intentions, and that people on the other side fit neatly into comforting caricatures? Only by avoiding exposure to such people, a natural tendency ideological unanimity in the media encourages. Rants like these about anti-culture right-wingers who don't question authority and don't care about the weak are the political equivalent to those old maps with "here be dragons" written in the blank spots. Actually that's a myth about the dragons, but a good one. It's easy to let your imagination run wild about a place you've never been to.
There's a similar tone (though better informed) in this piece at Morbus Norvegicus, where Morten Magelssen tries to understand why anyone would want to support the Progress Party. He explains their popularity as a weakness of democracy, and seems to assume there can be no rational reason for supporting them. But the question is not how Progress Party voters are different, but why they should be so much more of a mystery than supporters of other parties. It could be because their motivations are a mystery - they're people you hear about but never from, thanks to the absence of right-wing voices in the media. Progress Party politicians don't count. Like all politicians they're opportunistic and dishonest, they speak in superficial soundbites and exaggerate their phony partisan controversies. Having Carl I. Hagen on a talk show to sell his agenda is not the same as having positive media coverage of that agenda, or a respected pundit saying "hey, that's not such a bad idea". In the absence of such positive coverage, otherwise healthy distrust of politicians turns into a broad dismissal of entire voter blocks as political idiots. Instead of voters who support the Progress Party for various different reasons, they become people who have been fooled by Hagen.
As many know, I voted Progress Party in the last election, and I'm inclined to do so again. Why is a subject for another post, so for now I only ask that people take me on my word when I say that I'm not an idiot, I don't hate the poor, and I don't hate immigrants. I don't even like Carl I. Hagen. If this surprises you, then perhaps you don't know as much about the Norwegian far right as you think.
Lars O. Haugen also writes that journalists are not as ignorant as right-wing bloggers say they are:
In this parallel world of pro-American anti-intellectual technocracy there appears to be a widespread belief that journalists are ignorant, even stupid. This goes against all facts. Journalism studies are impossible to enter without respectable grades in all subjects from high school, in addition to considerable experience from the "school of life" and various academic disciplines. Their education consists of two years of learning methods of finding, verifying and presenting information. This should indicate, as does my years of experience with the profession, that journalists are well over more knowledgeable than most professions, and far more able to place information in context.
Public education is meant to provide you with a broad basis for further knowledge to build on. It doesn't make you knowledgeable about anything in particular, certainly not enough to write reliably about the subject in a newspaper. Even so, I agree there are many knowledgeable journalists, but their knowledge is usually general. Specialist knowledge is not very valuable to a newspaper. An editor doesn't need an expert of advanced physics, just someone who can write something half-decent about whatever is on the top of the news agenda.
We non-journalists notice this whenever the media writes about a subject we know well. All the holes and mistakes are apparant to us, because we know the subject much better than the journalist. (And yet we trust them when they write about subjects we don't know so well - Michael Crichton calls this the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect.) Most journalists are generalists, not specialists. They know a little about everything. The rest of us tend to be specialists, we know much about a few things, which makes us better informed than the journalists on those subjects.
What journalists need to do is to learn to tap into the expert knowledge of their readers. One of the first laws of blogging is that your readers know more than you do - but this applies to media in general. It is particularly apparent to bloggers only because they have comment sections. Unfortunately, journalists have learned to ignore their readers. They channel small amounts of criticism into closed-off and ignorable feedback zones (letters to the editor), rarely actually listening to criticism or corrections.
My solution is a media pyramid, extending from a few large generalist media at the top to numerous amateur specialists at the bottom. Specialists not in the sense of experts with credentials, but in the sense of regular people who just happen to know something others don't. Instead of relying on the few people at the top - the mainstream media - to somehow know everything, all we need is for everyone in the pyramid to recognize when others have superior knowledge, and be willing to correct their mistakes. Knowledge will then filter upwards, from specialist to generalist, from amateur writer to professional journalist, ensuring high quality even at the top.
This process is almost automatic in blogs, because there are so many ways to provide feedback and criticism: E-mail, comments, entries in other blogs. And, perhaps as important, bloggers have a culture of appreciating feedback, as codified in "your readers are smarter than you are". Journalists, on the other hand, don't reply to critical mail, their articles don't have comments, their colleagues never correct them, and they look down on their readers. No wonder they're unreliable.
Getting back to left-wing media dominance, Øyvind Strømmen wrote something interesting a while back. He dismisses the idea that the media is leftist, which is just factually wrong, as the recent survey showed, but he does provide a necessary correction to hyperbole about how the press is somehow a giant socialist propaganda machine.
It's not. Centre-left dominance is real, but it doesn't manifest itself as vocal backing of left-wing parties. The far left despises the mainstream media as much as the far right does. The effect of this dominance is subtle and indirect, it manifests in shared assumptions rather than overt agendas. And to confuse matters, some of those shared assumptions are held not just by the left, but by much of the Norwegian centre right. Which is why analyzing the problem as merely one of left-wing bias can only take us so far.
Besides, focusing on the 67% of journalists who vote left-of-center as if they are the core of the problem implies that the other 33% are not, and that the solution somehow lies in changing this proportion. But these numbers are just symptoms. The real problem is the three-headed troll of unanimity, ignorance and sensationalism. Employing token Progress Party-supporting journalists won't fix that.
Lars | 2005-04-06 22:36 | Link
Well, I must say that I'm flattered by the attention, and your last paragraph seems to be nearly an echo of my own thoughts on the matter, although seen from a slightly different perspective.
Sandy P | 2005-04-06 23:16 | Link
Start polling the academics.
That's not provocative, Lars, that's a funny.
Harald, Oslo | 2005-04-06 23:20 | Link
Oh dear, i would like to hope that this kind of elitist attitude only belonged to a small minority of the media establishment, but I will probably be disappointed.
I'm not even going to try to refute your statement about good results beeing a leftist only domain, such a monstrous generalisation really says alot more about a corrupt world view than the results of conservative policy.
The good thing about beeing a right winger in Norway, is the fact that when you have never been in the mainstream of thought, and that forces you not to be to lazy about your arguments.
Tor Andre | 2005-04-06 23:33 | Link
Thank you for the question, Bjørn. I consider myself a straightforward norwegian conservative when voting.
But my blogging is done to be challenged. I am curious and want to know what other people think about the subjects that intererest me. Convincing people isn't as interesting as the discussion. That is probably why my postings doesn't scream Høyre.
If people agrees too much, I become suspicious. It could be pro-lifers that are on a mission from God, movie-reviews where every newspaper in Norway have the same opinion or journalists that have the same perspective on a difficult subject.
When watching a movie I dismiss it as bad or praise it as good. It was made by thousands of craftspersons during years. But since I spend my valuable time and money on it, it is my right to judge it based on my feelings and knowledge. Every person using time on news should feel free to do the same. And expect to be challenged in a discussion.
The strength of the blogosphere isn't in the individual participant, but in the meeting of different voices that haven't been reduced down to a consesus. It doesn't help that media is full of very smart people if they all write similar stories and don't engage the audience.
The political leanings of journalists isn't that interesting. The practice of the journalistic craft is the subject of mediacritisism. The only difference that counts for me is the ability to challenge and be challenged.
And then I end up with approximatly the same conclusion in the article.
njet, kulturNorge | 2005-04-07 00:15 | Link
Anders Giever thinks that it is much islamfobia and cultural paranoia (hehe) in the blogosphere. I agree with the Islamfobia, but I like to add that Mark Twain used exaggeration to make a joke or a truth more obvious to the reader. Maybe this is a way readers should filter and understand some blog postings.
And Bjørn, you really deserve the increased attention, hope that it is increasing the traffic to your blog.
Norwegian kafir | 2005-04-07 04:10 | Link
"Anders Giever thinks that it is much islamfobia and cultural paranoia (hehe) in the blogosphere. I agree with the Islamfobia"
Well, I disagree about that. The entire word "Islamophobia" is ridiculous and meaningless, but that's another debate for another thread.
How can anybody claim that this "doesn't matter"? If the Socialist Left party is smaller than the Progress Party among the populace, but twelve times larger among Norwegian journalists, does anybody really believe this has NO effect on the way these parties are presented in the media?
Anyway, thanks to Bjørn for breaking new ground for Norwegian bloggers. Once again.
Thomas Bolding Hansen - Denmark | 2005-04-07 07:36 | Link
"There's a similar tone (though better informed) in this piece at Morbus Norvegicus, where Morten Magelssen tries to understand why anyone would want to support the Progress Party. He explains their popularity as a weakness of democracy, and seems to assume there can be no rational reason for supporting them."
This alone spells the issue. Morten here can´t understand that people are voting for the progress party, he can´t understand rightwing mindset, and he probably never will be able to.
But to return to the question of bias. It´s inevitable that it shines through somehow and somewhere that most journalists and academics are center left. You cannot fake an opinion you don´t really have. To mention an example that had nothing to do with left or right, the Maastricht treaty vote in 1992. The conditions were such that every newspaper except the most left leaning one were in favor of the treaty, so was 80 % + of all politicians and journalists. The left leaning paper was not against it was neutral, on the day of the vote it had two op eds, one for and one against. Actually an example that should be followed more often. Besides that paper being 50/50 and 1 or 2 journalists on other papers fervently against, the whole media world, the politicians were staunch pro. Now take a wild guess at how much critical view on the maastricht and EU you ever saw in that campaign ? Extremely little to say the least. For that period being the elite was the Kremlin onepointedness we so often like to picture the Swedish media and political framework as.
Personal ideosyncrasies do transcend objectivity, even when the journalist tries to be objective, he/she is to some extend liable to fall into the personal ideological pit of mind.
But media can still be balnced in general even though there are more left leaning journalists, atleast when we talking about newspapers that will have to condition themselves to the market.
Njet, Islamophobia is not irrational, it´s highly rational. Hate is of no use, colouring the moslems as all bad people is far from the truth, not even the, in my opinion, leading "islamophobist" Ali Sina, would do that.
Øyvind, Oslo | 2005-04-07 12:28 | Link
I do not believe the problem of left wing journalists is as serious as we in the blogosphere often tend to make it in terms of general politics. The people of Norway have learned to see through most of the spin, after all there is a 50-50 divide in the population with regards to which of the two election blocks we support. Those few journalists who believe themselves to be more enlightened than the general populace in terms of political insight must live in a constant state of frustration over this, but I expect they rationalise this with influence from foreign media and thickheadeness of the bourgeois classes.
My concerns with the left wing leaning of the media are centred on three spesific areas:
1. The "hidden" left. Everybody knows about Dagsavisen, Klassekampen, Dagbladet and NRK being leftist, and this does not bother me. My concern is in regard of media that pretends to be neutral or even rightwing (like Aftenposten), but is actually not. A few of Aftenpostens commentators may be right leaning, but the newspapers coverage has shifted dramatically to the left the last 10 years, without any publicised discussion of this.
2. In terms of foreign coverage. Resentment of the USA and outright hatred of Israel is a problem in Norwegian media as a whole. The only part of the media that counters it is parts of the christian media, and these are typically not read by any broad groups (understandable, it is not very entertaining to read).
3. The government sponsored media. NRK should not be an issue since everybody knows that they have been left leaning and filters the information they give, but it is still so damn irritating paying the license fee to uphold this.
An additional concern I have is in terms of the “Empire of Goodness” that makes it impossible to criticise anything regarding the UN, foreign aid or Norways rather curious attempts on creating peace in conflict areas. The press stays as far away as possible from these topics. This is, however, caused by more complex issues than just leftism, even if it contributes. I believe employment opportunities in the international sector, close personal contact with politicians and identity issues (we are good, are we not?) play a factor as well.
PS. I am a blogger and a card carrying conservative (Høyre), so I am probably a reactionary footsoldier of the present government...
Knut, Oslo | 2005-04-07 12:44 | Link
PS: is there any way to use some "quote" tag in this blog?
Harald, Oslo | 2005-04-07 13:00 | Link
PS: is there any way to use some "quote" tag in this blog?
You can use the html-tag blockquote.
Jan Haugland, Bergen | 2005-04-07 16:28 | Link
It is only too true that once you read a journalistic product about a topic that you know a bit about, the writings typically mirror at best popular misconceptions, at worst they are utter nonsense. One could be tempted to extrapolate this, but that would give us news-hounds very little to read.
One example: The Internet coverage a decade or so ago, when the medium was new and exotic. Back then, the only mainstream media coverage of the Internet was about porn and 'hacking'. Obviously, now a new generation of journalists has taken over, and while I still bet 99% of them would not know the difference between UDP and TCP, the Internet is still as natural to them as using a phone, and the early nonsense is far less common.
The vast majority of journalists are still like fish out of water when they write about any technically advanced subject. Science journalism is probably not as bad as it used to be, back when they routinely confusing the ozone layer and global warming, but I'd still bet most Norwegian journalists think "jordstråler" (earth rays) has anything to do with reality. Journalists are entirely justified in laughing at American young-earth creationists believing the Earth is ~6000 years old, but they often push astrology, homeopathy and other equally nonsensical ideas.
Another area where Norwegian journalists are dangerously ignorant is law. A lot of newspaper coverage is about legal cases, but even the journalists covering court proceedings seem ignorant about fundamental aspects of law and procedures (horror example here).
That is one thing sorely missing in the Norwegian blogosphere, or at least I am not aware of any: a good Norwegian law blog.
Tor Andre | 2005-04-07 16:52 | Link
To me it is more important how people think than what they think.
Reading a stimulating, well-written, well-researched article from a journalist I disagree with is always interesting. Few things are as embarassing as a muddled argument for a conclusion I agree with based on sloppy use of sources and bad writing.
That is why I don't see political views as a big problem for good reporting. Good craftmansship makes for interesting reading anyway.
Articial objectivity, sloppy editing and protection of sources (not being critical of your own and your colleagues) is a bigger problem. That is probably the reason for a lot of bland reporting that moves in a strange phantom zone outside the reality people live in.
But then I trust people to have their own opinions and challenge the media-consesus. The result of the EU referendum in 1994 should indicate that people are able to form their own opinons.
Most of the stuff written on Islam on norwegian blogs are extremly dull. Based on the comments the authors are preaching to the choir. People with other opinions don't even bother to comment.
Christian Hovden, Cartagena | 2005-04-07 17:08 | Link
Which coincides well with the shift towards the left of Høyre the last 10 years. Also, seemingly, without internal or external discussion.
Herbie, NY NY | 2005-04-07 21:44 | Link
I think Bjorn’s critique of Norwegian journalists may be best summed up by the English humorist Humbert Wolfe's (1885-1940) clever analysis:
"You cannot hope to bribe or twist (thank God!) the British journalist. But, seeing what the man will do unbribed, there's no occasion to."
Kim Erik, Skien | 2005-04-07 22:20 | Link
Time to sit back and try to analyze what we think is lacking in the media coverage. What is it we are not getting information on?
I find myself agreeing to a lot of the previous critisism of the lack of trustworthy "hard sciences" reporting. It seems that all journalists have majored in languange or sociology, with a very few having had side courses in basic economics. Myself, a farmer with college background in conservation, ecology and agronomy, I find most articles conserning these areas written by people who obviously don't know a thing about them, and as obviously won't take the time to check with someone who does and make sure that they actually understand the feedback they are given before going to print. The political background of the journalists does not worry me as much, the need is rather in their education and information gathering routines. (and these are linked. Not knowing a thing about an issue makes it wery hard indeed to ask the right questions, and understanding the answers you are given).
So, more specialized journalists please!
ed | 2005-04-07 22:47 | Link
Agree. Being from left I read excellent analyses from rightwings and bad from the opposite side (even if I don't agree with what they say I recognize they make me think better and recognize weakness in my thought). And vice-versa. The question here is the maturity of readers and their capacity to expand their views and know what oppositions think. That's the only good way to discuss in a plural society. In reality, what happens is the fight to reinforce our positions over critics we receive.
What journalists are, politically speaking, in europe, depends essentially on the open market movements. Journalists are not anymore independent (if they ever were...). So a journal with equal representation is not too possible today. If in Norway dominates the left, my personal expectation is that concentration is not arrived there yet (south of europe knows now a newspaper's domination from rightwings big corporations that tryed to buy the most as possible - from newspapers till tv channels and even cinemas). Correct me please on that if needed.
Also a personal belief: I think it is better to have more newspapers contra-power than the opposite. Public opinion has more opportunities to control power that way. Too much conivence between power and media paralizes society. Of course, better would be newspapers open to expression of all sides of a pluaral society.
A much more interesting question would be to know how blogs deal with the fact they are conditioned by indirect mediation and how they choose their mediations. I refer to blog sources.
norvegia, norvegia | 2005-04-07 23:48 | Link
While not openly fascist and white supremacist like this blog, norvegia is not exactly a leftist blog either.
Rather, norvegia is a reality based groupblog that is on the side of common people and the simple things of Life.
Norvegia will not tell our readers to vote for a certain block or party ("red"-"green" vs. brown-blue), rather we will probably tell people not to vote.
So counting us for the Left may be risky business...
Norwegian kafir | 2005-04-08 00:09 | Link
I watched the TV debate today about this subject. It wasn't too bad actually. Even Frank Aarebrot came off as rather sensible. It's a start........
Thomas: "Islamophobia is just as relevant Communistphobia."
Knut, Oslo | 2005-04-08 01:24 | Link
I was impressed with Aarebrot, a known Labor supporter, but honest about it (like few other "experts"). He was not afraid to say that it is indeed a problem. Together with the VG columnist Giæver, they were able to argue and inform on specific issues where norwegian media is one-sided and inadequate. Progress Party chairman Hagen also did a decent job, not as good as these two though.
Harald, Oslo | 2005-04-08 01:57 | Link
There was a TV debate? What channel? I would like to watch it on web TV.
Knut, Oslo | 2005-04-08 02:06 | Link
NRK, Redaksjon 1
Morten Magelssen, Skien | 2005-04-08 10:16 | Link
Bjørn, thanks for this opportunity to drape my eloquence in the English language. Much of the criticism of my text would have been quite appropriate, had the Progress Party truly been a right wing party.
But my impression is that it is not. True, it did start out as one, and its political program still reflects a kind of right-wing economic liberalism. But is there not a deep schism at the party’s ideological core, revealed in practical politics? In addition to economic liberalism, the Progress Party also embraces a left-wing high-level-of-welfare ideology. This is personified by the continually indignant John Alvheim – there seems to be no limits to his promises to weak groups dependent on welfare.
I have never questioned the existence of intelligent Progress Party voters. I have objectivist friends (followers of Ayn Rand) who have been reduced to tears by this profound inconsistency at the heart of the Progress Party. Instead, they have looked to Fridemokratene and other marginal parties for right-wing ideological integrity. My question to you, Bjørn, is whether you have contemplated doing the same.
Øyvind, Oslo | 2005-04-08 12:38 | Link
The discussion on Redaksjon 1 was indeed very interesting. It is available for viewing from NRKs brilliant webservice for free (I guess the license fee is not totally vasted after all).
The main point I took away from the discussion (which Marie Simonsen did not grasp at all, even if the rest for the panel discussed it for a long time) was the exclusion of dissenting voices from the public discussion. I believe this is the reason we see so many right-wing/pro-Israel bloggers as these are voices rarly heard in the main stream media.
PeeWee | 2005-04-08 16:55 | Link
## I don't hate the poor, and I don't hate immigrants. I don't even like Carl I. Hagen. If this surprises you, then perhaps you don't know as much about the Norwegian far right as you think##
Yeah right, you don`t hate the poor? I really think that none of those rightwingers that is against the welfare state because it holds the poor people down are really honest about their true leanings. There is nothing whatsoever to suspect that to abolish welfare does anything for the poor people. Those people who was showed off welfare in the US are stuck in low wage jobs if they got one, because you really have very limited possibilites for advancements when you are not completely "fit". That goes for those norwegians that have been put on disability. It is true that they may subsist by working, but the are to dysfunctional, either thru mental problems or old age, to be really effective on the job market.
## I have objectivist friends (followers of Ayn Rand) who have been reduced to tears by this profound inconsistency at the heart of the Progress Party. ##
Then you should get new friends, it isn`t healthy to associate with evil weirdoes
Harald, Oslo | 2005-04-08 17:00 | Link
Please don't confuse welfare with 'the welfare state', they are obivously not equal.
The people can have welfare without the welfare state, and there can be a welfare state without welfare for the people.
And certanly the norwegian welfare state has nothing to do with the american meaning of the word welfare either.
PeeWee | 2005-04-08 17:05 | Link
## Please don't confuse welfare with 'the welfare state', they are obivously not equal. ##
But that meaning was the intention, more of the meaning used in the US:
## The people can have welfare without the welfare state, and there can be a welfare state without welfare for the people.##
Yes, but welfare without the welfare state will never be universal, and every individual will never be guaranteed any "useful" rights in a pure free market society. Freedom from coercion is completely meaningless in itself, because you need something else to make use of it, the resources neccessary to use those opportunities the market offer.
jdege | 2005-04-08 17:31 | Link
In the US, the usual language emphasises a distinction between welfare and charity.
Welfare is government-run - involves resources taken by force and to which the recipients have a legal entitlement.
Charity is private - resources are given voluntarily and the recipients have no entitlement.
Charity strengthens a community. Welfare destroys it.
PeeWee | 2005-04-08 17:48 | Link
No, charity is just a poor excuse from those that really want the poor to rot. If you look at the world, the poor are certainly more hated in countries without a welfare state. What I think is dehumanizing is the lives the poor have in countries like Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong. "Personal duty to support the poor" is just a lot of bull, because libertarians on the other can claim that charity "distorts the market". Libertarians won`t help poor people because their ideology claim that the poor are poor because they deserve to be poor. The hostility by net payers is less than you should think in many european countries, because those paying have often themselves used welfare, or may go on some kind of welfare in the future. Those on welfare are not a static group, only aroundt 10 to 30 percent on those on welfare in the various countries goes on welfare for longer periodes than a year. The picture of a large static groups that recieve welfare are to a large part created by quasilibertarian propaganda.
Actually, the socialdarwinists were among the first people to champion private charity, headed by Herbert Spencer. They thought that private charity was great because it made it possible to deny aid to unwanted segments of the population. I therefore think that private charity instead of welfare is a socialdarwinist idea. And the reason why europeans think that the state should take care of poor people, is that every experience shows that private charities simply does not work! They rightly feel that those who advocate private charity the way americans conservatives does, are the same people that honestly doesn`t give a damn about the poor.
Another problem, that "helping the poor" is actually not the main motivation for welfare in european countries. Welfare was rather seen as a way to create a more fair social contract, to combat signs of severe political and social unrest, give more economic power to the workers and to make life economically safer for everyone. These are functions that private charity will not fullfill, even if it is partially working. The problem here is that the conservatives critize the supporters of the welfare state by using a strawman. The problem with a free market society, is that it is biased against certain strata of the population, just like communism. The only really neutral soulutions are something based either upon utilitarianism or John Rawls. The use of the "veil of ignorance" by Rawls shows that no unbiased rational people would choose libertarianism or socialism, because rational people will not choose a society where the poor suffer, when the do not what position in that society they are going to get. Libertarianism is really a sacrifice of individuals on the altar of principle. I see no wrong with some use of coercion, as long as that coercion does not produce suffering.
When it comes to that voluntary "duty" of taking care of the poor, why can`t the law be upheld in the same manner? If people are kind enough and takes the time to help the poor, why can`t they protect their neigbours life and property in the same manner?
There is also a severe problem with your line of reasoning, if the welfare state is the cause of these problems, shouldn`t these problems be visible in other european countries long before they were visible in the USA? The european countries had the various services of the welfare state between 30 and 60 years earlier than the US. You would therefore expect that the negative effects of the welfare state would be visible in those countries at least 30 years earlier than in the US. That is not the case. Rather, we rather see that the US lie between 20 to 30 years earlier than the european countries in those developments, and Scandinavia was in those respects like the american late forties until the late seventies. The causation seems to work in the exact oppostie of what you would expect, something that severly hampers the strength of your hypothesis.
And when you mentions that charity strenghtens communities, you are back in the nineteenth century, the time where libertarianism really belong. The problem is that poor people live in poor communities, and those communities does not have the resources to take care of their own poor, because most of the inhabitants, even those who work, are near the poverty level when it comes to income.
Knut, Oslo | 2005-04-08 18:05 | Link
Wow. I think i remember seeing the exact same rant a while back. But it's off topic, the topic was norwegian media.
Bjørn: You might want to think about creating a "welfare" thread like the Islam thread you have. Or actually write something about it so that certain people can indulge there.
PeeWee | 2005-04-08 18:17 | Link
Well, it might look strange to post nearly the same thing, but the fact is that that american socialdarwinist posted exactly the same arguments as another american socialdarwinist, and that last "rant" as you call it was not properly answered. I see that the norwegian socialdarwinists copy the american line, use bully tactics to supress arguments that they do not like.
And Bjørn did actually post a couple of remarks about "hating the weak", something he claimed that he did not do, even if experience shows that 95 percent of libertarians really hates the weak, even if some of then try to hide as well as they can.
It is also quite relevant on another point, as it is a good example on rightwing propaganda that they just love to serve, just as rightwing intellectual mess around with ideas of "civil society" even if that does not work, not even in the countries in this world that has a special tradition when it comes to charity.
But it really wasn`t me that started to widen the subject to welfare, I just posted a comment about Bjørns word that he did not hate the weak. Others started to mess about charity. And everyone that cliams that charity works is a filthy liar that deserve no respect.
PeeWee | 2005-04-08 18:38 | Link
Okay, to say something about the main topic: No, I think that the problem is relatively small. The fact is that they are mostly partial in more or less non central issues, like the US foregin policy and Israel. They do not actively try to push an agenda to make drastic changes to the society we live in, in stark contrast to the rightwing media and the rightwing thinkthanks.
Off course, the situation is not ideal, but it does not actively contribute to human suffering in the way that rightwing media does. The best thing hovewer would be do dismantle both publicly owned media, rightwing thinkthanks an all other ways to spread mindless propaganda. But that has some difficulties.
Norwegian kafir | 2005-04-08 19:10 | Link
Making a thread about the welfare state is probably a good idea, Bjørn. It could generate some interesting discussions.
PeeWee | 2005-04-08 19:14 | Link
Yes, I already have most of the arguments ready for such a discussion.
PeeWee | 2005-04-08 19:39 | Link
Actually, a thread about such a theme here may not be a good idea, but what about inviting to a debate on a "proper" board?
Sylvia, Denver | 2005-04-09 07:23 | Link
I thought what PeeWee had to say was rather interesting - and revealing:
"helping the poor" is actually not the main motivation for welfare in european countries. Welfare was rather seen as a way to create a more fair social contract, to combat signs of severe political and social unrest..."
There's a huge difference between this rational and the US system. The European system is essentially a response to a medieval social system that has persisted into the modern age. It was not designed to give a "leg up", or provide for short term relief. Its purpose is to keep the status quo. It is really designed to make the peasants think they're getting their due from the Powers That Be. Just enough to stop them from running amok with pitchforks and torches, or a guillotine.
This type of system really doesn't work in the US for a whole bunch of reasons - not the least of which is that we have a different social structure, which I'm not going to go into here.
The European system is indeed a "social contract", and as such it is the status quo. People in power don't want to change that for obvious reasons. Much of the media in Europe is state owned. It is in their vested interest to support the status quo, especially when it promises stability.
Of course most (but certainly not all) of the Norwegian (and European) media is leftist. To be otherwise would be to bite the hand that feeds them. To challenge this "social contract" would be to question and possibly destabilize a response to the old feudal systems - and no one wants that. So it's popular to be a leftist - after all, you're just redressing old class wrongs (real or carefully contrived)- who could be against that? Nevermind that Hitler was a socialist, which may explain part of the appeal of that doctrine.
The underlying question as to why there is such a ridged and unfair system in the first place leads back to feudal Europe. Maybe this is why things like "income redistribution" and "each according to his needs" is so popular in Europe, but makes little sense in the US - a country without kings or titles.
To be against welfare, to be for less government, would be to cut your own throat in a system based still on class and position, especially at the top. Maybe not so much in Norway, but this is still endemic in much of Europe. The people in power want to keep the status quo, which is "soft leftism" because that mollifies most of the people. Keeps the pitchforks in the toolshed. The press would never go against that - it would be unpopular.
PeeWee | 2005-04-09 10:37 | Link
This sound to me like a rightwing religious chant. I have actually never seen any documentation that social mobility is higher in the US than Norway, the few studies I have seen actually implies the opposite! Someone that is born poor in the US have a seventy percent chance of remaining poor thru out their lives. Also, the differences in income among sibling are actually greater in Norway than in the US. The surveys that shows the high social mobility in the US are mostly manipulated. One famous study excluded those who were in prison or became disabled, and included highschool students at the age of 16, so the huge social mobility showed actually showed that student were getting richer when the got a proper job, and nearly all the substansial income mobility were amongst people of less than 30 years old.
And that those in power wants the welfare state, what a load of rubbish. The welfare state actually takes the poor out of the power of the powerful, because big business have much more power than governments, and certainly european governments these days. I would rather claim that the powerful distain the welfare state, because it keeps the poor out of their grasp. And it was not the powerful, but the common workers that pushed for a welfare state in Europe. To claim that the welfare state was an attempt to keep the poor down from the powerful, is just a falsification of history. In a free market society, the poor would have to work for the more powerful, in a welfare state, they don`t have to. What gives the powerful the most power. It is exactly the near conditionalessness of support that makes the poor freer in Europe. A privat employer will claimn something back from the poor, but a welfare service may not do that. Therefore, a private employer have much more power over the poor than the welfare services, because the welfare services in many countries do not command the time of the poor.
Actually, is the american system that keeps the status quo. In Europe, you can live regardless of what other people think of you, and you can therefore dress like you want and say what you want, because you won`t starve because other people are unwilling to go into transactions with you. In a free market system hovewer, you have to get in transactions to live, and that means that you have to be careful and conform, because else, you get into the risk of other people do not want to hire you or trade with you, something that can have dire consequences.
When it comes to the status quo, the US is much more politically stagnant than Europe, because american still have a religious affliction for what was the right policy in 1775, while european politics have been drastically altered since then.
David Elson | 2005-04-10 00:34 | Link
"And that those in power wants the welfare state, what a load of rubbish. "
Check out Otto von Bismarck's reforms as a case in point.
PeeWee | 2005-04-10 11:25 | Link
No, most workers did no longer opt for full blown socialism when Bismarck introduced the welfare state, but had turned to unionism that thereby bought welfarism. What Bismcark did was to grant some of the demands that the workers put forward. After 1850, socialism became more of an intellectual project, while the workers themselves wanted a welfare state. Actually, it was mainly during the harsh conditions of the 1820s and 1830s, that a huge portion of workers actually wanted full blown socialism.
Sandy P | 2005-04-11 06:10 | Link
--When it comes to the status quo, the US is much more politically stagnant than Europe, because american still have a religious affliction for what was the right policy in 1775, while european politics have been drastically altered since then.--
Some consider that "affliction" a bug, others a feature.
--Someone that is born poor in the US have a seventy percent chance of remaining poor thru out their lives.--
Define poor, please.
Caution!!! Right-Wing comment coming - The Heritage Foundation leans right - mined the 2000 census.
The "poor" are living the 1970s middle class lifestyle.
aipotu | 2005-04-11 14:33 | Link
"Hitler was a socialist"
"In almost every heated debate, one side or the other—often both—plays the "Hitler card", that is, criticizes their opponent's position by associating it in some way with Adolf Hitler or the Nazis in general. No one wants to be associated with Nazism because it has been so thoroughly discredited in both theory and practise, and Hitler of course was its most famous exponent. So, linking an idea with Hitler or Nazism has become a common form of argument ascribing guilt by association."
Thomas Bolding Hansen - Denmark | 2005-04-11 16:14 | Link
Poor is hungry:)
Or just unable to provide basic needs, it´s not about having a car or not, or a vhs made in Taiwan vs a dvd made by B&O.
"What a load of crapoley. Anyone who has even a remote grasp of european history can see that policies pertaining to social welfare were often implemented by those in power, as a way of undermining traditional socialist parties".
Not really since the major steps in this direction were taken by the social democratic parties, or partly socialist parties with a center seeking politic agenda.
Sylvia, Denver | 2005-04-11 22:13 | Link
Hitler really was a Socialist. It has been the far left that has designated him a "rightist".
It is not the Libertarians, true Liberal Progressives, US conservatives, Jacksonian Democrats or Republicans who would be aligned with his policies today.
It is said that the only difference between a Communist and a Fascist is the color of their shirts. A good offence is the best defence and it is the far left crowd that has come up with th "BusHitler" epitaph. It is they who call everyone else a "Fascist hate monger" while they carry around signs supporting Saddam, Fidel, Hammas and ol' Che.
The far right is the far left. But because the totalitarian elements have successfully and disengenously managed to reassign "rightist" to someone else they are not held to account.
The fact that the press, both in the US and Europe is so soft-lefty/statist is very troubling because that means that there is little investigation of the agendas and connections in the less benign (openly malignant) far left, which appears to have some connections to Islamofascists, to say the least.
Sylvia, Denver | 2005-04-11 22:20 | Link
oops, I meant "...the BusHitler epithet..", although I sure some would like it as his epitaph.
..preview is my friend....
Oddbjørn, Oslo | 2005-04-12 12:34 | Link
Yes, journalists are left-orientated. They also have a higher IQ - both ordinary IQ and social IQ, which is a direct consequence of the high level at the different higher institutions educating journalist in Norway. As we now, higher intelligence results in a more likely left-oriented bias.
If you would like more right-wing oriented journalism, lower the standard, and allow less intelligent people to become journalist.
Or simply choose from a wide array of right-oriented media already available in Norway.
Sandy P | 2005-04-13 00:14 | Link
Maybe in Norway, Oddbjorn, but you might want to talk to John at Dissecting Leftism, who's been studying this for 30 years and written papers, IIRC.
In America the lefties are finally catching up to the conservatives intelligence-wise.
The most uneducated of the American lot are conservative democrats.
Postings from Brisbane, Australia by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) -- former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party.
Sandy P | 2005-04-13 00:15 | Link
-- It has been the far left that has designated him a "rightist".--
2 sides of the same coin, how else could Stalin motivate the peasants?
Finnpundit | 2005-04-16 16:59 | Link
The one single aspect of European welfare states that has to be kept in mind is that it is inherently dependent on exploitation of a set of worker-consumers... that do not have welfare state protections, namely, the American worker-consumer. This exploitation happens in the form of an export surplus in Europe's favor which, in effect, provides the crucial financing that keeps the welfare state solvent.
Should Americans institute a welfare state tomorrow, and raise taxes to a necessary rate to support that kind of state, the European welfare states would not be able to support themselves economically. For the purchasing power of the American consumer - which exists only because the American worker-consumer gets taxed so little compared to the European worker - is what maintains the European welfare state.
Thus the European welfare state is inherently exploitative. However, this reality is always soft-pedaled, and Europeans constantly try to use ruses to portray the welfare state as benign. Witness all the peace-initiatives, and all the advocacy for foreign aid (when dropping welfare-state tariffs are much more effective in helping the developing world). And, of course, the use of the best weapon of all: America-bashing.
Yet it is the greed and stingyness of the welfare state that is more exploitative in the world. America redistributes wealth on a massive scale (hundreds of millions of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty, thanks to the American worker-consumer). The European welfare state economy, on the other hand, consumes most all of its surplus wealth on its own people.
The truth is hard to bear, for welfare-statists. That is why thinking along these lines tends to be actively suppressed in Europe.
Thomas Bolding Hansen - Denmark | 2005-04-16 18:46 | Link
"the European welfare states would not be able to support themselves economically. For the purchasing power of the American consumer - which exists only because the American worker-consumer gets taxed so little compared to the European worker - is what maintains the European welfare state.
Thus the European welfare state is inherently exploitative."
How much you think the average consumer in the US buys from Europe in the first place. ?
It´s certainly not what makes of the bulk of our economies.
However there is also a strenght in the fact that most companies are small, meant for local or approximate markets. That the make the spine in a country like mine, means that this spine is less likely to be broken by globalization, companies moving abroad, or more taxes in the US which we have very little trade with.
By the way more taxes if spend properly would end up in the hands of consumers again at some point.
Money are better spend working, exchanging hands, developing, researching, maintaining. That spells up more than anything. The best you can do for an economy is to provide conditions for it´s growth, as high as growth can go without "overheating".
Taxes are a good economical tool but can be come a menace, if taxation rise to high or are spend to little as an investment in the future.
You should not raise your taxes wihtout a good plan as for actual max benefit vs minimum actual cost.
Denmark has the about highest taxes in the world, but we still have one of the best economies, and the average citizen are in top ten I believe as to avaible buying force, avaible income.
Finnpundit | 2005-04-16 19:12 | Link
You're argument is strictly from the point-of-view of a small state. However, the Danish welfare state (and the Norwegian and Finnish) are economically dependent on an export surplus to parts of Europe - mainly Germany - that are completely dependent on the export of consumer products to the US (BMW, Mercedes, Siemens, Bayer, etc.) In other words, the cumulative effect is that the EU as an economic entity is completely dependent on the fact that Americans DO NOT have a welfare state.
Look at the trade imbalance, in favor of the Europeans (though luckily some of that has been adjusted in America's favor by the devalued dollar). And look at the key position exports have in the welfare-state economies. The conclusion is clear: exports to a group of worker-consumers who have more money to spend after taxes is what makes the European welfare state model feasible.
If not for the Americans, European welfare states would not be able to survive, in their present form. A clear case of freeridership, - and exploitation - on the part of Europe.
Thomas Bolding Hansen - Denmark | 2005-04-16 20:47 | Link
"freeridership, - and exploitation"
I beg you pardon, that is so silly.
The fact that Americans buys products from Europe in particular the heavy industrialized Germany is due to markets, Who supply and who doesn´t.
In fact that American companies are in this regard unable to compete with a "heavily" taxed European state that even has to export it´s articles over a rather huge sea, that´s a Producer vs market problem beyond if anything else.
Maybe you should raise your import taxes huh ?
USA spend the most of the worlds oil per capita btw, isn´t that exploitation ?
And no, to give my own answer it is still the market, what people choose to buy and use, and once the oil gets scarce as it soon does atleast in terms of meeting current and rising demand, it will open a new market, or make it necesary.
Finnpundit | 2005-04-17 03:49 | Link
You may rationalize it any way you wish. But the exploitation of the American worker-consumer by the European welfare states still remains a fact.
It isn't that American companies aren't able to compete with European products. Americans, after all, are the main advocates for free markets. In fact, your fixation on this point means that you still don't get it: if two developed societies (US and EU), which fundamentally share the same values in terms of quality of life (in other words, both like western things like indoor plumbing), - if these two societies have different taxation policies when it comes to dealing with social services, then the society with the lesser taxes winds up supporting the society with more taxes, simply because the society with lesser taxes is more dynamic than the one with more.
Europeans who deny this simply have no long-term life experience on both sides of the Atlantic.
As to the US spending more on oil, that is only because the US GNP is more than that of Europe. All that oil consumption translates into wealth that winds up supporting the welfare states of Europe, also.
Europeans, of course, hate to hear that (especially Norwegians, who are completely dependent on the American consumer for the price of oil, though China is now an additional player). But the facts are clear: the ability of the lower-taxed American to create wealth is also what supports the welfare states of Europe.
Now, having said that, there certainly are ways America can create greater efficiencies within its own market, through wiser energy policies. However, these efficiencies would be a drop in the bucket compared to the efficiencies Europe could create through the wholesale dismantling of the cumbersome, wasteful and ultimately exploitative welfare state apparatuses, which wind up burning up more resources, and creating less wealth in return - than any of the efficiencies America could achieve through wiser energy policies.
But that would mean that Europeans would have to give up a cushy, secure lifestyle, - and actually take on some personal responsibility: a scary prospect, for most Europeans.
kjell | 2005-04-17 16:05 | Link
To find out what journos really think of themselves, why not go to the source?
Do not expect regrets in the media.
Allan, Melbourne | 2005-04-18 05:10 | Link
Finnpundit | 2005-04-18 05:25 | Link
No, Allan, that's not the point. Trade is the great equalizer. It's through trade we actually see who winds up burning up wealth through welfare state excesses, and who winds up actually shouldering the risks for the development of the developed world.
The point is this: Europeans are content to take a back seat, while America shoulders all the risks and the debts. The welfare states of Europe are inherently exploitative.
But so what? Well, I tend to see that given the circumstances, the destruction of the welfare states... is something to be desired.
That is something worthwhile to work for.
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