Audit Notes: Rein In Rupert, “The Age of Greed”, Bartlett on Thatcher

The Independent’s Matthew Norman says it will be a disgrace if Britain doesn’t come together to end Murdoch’s outsize control of its media and government:

Public repugnance on this scale is a rare and precious force in a country beset by apathy. It fades very quickly, and must be harnessed and deployed before it does.

It would take cross-party unity on a scale seldom witnessed outside time of war, with all three leaders agreeing that this, finally, is the moment to take up Vince Cable’s rallying cry and go to war with Murdoch to break his dominion. A full independent inquiry into News Corp’s internal workings should be as automatic as one into the Met’s scandalous collusion by lethargy. So, needless to add, should an instant reversal of the green light on the BSkyB deal. It beggars all belief that the take-over might still be permitted. It will be a staggering, transcendent disgrace, after this, if it is.

Murdoch has never been as vulnerable as today and, if allowed to wriggle free, never will be again. This is an historic opportunity for parliament to excise the most aggressive malignancy in the body politic these past three decades, or at the very least stop it growing.

Meantime, Jack Shafer says Nick Davies is Rupert Murdoch’s Ahab:

The scandal resurfaced in 2009, when Guardian reporter Nick Davies showed how extensive News of the World hacking had been, targeting politicians, professional athletes, actors, and assorted celebrities. Lawsuits were filed, and financial settlement were paid to some of the hacked, but nobody was bowled over—even after Davies gave evidence to members of the House of Commons that Murdoch’s company, News Corp., was covering up the scandal. For its part, News Corp. dismissed allegations of any systemic wrongdoing its New of the World journalists or private investigators in this now-laughable August 2009 statement.

Although Davies continued his pursuit of the phone-hacking story in 2010, and the New York Times followed it that year with an exposé of its own, Murdoch and News Corp. weathered this public crisis as they had others. But yesterday, Davies—who makes Captain Ahab and Inspector Javert look like quitters—co-bylined a Guardian scoop that could possibly send News Corp. executives to jail.

— Bruce Bartlett has a useful history lesson on Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as prime minister, which he points out is coming a lot in the Republican presidential campaign.

While Mrs. Thatcher is a towering figure in British political history, well deserving of admiration, the conservative legend about her time in power is at odds with the facts. In this legend, she was even more aggressive than Reagan in cutting taxes and the welfare state. But that is not true.

As this table shows, taxes as a share of the gross domestic product in Britain actually increased sharply during Mrs. Thatcher’s first seven years in office before falling in the later years. Even at the end, they were significantly higher than they were when she took office. Spending also rose during her first seven years before falling in Mrs. Thatcher’s later years.

Thatcher the tax raiser doesn’t quite jibe with the GOP’s mythological Thatcher, Bartlett writes for The New York Times’s Economix blog.

While she cut spending by 4.5 percentage points of GDP, Thatcher also raised taxes significantly, ending her tenure up 2.3 percentage points of GDP.

As Martin Wolf, a columnist for The Financial Times, told me, “Like all great politicians, Thatcher was a pragmatist, not an ideologue, who picked her fights carefully. She recognized that any head-on attack on the welfare state would have destroyed the party’s electability.”

Mr. Wolf said Mrs. Thatcher was far more concerned about fiscal stability and deficit reduction than lower taxes, and the idea that a debt default “would have been sensible would, to her, have been insane.”

— Jeff Madrick, whose new book is called “The Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present”, sits down for an interview with Paul Jay of The Real News Network. There are three parts out so far, and they’re all worth watching.

Here’s one snippet on how Wall Street’s spin on why we have crises is false:

There was a point when the bankers would get before the FCIC, the Federal Crisis Inquiry Commission, and they’d say, well, bubbles just happen and they burst and we’ve got to deal with them. You know, that’s the brilliance of capitalism: it allows us to unleash our entrepreneurial, speculative instincts and find great new businesses.

Except it didn’t really happen. That whole period—and this is key, and your viewers should understand this—over this period the economy did not perform well. If they were right, the Jamie Dimons and Alan Greenspans of the world, the economy would have performed well. We would have had a crisis, but we would have had so much muscle building up that crisis that we would have created a great economy. We did not.

Except for those at the very top of the pyramid.

Here’s part one of the interview:

The other episodes are here.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,