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
"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
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