BBC journalists now sound like the Taxpayers Alliance


by Left Outside    
2:18 pm - July 27th 2010

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As highlighted by the strident Paul over at Though Cowards Flinch, the BBC are running a “fun” competition on Radio 5 and online at the BBC’s moron pit Have your Say.

MPs will be breaking up for the summer tomorrow, 27 July, but when they return they will still have to deal with the £156 billion deficit which looms over Britain. This week, BBC Radio 5 live Drive is looking for your big ideas to drive down the deficit. Today the focus is on home savings, including on health, education and local services.

As Paul says the deficit is not looming over Britain. We have run deficits through a recession which have helped mitigated much of the worst of it. As the employment situation continues to stagnate deficits don’t loom, arguably they shine.

A minor annoyance is that the Taxpayer’s Alliance is given a free run to complain about Britain’s overdraft. Britain can borrow at an interest rate of 3-3.5% for 10 years, if I had an overdraft like that I’d be over the moon. I repeat this country doesn’t have an overdraft, you twat.

I am perfectly happy when I see the Institute for Fiscal Studies report unopposed, but even at times watching TPA coverage I can’t help thinking that Lenin would be a more balanced commentator than Matthew Sinclair. But the obvious bias in allowing The Taxpayer’s Alliance free range is only a minor gripe for me.

Partisan hacks will always be with us, what is more worrying is that deficit hysteria is becoming embedded in the reporting of our economy. Even when the The Taxpayer’s Alliance are not on the air the BBC are sounding increasingly like them.

For example, when I highlighted that inflation would have some positive effects an ex-TPA propagandist offered a simple alternative (after calling me immoral, a thief, uncaring and inhumane)…

I do have a policy suggestion – instead of your approach, which is spend, spend, spend, borrow, borrow, borrow, borrow, inflate, cut public spending.

… I don’t know, maybe its just me, but I’m left thinking: “and then what?” [1]

The same approach has been taken by the BBC. Rather than ask why we must cut spending this is taken as the assumption on which a premise is built, just as the TPA do.

The Labour leadership is in disarray over the deficit and there seems little concerted effort to highlight the positive effects of ignoring Tory policy recommendation in the last few years, while we would never end up like Ireland we could be far worse off than we are.

The embedding of this deficit hysteria may have already reached a point where it is impossible to overturn. If we let them dictate the terms of debate we have lost the debate and Lost Decade, Here We Come.
_____
[1] I’m guessing Mark Wallace thinks that that cutting public spending would lead to an increase demand in the private sector, right? [2] But what I don’t get is that if cutting public spending leads to an overall increase in demand this would produce some inflation, right? But that’s bad, right? Or would this be a “good” kind of inflation? I don’t get the policy implications, Mark Wallace’s advice to “cut public spending” has pretty much left me with more questions that answers.

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About the author
Left Outside is a regular contributor to LC. He blogs here and tweets here. From October 2010 to September 2012 he is reading for an MSc in Global History at the London School of Economics and will be one of those metropolitan elite you read so much about.
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Reader comments


1. Peter Ward

I do wish that the contributions from the TPA were prefixed with right wing think tank, to say what they are. If this meant they stopped contributing to the BBC so be it. The BBC already does this when it mentions the Work Foundation, Civitas and others. The TPA does not deserve to be seen as ‘impartial’ experts and advocates for the tax payer. The reality is they are the paramilitary wing of the Daily Mail/Express. Their political bias is evident when you look at the commonality of their major funders with major supporters and funders of the Tory party. (Strangely a number of those who fund the TPA are that concerned about tax in the UK that they arrange their affairs in such a way as not to pay it).

I am going to write to the BBC to complain and politely request that any mention of the TPA is prefixed by right wing think tank.

“But what I don’t get is that if cutting public spending leads to an overall increase in demand this would produce some inflation, right?”

It’s not that simple because you see

Yours sincerely,

The TPA

Ironic that they are happy to debate how the government can save money whilst blowing some £2 billion on office refurbs and moving to mediacity.

@2

:D

Made my day (easily pleased).

calling me immoral, a thief, uncaring and inhumane…

Does he? Where? I don’t see it in the piece you link.

@Tim J

Mark claims libertarians are often called “uncaring and inhumane” and I think it fair to infer he thinks the same of me, otherwise bring it up? Granted he doesn’t use the words “thief” or “immoral” however I think it is fair that those are the implications of his blog post.

Telling me inflation that the inflation I support will ruin lives is of course calling me immoral, likewise his description of people being forced into panic buying implies I am stealing their money. I’ve linked to his blog post for context, and I think my description of what he thinks of me is fairly clear, other synonyms might suit your tastes better, but when I dash off half a dozen words, I will abbreviate.

This does seem like a diversionary tactic of course but it doesn’t alter the fact that the BBC is sounding much like you and Mr Wallace these days and that is a travesty.

I think you are very much over stating your case re Mark. It is entirely possible to disagree without consider the other person to be immoral or inhumane, (something that everyone not of the left wishes wholeheartedly that the left would learn).

As to the Beeb, well shock horror; when Labour were in power they were very biased in favour of the government, now the new lots in they are slowly coming round to a new point of view, (once again being very pro the government). He who pays the piper………..

@7 This diversion isn’t very interesting, I’ve set out why I think I’ve been fair above.

He either thinks I’m mad, and haven’t thought through the implications of the policy (which he couldn’t possibly do, because he obviously read the pieces I linked to by Buttonwood and Ryan Avent from The Economist which addressed the concerns which he raised in his log post) or he thinks I’m bad and my description of his views are fair comment.

Good evening,

This is an interesting post. I assume on here being compared to Lenin is some kind of compliment, so thank you.

This reads a lot like the worries that those sceptical of the science of climate change had a year or so ago, that the other side was the only one the media listened to. And you are right that the media will generally start from the assumption that the deficit is a big issue that needs to be dealt with. Though I don’t know why you’ve restricted this to the BBC.

The cause is the same: when the BBC goes to those it understands as experts in the field – across the political spectrum – no one tells them that the deficit isn’t a significant issue that is “looming” (whether or not it needs to be addressed immediately). You quote approvingly from the IFS but their releases in the lead up to the election were about how the parties hadn’t outlined enough spending cuts or tax hikes to meet their fiscal objectives. Even Will Straw at Left Foot Forward doesn’t argue that the deficit isn’t a major issue, my understanding is that he just thinks more of the weight should be on tax hikes and the tightening should not be as rapid as the Government plans. None of the mainstream parties have argued that the public finances aren’t in trouble for some time now. The only people saying “crisis, what crisis” about the recession are non-economist, non-entities like Richard Murphy.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you are wrong. Minorities of amateurs can avoid Westminter/City groupthink. But don’t be surprised that the BBC reflects the opinion of the intellectual mainstream.

I think you’re getting a bit hysterical about your conversation with Mark and have taken the debate a little personally.

Best,
Matthew Sinclair

Matthew @9 and @TPA: That is, in its way, a helpful response to LO’s OP above and indirectly to the post of mine that he references, although of course your silly reference to Richard Murphy as ‘non-entity’ lets you down. Richard may well not be a proper economist, but an effective conduit for one particular point of view, but then the same applies to you.

There are some points I want to pick up where both you and and the BBC are misleading the public.

You may be right in saying that ‘when the BBC goes to those it understands as experts in the field – across the political spectrum – no one tells them that the deficit isn’t a significant issue that is “looming” (whether or not it needs to be addressed immediately).

That is because it goes to the wrong people, and this is part of the systematic bias. Were a sensible BBC economic journalist in charge e.g. Paul Mason, then some expert guidance would be sought from Jospeh Stiglitz etc etc. would would aruge very strongly that the deficit is not ‘looming, for the very reasons LO sets out.

I don’t particularly care what Will Straw thinks, because he is wrong in the same way that David Miliband is wrong, in not emphasising that the best way to reduce the deficit (leaving aside whether it needs reducing at all) is to grow, not to cut spending (and therefore demand) or increase taxes (and therefore reduce demand).

It is this weak approach to political economy which is, as you suggest, letting you have it all your own way at the moment. However there are parts of the mainstream Labour party which are on top of proper grown-up economics, which doesn’t take the TPA/BBC Have Your Say simpleton line that the deficit equation boils down to a simple 156 billion -156 billion = 0 billion, without so much as a second glance at the repercussions of chucking hundreds of thousands of people on the dole overnight.

The mainstream, on-top-of -proper-economics voices party voice includes Ed Balls:

‘Halving the deficit in four years by cutting public spending… I think was a mistake, and you know, in Government at the time in 2009 I always accepted collective responsibility, but at the time in 2009 I thought the pace of deficit reduction through spending cuts was not deliverable, I didn’t think I could have been done.’

There are other clear voices, ignored by the BBC, calling for no cuts now, and how cuts now may widen the deficit, not narrow it. That voice needs to be heard alongside yours.

Thank you for your comments.

I wasn’t of course referring to V I Lenin but to the blogger Richard Seymour who blogs at lenin’s tomb. You are both very biased but in very different directions, you can be complimented if you like, I’m not sure he will be.

You know you should not be on TV as an impartial pundit, you work for a right wing pressure group. He shouldn’t be on TV as an impartial pundit, he’s a Marxist blogger, author and activist.

“This reads a lot like the worries that those sceptical of the science of climate change had a year or so ago, that the other side was the only one the media listened to.”

But of course that analogy isn’t appropriate. The denialist and sceptic camp both receive far more than 3% coverage in the media (the percentage of climate scientists in sceptic camp), whereas those arguing for larger budget deficits include Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman (the bond market is on our side of course what how low with interest rates ). Their voice received no voice in the coverage in which you featured. They are of course also far more prestigious than Anthony Watt or Richard Murphy.

“I think you’re getting a bit hysterical about your conversation with Mark and have taken the debate a little personally.”

I have taken it rather lightly, in a political debate I don’t really mind being called “immoral, a thief, uncaring and inhumane”, it is just politics after all. However you can’t help but look irked when you have to respond to two (now three) comments on it. Like I’ve often said, I am not Sunder Katwala and am not nearly as measured as he, often I’d like to be, but more often its more fun to shoot from the hip. As a propagandist too, I’m sure you understand. (You can see that Mark Wallace seems to have taken our “spat” rather well too from his response in Tweet 13 below).

The main point of the piece is two fold. One, the TPA are a pressure group and shouldn’t be left unchallenged (imagine the NEF being let onto radio 4 unhindered). Two, this is a strategic disaster for the left (for which I assume you are quite pleased), because when the debate is shifted onto these terms we really are troubled.

I can’t win the argument on how best to cut the deficit any more than I can on how best to execute someone [1], I don’t think we need to cut the deficit at the moment and nor do I think the death penalty is ever justified. But the way the question is phrased silences me and a good chunk of the left.

[1] a bit of an extreme analogy, don’t read to much into it, it is my first throught.

[A couple more points, 1) by saying "even Will Straw" am I to take it that Will Straw is considered some sort of radical? 2) The IFS I respect as largely impartial even where I disagree with them, whereas the TPA are propagandists and are not in the same category]

“I do wish that the contributions from the TPA were prefixed with right wing think tank, ”

This is the important point. The media refuse to point out the bias of the far right. The same is true in America where these right wing charlatans are paraded on TV as middle of the road experts. Of course when someone from the left is allowed on great emphasise is made of their political bias. The BBC is so intimidated by the right wing written media, and the tory party that they have become so biased to the right.

When your political line up is Nick Robinson and Andrew Neil, you have given up.

Thanks for your comment Paul.

Just a quick comment, with regard to Krugman and DeLong, I don’t want to appear to be arguing from authority, they merely have better arguments than Ferguson or Trichet or any Republican etc and that’s why I’ve namechecked them. Krugman was wrong about inflation in the early part of 2000s for example, I think he has learned from that experience.

Oh and Martin Wolf is on my side: check out this post: http://blogs.ft.com/martin-wolf-exchange/2010/07/25/the-political-genius-of-supply-side-economics/

LO, I’ve been reading your blog for some time, and I normally like what I read, but I can’t help but feel you’ve made a couple of mistakes in this back-and-forth:

1) Don’t feed the monkey. This is a key rule in politics – never engage with your opponent in person until you have absolutely no other choice. Engage with their arguments instead, in as roundabout a way as possible. To do otherwise is to give them credence as a serious opponent – which, since you dismiss Matthew’s claim to be an expert, you clearly don’t believe the TPA to be.

2) Be specific when talking about financial matters. Mark was able to write his original response because you didn’t say how much inflation might be a good idea, nor what index you’d use to measure it. This allowed him to purposely overstate your case.

You’re certainly right about allowing the Right to frame the question – the key issue for the Left is ‘What should we do about increased interest payments reducing the Government’s ability to provide services?’ to which the answer may very well be to hold off on cuts to continue to stimulate growth – although I’ve previously written why cutting now is probably acceptable: http://declineofthelogos.wordpress.com/2010/06/12/why-now-is-the-right-time-to-cut-probably/. It’s also the case that a moderate rate of inflation – say 5% RPI – might help push savings back into the economy, as I mentioned in my response to Mark.

Thank you Adam. I think I may need to take on board some of your points.

Mark Wallace did seem to think I was suggesting 10% inflation for a decade to reduce our debt. Of course, all I’m really interested in would be inflation to bring nominal GDP growth closer to trend. So 4% for a few of years before dropping back down to 2%ish – moderately lessening debt repayments, boosting current demand and helping to make future business environments more hospitable than they currently do.

I wasn’t specific and Mark was able to deploy some broadside against me about me impoverishing pensioners. But the fact is, I prefer blog posts 400-800 words in length (they get read) so some of what I argue must be left implicit rather than explicit. Rightwing propagandists have an easy time because right wing arguments are simple. They are wrong, but they remain convincing because they are so easily understandable (i.e. nonsense like national debt = household debt).

Matthew Sinclair is not an expert I respect, but I don’t think ignoring him will get him prefaced with “right-wing think tank bod” on air, or adequately countered on panel shows etc. He needs his credibility as an impartial representative of taxpayers tackled head on.

Mark Wallace of course doesn’t need this, he’s not that well known. Now, my comment above is meant to be throw away. It is meant to underline that the right just have a mantra “cut cut cut” but no policy objectives flowing from this. Their remedy is their policy objective. Sadly it has led astray this otherwise important discussion of the right’s narrative victory.

I’ll have a look at your post you link to.

16. Peter Ward

LO

I enjoy reading your blog and agree wholeheartedly with what you have said.

A point on the voices that are sceptical/hostile to deficit fetishism being ignored. Could it be because one of the voices, though a Nobel Prize winning economist (Krugman) does not get much air time as he is from across the pond? Perhaps his comparing the UK with Japans lost generation does not fit well with the cut rhetoric either. I am suprised Stiglitz and Blanchflower do not get more air time to outline their opposition and what they would do. They would provide a useful counter argument to organisations such as the TPA and do so from an academic rather than a political standpoint (hence my earlier point on the TPA being prefixed by being a right wing think tank.) DeLongs and Krugmans arguments are strong though and the parallel with Japan compelling. Cutting deeply now could turn a crisis of liquidity into a full blown crisis of demand that could cripple the UK economy for a decade or more.

I return to my original post, the deficit ‘problem’ as the right see it is of such a scale that the explanation needs to be dumbed down (I disagree with this as the remedies can be explained simply for what they are without household or overdraft analogies that do not point to the reality of the situation) by mainstream media such as radio 5. So some of our ire must be pointed at them too. The slimming down of management alluded to above, that saves a princely £1bn, is patently ideological. Real savings that could be made are on tax avoidance and tightening enforcement, for example.

The hysteria around the deficit has been whipped up for ideological purposes by the right and the TPA is its preferred instrument and mouthpiece to deliver these messages, a lot of the time these messages are incorrect and some cases poorly researched.

17. Cassandrina

What a lot of partisan posturing.
The BBC hardly ever state whether the so-called think tank is left or right, and should do so in every event.
As for the deficit, this is a FACT, and should be correctly addressed.
The BBC is a left leaning institution and has been for over 20 years. Listening to the Today Programme or any news broadcast on Radio 4 any day will quickly show you this, and those that declare otherwise are loony left activists or idiots.
The deficit is with us and public spending needs to be cut – end of story.
The fact that the Labour Party and its past leader are in hibernation does not mean that the BBC will not interview them on a very regular basis, something they forgot to do with the Conservative Party over the last 13 years, unless it was to the BBC’s benefit.
As an afterthough I am non-political and dislike all three parties, but especially the Labour criminals that brought this country to its knees, and yet still expect us to listen to them and be governed from Scotland and the ignorant north.

@8 still wholeheartedly wishing.

19. Peter Ward

Cassandrina

I am afraid you are about as Non-political as the TPA. I am offended as someone from the so called ignorant North and Scotland. If the best you have is ad hominem attacks on the BBC and a point of view you disagree with, you very much betray where your politics lie. No-one is claiming that the deficit does not exist the argument lies over the policy to deal with it and the damage that can be done by getting the policy wrong (have a read about Japans lost decade). I would therefore argue public spending does not need to be cut in the way it is being done now, driven solely by ideology.

The best way for the deficit to be ‘paid off’ is through recovery and increased tax revenues. The logic goes if the economy recovers, more people are in employment paying tax, more companies paying tax and more people are spending and this begets more growth. Cutting government spending and infrastructure at this time will have a knock on effect on consumer confidence and demand and then onto business confidence. If people do not spend, companies do not grow, unemployment increases and transfer payments to individuals increase (increasing the deficit). We are at the moment a consumption led service economy and a mixed economy where the boundaries between public and private sector are blurred. So cutting public sector jobs and spend will lead to corresponding reductions in private spend and jobs. Bingo a lost decade.

I doubt that Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist, Brad DeLong and Joseph Stiglitz are “loony left wingers”. However, you are a right wing nut and I claim my £10.

Thanks.

@Cassandrine

So: “The deficit is with us and public spending needs to be cut – end of story.”

Obviously once someone puts the phrase “end of story” onto the end of an unsupported assertion it immediately turns that assertion into a worthwhile rational argument.

21. frankfrank

Peter Ward

Thanks for the economics lesson. It’s all so clear to me now. Those horrible, nasty, uncaring Tories are only motivated by the ideology of cuts for the sake of cuts. The public are obviously having the wool pulled over there eyes by the right wing media. Have you ever thought about going into politics? This country really does need people like you telling us exactly what to do.

22. Peter Ward

frankfrank

Glad you appreciated it.

Rather than making a snarky comment would you care to refute/discuss any of the arguments?

I appreciate the model I used was simplistic. I was just putting my side of the argument. Believe it or not, its up to you.

Other myths peddled by the right:

1. We could have been like Greece – Nope cos we can devalue our currency and also our the period of our debt is 14 years as opposed to 1 year for Greece and £ years for Germany, Portugal, Ireland and Spain. Greece also fell for a ponzi scheme sold to them by Goldman Sachs.

2. Credit agencies would have downgraded UK sovereign debt – One was 50/50 about doing so. The other two were comfortable with the UKs deficit reduction plans pre-election because the interest payments are affordable relative to GDP and also because the maturity of the loans were long.

I have not said above that the deficit does not need to be tackled but that there are other ways to do this. Growth is the panacea either way and what the current government are doing will endanger growth in my opinion (and those of people such as Krugman.) and could lead to a lost generation.

The cuts in this year were ideological, the cutting of the deficit in 4 years so cuts can be deeper, ideological. There is no sane economic justification for any of the coalitions policies. I truly hope that the UK economy recovers but I see too many parallels between the UKs policy and Japans that led to the lost decade.

23. State of Red

@17 Scotland and the ignorant north!!! Please, everyone from Scotland and the ignorant North, don’t judge everyone in the south (where I was born and live) by the words of these freaks, we’re not all like that down here.

24. Richard W

17. Cassandrina

‘What a lot of partisan posturing.
The BBC hardly ever state whether the so-called think tank is left or right, and should do so in every event.
As for the deficit, this is a FACT, and should be correctly addressed. ‘

As a rule of thumb anyone who says something is a ‘ FACT ‘ in capital letters I have always assumed that it is not a fact. For example, see the work of Laurence Kotlikoff for evidence that the deficit is not a ‘ fact ‘ but merely a figment of language, not economics.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurence_Kotlikoff

Until you appreciate the reality of sectoral balances in the economy you are never going to get it.

See here for example Warren Mosler trying to educate the Tea Party no less about sectoral balances.
http://moslereconomics.com/2010/02/04/dallas-address/

Marshall Auerback discussing sectoral balances.
http://www.newdeal20.org/2010/02/01/the-president-remains-trapped-in-the-talons-of-the-deficit-hawks-7954/

Marshall Auerback discussing sectoral balances.
http://www.creditwritedowns.com/2010/02/who-is-getting-robbed-the-real-intergenerational-theft.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+creditwritedowns+%28Credit+Writedowns%29&utm_content=Bloglines

The truth is you are being lied to and robbed for ideological reasons. However, as long as public spending and balances can be couched in moral terms the lying will go on.

Just a minor question for those who want the Tax Payer’s Alliance to be prefaced by ‘right-wing’ (and presumably all other groups to be similiarly categorised). Who gets to define these things? Because right-wing means different things to different people – sally for example thinks it means racism and capitalist/monopolistic explotation of the poor, whereas I think it means a commitment to individual freedom and equality – and left-wing likewise. So clearly the prefixing of a political designation is not actually that helpful or accurate, unless you are trying to use it to label ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’…

@25

Well doesn’t the Beeb already refer to the IPPR (for instance) as left-leaning? I daresay there are some editorial guidlines to do with labelling. And a lot of it is probably to do with self-identification – the TPA insists that it is impartial despite advocating policies that by any definition are on the right-wing of the spectrum.

Richard W, thanks for the links.

Watchman, it is already common to preface thinktanks and pressure groups with their rough ideological position. I am sure you could get some guidelines from the BBC on how they describe if you submit a request.

28. Rhys Williams

Right wing TPA
Maybe but a better introduction would be
“Another bloody think tank, full of unemployable in the real world losers who have 3 hour lunches breaks and then complain to the rest of us that we don’t work hard enough” should be placed in front of every group of fuckin self serving creeps that want to change the world.”


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