Aside from the indispensable Ezra Klein, I don’t usually read the Washington Post because it seems to have adopted a policy of deliberately misleading its readers on its editorial page while its news section…well, the less said, the better. But the other day as I was walking into Moffitt Library, a WaPo headline caught my eye and I had to stop to see if I was hallucinating.
The headline read “World's Wealthy Pay a Price In Crisis.” I blinked and rubbed my eyes in disbelief. The richest people in America were richer in 2007 than at any time since the 1920s. Similar statistics showed the same story around the world. Many economists and policy analysts further believed that the rich were the only people seeing real income gains from growth across the entire economy for many years before the recession. Since the recession began, I understand that the rich became slightly poorer than before. Instead of being unimaginably wealthy, they are now only obscenely wealthy. But the US government bailed out the banks last fall, offering the greatest protection in a time of crisis to some of the richest people in the world. And already Wall Street financial firms are paying their executives as much or more than before the crash.
The Post’s article is about all the trouble the wealthy elite are having during the recession. The value of their stocks has dropped, the businesses they own may face more regulation in the wake of the largest financial crisis in eighty years, and worst of all they may have to pay more taxes in coming years. Life is so tough for millionaires these days that governments are even starting to investigate their widespread tax evasion by cracking down on offshore tax shelters and Swiss bank accounts.
Seriously, this could have been a satire of how the Post’s editors are completely out of touch with reality. Has no one told the editors of this major newspaper that 15 million Americans (or nearly ten percent of the adult workforce) are jobless and struggling? In what universe would you interpret the group of people who did better than anyone else before a crisis, suffered less than anyone else during the crisis and are already doing far better than anyone else after the crisis as the group of people who “pa[id] a price” for that crisis? What kind of “price” does the Post think the wealthy on Wall Street would have “paid” had the federal government attempted to save the financial system in a way that didn’t directly transfer money from taxpayers to high-income bankers?
Americans have lost $6 trillion in housing wealth. Granted, some of those Americans are among the wealthy that the Post is so quick to defend. But most are middle class Americans who are now underwater on their mortgages. I don’t know about you, but I would prefer to see the value drop on my second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth homes than to owe more money on the only home I have than the house is actually worth.
The people who are really paying a price for this financial crisis and resultant recession are ordinary people who work hard, play by the rules and don’t bitch about their tax bill to reporters for major newspapers. They have lost their jobs, their homes and in many cases, their dreams of retiring with dignity. The Washington Post has a responsibility to keep this in mind when they write stories about who wins and loses in major recessions.