Saturday, January 06, 2007

The New York Times Pushes the Green Party Line

The New York Times must have a guilty conscience about the continuous distortions of the news that appear in its pages. Evidence of this guilt is provided everyday in The Times’ claim that its “news and editorial departments do not coordinate coverage and maintain a strict separation in staff and management.”

That claim is necessary only because The Times has become sensitive about the matter. And with good reason. Because even though there may not be formal meetings, strategy sessions, and the like to coordinate its news reporting with its leftist editorial slant, that leftist slant nevertheless very definitely does permeate its reporting.

Perhaps it’s the result simply of the fact that The Times’ editorial writers and its reporters were all educated in the same kind of universities, all promoting the same leftist ideas in economics, politics, history, and the various branches of philosophy. Whatever the explanation, the paper’s editorial writers and reporters consistently come at things from the same perspective and, with only occasional exceptions, end up pushing the same party line.

A good example of this appears in today’s (January 6, 2007) edition. On the first page of the business section, there is an article titled
“The Land of Rising Conservation.” The article is a pure puff piece for environmentalism/conservationism. Its theme is that Japan is the model country of energy conservation, pointing the way for the United States on the basis of the use of the latest technology. Indeed, the subtitle of the article, in the print edition, is “Japan Offers a Lesson in Using Technology to Lessen Energy Consumption.” A leading illustration of this technology is an alleged futuristic “home fuel cell, a machine as large and quiet as a filing cabinet that…turns hydrogen into electricity and cold water into hot—at a fraction of regular utility costs.”

The article compares Japan with the United States in terms of annual energy consumption per home and trumpets the fact that in Japan’s it is less than half of that in the United States. It also declares that while Japan’s “population and economy are each about 40 percent as large as that of the United States, yet in 2004 it consumed less than a quarter as much energy as America did, according to the International Energy Agency, which is based in Paris.”


The article credits Japan’s superiority in “energy efficiency” to the “guiding hand of government,” which has forced “households and companies to conserve by raising the cost of gasoline and electricity far above global levels. Taxes and price controls make a gallon of gasoline in Japan currently cost about $5.20, twice America’s more market-based prices.” The same relationship apparently applies to energy prices in general. An advisor to the Japanese Parliament is favorably quoted as saying, “Japan has taught itself how to survive with energy prices that are twice as high as everywhere else.” The sharply higher energy prices, the article explains, are the source of tax revenues, which “[t]he government in turn has used…to help Japan seize the lead in renewable energies like solar power, and more recently home fuel cells.”


Despite The Times’ and its reporter’s obvious enthusiasm for the Japanese government’s energy policies, a careful, critical reading of the article results in a very different kind of appraisal. (Unfortunately, such a reading is not likely to be performed by many of The Times’ readers.)

It turns out that that futuristic home fuel cell, that allegedly operates “at a fraction of regular utility costs,” requires a government “subsidy of about $51,000” per unit. This is what makes possible its purchase “for about $9,000, far below production cost.” (I hope I will be forgiven for failing to see the intelligence of a policy that makes people pay twice the price for energy in order to provide funds to make possible the production of electricity at a sharply higher cost.)

But there is more. It also turns out such technological advances are only part of the story. There is also a major “human interest”/cultural angle that contributes to Japan’s "superiority" in “energy efficiency.” This centers on a Mr. Kimura and his family. (He owns the futuristic home fuel cell that a Times’ photograph shows standing in front of his house.) Without any apparent awareness of the significance of the information being revealed and certainly without any embarrassment about it, The Times’ reporter writes this about the subject of his human interest.


Mr. Kimura says he, his wife, and two teenage children all take turns bathing in the same water, a common practice here. Afterward, the still-warm water is sucked through a rubber tube into the nearby washing machine to clean clothes. Wet laundry is hung outside to dry or under a heat lamp in the bathroom. The different approach is also apparent in the layout of Mr. Kimura’s home, which at 1,188 square feet is about the average size of a house in Japan but only about half as big as the average American one. The rooms are also small, making them easier to heat or cool. The largest is the living room, which is about the size of an American bedroom.

During winter, the entire family, including the miniature dachshund, gathers here, which is often the only room heated. Like most Japanese homes, Mr. Kimura’s does not have central heating. The hallways, stairwell and bathrooms are left cold. The three bedrooms have wall-mounted heaters, which are used only when the rooms are occupied, and switched off at night.


The living room is kept toasty by hot water running through pipes under the floor. Mr. Kimura says such ambient heat saves money. He says the energy bill for his home is about 20,000 yen ($168) a month. Central heating alone would easily double or triple his energy bill, he says.

“Central heating is just too extravagant,” says Mr. Kimura, who is solidly middle class.

The government has tried to foster a culture of conservation with regular campaigns like this winter’s Warm Biz, a call to businesspeople to don sweaters and long johns under their gray suits so that office thermostats could be set lower.

So there you have it: the Green party line presenting poverty as technologically advanced, as the wave of the future, and as morally virtuous. We can supposedly all look forward to the day when we will be as advanced as the Japanese and energy will cost us twice as much as it now does. When we too will be unable to afford central heating and will have to live in houses half their present size. When we will have to gather our entire family into the one heated room in the house. When we will have to follow one another into the same bathwater, and then use that bathwater to wash our clothes, which we will have to dry outdoors, as our great-grandparents did. When we will have to wear long underwear and sweaters to keep warm indoors. What a glorious, green future! What green slime The Times pours on the readers of its alleged news reports.


This article is copyright © 2007, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author’s web site
www.capitalism.net is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.


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