Monday, September 17, 2007

Attacks on the Unreality-Based

Today's Paul Krugman column is quite pissed about Alan Greenspan avoiding responsibility for his mistakes with various tax cuts and with bubbles caused by cheap credit. I would add

A larger context for thinking about leaders in general came a week ago from another of my favorite public economists, Dean Baker. His attack on Greenspan includes a description of a reality-based, evidence-oriented approach to not only assessing the Real in economic life but in holding fund managers responsible for responding to evidence. Baker's idea is that the Chairman of the Federal Reserve would have explained the historical evidence showing that stock and, later, housing were in a state of great overvaluation. Managers who invested at the NASDAQ 5000 peak and lost tons of other peoples' money could be sued for negligence. They would be asked whether or not they responded rationally to the presentation of reasoned evidence by the Fed Chair. If not, they would lose the suit.

Accountability determined by recourse to fact-based reality! Old fashioned, I know, and a little naive epistemologically. But nonetheless, revolutionary!

Krugman and Baker are "professional-managerial class" (or professional middle-class) (PMC) folks in full revolt against the spinning, advertising, PRing, and lying, partly because they hate the results and partly because it negates the value of their professional expertise.

I've noted Pakistani jurists standing up for a middle class power of truth in expertise. I like this because it is opposed to tyranny and because it is one element - only one, but a crucial one - that would reduce exploitation and poverty.

Something similar is going on among French jurists as President Rupture tries to decriminalize certain business executive activity. One said he wouldn't want to be a judge with le Jogger's "zero tolerance" for petty criminals from the poor banlieu and zero penalization for wealthy bosses. The other noted that le J's core political strategy is to find a moment where social cohesion seems fragile, and then identify a "monster" that all can unite in driving out. This political theater blocks the need the fix fact-based procedures - if that is necessary - that make justice work. We have had forty years of this politics of the spectacle that trashes expertise whenever it gets in the way of what the folks in charge want to do. I can't believe it will take off in France, but le J's giving it a damn good shot.

By the way, it started with Wallace, Nixon, and Agnew in the 1968 campaign, not with Reagan in 1980. After the Goldwater debacle in 1964, Republican strategists realized hard-right arguments would never win unless the framework of argument itself was discredited. Then folks could vote their needs and prejudices with a clean conscience. This discrediting of argument is the main effect of current-events TV.

Baker also has a nice entry on the dumb American hostility to the notions of social development that are the only thing that will keep the American middle class from killing itself, and making the poor even worse off than before. Wake up!

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