Stossel book deserving of a good read |

Stossel book deserving of a good read

Barry Smith

I’ve been reading John Stossel’s book, “Give Me A Break,” which I recommend because it’s entertaining and thought-provoking. I guarantee you’ll find something with which you vehemently agree and disagree.

It came out earlier this year, and Isabel Young loaned me her copy. Since I’m usually a few years behind on reading new books, I feel like I’m pretty up-to-date on this one.

Stossel is the television consumer reporter who’s a regular on ABC’s 20/20 and has frequent specials.

The book is more or less a compilation of his television reports, so it’s written like a television reporter would write – breezy and conversational, with plenty of anecdotes and not a lot of in-depth analysis.

Still, it gets across his main points:

— The free market is the best problem-solver there is, because it adjusts a thousand ways to thousands of variables every day.

— Government creates more problems than it solves.

— Lawyers are the bane of our existence.

Now you know why the subtitle to his book is “How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media.”

In essence, it’s the story of Stossel’s transformation from liberal to conservative. Except he says he’s not really very conservative, because he’s not campaigning against homosexuality, tolerates flag burning and foul language and thinks most abortions should be legal.

He puts himself somewhere near the libertarian camp, then writes that “maybe ‘classic liberal’ is a better term for what I am. Liberals were originally the ones who advocated freedom and tolerance.”

Stossel tells how he arrived at his opinions through anecdote after anecdote of incidents that form the basis for his “Give Me A Break” segments.

For example, he tackles federal flood insurance – and admits he’s one of the wealthy people on the take from the government. The first floor of his beach house got washed away by the ocean. So a taxpayer-backed insurance program paid him to rebuild it.

That doesn’t make much sense to Stossel. Why does the government encourage people to build houses in places highly prone to flooding? Private companies won’t insure them, because they know better. So the government steps in with subsidies.

He saw it time and again in his consumer-affairs reporting.

“The more reporting I did, the more it dawned on me that government is often the problem rather than the solution. Free markets, not coercive governments, are the consumer’s best friend. The people who are really ripping us off are the lawyers, the politicians and the regulators. The evidence was in the stories I’d been reporting all along. It had just taken me 15 years to see it.”

This was a huge revelation to Stossel. But I think most people who live anywhere in America that isn’t the East Coast or the West Coast already carry those opinions. It’s just good to see them confirmed.

In fact, I think what bothered me the most about the tone of Stossel’s book is how he underestimates the common sense of the great core of America. Unfortunately, he argues, the people who get the most attention, including the mainstream media on either coast, are pretty much clueless.

“Where I work (in network TV) and live (on the Upper West Side of Manhattan),” Stossel writes, “they say ‘conservative’ the way they say ‘child molester.’ It’s the worst thing to be called. Everyone here agrees: Conservatives are repressive, uptight, fearful of new things, and above all, indifferent to the suffering of the poor.

“People here talk about the ‘far right, extreme right, hard right, religious right, unapologetic right,’ but never about a ‘left.’ What you might call ‘the left’ doesn’t exist in my neighborhood. It’s just enlightened thinking to favor more safety and environmental rules, tougher gun control, abortion on demand, and higher taxes to fund good-government projects.”

“Anyone who disagrees is seen as not just wrong, but selfish and cruel.”

It’s that kind of closed-mindedness that appalls me more than anything. I may not agree with everything Stossel says, but I want to seek out different points of view and hear their arguments. It’s the central philosophy of journalism – the better we’re informed, the better decisions we’ll make.

In Middle America, especially in the West, even more so in Nevada, I think the kind of attitude Stossel is looking for prevails. There is a healthy skepticism of government and just how it can get in the way of solving problems. Even in a government town like Carson City, I think that’s generally true.

We do favor free enterprise and entrepreneurship over regulation and protectionism. We don’t generally go running to court to solve every problem. And we believe that if it isn’t bothering anybody else, then we shouldn’t outlaw it.

Go ahead and check out Stossel’s book. I don’t think it’ll shock or surprise you – not the way it apparently has some of his Big Media friends. I think you’ll find several amusing and provocative examples that what you suspected was part of the problem in America is, yup, pretty much confirmed.

Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at 881-1221 or