The ramblings of a wandering mind

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Comments on the AEA code of conduct

I write to express my general support for the Draft AEA Code of Professional Conduct and to add to it. While the inclusion of age, gender, race, and ethnicity seem obvious and understandable, I find the omission of “political ideology” to the list of attributes troubling. While one’s sexual orientation or disability status or genetic information are unlikely to have a bearing on one’s views of say, the minimum wage on employment, one’s political views are likely to have a bearing on that question. One has to only take a casual look at the stream of research on minimum wages published by the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE) and UMass Amherst to admit of the possibility that the ways those scholars view the world influence their findings or, at a very minimum, put them at odds with other scholars who also work in the area (Fn. 1).
This discussion by the AEA on a professional code of conduct for our profession also seems to be taking place simultaneously with discussions of how diversity is important for deciding on who we interview and who we bring in for campus visits. However, such discussions seem to be dominated with an emphasis on gender and ethnic diversity, which to me, seems awfully limited. After all, at a university, the kind of diversity we ought to care most about is the diversity of thought and as Nicholas Kristof put it in a recent piece in the NY Times, “Universities should be a hubbub of the full range of political perspectives from A to Z, not just from V to Z” (Fn. 2).
Along those lines, let me offer a personal anecdote. Before pursuing a PhD, I worked at a consulting firm for two years. At the very start of my job, we went through a training and had colleagues from all over the world in the same room and I was struck by how similar they sounded, regardless of where they were from and how they looked. That same experience was repeated over and over again including at a 2-week workshop where, as before, we had a diverse group from all over the world (including someone who identified as gay, an African-American, and a close-to-even split between males and females). Yet at the very end of the workshop someone remarked – “Now I know I have a group of 25 friends who think just like me.” I could offer other examples from my experience but I hope that they convey the point I am trying to make – diversity has got to be more than skin deep.
I finally want to touch on another issue that’s less directly tied to the code of conduct per se and more tied to the issue of integrity in research and how we as a profession go about practicing it.  Everyone reading this is likely to have come across the well-known study “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?” While it is one of my favorite papers and I have nothing but the highest respect for both authors, it is an open question that I lay out there – would this study have received the attention it did if it had reported a null set of results as opposed to the results it did, holding constant everything else about the paper? While there is no magic bullet that I can think of which would address all my concerns related to how research is conducted, I think pre-registering studies would help. (Fn. 3) The requirement that all studies published in an AEA journal provide their data and code helps too (I have downloaded such data/ code more than once and used it for examining my own work) but the AEA could encourage all journals (including non-AEA ones) to adopt such a policy. Finally, encouraging studies that come up with null results to be also submitted is desirable. After all, if the requirement for every audit study examining discrimination to be published is that it find effects in the expected direction, then a true understanding of the extent and degree of discrimination will elude us.
Fn. 1: See Isaac Sorkin “Are there long-run effects of the minimum wage?,” (RED, 2015) or Ekaterina Jardim et al. “Minimum Wage Increases, Wages, and Low-Wage Employment: Evidence from Seattle” (NBER Working Paper No. 23532) for recent examples of research that run counter to the stream of research published by the IRLE.
Fn. 2:
Fn. 3:

Monday, December 11, 2017

My thoughts to students at the end of the semester

Every semester I seem to make some changes and tweaks to the course in the hopes of making it better. And this semester too, I have made some. For example, incorporating the occasional cartoon in my slides was one of the tweaks I made. I also worked hard to make sure that materials were uploaded on Blackboard on time so that you had a more seamless experience. And finally another tweak that I am making is this: I am choosing to end this class by sharing some reflections and advice with all of you.
I want to start off by talking about some of the larger lessons that I hope you can draw from this course. One of the first principles that I hope you take away is that incentives matter and that people act rationally. I am not suggesting that people act rationally always in every single context; other emotions like envy or a sense of fairness come in which cannot be easily explained using the framework of rationality. That said, people behave rationally often enough that if you are trying to understand someone’s actions, you could start off by assuming that he (or she) is acting rationally. Put yourself in the person’s shoes and think about the factors that a rational person is likely to consider as he makes his decisions.
The second general takeaway from this course is that it doesn’t matter whether you like it or not – the laws of demand and supply are real and they matter, especially in the long run. Many an authoritarian regime has tried to behave as if the laws of demand and supply do not exist, but that willful ignorance of these laws has only come back to bite them in the rear. Venezuela and Zimbabwe are two examples from our present times but there have been many others over the course of human history.
Third, how competitive markets are matters. Through my own research ( and the research of countless others, we know that competition is the consumer’s best friend when it comes to the quality of customer service, the diversity of product offerings, and the prices that consumers pay. To take a few examples, in two industries – cellphone service and brokerage services – the presence of at least four national players, along with several smaller players, has led to real benefits for customers.[1] Prices have been lower than they were ever before and there are more offerings to choose from.
Nevertheless in spite of all of these points, governments do have a role to play in the economy. The operation of the judicial system which helps resolve disputes that arise in the course of business transactions (especially, transactions among strangers) will always fall to the government. Governments also have a role to play in setting up the rules of the game which firms need to abide by. For example, the requirement that all publicly listed firms present audited financial statements on a quarterly basis, following what are known as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, increases the confidence of the public in the financial markets and leads them to invest their hard-earned money in the first place. Financial markets would be far more chaotic, not to mention much smaller, if basic regulations around how companies can raise money from the public and how they must conduct themselves once they do so, did not exist. Thus, governments have a critical role to play in ensuring that markets work properly.
If I try to sum up what I have said thus far – it would be this: you could be the most bleeding heart liberal that there ever was but you would be better off (and your plans would be more likely to be successful) if you could leverage the natural strengths of markets and in providing incentives which induce people to act on them. The Soviet Union had a decent run by pretending that human beings do not need to be provided incentives to act on, but in the end that is what led to its collapse. By the same token, you could be the most diehard Tea Partier (if such a thing still exists) but you really can’t get to Nirvana by doing away with the government altogether. Building on an analogy that my advisor frequently made, if high taxes (and a large government) are the death knell that some make them out to be, then Nordic countries would be wallowing in poverty – but they aren’t. In fact, when you look at the data, it is quite hard to find a connection between the size of government and the level of prosperity people enjoy. Some of the places with the lowest taxes are failed states in Africa and the Middle East and some of the most prosperous societies are Nordic countries with some of the highest taxes in the world. Life is more complex than simply saying – smaller governments are always better governments.
Now pivoting away from what economics teaches us to what life has taught me, let me try to share two pieces of advice if I may. The first is very simple: you are likely to have heard it from your teachers in first or second grade and from your parents and now you get to hear it from me again – hard work matters. A few days back when I decided that I would talk to you for the last few minutes of this class I obviously had an idea of what I wanted to talk to you about in broad strokes. But that did not mean that I would come to class and talk about it extempore. If I added up the entire amount of time that it took me to work on this talk, it would amount to over three hours. I wanted to write things out so that I could choose my words carefully. And when I realized that trying to type a speech into a computer from scratch wasn’t a great idea and was preventing my creative juices from flowing, I put the computer aside and went the old-fashioned route of putting pen to paper.
But this hasn’t been the case just for today; my desire to come into class prepared has been my goal throughout the semester. On most days, I would take much of the time during office hours to look at the slides and go over what I wanted to say in class. On the few days when I did not get a chance to do that (or did not have the discipline to do it), it would take me longer to get everything right during class in the way that I would like things to be. It is a bit like what happens in a play – when an actor forgets his line and a fellow actor prompts him, the audience is unlikely to catch the slip right away but they may get the impression that something is off. And if it happens more often, then almost certainly they will figure it out. I believe that is true for you as well as students in my class and therefore if I had to avoid staring at the board for longer than is strictly necessary, I was required to have put in the work before coming to class – something I tried to do throughout the semester.
Let me offer another corroborating example because truth be told – I am a novice and should be reviewing my material before coming in. A few years back at a departmental reception, I was talking to one of the senior faculty members in my department. This is someone who is a little over 50 years old and had been teaching at the university for say, 25 years. Imagine my surprise back then when she told me that when she went into her classroom, she still spent a significant amount of time in reviewing her material. In other words, she wasn’t trying to wing it and neither should you. Hard work matters. In the future when you start working and you are being asked to attend a meeting, do your homework. Often material gets circulated ahead of meetings. Read it. The chances you will be able to make a favorable impression on your colleagues goes up if you spend effort into thinking and preparing for them.
If I can offer another piece of advice, it would be to eventually find a career path for yourself that you are passionate about. While we all work to pay our bills and our mortgages, that shouldn’t be the only reason we work, or maybe even the primary reason we work. I have held jobs in the past that came with significantly higher compensation than my current job and yet I have lasted a maximum of two years in these jobs. In contrast, I have now been a faculty member for 3 years and intend to be in this profession for a very long period of time – perhaps even at this university. The reason I say that is because I enjoy both facets of my job – the teaching and research. I hope you have felt that I have cared about my responsibilities as a teacher because it really makes a difference to me whether or not you understand the concepts of economics that I am trying to teach you. But I also greatly enjoy the other aspect of my job which involves research because I can pick questions or issues that I find most interesting and can pursue them to their logical conclusion – without worrying about whether my results line up with someone’s prior beliefs or not. That is a feature of my job which I enjoy greatly and I know that most of my colleagues (and your professors) do as well.
Now it is quite OK if you as a freshman don’t have a sense yet of what you are passionate about. I certainly did not embark on my current path of making a career in academia until the age of 28 when I started my PhD program. As I have mentioned, I was trained as a chemical engineer during my undergraduate studies; I went on to get an MBA but as it turns out the career paths that opened up for me after those endeavors were not good fits for me. It was however those less-than-perfect experiences which gave me a sense of what might work for me and I can certainly say that academia fits me to the T and I am significantly happier here than I was at my previous jobs. Likewise, if you try your hand at a few different things, you are much more likely to figure out what is it that you are really passionate about. If you marry my first advice – work hard – with this second piece of advice – work on something you are passionate about – then you are much more likely to be successful and happy regardless of what you end up doing.
With that, let me end and simply wish you the very best for your college careers and whatever lies ahead of you. May God bless you and may He guide you with wisdom and humility. Thank you.

[1] See, and for examples.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Thoughts regarding India's demonetization

A friend asks me regarding my thoughts on India's experiment in demonetization:

My response: I am not going to comment extensively on demonetization. When I comment on economic issues, I hold myself to a higher standard and hope that I am summarizing the literature, rather than sharing my own viewpoints on the matter. As an example, within this last week when two journalists reached out to me requesting comments on things I have worked on in the past, it still took me longer than an hour to read articles and think through my response. And those were things that I have researched on. I haven’t researched on demonetization and am not a macro economist so therefore it would take me even longer – at least several hours – to read the evidence that has come out/ is coming out and share my thoughts on it. So I am going to pass on that.

I will however comment about what is perhaps the most important aspect of demonetization and one I think is critical to whether this program is a success or not. And this has to do with the theme of tax evasion and compliance, a topic that I do know something about (e.g. To my mind, unless the revenue agencies are able to develop processes and systems which let them compare the amounts being deposited by individuals relative to what they had declared on their tax returns and then investigate discrepancies, then demonetization would be a failure. I mean if the powers-that-be were hoping that the “black money” wouldn’t get deposited in banks and that would be a one-time negative shock to the stock of wealth held by corrupt individuals, then that was a pipe-dream. So we truly will have to wait and see what happens to the tax base over a span of 3-5 years, how many people are brought into the tax net, does compliance go up, and so on and so forth before we are able to comment on whether demonetization was a success or not. (Reading through this article on Rediff doesn’t indicate to me that the negative shock I talked about was the goal of Mr. Arun Jaitley. He may however now be speaking with the benefit of hindsight and one might have to discount his statements accordingly. But Mr. Jaitley does note – “With the return of the money, the owners have been identified, he said, adding that the tax department is scrutinizing 18 lakh bank accounts with unusual deposits post note ban that do not match with previous income profile.” Reference:

Now in best-of-class execution, one would define those goals ahead of time in order to precisely quantify what success looks like (say, a 30% increase in real tax receipts within 5 years) but I doubt this scheme falls in that category of best-in-class execution so unfortunately we do not have those objective yardsticks defined ahead of time. And so in the end I think I will have to wait for an enterprising PhD student somewhere with interests in Monetary and Development Economics to write an evaluation of the demonetization program. The state of knowledge generation is such that it will likely require more than one thesis to flesh all of this out. And that will be in the end what I base my own assessment of the program on. It would be foolish for anyone to trust folks who have always been critical of the government (and Dr. Amartya Sen undoubtedly heads that list but Dr. Kaushik Basu isn’t far behind) but that's not all. One should also exclude people who are currently employed by the government or have hopes of being so in the near future. With the National Rural Employment Guarantee Program for example, a huge initiative by the Congress government under Manmohan Singh, it is the work of one of my friends at Michigan that I trust more than anything else on the matter. It was her thesis work ( and as someone who is not ethnically an Indian, also likely to have been objective in its assessment.

Follow-up: Here is a piece from the Wall Street Journal describing some of the issues with detecting and monitoring tax evasion following large deposits. I think it is fair and balanced ( and while it emphasizes that demonetization works only if evasion is detected, it is not shy to point out the many issues with it.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The decision to filibsuter Judge Neil Gorsuch is the wrong one...for Democrats

I say this as a Republican but would have said the same if I were a Democrat: Democrats filibustering Gorsuch is the stupidest thing they can possibly do - even when viewed exclusively in light of their own self-interest. Neil Gorsuch was picked in the hope of getting 60+ votes in the Senate and by all accounts, he should have. For context, when he was nominated on the 10th Circuit court of appeals in 2006 where he now sits, his nomination was approved by a voice vote and only 1 person showed up at his hearing - Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. The issue is that notwithstanding the Democratic filibuster, Judge Gorsuch will be confirmed (perhaps as early as this week) and the Senate's rules/ norms will be changed. That now seems to be a done deal. The real issue is what comes next? 

No one knows when the next vacancy will come about on the Court but based on age, the ones likeliest to step down (either through death/ ill health) would be Justices Ginsburg (aged 84), Kennedy (80), or Breyer (78). Justice Ginsburg literally is at one end of the spectrum when it comes to being a liberal justice, Justice Breyer isn't significantly better, and Justice Kennedy - well he is the true swing judge on this present court. Now with the rules for confirming SC justices changed, the President will have no incentive to appoint a "mainstream" conservative like Judge Gorsuch. Instead he could appoint Judge Pryor who was reputed to be on the shortlist and is on record as having said that Roe v. Wade (1973) was the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law”. ( In that case, even if an extreme nominee loses the support of a few Republicans (as happened with the Betsy DeVos nomination), DJT can get that nominee through. (Democrats, pls. check what the 2018 calendar for Senate races looks like before you comment). And therefore, while it is by no means certain that one of the justices will die/ retire in the next 3 years, it could happen. And while, a second term for DJT looks unlikely, stranger things have happened and esp. if DJT stays on until 2024, he will assuredly have 1 and perhaps even 2 or 3 vacancies to fill and the court will be packed with solid conservatives for a generation, maybe more. :)

Those are the key arguments. How about the other arguments such as - this will energize the Democratic base? Well - it doesn't look like the Democratic base is up in arms against Judge Gorsuch - e.g. there was not a single protester (Code Pink or otherwise) during three days of hearings and that needs to be compared with the protests against Sessions or DeVos during their hearings. 

What about the arguments that Democrats don't want to hand DJT an easy victory or this is retribution for Merrick Garland? Well - when in 3 or 5 years, the Court decides on another case as massive as Sebelius vs. NFIB (the original Obamacare case), and it goes down as a 5-4 because of conservative justices appointed under DJT, then the question of having handed DJT a victory in spring of 2017 will seem very quaint and would have faded from public memory. 

Finally, Merrick Garland - what about him? Yes - what happened to him wasn't good but we played politics.... and won. You cannot take politics out of politics, let's just say that. Frankly, President Obama could have appointed him for either of his first two vacancies but he chose not to - in order to pick a more ideological justice like SS and so Judge Garland was the sacrificial lamb in the end. The real question is not whether what happened to Merrick Garland was fair or not (it wasn't) but 1) whether Democrats would have believed any differently if RBG had died in President Bush's last term in office and there was a Democratic-controlled Senate and 2) would filibustering Judge Garland achieve their goals of preventing him from being seated (no) and whether it would give them sizable political benefits? (no, again) In contrast, Republicans were able to prevent Merrick Garland from coming on the Court and the thought of picking the next SC justice let a lot of Republican voters to hold their nose and vote for DJT. Neither are true here.

Now how about Republicans - couldn't abolishing the filibuster come to bite them in the butt? Well, not really. If and when the stars align again to give the Democrats, the Presidency and the Senate, they will get to appoint someone of their choice. But that's OK - the justices appointed by Democratic Presidents have never been viewed as swing from what I can tell; no one waited in bated breath for how Justice Sotomayor was going to vote on Sebelius vs. NFIB - (repeal of Obamacare for others); in that very important case, the swing justices (based on oral arguments) were Justices Roberts and Kennedy and in the end, Chief Justice Roberts proved to be the swing vote. In fact, it says something about both the parties and the judges, that the only ones who have been viewed as swing justices on the court in its last 15-20 years have been Republican appointees - earlier, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, most recently, Justice Kennedy, and now, in a few rare instances, Chief Justice John Roberts. (I am not even including Justices David Souter and John Paul Stevens - both Republican appointees - who let's just say, surprised the Presidents who appointed them, and not necessarily in a very nice manner). So it is not as though, the views of any Democratic appointee on the Court will be a surprise; we know very well from history what we will be getting.

So all in all - as a Democrat, I would have been very concerned and disappointed that the filibuster to Supreme Court nominations would fall by the wayside, whereas as a Republican, I would be quite pleased and elated at future prospects, even if I were somewhat disappointed in the Senate becoming a body devoid of bipartisanship.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Should we do away with the Electoral College?

In recent weeks following the election of Mr. Donald Trump to the Presidency, accompanied by his loss in the popular vote, many commentators have called for the abolition of the Electoral College and moving to a national popular vote. Here is one column from E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post advocating just such a position. ( I have often been tempted to write about this issue but there was something in the op-ed which irritated me enough that I decided to respond with a letter to Mr. Dionne. 

Before getting into the letter itself, let me finally note one other thing: we never talk of changing the rules of the game after the game has been played and a winner has been chosen. The participants in a game take the rules of the game as a given and then decide how to play the game. In the case of this 2016 presidential election cycle, if we had decided that the winner of the national vote would be elected President, it is clear that electoral strategies would have been different. Democratic volunteers from the state of Massachusetts would have less time on their hands to go campaign in neighboring battleground New Hampshire and parties and PACs would have run ads and focused their ground games very differently. One could also make the case that Mr. Trump's persona and strategy of addressing big crowds in large rallies would have been more useful rather than the nuts-and-bolts strategy of Mrs. Clinton's campaign which, in my view, rested on trying to reassemble the Obama coalition of 2012 block by block. The point is I don't know who would have won the popular vote if we had agreed that the winner of the popular vote would be elected President but what I do know is that the outcome may have been different than the current outcome. What I also know is that criticizing the outcome of a game when evaluated under a hypothetical set of rules different from the rules that the game was played under is hypocritical and shows the person holding such views in very poor light. With that being said, here is my letter to Mr. Dionne.

Hello Mr. Dionne,

I would like to share three of my observations re: your article in the Washington Post on the Electoral College:

1. Would you have written this op-ed if the winner of the Electoral College and the popular vote had been flipped? I can’t answer this question convincingly for you but as of now if you told me that you would have written that op-ed regardless, I am afraid I could only doubt your credibility and honesty. J

2.  If the Electoral College goes today, shouldn’t the Senate follow simply based on consistency of logic? After all, California with its 39 million+ people ( still gets the same two Senate seats as Wyoming does with ~600,000 people (  Either you believe in doing away with equal representation of the States in the Senate (which is consistent with your views on the Electoral College but inconsistent with the history of this country) or you believe in retaining the equal representation of States in the Senate (which is inconsistent with your views on the Electoral College); which one is it? If you advocate doing away with the equal representation of the States in the Senate, something that is plausible if after the 2018 cycle New York and California end up being represented by Democrats, who nevertheless find themselves in a hopeless minority, then you are asking us to violate the most basic tenet under which States agreed to become a part of this federation. Would you agree?

3. Finally, in case you do think that abolishing the Electoral College as we know it is a good idea, it is unclear how you plan on accomplishing that. This is not something that could be passed through an executive order (thank Heavens for small mercies), the only way to enact this would be through a Constitutional Amendment and one knows how hard that is. But that is a feature of the system – not a bug. Moreover, think about this for a moment – Republicans will hold the levers of power from Jan. 20 onwards in both the executive and legislative branches of federal government and they would hold unified control in about half of all states (! I don’t need to remind you of what’s necessary for a constitutional amendment to pass but boy, are things looking precarious for the Democrats! In that environment (and in an environment of hyper-partisanship), I hope you would recognize  that passing constitutional amendments should be hard – really really really hard but that would also mean that your ideas of doing away with the Electoral College has exactly a zero chance of passage. Which is exactly how I would like it – because I respect the Constitution more than I care about the  vagaries of any political party or the outcome from one electoral cycle and because I also believe that Constitutional Amendments should pass only where there is an overwhelming national consensus on a topic and we are very far from such a consensus on what to do with the Electoral college. I for one (and I speak as a registered Republican) would be opposed tooth and nail to doing away with the Electoral College.

Responses are always appreciated but what’s even more appreciated is to see some of what I have said be reflected in your subsequent writings – maybe with the implicit or explicit acknowledgment that other reasonable people may hold points of view that differ from your own.

Sutirtha Bagchi

Saturday, August 1, 2015

On hunting and whether hunting for trophies is morally equivalent to hunting animals for their meat

This reflects discussion I had with friends on the topic of hunting following the killing of a lion, Cecil in Zimbabwe by an American. This article from the Washington Post gives you some background on the case and the following video from Jimmy Kimmel highlights the comedian's views on the matter:

Here are my reactions:

I have never hunted and doubt ever will. As is, I would be happy if I could get by without eating any meat if I could. Maybe some day. But given that I eat meat, the idea of hunting an animal and eating its meat makes some sense to me. But what doesn't is the idea of killing an animal only to put up its head on a mantle as a showpiece. It isn't a show of one's physical prowess for sure because one party has a gun, the other doesn't. If it has to be a show of physical prowess or virility then one should fight the animal with one's bare hands and see if one emerges victorious or not. At the end of the day, animals are also nature's creation and if there is an Almighty, I doubt that He would look favorably at the senseless killing of one of His creations.

This led to a question from one of my friends: Should lions never be hunted? Bears? Mountain lions?

My subsequent response:
My position is this - if animals are hunted, then my conscience would be more or less clean if it is for one of these two reasons: a) the animal threatened me and I risked physical harm if I did not kill the animal; b) I wanted to eat the animal's meat and therefore I killed it. Other than those two reasons, no in my view, animals should never be hunted. One of the things that strikes me as odd is that the very same people who are troubled by abortion and would likely outlaw it if they could, have no problem hunting animals/ birds for the sake of sport. I, on the other hand, am deeply troubled by abortion AND by the killing of animals for sport because fundamentally, I believe that aborted babies and animals that are killed in a wanton manner are also God's children and we need to respect the sanctity of life in all its forms whenever and wherever possible. So to directly answer your question, if the lion/ bear/ mountain lion is not threatening me or my companions and I am not killing it to eat its meat, I would never want these animals to be hunted.

Liberal bias in the media

I as a conservative am rankled by what I perceive as a liberal bias in the media. Is this a figment of my imagination? Probably not. An independent search by the reader of this blog would help him judge the facts for himself/ herself. But in case s/he is short of time, let me quote some statistics which might be telling in that regard: "A new survey confirms that liberals and Democrats dominate the major media. The website of the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) reports the findings from a new book, "The American Journalist in the 21st Century: US News People at the Dawn of a New Millennium." It finds that 40 percent of journalists described themselves as being on the left side of the political spectrum and conservatives were only 25 percent. Moderates made up 33 percent. In terms of political party affiliation, 36 percent of journalists said they were Democrats, but only 18 percent said they were Republicans. (My add: The current national split for registered voters is much more even in contrast to the lopsided numbers for journalists.) Viewed in context, citing Gallup poll data on the ideological make-up of the public, the article on the PEJ website says that 40 percent of the journalists are liberal but only 17 percent of the public is. While 41 percent of the public is conservative, only 25 percent of the journalists are. That means there is a tremendous gulf in terms of the political views of journalists and the public. "1

Why do I raise the points above of this liberal bias? Because as we lap up election coverage this election cycle and then discuss it in our living rooms, it is worthwhile to ponder over where all of our news is coming from and whether the folks discussing the news have any ulterior motives or not. Let's say you have a situation in which 4 journalists on CNN are chatting about the upcoming Presidential elections. You listen to the news coverage and at some level, would hope that what you are getting is a balanced and even coverage of the issues and where the candidates stand on them. But had it turned out that all 4 of them had voted Democratic in the last Presidential cycle, would this make you think twice of the nature of the information that you are receiving? Hopefully yes. Because at the end of the day, not all journalists can be expected to meet up to the lofty standards that were set by one of my professors who when asked his opinion on a matter replied, "The class is not a forum for me to express my opinions. It is my role to help you connect with the repository of literature that exists and hope that what I am able to present you with is a balanced coverage of the topics at hand representing the different strands of research which has looked at this topic." Wow!

Given all of this, I have a suggestion which is inspired from the manner in which business news is typically covered. Let's say we have a stock analyst from Morgan Stanley talking about the prospects of General Electric. At the end of his coverage, the analyst must disclose whether he or any of his family members currently holds any stock in that company. In addition, he has to also disclose if his firm, Morgan Stanley had any business dealings with General Electric over the last 12 months, whether it be in the form of investment banking business or in any other form. Now how about having a similar disclosure norm for the political journalists who cover the political news segments. At the end of a 1 hour segment run by CNN on the upcoming presidential elections, we might have a disclosure on the lines of : "Campbell Brown: Democratic; Wolf Blitzer: Democratic; Anderson Cooper: Democratic; Rolland Martin: Democratic". And then, the audience, people like yourself who expect the media to be unbiased, could make up their minds about what they listened to was balanced media coverage or not. If this sounds like too drastic a plan that curtails individual privacy, we could at least move to a system where at the end of each segment, we have a statement on the lines of: "Of the 56 (I am making a number up, for illustrative purposes) journalists who were a part of the crew, 39 of them were registered Democrats, 6 were registered Republicans and the remaining were unaffiliated with either party." I am certain that the audience would be enlightened by such information.

While there are some who try to point out that the media does not have a liberal bias, I think this suggestion of mine would make the debate moot and settle the issue for once and all on the basis of facts. Let's stop this liberal hogwash. Today! Thoughts or comments?

1 Source:, accessed 12th June 2008

Labels: ,