Henry M. Banta began his legal career at the Federal Trade Commission where he served in the Bureau of Competition and as attorney-advisor to the chairman. He was counsel to the Senate Antitrust and Monopoly Subcommittee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. He has been in private practice since 1980 and is a partner in the Washington, DC, law firm of Lobel, Novins & Lamont.
Banta is a graduate of Georgetown University and Georgetown Law Center.
Lessons on covering politics from the late David Foster Wallace
COMMENTARY | July 09, 2012
Rule One in covering the presidential campaign, writes Henry Banta, has been to not allow information – even important information – to trump the entertainment factor, especially not in economics reporting. Time to do away with Rule One, Banta says, and stop fearing boredom.
Absurdity, if not piggishness, from the super-rich
COMMENTARY | May 15, 2012
Hank Banta offers an arithmetic lesson for Edward Conard, the former Bain executive who says the gigantic distortion in income in America is good and proper. Banta also urges the press to note the absurdity of the claim and, for once, use some intelligent judgment in writing instead of sticking to false ideas of 'balance.'
For class warfare, there’s the 1%, and then there’s the 0.1%
COMMENTARY | April 17, 2012
Henry Banta: ‘The difference between the extremely rich – the top 0.1% – and all the rest of us has turned into something with the potential for destroying the fabric of our society and reducing our democracy to a hollow shell.’
The mounting case for a Financial Transaction Tax
COMMENTARY | February 06, 2012
With the EU almost sure to add an FTT, there is ample reason for America to follow suit – and for reporters to study the benefits and risks. The benefits are that an FTT would help stabilize financial markets. The risks are that it won't be done well.
Romney on income inequality and 'quiet rooms'
COMMENTARY | January 23, 2012
Henry Banta writes that Mitt Romney may not be a capitalist at all, but a pre-capitalist, right out if the Middle Ages, when workers (i.e., those not in the noble 1%) were kept in their place.
Rhetoric aside, since when do businesses care about job creation?
COMMENTARY | January 11, 2012
Henry Banta points out that corporate leaders’ goal is to make a profit, and that ‘any sane businessman wants to employ as few people as he can.’ If jobs get in the way of profits, the jobs go – as Mitt Romney well knows.
What’s the real plan behind the Keystone XL pipeline?
ASK THIS | December 15, 2011
Why build a 1,700-mile pipeline when close-by destinations are at hand? Aside from posing serious environmental danger, might there be a negative economic impact? And what are the politics – why are the Republicans suddenly pushing the pipeline so hard?
Looking ahead: A handbook for Occupiers on winter days
ASK THIS | November 18, 2011
With cold weather coming, Henry Banta says Occupy Wall Street may want go indoors for town hall meetings to push on issues that politicians would rather ignore, such as income inequality, the financial crisis, financial reform, taxes, spending, and unions. Sort of like the Tea Party did, but getting beyond the hostility, and if possible, the expert obfuscation.
Anyone smell a big, regressive Value Added Tax coming our way?
COMMENTARY | September 23, 2011
Henry Banta points out that a VAT could be a perfect fit for Washington leaders: for Democrats because it’s a money machine for the government, and for Republicans, because it’s really regressive.
Where ‘regular economics’ comes up short, and cold
COMMENTARY | September 08, 2011
ABC, in a series on hunger, shows a lot more compassion and common sense than a professor wedded to the efficient market theory. Score one for the news media.
The press nods as absurdity, lies prevail in the budget debate
COMMENTARY | August 18, 2011
Would more accurate news coverage prompt Tea Party and Republican leaders to pay more attention to facts in their assertions about the economy? Maybe yes, maybe no. But, suggests Henry Banta, if the coverage continues at its present dismal level, we’ll never find out.
Going to London, and missing the story
COMMENTARY | May 25, 2011
President Obama has gotten a lot of coverage on his trip to the UK, but the big story, the lesson the President and the press should be bringing home, is hardly noticed, writes Henry Banta. It’s the unfortunate consequences of slashes in spending and taxes – an austerity program – in the midst of a recession.
How the press aids and abets the GOP attack on the middle class
COMMENTARY | May 02, 2011
Henry Banta writes that the media pay excessive attention and give excessive credibility to the constant drumbeat of propaganda on the budget and debt streaming from those who have the most to lose if the middle class tries to get back some of what has been taken from it.
The GOP, the financial crash, and the Washington Post editorial page
COMMENTARY | January 25, 2011
Republicans continue to hold to their radical ideology of free market infallibility, claiming now that the economic collapse was really the government’s fault. Henry Banta isn’t surprised that true believers would make such a claim -- but he is a little disappointed that the Washington Post seems to take it seriously.
The GOP’s Communist-style rigidity
COMMENTARY | September 22, 2010
Republican party pronouncements on the economy are stuck in a failed, wildly unrealistic ideology unlike anything in the history of the American capitalist system. For uncritical acceptance of beliefs, it is much like Stalinism, writes Henry Banta.
The BP disaster underscores government as the problem, not the solution
ASK THIS | June 14, 2010
After decades of planned neglect, mismanagement and ideological attack, the American government, across the board, has gotten out of the way of corporate America – and the country is paying a heavy price. Obama promised to make government service “cool” again. Ask him to show where he's doing that.
AEI president, trying to save America
COMMENTARY | June 01, 2010
The free enterprise system is at peril, Arthur Brooks warns in a call to arms published in the Washington Post’s Outlook section. He’s talking about saving us from socialism, and he’s even got carefully-selected poll figures showing that great majorities share his views.
Why is it so hard for the press to ask such an easy question?
ASK THIS | May 07, 2010
Republicans are clear and consistent in their economic policies. The problem is, they are the policies that led to the worst crisis in 70 years, and, to the comfort of the very rich, the largest shift of wealth in American history. So why won’t reporters ask what it is exactly that the Republicans want and expect if they are successful? (And yes, ask the same question to the many Democrats who have gone along for the ride.)
Republicans are locked in a passionate embrace with a corpse and won't let go
COMMENTARY | February 11, 2010
Efficient market theory dominated economic thinking from the days of Ronald Reagan to the collapse of 2008. It was the rationale for deregulation, the cause of a massive transfer of wealth and income from the middle class to a tiny number of the very rich. Now it is dead and gone but Republican politicians won’t let go, and many in the media show no understanding of the issue.
The economic debate is a little too bloodless
COMMENTARY | October 30, 2009
The clash of economic models—the choice, right now, of higher or lower deficits—is being played out as a passionless exercise by politicians in Washington even as the lives of real people, perhaps numbering in the millions, are being devastated.
Doing a better job coping with economic disaster
COMMENTARY | October 08, 2009
In the coming weeks, Nieman Watchdog will lay out the views of experts, pointing reporters to story ideas on the causes of the economic collapse and the choices the country now faces. In this article Henry Banta spells out what has gone wrong – and why it is so important for the press to do a better job.
Must we have $4 gas prices again? And if so, why?
COMMENTARY | June 17, 2009
Peter Ashton and Henry Banta say a new, costly speculative bubble—a repeat of last summer—is taking shape, and they suggest ways to reduce the risk. Isn’t this an important job, right now, for those in the Obama administration as they extensively rewrite the rules for financial markets?
Reform how we regulate the financial system? And then what?
COMMENTARY | June 03, 2009
Along the lines of be-careful-in-what-you-wish-for, Henry Banta says “the creativity, imagination, cunning, and occasional duplicity of financial asset traders are boundless,” that regulators themselves may get caught up in bubbles, that there is plenty of regulating already in place, and that, given the huge stakes involved, “regulation outlawing financial incredulity or mass euphoria is not a practical possibility.”
Questions about nationalizing the banks
ASK THIS | March 11, 2009
The U.S. government may be on the verge of nationalizing large banks. Two experts who anticipated America's financial collapse on this Web site as early as 2005, Martin Lobel and Henry M. Banta, propose basic questions reporters should ask about nationalization.
Look for a civil war among Democrats on trade
COMMENTARY | February 12, 2009
The press, albeit a little late getting started, has done well in covering the financial crisis, writes Henry Banta. Now there's going to be an ugly fight over trade policy.Can the press continue its good work and help raise the level of debate?
Some serious talk about 'spreading the wealth'
COMMENTARY | October 24, 2008
Henry Banta, citing a talk at Harvard by Lawrence Summers, notes that there has been staggering income redistribution – upward – in recent decades.
Long-range issues in resolving the financial crisis
COMMENTARY | September 24, 2008
Among the questions: Who exactly needs to be bailed out; are state pension funds damaged in your area; will programs be cut and taxes raised; will mortgages be modified so that people stay in their houses?
There's an element missing in the sub-prime discussion
COMMENTARY | July 25, 2008
The useful, often vital voice of public interest groups is mostly absent in the debate over the sub-prime crisis, writes Henry M. Banta. He puts some of the blame for that on newsroom cuts in staff, newshole and investigative capability.
Why hasn't competition come to CEOs?
ASK THIS | June 26, 2008
In the 1970s, CEOs made 30 times as much as the average worker; by 2006, it was 370 times as much. All the while, market forces have steadily reduced costs across the board. Why are chief executives immune?
If you thought the sub-prime mess was bad...
COMMENTARY | June 06, 2008
Credit default swaps, a relatively new form of protection for lenders, constitute an international market so huge -- $62 trillion -- that a credit default in it could cause financial institutions to stop lending, paralyzing the economic system.
The oil industry low-balls profits and the press goes along
COMMENTARY | May 07, 2008
One more time: in a free market system, profits are return on dollars invested, not return on sales or revenue. Is that too complicated, Mr. Will?
Why gas is almost $4 a gallon and some ideas on what to do about it
COMMENTARY | May 01, 2008
Separating the real from wishful thinking on energy independence, short- and long-term oil price solutions, subsidies, speculation and government regulation.
Thoughts on the language used in covering the economy
COMMENTARY | March 14, 2008
On the theory that words matter, Henry Banta would have reporters and editors ban the phrases 'consumer confidence' and 'stimulating investment' for the time being, and focus on economic realities.
Inequality and the sub-prime crisis
ASK THIS | February 13, 2008
The press doesn't write much about inequality in America -- that would be class warfare, wouldn't it? But now Henry Banta asks if inequality and the enormous money explosion for the very rich since 1980 are reasons for the sub-prime mortgage crisis, or at least for its severity.
Unregulated energy-market speculation is costing you money
COMMENTARY | July 13, 2007
It's much too easy for unscrupulous investors and energy companies to create and profit from huge price spikes – without anyone knowing. Henry Banta thinks the government should limit such temptations.
Stymied in reporting on gas prices? Try these questions
ASK THIS | May 31, 2007
Henry Banta: 'The shift of billions of dollars from average Americans to the shareholders and managers of oil companies is important news, as are the reasons behind it. This deserves far better coverage than it has gotten.'
Ever wonder how a show-horse manager got put in charge of FEMA?
COMMENTARY | October 30, 2006
Public choice theory says that what motivates many politicians is their own personal greed. It’s a theory that explains some of the behavior in Washington in recent years, says Henry Banta, and it’s time to write the obit.
Speculators – not supply and demand – are to blame for skyrocketing gas prices
COMMENTARY | July 11, 2006
A bipartisan Senate report, largely ignored by the media, says that there's no oil shortage and none is expected. Rather, it's massive, unregulated speculation that is costing consumers billions of dollars – and vastly enriching people like T. Boone Pickens.
What, if anything, can bring down gas prices?
COMMENTARY | May 06, 2006
More domestic production seen as not making any difference; competition among refiners could make a difference—but not a big one.
Tax code helps redistribute income – at the top
COMMENTARY | May 04, 2006
From 1993 to 2003, average pay for S&P 500 CEOs rose $5.4 million. Meanwhile, middle class wages have been stagnant for 20 years.
With all that GOP corruption, why are Democrats so quiet?
ASK THIS | February 27, 2006
Henry Banta says the quest for money has separated Democrats from their basic constituency, and that helps explain why they are failing to exploit Republican ‘pillaging and looting.’
What if there are no gains from reducing Mid-East oil imports?
ASK THIS | February 08, 2006
Writers are skeptical that there would be any real benefits, doubt Bush’s motives and pose sharp questions for reporters to ask. What would work, they say, are higher gasoline taxes to restrain consumption.
Supreme Court gets case of ‘location incentives,’ aka ‘endless corporate welfare’
COMMENTARY | December 15, 2005
At issue is a DaimlerChrysler/Ohio case, but this is a story almost everywhere: Are localities' subsidies to attract industries anything more than a scam?
The wealth puzzle: There’s a lot of money someplace, but where?
ASK THIS | November 03, 2005
The IRS estimates, from records obtained from credit card companies, that one to two million U.S. citizens have offshore bank accounts. If they are using them to avoid taxes, it’s at least in part because the government encourages them.
What’s the reason for the growing chasm in wealth and income?
ASK THIS | September 14, 2005
Some blame globalization but Henry Banta doesn’t buy that and points instead to the spectacular gains of corporate managers whose annual incomes exceed the budgets of some countries.
Economic inequality in the U.S. is reaching Third World levels. Where’s the press?
COMMENTARY | June 24, 2005
Things that happen in small increments go almost wholly unnoticed, to the country’s peril, writes Henry M. Banta. Thus, one of the largest redistributions of wealth in history – right here in the U.S. – has gone basically unreported, or, at the very least, underreported.
How the refiners are profiting from your pain
ASK THIS | May 05, 2005
Are reduced gasoline inventories a sign of efficiency – or a clever way to gouge consumers? Two industry experts ask some tough questions.
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