Thursday, January 31, 2013

Incestuous Amplification, Economics Edition

From Paul Krugman's blog, courtesy of Hullabaloo:

Which brings me to the fiscal debate, characterized by the particular form of incestuous amplification Greg Sargent calls the Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop. I’ve already blogged about my Morning Joe appearance and Scarborough’s reaction, which was to insist that almost no mainstream economists share my view that deficit fear is vastly overblown. As Joe Weisenthal points out, the reality is that among those who have expressed views very similar to mine are the chief economist of Goldman Sachs; the former Treasury secretary and head of the National Economic Council; the former deputy chairman of the Federal Reserve; and the economics editor of the Financial Times. The point isn’t that these people are necessarily right (although they are), it is that Scarborough’s attempt at argument through authority is easily refuted by even a casual stroll through recent economic punditry.

But these people aren’t part of the in-group, and if they do make it into the in-group’s conversation at all, it’s only by blurring their message sufficiently that the in-group doesn’t understand it.

More here.

Krugman is referring to a recent appearance on MSNBC where he was trashed by mainstream media types for pushing the view, widely believed among economists, that the deficit problem isn't nearly as big of a deal as the Washington establishment makes it out to be.  And, of course, he's absolutely right; the deficit isn't that big of a deal, especially not right now.

But I've gone on and on about the specifics of the big deficit debate numerous times here at Real Art.  What's fascinating to me at the moment is the human phenomenon of lots of people believing things that aren't true, in spite of perfectly good evidence to the contrary.  There's a lot going on contributing to the deficit hysteria.  Inside-the-beltway groupthink for one.  There's also this great Upton Sinclair quote: "'It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."  That is, most of these media types are very white collar, and the ones on television generally make a lot of money.  The banking and corporate sectors all want deficit reduction right now, whether it's good for the overall economy or not, and because Big Media on-camera professionals as well as their celebrity print journalist counterparts all see themselves as having their fates and incomes tied to big business, they necessarily reflect the views of big business.  Cementing it all together is confirmation bias, which shreds logic and reasonable thought.  Thus, we have the mainstream media obsessed with an issue that ought not be an obsession.

It's truly a big mess, one that I have absolutely no idea how to clean up.  

But one thing is certain.  In our democracy we debate and debate and debate, as though all the participants are rational creatures.  Rationality, however, takes not only conscious effort, but also self-reflection, deep examination of one's own personal motives mixed with genuine attempts to see reality from others' perspectives, whether we agree with them or not.  This does not come easy, even when you try.  Right now, though, Big Media professionals don't seem even to realize that they should try.