Stop the World, The Times Wants to Get Off

August 29th, 2006 7:23 AM

A New York Times editorial and an op-ed piece by one of its house columnists have something interesting in common this morning: stamp-your-feet frustration with the way the world is and an inability to suggest what should be done about it.

In The Falling Paycheck, the Times editorial board complains that real wages aren't keeping up with the economy's continued expansion. "American employees have not shared in the wealth they’ve helped to create," laments the Old Gray Lady. Sure sounds as if the Times subscribes to the 'surplus value' theory of labor. And we know who came up with that.

The Times then tells us what it considers not to be a solution: "high-end tax cuts." And it condemns the Bush administration for claiming that the problem is "as one of impersonal market forces for which there are no government solutions."

"Those are not the paths out of the predicament," the Times insisted. This put us on tenterhooks, awaiting the shining path out of the problem that the Times was sure to describe. Except that . . . the editorial ends right there.

To be sure, we can imagine what the Times, if prodded, might suggest: raise minimum wages! But how does that help American workers if as a result jobs are driven overseas? Why then - impose tariffs on foreign goods! But can you really impose a tariff on the labor of the man sitting in El Salvador who answered the phone when I called the US Airways reservation line yesterday? And even if you could impose tariffs on goods if not services, how much would it help lower-income people to raise prices on many of the products they buy?

All of which left the Times spinning in impotent fury.

Over at his corner of the opinion page, the object of columnist Thomas Frank's ire is the way Republicans and the right have sought to decrease the flow of funding to the Democrats. In the subscription-required 'Defunders of Liberty,' [haha, we get it - defunders not defenders], Frank begins by condemning how 20+ years ago, Jack Abramoff, then a college Republican leader, declared that he wanted to remove Dems permanently from power. Youthful enthusiams aside, isn't that the goal of any political party - to win every election? When the Dems ruled the Congressional roost for 40 years, did any of their leaders ever say "I think we'll just lay down in November. It's really the GOP's turn"?

According to Frank "Abramoff and his clean-cut campus radicals pushed their own defund the left' campaign with characteristic élan, declaring war on Ralph Nader’s Public Interest Research Groups, or PIRG, environmental and consumer activist outfits that were funded by student activity fees on some campuses."

Maybe so. Was that wrong? Did conservatives not have the right to complain at the way a disproportionate share of student activity fees went to fund leftist politics? Even Frank doesn't claim otherwise. So what's his point?

Frank similarly decries current paycheck protection and school voucher campaigns, which he describes as "megaton devices to vaporize the flow of funds from labor unions to Democratic candidates." What he surely intended as criticism actually comes across as unintentional candor as to the way the Dems divert union dues and public school funding to their political purposes.

But once again, Frank is unable to say what is wrong, much less illegal, with the right's efforts in this regard. Is this not the simple exercise of their constitutional right to petition for redress of grievances? Finally, Frank is upset about the 'K Street Project,' the way in which Republican congressional leaders encouraged lobbying firms to hire . . . Republicans. When Dems were in charge, does anyone doubt things worked the same way?

Frank reached an unintentionally comic climax with this paragraph:

"What is most ingenious about all this is not so much its destructiveness but the way it appeals to mainstream notions of fairness."

How unfair of those darn Republicans, appealing to . . . fairness! Note also the elitism inherent in Frank's use of 'mainstream.' Those vulgar plebes [which the patrician Dems are trying to help despite themselves] - so dumb they believe in fairness!

On both sides of the opinion page, liberals twist in impotent rage at the way things are. Stop the world - the Times wants to get off.

UPDATE: Ken Shepherd of NB and MRC has reported that the Times has been forced to admit that, as per recently released data, wages are actually increasing at a 7% annual rate even when adjusted for inflation! Will the Times withdraw its editorial? Don't bet on it.

Finkelstein lives in the liberal haven of Ithaca, NY, where he hosts 'Right Angle,' an award-winning public-access TV show. Contact him at