THE BLOG
03/03/2008 12:05 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fareed Zakaria's "Expertise" and the Elite's Insulting Dishonesty

Fareed Zakaria, as his Newsweek biography is happy to tell you, is a Very Important Person looked to as an "expert" on international issues. Somehow, he retains this billing despite advocating for the worst foreign policy disaster in a generation, hiding his dual role as simultaneous "journalist" and Bush administration adviser, insisting that the Iraq War is "over," and publishing fact-free columns like this week's on international trade.

Zakaria is alarmed that presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are actually giving voice to the concerns of the vast majority of Americans who polls show are unhappy with our current lobbyist-written trade policies -- policies that pundits like him have jammed down the country's throat. Really, Zakaria says, how dare presidential candidates have the nerve to actually represent the people and not the Punditburo.

This is disdain for the majority is standard fare for a magazine bloviator typing out columns from the comfortable confines of a Manhattan office. But what's striking is Zakaria's attempt to wrap elitism in altruism.

To review: Our trade policy includes no labor, environmental or human rights protections, but includes restrictive protections for corporate profits -- patent protections that keep drug prices high in the developing world, intellectual property protections that hurt innovation in the developing world, etc. Our trade policy also includes massive agricultural subsidies rigged to reward multinational corporate agribusiness over family farmers both here and abroad. None of this is news -- and you might think such basic facts would be well known to "experts" like Zakaria.

But think again. In his column, he cites a mythical "struggling farmer" in the developing world who he says believes "access to world markets is far more important than foreign aid or U.N. programs." Apparently, Zakaria hasn't noticed that many of those farmers that he supposedly cares so much about are right now in the process of revolting against the final implementation of NAFTA and the Peru Free Trade Agreement. He apparently also never saw the acclaimed documentary "Life and Debt" which charts how developing-world farmers are thrown into poverty when their markets are opened up to taxpayer-subsidized agribusiness -- and how that poverty then breeds insurrections that requires violent military interventions to crush. Then again, that's how elitists like Zakaria like their policies implemented -- they believe "freedom" in the Mideast should be ushered in at gunpoint, and "free" trade brought about at the tip of a bayonet. Ah, the joys of neoconservative "freedom."

Zakaria goes on to lament that in pushing for labor and environmental standards, Democratic presidential candidates "are pandering to the worst instincts of Americans, encouraging a form of xenophobia and chauvinism and validating the utterly self-defeating idea of protectionism." He says this hurts America's image because "what is said in Ohio is heard in Ghana and Bangladesh and Colombia as well." Yet, Newsweek's "expert" apparently didn't have 5 minutes to actually research the topic at hand. Because had he spent that small amount of time actually "reporting" (I know, an outdated endeavor for today's pundits), he would have quickly found this recent worldwide public opinion study from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs showing majorities all over the globe "think trade harms the environment and threatens jobs and want to mitigate these effects with environmental and labor standards." Yet according to Zakaria, presidential candidates expressing those exact feelings run the risk of engendering an anti-American "backlash." In truth, the only "backlash" they are creating is one from elitists like Newsweek's economic "expert."

The rest of the column whines on much like this, with Zakaria firing out most of the tired fallacies of the right -- my favorite of which is the one where he channels John McCain -- the man who recently said "NAFTA has created jobs, and I think it's been good for our economy, I think it's been good for the Canadian economy, and I think it's been good for the Mexican economy." Zakaria one-ups McCain, saying "NAFTA has been pivotal in transforming Mexico into a stable democracy with a growing economy." Yes, folks -- forget about the Mexican election that just took place under a shroud of controversy, forget about the Chiapas unrest, forget that a million Americans have been put out of work because of NAFTA and forget that 19 million more Mexicans now live in poverty than the pre-NAFTA era. McCain and Zakaria say NAFTA has been terrific for Mexico -- and so we should just accept that as fact.

Back in November, Time magazine's Joe Klein was humiliated for passing off patent lies as facts, and responded by saying "I have neither the time nor legal background to figure out who's right." One journalism observer called it a low-point in the profession's history. But I would say Zakaria takes that distinction. In this column about trade, he actually comes right out and declares that when it comes to "the facts about trade," he has no interest in "go[ing] into them in any great detail."

Like the rest of his well-paid cronies in the media Establishment who rail on populism, he expects us to believe -- without a shred of actual factual proof or "reporting" -- that the poor farmer in the developing world is eager to be thrown off his land by subsidized multinational agribusiness companies; thrilled that the protectionist provisions in America's trade policy make medicine prices unaffordable for him and his family; upset that any American political leaders would talk about protecting his labor and human rights so as to prevent ongoing exploitation; and in awe of that supposedly great economic and political utopia known as Mexico -- a place where economic inequality, poverty and political unrest runs rampant.

This is the "expertise" of Fareed Zakaria -- the Very Important Person who helps dictate the terms of debate on international economic issues. And this is why that debate is so divorced from reality.

Cross-posted from CAF