What’s A Credible Source?


Editorial by John Frary

Al Diamon informs us that his contacts in Maine’s media universe do not welcome the Maine Heritage Policy Center’s new press agency, The Maine Wire. They don’t regard it as a “credible source.”  When the Great Beard of Hernia Hill tells us what’s on the minds of Maine’s media we pay heed.  No one knows more of its works and days than he.

This raises a question: to what and to whom do “main stream” journalists turn for credible sources?

Pay attention to the state and national press and you will find that journalists regularly rely on Academia for non-ideological, objective expertise. To cite one memorable example, when President Reagan described the Soviet Union as a failure doomed to “the dust-head of history,” The prestige press, led by the New York Times, immediately called upon academic authorities to refute him.

Sovietologist Seweryn Bialer of Columbia University wrote in The New York Times (1982) that:  “The Soviet Union is not now nor will it be during the next decade in the throes of a true systemic crisis, for it boasts enormous unused reserves of political and social stability.”

John Kenneth Galbraith, a famous Harvard economist, told us in 1984: “That the Soviet system has made great material progress in recent years is evident both from the statistics and from the general urban scene… Partly, the Russian system succeeds because, in contrast with the Western industrial economies, it makes full use of its manpower.”

Paul Samuelson, Nobel laureate and Grand Master of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote in 1985: “What counts is results, and there can be no doubt that the Soviet planning system has been a powerful engine for economic growth. . . . The Soviet model has surely demonstrated that a command economy is capable of mobilizing resources for rapid growth.” Lester Thurow, another MIT mandarin, wrote in 1989: “Can economic command significantly . . . accelerate the growth process? The remarkable performance of the Soviet Union suggests that it can. . . . Today the Soviet Union is a country whose economic achievements bear comparison with those of the United States.”

Arthur Schlesinger, an often-quoted academic, wrote in his  personal journals after a ten-day visit to the USSR  in 1982, “I fear that those who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse are kidding themselves.”

In December of 1991 the Soviet Union disintegrated into fifteen separate countries, each of whom repudiated the economic system that so impressed these highly credible professors. Apparently this didn’t damaged their reputations in the least.

Twenty years ago I had the job of editing an over-long article by an English Sinologist discussing the conferences of his fellow experts. The key point of his article was that although they all seemed to agree that the profession had completely misjudged the Maoist regime, no individual was prepared to admit that he, personally, had been part of the credulous academic mob that fell for the regime’s fables.

At the beginning of the 21st century there were a number of favorably reviewed books with titles like Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century, The United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy, and The European Dream: How Europe’s vision of the Future is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream. They were all written by credible authors and are all now available at very low prices through Amazon.com, if anyone is interested.

Some people with memories stretching back thirty years may remember the numerous books and articles holding up Japanese Industrial Policy as a model for America. When V.P. Fritz Mondale ran for president in 1984, his campaign featured his plans for an American Industrial Policy. He cited by Prof. Robert Reich praising the Japanese model as the guide for a Mondale Administration.

The main stream media expressed no skepticism about this plan. Then the Japanese economy fell into a decline that has lasted for fifteen years and the phrase “industrial policy” is now heard with about as much frequency as “Mondale Administration.” Prof. Reich dropped the subject and when President Clinton nominated him for Labor Secretary no one in the press was tactless enough to bring up the subject.

This is not a record of coincidental misjudgments. This is a record of systemic academic delusion arising from liberal preconceptions. Economists, journalists and think tanks working from free market assumptions were immune to them. Yet, journalists still seem to believe that a liberal academic consensus is credible, while free market think tanks like the MHPC are not credible. They are not part of the mainstream academic consensus.

Now consider an eminently “credible” source here in Maine, The New England Environmental Finance Center and the Muskie School of Public Service. Richard Barringer, editor of one of its authoritative works, Changing Maine, 1960-2010, wrote its introduction. This introduction has 21 footnotes, 19 of them from left-leaning professors including the self-identified socialists J.K. Galbraith, Michael Harrington and Robert Heilbronner.  Arthur Schlesinger also appears. For a “conservative” perspective Barringer cites Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (published 1776) and Irving Babbit’s Democracy and Leadership (published, 1926).

Changing Maine was published in 2004. The hundreds, if not thousands, of books and articles written from conservative or libertarian perspectives published since 1926 receive no attention. Presumably Barringer did not find them credible.

This in no way discredits every author and article in the volume, but it does reveal a mindset that should be viewed with a degree of skepticism.