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NPR Longs for the Prosperity of the 1830s

Friday, 15 April 2011 04:01

I'm not kidding. At the top of the hour intro to Morning Edition they told listeners that the United States paid off its debt in 1835 and was debt free. It then added "too bad it only lasted for a year."

Most economists and analysts would evaluate the well-being of an economy and society by its per capita income, life expectancy, literacy rates and other such measures. NPR apparently uses the debt level of its government.

Comments (17)Add Comment
Bad Journalism
written by Union Member, April 15, 2011 4:43
A Public Service Ad in the New York City Subway says: Tobacco Marketing works, just ask your children."

The marketing of Chicago School of Economics works, just ask the unemployed.

Bad journalism persists because it works (i.e. is effective), and they get away with it (i.e. there's no accountability)

You're joking, right?
written by NeedTheTruth, April 15, 2011 4:53
You're joking, right? One off handed comment and now you're accusing NPR of bad journalism? Really? What was the context? If the previous discussion was the lack of civility and truth amongst our elected officials, perhaps noting that the deficit was once paid off was a reference to the fact that these contentious conversations would have been unnecessary in 1835. Did the commentator reference the paid off deficit as a good thing socially? Then why the need to question literacy, etc.? It seems to me you're looking for a reason to complain...as my grandma always used to say. There are bigger unethical journalist fish to fry...you can begin with the stream of untruths in any given hour of Fox News broadcasts. This is just embarrassing.
written by Union Member, April 15, 2011 5:06
Why are you picking on Fox? In some ways they are more honest than NPR: they don't have the conceit of credibility NPR. And besides Fox is just marketing bad journalism aimed at a different demographic.

VCR Values Replaced by CD, DVD, DVR, Hard Drive and RAM Values
written by izzatzo, April 15, 2011 7:10
This is what happens under the creeping socialism of stupid liberals. What this country needs is a good old fashion revolution of VCR values - Victory, Country and Revisionism.
written by liberal, April 15, 2011 7:53
NeedTheTruth wrote,
One off handed comment and now you're accusing NPR of bad journalism?

Actually, there are many many examples of bad economic journalism from NPR, so your criticisms of Dean here are invalid.
written by union member, April 15, 2011 8:01
We really need more of those hard-hitting investigative stories on pirates off the coast of Somalia.
written by union member, April 15, 2011 8:05
Can you imagine the courage you need to be a fact-checker on Somali Pirate stories.
wasn't that bad
written by Nick, April 15, 2011 8:43
I heard the piece, I don't think it longed for those times, just an interesting piece on how national debt has always been an issue and how we have only once succeeded in paying it off. They did then mention the economic collapse and recession that followed.
More About Nothing
written by union member, April 15, 2011 10:13
Maybe Somali Pirates should use Obama's negotiating strategy; and give away the hostages before they get anything?
How about it NPR? Wouldn't that cut the deficit?
Debt Free US
written by Steven Kopits, April 15, 2011 11:04
I believe NPR was trying to make the case that the US has never been debt free, so we shouldn't worry about that; and by implication, that fixation on balancing the budget may be over-blown. The former is correct; the latter is not.
written by o rly, April 15, 2011 11:22
Dude, seriously, this was a pretty tongue-in-cheek Planet Money piece. There are much better examples of poor economic journalism at NPR; highlighting this one makes you look like a curmudgeon.
Steven Kopits
written by union member, April 15, 2011 11:43
I don't want to offend you, but your ideas are a casualty of bad journalism. You lack understanding of the cause and their consequences.
dean was too nice
written by osfp, April 15, 2011 11:50
this was an awful piece. yes, they mention the deep depression that followed, but explicitly state that balancing the budget didn't really cause it. or the massive private debt bubble that ensued.
Did Anybody Really Listen to this Story?
written by Jim Tarrant, April 15, 2011 7:49
C'mon Dean, your reaction is ludicrous. Your critiques are usually spot on but clearly you didn't have your morning coffee or something. The piece was a topical, historical piece. It clearly tied this historical anomaly not to any nostalgia for government debt-free levels but clearly President Jackson's psychological obsession with debt owing to his previous property speculation (hmm, how familiar and such a long-standing American obsession). Moreover, the story clearly tied the wrenching effects of radical pay-down of the debt to the subsequent huge Depression of 1837-38 and they didn't regard that as a "good thing". Get real!!
Humans As Property Bubble
written by Union Member, April 15, 2011 10:11

I can't believe some of these comments, especially the "tongue-in-cheek" one. Slavery was legal in 1835. There was a slave bubble. A labor bubble. They had millions of human beings working for free. That's no wages, no income. What does that do to the cost of living index? If 70 percent of the economy is consumer spending, all they had to do was pay these people a decent wage for their work!

Today, GE not only pays no taxes, they - as well as Exxon and others - actually get money back. Two years ago we were giving billions upon billions of dollars to banks and insurance companies to save them from a disaster they created - and this was the same class of "folks" who benefitted the most from Bush"s tax cuts.

NPR - National PUBLIC Radio - owes every breath they spend on air clearly explaining to the public WTF is going on and leave the entertainment for some one more qualified.
written by bobbyp, April 15, 2011 10:11
"Too bad it only lasted for a year."

Somebody who has heard this please clarify. Was it tongue in cheek--then OK. If it meant to be serious--it was deadly wrong.

So which?
Anyone want an actual link to the story? - shorter version
written by meepmeep09, April 16, 2011 1:19
OK, I think too many links (3) put my last commenting effort into moderation, so trying again...

In all of this discussion, I'm surprised no one spent a few moments with Teh Google to actually provide a genuine link to the NPR story. Go here - http://www.npr.org/blogs/money...didnt-last - for NPR's post on the story by Planet Money's Robert Smith, "When The U.S. Paid Off The Entire National Debt (And Why It Didn't Last). FWIW, that post includes listener comments - 89 of 'em at this time. I haven't read them, so could not venture a review of their quality, even were I qualified to do so.

Within that post are links to the transcript of the audio, and the audio itself. The latter runs for just after 4 minutes, following a 15sec commercial.

Related to, but outside of the specific issue of the national debt, I'm thinking that Andrew Jackson was the first prominent Tea Party politician in our nation.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.