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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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September 1998


Is It All Capitalism’s Fault?
Reporters Ignore Case that Russia Moved Too Slowly Toward Free Market

With economic turmoil engulfing Russia and several Asian countries, many reporters have decided that capitalism — or at least too fast of a rush into free markets — is the problem.

For example, in a front-page Washington Post story on September 13 — under the subhead "Russian City Discovers High Price of Free Market" — correspondent Sharon LaFraniere reports that an average Russian "cannot imagine a revival of the old Soviet system, but wonders if the free market is better." She quotes a Russian woman: "There should be something positive about capitalism. One would have hoped it would be better than this."

According to The New York Times’ David Sanger that same day, "Politicians around the world reluctantly went along with the Washington orthodoxy that if they stopped meddling in the markets and let international investors move money freely in and out of their countries, it would help restore confidence." He writes that it "was a compelling pitch — for about a year or so. But now, after some of the West’s brightest ideas for engineering economic recovery have gone up in flames, a few countries are marching the other way."

Henry Chu, in the September 16 Los Angeles Times, writes that the problem in Russia is the pace of reforms, and he doesn’t mean that they’re too slow. "In attempting to remake itself from a Communist behemoth into a capitalist beacon, China has studiously tried to avoid the path of its onetime idol [Russia], preferring a more gradual approach to change," he reports. According to Chu, "As world leaders and economists reassess the wisdom of free markets amid today’s global turmoil, the China model — from the perspective of Russia’s collapse and the pain in lesser Asian countries that wholeheartedly embraced capitalism — looks wise enough."

None of these reporters cite the argument that the problem in Russia and other countries has been a failure to move far enough toward truly free markets, not that change has been too fast. According to the Cato Institute’s James A. Dorn and Ian Vasquez, Western aid has actually made it possible for Russia to put off free-market reforms.

They write: "In practice, the [IMF]’s money has helped to delay, rather than accelerate, reforms because it has eased Moscow's economic problems and allowed it to forgo policy changes." They quote Russian reformer Grigory Yavlinsky, who in 1993 said, "It has become clear that new Western credits are no longer a remedy for Russia, but a drug helping to maintain an unfit system." They note that "the conditions of the IMF’s $11.2 billion loan, approved in July, were virtually identical to the fund’s conditionality since 1992." In other words, sweeping reforms still hadn’t occurred despite conditional aid over a period of six years.

As worldwide economic troubles continue, and begin to harm Latin American economies, reporters should at least include in their stories the argument that the problem is, in many cases, markets that aren’t free enough.

Rich Noyes


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