A friend of mine recently described our local newspaper, the Boston Globe, as a shadow of its former self, and he wasn't kidding. After the New York Times lost a great deal of money buying it some years ago, they sold it to hedge fund manager John Henry, who happens to be the owner of the Boston Red Sox. I remember it in the 1970s when it had a very robust Washington bureau and covered local politics very thoroughly. Now it has an even more PC orientation than the Times, I think, typified by an article this morning that black entrepreneurs are being shut out of the booming new legal marijuana movement, despite the black population's role as consumers. Something happened over the weekend, though, and I was astonished by the three guest op-eds I discovered in it today--all the more so because it happens to be Labor Day, and the staff might have found some one to discuss the plight of the contemporary American worker, so many of whom are at work as usual today in retail and food service industries, among man others.
Reading from left to right, the first of these pieces is about college debt. This problem, it argues, has been vastly exaggerated. 66% of Millennials (the generation is not defined by the author) have no college debt, it states, either because they never went to college in the first place or because they managed without loans, or have paid them off. The article claims that of those who have borrowed, the average debt is $28,000--but another source that I found says that's the average for all Millennial college graduates, period. (That source put Millennial birth years from 1981 to 1999 which I think is very close to correct). The author, one Beth Akers, thinks they can pay that off relatively easily. She also argues that most of those who owe a lot more--say $100,000--will also be able to pay them off because they invested in well-paying graduate degrees. She also mentions (but does not describe in any detail) programs already in place to make it easier to pay. She thinks our student debt system is too complicated and should be simplified, but on the whole, she sees no crisis at work. Ms. Akers, the piece also informs us, is associated with the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank that can be counted on to advocate free-market solutions to almost everything, and she does not stop to compare today's America to that of 50 years ago, when pratically no young people graduated from college with significant student debt, and tuition and fees were less than 1/3, adjusted for inflation, of what they are now--and paid for a much better education.
The second piece, by one Jennifer Braceras, asks what will happen to the billions of dollars that Johnson and Johnson agreed to pay the state of Oklahoma for its part in creating the disastrous opioid epidemic, which killed more than 217,000 Americans from 1999 through 2017 thanks to overdoses of perscription drugs. Ms. Braceras talks a lot about what happened to the billions paid by the tobacco industry in response to similar settlements, complaining bitterly that relatively little of it went to help prevent smoking. Instead, states spent the money on education, infrastructure, and making broadband accessible to rural areas, as well as simply for general purposes. To those like myself who believe that some tobacco and drug company executives should be headed for prison as punishment for feeding their fellow Americans poison, it seems quite logical to at least confiscate some of the wealth they earned by doing so and using it, in various ways, for the public good. Ms. Braceras is also upset that Johnson and Johnson was found guilty at all, since its opioids were approved by the FDA. When a corporation has enough political influence to get a fatal product approved, she seems to think, it shouldn't have to bear the consequences. Ms. Braceras directs the Center for Law and Liberty a tthe Independent Women's Forum, a conservative organization that denies that climate change is man-made, takes conservative positions on women's issues, and has financial and other links to the Koch brothers.
The third Labor Day op-ed, by Michael Rosenblatt, also deals with drugs--in this case, with how they are developed. It's a full-blown defense of our private drug industries, who need the freedom to profit from ideas that may originally have been developed by government agencies if they are going to do the long, hard work of turning them into effective treatments. The author says nothing about the well-documented preference of major drug companies for drugs that treat chronic conditions for many years, as opposed to drugs that might actually cure diseases--much less about the corruption of the FDA which has led not only to the opioid catastrophe, but to the approval of numerous profitable drugs whose impact on disease is actually relatively marginal. He, it turns out, is now an executive in a venture capital firm, having previously served as the chief medical officer of Merck.
What does all this mean? While the mainstream media obsesses over President Trump's tweets, the difficulties of female presidential candidates, and a wide variety of sex scandals, corporate America is continuing its decades-long campaign to shape public discussion of economic issues in ways that will make the rich richer. That's the job of the Manhattan Institute and the Independent Women's Forum, both of whom successfully stormed the Globe's editorial page today. Trump will leave office in one-plus or five-plus years, but their campaign will still be continuing and still be having an effect. Meanwhile, the number of workers in unions--and the number of workers who got Labor Day off--continues to shrink. The Boston Globe remains a liberal newspaper, but its brand of liberalism isn't doing the average American much good.