Ann Quindlen and the Failure of the Mainstream Media

A recent column by Ann Quindlen called "Follow the Leader" seems a great illustration of why the mainstream media is going bankrupt. Quindlen has written a long time for Newsweek, a dinosaur that is on its last legs. Her thesis here is that America's unhappiness with Obama arises because we are too confused to understand complex issues. Her writing then goes on to demonstrate that Ms. Quindlen is too confused to understand the simplest issues. I could comment on every line of the article as evidence of this claim, but for the sake of brevity, allow me to be selective.

Quindlen writes:

Economics are complex. Over and over again some Americans say they want lower taxes and smaller government. Yet somehow, in a recurrent bit of magical thinking, they also expect those things that taxes are used to pay for and that government delivers. The result is contradictory: vote down the school-board budget, then complain that Johnny can't read.

Apparently, economics is too complex for Ms. Quindlen but not the American public. We know, as she should know, that there is no positive correlation between government spending and the quality of public services. In our warrior's rules, we teach that this is due to the problems inherent in size (3.4 Dis-Economies of Scale). Past a certain point, we always see a negative correlation between spending and value, especially in bureaucracies that are not allowed to fail. The more money that is spent, the worse public services become. This is certainly true in public education, where states such as Texas, with relative modest spending per pupil, consistently outperform states such as California, which spend lavishly. Washington D.C. has long entertained the nation's highest school budgets and the poorest results in terms of Johnny being unable to read.

It is not the American public who is guilty of magical thinking but Ms. Quindlen. She, as so many of her ilk, thinks that more government spending automatically equals better quality. This viewpoint may fit her political appetites, but it certainly doesn't conform to the reality that the average America witnesses daily.

Quindlen goes on in the next paragraph to say:

Another political buzzword, "productivity," has come to stand for the proposition that you can always do more with less. There's little evidence that that's accurate.

If we exclude all of human history, I guess you could say that we have "little evidence" that we can get more from less. Every step forward in human progress has increased human productivity, leveraging less time and effort for more value and benefit. Just a few centuries ago, 90% of the population had to work the land simply to feed themselves. Today, civilization has grown so wealth by doing more with less that writers such as Quindlen can be richly rewarded for doing nothing of value at all.

She continues her assault on reason by staking the central claim for the rest of her article:

The old dictum stands: you get what you pay for.

Ipso facto, expensive government must be good government. According to this logic, a computer costing ten thousand dollars is ten times better than one costing a thousand dollars. Since Ms. Quinlen doesn't believe that we can do more with less, I could make this argument comparing a thirty-year old computer to a today's iPods, but let us be generous and restrict our discussion to today's computers. For my purposes, a ten thousand dollar computer would do nothing better than one thousand dollar computer. The fact that it costs more makes it no better at all. Indeed, it is obviously ten times worse since I have other uses for the money.

The old dictum doesn't mean what Ms. Quindlen claims it means and even a moment of reflection should have revealed this fact to the author or her publishers. The dictum means that, if we go below a certain minimum quality, saving money can be costly. It does not mean that paying more always gets you more. Higher prices do not mean better value. Regular people, making their own purchasing decisions day-to--day, understand this perfectly.

Of course, the fact the Newsweek and Ms. Quindlen, their long-time employee, do not understand this simple fact of "complex" economics may explain perfectly why Newsweek won't be with us much longer.