Beat the Press

Dean Baker's commentary on economic reporting


If the Politicians Say It, It Must Be True

That’s the word from the Washington Post when it comes to the WTO negotiations. Today’s article on the prospects for the Doha round asserts that “unlike previous negotiations with similar aims, this set of talks has an ambitious twist: The main goal is to change rules that have put poor countries at a disadvantage in the global marketplace.”
Yes, and we know that because ……

Look, the people structuring the Doha round are politicians. It should not be news that politicians are not always entirely truthful in their public comments. In other words, just because they say that the purpose of the Doha round is to help developing countries, this does not mean that the real purpose of the round is to help developing countries.

The evidence actually shows that the Doha round is likely to do very little for developing countries and will actually hurt some who are net importers of agricultural products. (The removal of rich country subsidies causes agricultural prices to rise, which means that these countries will have to pay more for their imports.) Based on projections of gains, a reasonable person might be led to believe that the main purpose of the Doha round is to assist politically connected grain traders like Archers Daniel Midland.

It would not be hard to redesign global trade rules in ways that actually did offer substantial benefits to developing countries. For example, not requiring them honor rich country patents and copyrights would be a huge boon to developing countries. But such obvious winners for the world’s poor are not on the Doha agenda.

In any case, the simple point here is that reporters should be clear on distinguishing between what politicians say, and what is true. Politicians say that the main purpose of the Doha round is to help the world’s poor. The reporter who wrote this article does not know what the main purpose of the round actually is. Therefore, the article should simply report the claims of the politicians, and identify them as claims, not truth.


  • At 12:15 PM, Anonymous donna said…

    The reality is societies haven't gotten beyond being colonists and exploiters. America in particular claims to be all about freedom and encouraging democracy, but continues to support dictators when it's to our advantage and exploit the resources of other nations, including setting up a puppet government in Iraq right now and building huge bases and an embassy to ensure we will be the dominant force there.

    The politicians cannot be honest about their intents since then they would lose the support of their people. What is done in our names and for our benefit, we really don't want to know.

  • At 1:39 PM, Blogger failingeconomist said…

    Finally a post here I agree with (mostly). Politicians are less than truthful in their public statements, check.

    Forget about patents and copyrights in poor countries, check (although I think so perhaps for different reasons. Yes, there will be a poverty reduction but the actual amount that any rich world holder is likely to get is so small that it’s just not worth worrying about. Poor countries will start worrying about it themselves when they are richer and generating patents and copyrights of their own. Let’s just wait till then.)

    Removal of agricultural subsidies will hurt some in the poor world, check. But mostly the urban dwellers, the rural poor will benefit as their sale prices go up. Income distributions in the poor countries are also important, right? But is is also true that there’s another group that benefits: us. We don’t spend our tax money on those subsidies and (hopefully) we get rid of other restrictions at the same time which will lower food prices for us.

  • At 4:11 PM, Anonymous Erik L. said…

    Hey Dean, I have an idea which I know you're going to love. How about poor people in the US are freed from the constraints of copyrights and patents?

  • At 2:27 AM, Blogger clarebear said…

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