NEW WONKS ON THE BLOCK: Who are these guys!

MONDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2012

Part 1—Did Ezra Klein really mean that: We were struck by several year-end lists at the Washington Post.

For one example, we were struck by Glenn Kessler’s list of “the biggest Pinocchios [sic] of 2012.” (To peruse that list, click here.)

The biggest “Pinocchios” of the past year? In our view, this is part of the muddled logic of the modern fact-check. Kessler doesn’t seem to have a clear, pre-existing term for what it is he’s checking. We would assume he’s correcting “misstatements,” or something of that ilk. Why not use the term?)

At any rate, Kessler came up with a list of eight. Does he really mean to say that these were the year’s biggest misstatements? All eight?

We’ll offer more on Kessler’s list as the week unfolds.

We were struck by Kessler’s year-end list. But we were even more struck by a pair of lists from the Washington Post’s “Wonkblog” gang.

Kevin Drum directed our gaze to the gang’s second annual Wonky awards. In his post, Drum says he has “one big nit to pick” with this list. By the time the week is done, we’ll offer two or three more.

That said, we were more struck by “Wonkblog's books of the year.” Six wonks listed the books they enjoyed most in 2012. For us, one question jumped out right away:

When Ezra Klein picked Chrystia Freeland’s new book, was his “admission” sincere? In the synopsis which follows, did Klein mean what he said?
KLEIN (12/30/12): Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, by Chrystia Freeland

I’ll admit, the title on this initially left me skeptical. But Freeland’s book is much more than a jeremiad against rising inequality and stagnating median wages. It’s a deeply reported, and often fun, tour of the lives of the very, very rich. Freeland’s access is impressive, and she’s sympathetic to titans she covers without being captured by the self-aggrandizing narratives they spin. But her evidence that the super-rich “are becoming a transglobal community of peers who have more in common with one another than with their countrymen back home” makes the book important.
To his credit, Klein selected a very naughty book—a book which discusses the actual shape of the evolving actual world. But did he really mean what he said? Did the title of Freeland’s book “initially leave him skeptical?” Did it make him fear that he would be reading “a jeremiad against rising inequality and stagnating median wages?”

(In this context, “jeremiad” serves as a tut-tutting term of derision.)

Dis Ezra Klein mean what he said? Or was that statement just a dodge? As Klein becomes a certified liberal leader, was that a way of assuring the world of pre-existing elites that he is a Serious Person?

Our question: When Klein “admitted” to that initial reaction, was he just making it up?

We can’t read the mind of Klein, and he did select a serious book—“serious” with a small “s.” But as you will note, the nit Drum picked with Wonkblog’s other list also involves an apparent attempt to maintain one’s standing with the pre-existing world of elites—with the world of Serious People. So too with the other nits we’ll eventually pick with that list.

Was Ezra Klein telling the truth when he made that “admission?” We ask that question for a reason:

Wonkblog is one of the places where the liberal world’s new collection of certified intellectual leaders is being assembled. But are these people serious players? Or are they too often just Serious?

As Newman once asked, Who are these guys? Who are the young people being assembled as the liberal world’s new elite? Who are these new wonks on the block, this collection of high-flying young thinkers?

All week long, we’ll be asking that question. All year long?

Perhaps.

Tomorrow—part 2: Did Suzy Khimm really mean that?

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