The World Economic Forum is once again in cession in the posh town of Davos, Switzerland.  Today’s New York Times covers the conference with a story under the headline At Davos, a Big Issue Is the Have-Lots vs. the Have-Not.  The headline is right out of Alinsky, including the hyphens.

Believe it or not, I did not come here today to find fault with the New York Times.  I came to talk about bias; it’s just that taking examples from the Times was the easy way out.  Bias is the most insidious bias when it is subtle.  It is also very effective because from any given source it is usually incessant. Let’s examine this sentence taken from the Davos article.

“[The income gap now is] debated openly in areas where the primacy of laissez-faire capitalism used to be taken for granted and where talk of inequality used to be derided as class warfare.”  (emphasis mine)

Laissez-faire” is from the French where it means ‘let it happen’.  In economics it has come to mean that level of market freedom  which is free-wheeling, devoid of any meaningful regulation, a little bit reckless.  Later in the same sentence we read ‘used to be derided as class warfare’.  Removing the subtleties what we get are the notions that free-wheeling unregulated markets with minimal regulation are  the essence (primacy) of capitalism and that there is general agreement that pitting the poor against the rich is not an act of class warfare (used to deride).  Of course, there is no such agreement.

And what about that word ‘inequality’ in there.  In the context of the broad subject at hand it carries with it the connotation of unfairness.

The phrasing of a sentence in that manner comes easily to a liberally minded journalist and he would disclaim any bias in it.  But you saw it.  Or did you?  I told you it was subtle.


  1. The Global Risks Landscape 2011 reveals that respondents in general perceive event-driven risks as having higher impact than risks that are more chronic in nature and more distributed over time. This is a well-known bias in risk perception: there is a tendency to discount the impact of risks which are long-term and familiar, and the tendency to inflate the impact of risks which involve extreme “shocks”, such as fiscal crises and geopolitical conflict.

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