WaPo Defends Its Owner Against Charges That He's Very Wealthy By Jim Naureckas

24 January 2018 — FAIR

WaPo: Bernie Sanders claims the world’s six wealthiest people have as much wealth as half the global population

The Washington Post (10/2/17) maintains that is unfair to compare the wealth of its owner with that of ordinary people.

The vaunted Washington Post fact-checking team (10/2/17) took a look at this assertion:

Bernie Sanders Claims the World’s Six Wealthiest People Have as Much Wealth as Half the Global Population

Awkwardly enough, one of the world’s six wealthiest people is the owner of the paper doing the factchecking. Or as the Post coyly put it, “(Among the names on the list: Jeffrey P. Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post.)”

The Post’s Nicole Lewis didn’t say that Sanders was wrong, exactly. Instead, she said that “he has made a habit of relying on simplified statistics that are provocative but do little to illuminate the complexities of the US economic system.” Or as she said of a similar statement Sanders made about US (not global) wealth, “While technically correct, the condensed soundbite lacked nuance about wealth accumulation and debt in the United States.”

The factcheck started out by acknowledging that, yes, the six richest people, according to Forbes, have net wealth of $462.6 billion. (The Post’s owner is No. 2 on the list, with $80.8 billion, which is more than 300 times what he paid for the Post.) And that’s more than $409 billion, the net wealth owned by the 3.75 billion people who make up the least wealthy half of the world’s population, according to Oxfam (1/17), using numbers from Credit Suisse (11/16).

“Since the wealthiest six people own $462.6 billion and the bottom 50 percent own $409 billion, the case is closed, right?” wrote Lewis. Actually, yes—at this point, a genuine factchecker’s job is done, having ascertained that a claim accurately conveys information that derives from a reliable source.

But rather than confining themselves to checking facts, corporate media factcheckers allow themselves to get into all sorts of non-factual disagreements with their subjects (FAIR.org10/9/12). Which is what let Lewis answer her rhetorical question—“right?”—with, “Well, not quite.”

So what are the nuances and complexities that Sanders missed?

• “The Credit Suisse report measures wealth as net worth, or assets minus debts,” so some of the people who are at the bottom of the wealth scale are higher on the global income scale—for example, “a recent medical school graduate in the United States.” This would not likely come as a surprise to Sanders, who has made the problem of debt, particularly student loan debt, a centerpiece of his platform.

• “Credit Suisse used a statistical model to estimate wealth.” Yes, they did not actually have a spreadsheet that totaled the assets and debts of each individual household in the world.

• “The comparisons are mismatched. Gates’ wealth is held in a complex financial system, but his wealth is being compared with nonfinancial wealth, the value of which does not fluctuate (or soar) with the same ease.” This is sort of the point of modern capitalism—that you can turn physical goods that people need to survive into commodities, allowing a handful of individuals to accumulate millions of times the wealth an ordinary person needs.

? “Credit Suisse…does not convert currencies using purchasing power parity exchange rates.” This means that wealth figures weren’t adjusted for the fact that goods are more expensive in some countries than others. As the Postacknowledges, this is “because assets of the top few percentiles are often held in many countries.”

“Despite all this, Sanders’ team stands by Oxfam’s methodology,” the Post concluded—even after the paper painstakingly explained that Oxfam failed to ignore debt, and that it counted the value of Bill Gates’ Microsoft shares even though he owns relatively few cows or sheep. And so the Post awarded “three Pinocchios” to Sanders —a rating that indicates “significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions.”

Lewis went on to explain that

wealth is a fundamentally misleading measure if you’re comparing countries across the globe…. Without considering how debt is measured and held, what kinds of assets each group owns, or how the currencies are converted, it’s hard to make heads or tails of what wealth actually means, with respect to people’s daily lives around the globe.

It almost sounds like the newspaper owned by the second-wealthiest person in the world doesn’t want people talking about how much the extremely rich own compared to the rest of us.

Read the original post here

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