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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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January 1997


Issue Analysis: Business Week Editorials and Government Policy
Is Business Week Anti-Business?

Many conservatives distrust Business Week. Policy Review has called it "an anti-business business magazine." National Review labelled it "America's most politically correct business magazine." Others have cited instances in which Business Week has taken anti-free market positions. But is Business Week changing, becoming more inclined to favor limited government and free markets?

To find out, Media Research Center analysts reviewed all of the editorials -- in which the position of the magazine on public policy and other issues is most firmly stated -- from the 1996 issues of the weekly journal. While it may be a stretch to call Business Week conservative, it's clearly not liberal in its editorials and perhaps best described as "center-right."

Specifically, analysts found 42 editorials which took a position on public policy issues that had a clear limited government/expanded government conflict. Twenty two of those editorials favored limiting government, eleven favored expanding or maintaining the present size of government, and nine editorials were mixed, advocating both limited government and anti-limited government policies.

Business Week was most warm to free-market principles when the issue was international trade. Eight editorials during the year either favored freer trade or condemned Japan and the rest of Asia for mercantilist policies. According to a January 8 editorial, protectionism in the United States "would lead only to slower growth. Instead, policymakers should push hard for fewer trade barriers -- and faster economic growth." On December 9, Business Week defended the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) against critics who claimed it widened the U.S. trade deficit. "True, the NAFTA deficit is up fifteenfold since 1992," the magazine admitted, "but not because of closed markets or an inability of the U.S. to export...The real problem is that Mexico has been in deep recession for two years and is just emerging," making Mexicans more able to purchase American products. "In a truly free market, such as NAFTA," Business Week point out, "trade surpluses and deficits rise and fall, but over time, everyone benefits."

The magazine was equally laissez-faire in its policy prescriptions for Japan and Asia. Rejecting any romantic illusions about industrial policy, an April 15 editorial claimed mercantilism was "the real Asian threat" and condemned the heavy hand of the state in Asian economies. Later, in the November 25 issue, the magazine stated that "if [Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto] can overcome Japan's long history of announcing deregulatory reforms without actually implementing them, Hashimoto can reverse Tokyo's gradual decline as a financial center and perhaps open a wedge for wider economic reform." Business Week then wished him luck in moving on "to downsize the nation's bloated bureacracies, cut taxes, and get Japan growing again." On December 2, the magazine extended its critique of Japan to the rest of Asia, saying that "Business and political leaders who stick with traditional top-down, export-dependent growth tactics directed mainly by central governments through favored big corporations may be in for deep disappointment."

"To move to the next level of growth," the editorial advised, "Asia must give up the command economy and move toward one based on markets, merit, and innovation."

On several other issues, Business Week showed free-market leanings. It was quick to support changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) recommended by the Boskin Commission, claiming that "if inflation is really lower than discredited statistics show, the U.S. has no choice but to lower the [cost-of-living] adjustments" of Social Security and other entitlements. The May 20 issue refuted the Malthusian idea that increasing populations would mean increased hunger. "Fact is, allowing the global markets to work is the best way to get consumers the food they want...So long as policymakers around the world resist the temptation to tamper with the booming international trade in food, agriculture will attract more investment, leading to bigger crops. And weather gods permitting, bigger supplies will limit the rise in the price of food."

A July 29 editorial criticized Congress and the President for keeping too much corporate welfare in the budget and supported the idea of a federal commission to take on business pork. An October 21 editorial opposed Proposition 211 in California, which would have made securities lawsuits easier. And a February 19 editorial opposed franchise laws as anti-consumer.

But Business Week was by no means wedded to free-market principles. On campaign-finance reform, the magazine favored an approach that gives government more power. "There are two problems," the magazine claimed on March 18, "the total amount of money being spent in campaigns and the huge sums spent by rich candidates who carpet-bomb their opponents with TV ads." Business Week's answer: Have taxpayers pick up the tab by applying "the current Presidential campaign-finance system to congressional candidates." It also called on the television networks to provide free air time to candidates in return for more spectrum.

An August 19 editorial worried that under welfare reform, "states will be tempted to race to the bottom': cut welfare expenditures in the name of fiscal prudence and economic competitiveness." The magazine also favored the Kennedy-Kassebaum bill to require insurers to sell health insurance to workers who lose or change jobs, and wanted it without an amendment to provide for Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs), the leading free-market health reform idea. While saying MSAs hold "considerable merit," Business Week thought "the debate over the MSA amendment shouldn't become yet another excuse for Washington to delay." A November 18 editorial praised GOP compromises on health care and the minimum wage that expanded the government's size and power.

Business Week was also generally hostile to conservative proposals to cut taxes. It seemed to support some tax reform, but would never go as far as the leading conservative proposals. The magazine began the year by opposing the flat tax and, instead, called for a tax code "based on two or three rates and allowing for a few of the most justifiable deductions, such as charitable contributions and home-mortgage interest," much like the Democratic proposal advanced by Rep. Richard Gephardt. An August 12 editorial worried "that politicians will confuse cutting taxes with fiscal responsibility," while at the same time calling for a return "to the simple two-tier income tax system of the sweeping tax reform of 1986."

Most of the nine editorials that gave mixed messages about limited government favored cutting entitlements and opposed "huge" tax cuts, all in the name of balancing the budget. The magazine hated Bob Dole's economic proposals: "Dole must level with us," an August 19 editorial demanded. "The old deficit hawk who now embraces supply-side tax cuts knows perfectly well that the plan he enthusiastically proposed on TV doesn't compute." On June 10, the magazine wondered: "Who is going to pay for these cuts?" Instead of tax cuts, the magazine said that "curbing entitlements, reducing the deficit, and letting interest rates drop sharply is the way to go."

In general, though, it was conservatives themselves whom Business Week mistrusted, rather than their policies. The magazine preferred to call itself "centrist," and had a clear disdain for those on the right. It worried about "tear-the-government-down conservative Repub- licans" on November 18 and praised voters for not giving them the White House. Newt Gingrich was labeled "bombastic," and those at Eagle Forum and the Family Research Council were called "kooks" and "conspiracy buffs."

So while Business Week may not be the best of friends to conservatives, more often than not it embraces the free market and calls for a center-right agenda in its editorials. It may no longer be fair to call Business Week "the anti-business business magazine."


Rich Noyes


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