LAND OF SCRIPT: Krugman says one of the fevers has broken!

MONDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2013

Part 1—Land of many outbreaks: In today’s column, Paul Krugman says that one of the fevers has broken.

We’re not sure that Krugman is right, although he certainly may be. To us, his evidence seems a bit thin.

Time will tell! But as he starts, Krugman describes one of the fevered regimes under which this nation has labored. An obvious question comes to mind:

How can this possibly happen?
KRUGMAN (12/30/13): In 2012 President Obama, ever hopeful that reason would prevail, predicted that his re-election would finally break the G.O.P.’s “fever.” It didn’t.

But the intransigence of the right wasn’t the only disease troubling America’s body politic in 2012. We were also suffering from fiscal fever: the insistence by virtually the entire political and media establishment that budget deficits were our most important and urgent economic problem, even though the federal government could borrow at incredibly low interest rates. Instead of talking about mass unemployment and soaring inequality, Washington was almost exclusively focused on the alleged need to slash spending (which would worsen the jobs crisis) and hack away at the social safety net (which would worsen inequality).

So the good news is that this fever, unlike the fever of the Tea Party, has finally broken.
Has that fiscal fever really broken? We can’t say that we’re sure. For now, we’ll return to our earlier question:

How can such a fever occur in this country at all?

How could this fever have happened? In a famously free society with a wide range of media sources, how is it possible that “virtually the entire political and media establishment” could ever have insisted on any one thing at all?

How is it possible that “the entire media establishment” could all have advanced the same point of view, especially when substantial evidence tilts against their Standard Group Position? In theory, this can’t happen in our society, yet such fevers have defined our journalistic and intellectual culture for at least four decades.

Nine years ago, Krugman discussed this unholy phenomenon. Citing an incomparable source, he used a helpful term—“script:”
KRUGMAN (8/3/04): Reading the Script

A message to my fellow journalists: check out media watch sites like campaigndesk.org, mediamatters.org and dailyhowler.com. It's good to see ourselves as others see us. I've been finding The Daily Howler's concept of a media ''script,'' a story line that shapes coverage, often in the teeth of the evidence, particularly helpful in understanding cable news.
The power of script extends well beyond the realm of cable news, of course. In today’s column, Krugman describes an economic script which has guided “virtually the entire political and media establishment” for quite a few years.

That said, such scripts have ruled other public discussions, erasing presumed distinctions between mainstream, left and right. A few examples:

Campaign 2000: In 1999 and 2000, a set of deeply pernicious scripts about Candidate Gore sent George W. Bush to the White House. Many “liberal” leaders advanced these scripts about Gore. Others agreed not to notice them, or to complain.

Social Security: Before that time, a set of baldly illogical scripts guided public opinion about the future viability of the Social Security program. (“The money isn’t there—we’ve already spent it!”) This potent fever went unaddressed by the liberal world’s public performers. It led to a widespread belief among the public that Social Security “wouldn’t be there” by the time they retired.

(For various reasons, this fever has broken in recent years. For the most part, it was replaced by the economic fever Krugman describes.)

The public schools: Over the past decade, a set of scripts has been widely adopted concerning the public schools. At this site, we have devoted a great deal of time to the various gong-show procedures by which these gloomy scripts have been supported and pushed on the public.

For the most part, the liberal world has ignored this collection of scripts. Example: Even today, the public schools go almost completely undiscussed on The One True Liberal Channel. (The channel’s master, NBC News, has been a prime advocate of these gong-show scripts.)

Our nation has suffered from many such fevers over the past four decades. These outbreaks are marked by the symptoms Krugman describes—“the insistence by virtually the entire political and media establishment” that X, Y or Z is plainly the case, “even though” it isn’t.

These outbreaks are marked by the presence of script. This week, we’re going to look at two different sets of such scripts.

On the one hand, we’ll examine the scripts which emerged in the fall of 2012 concerning the Benghazi disaster.

Yesterday, the New York Times published a major new report about what happened at Benghazi. This new report contradicts major aspects of last year’s standard script about this incident. We’ll look at the way the New York Times, and other establishment orgs, have tried to obscure that fact and soften that blow in the past 36 hours.

We’ll also look at a new set of scripts concerning the public schools. These new scripts have begun to emerge from those on the putative left.

Warnings to liberals! When our side finally gets off its ass and starts fashioning scripts about some matter, these new scripts can be just as bogus as the scripts we’ve left behind.

For many years, the liberal world swallowed “the insistence by virtually the entire political and media establishment” that our public schools are a wreck, as proven by miraculous Finland. Now that our putative “leaders” have finally begun to fight back, they are fashioning alternate scripts which are sometimes just as bogus.

Are we smart enough to function as a society? Again and again, the evidence suggests we are not. As liberals, our historical arc is rather clear:

First, we swallow scripted BS from “virtually the entire political and media establishment.” After decades of such submission, we rush to swallow scripted BS from those who present as Our Own.

Tomorrow: Equal but opposite bullroar

22 comments:

  1. The new novel, The Circle (Dave Eggers), illustrates how the internet feeds into a crowd mentality that is easily swayed by whatever appears to be consensus. People feel safest when saying and doing whatever everyone else is saying and doing, especially when the approval of others reinforces such behavior. The internet makes it easier to know what that consensus is. Our question should not be how that occurs (we are social beings), but who is driving the consensual opinion and to what end.

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  2. Bob Somerby of the media-criticism site dailyhowler.com predicts that Mr. Obama will be “Dukakised”: “treated as an alien, unsettling presence.” That sounds all too plausible.

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    1. How come neither Kevin Drum's nor any other of the many sites I go to everyday never have obsequious comments like that. Here, we seem to see it almost every day? Yes, it is a good post, but most commenters want to either add something or disagree with some specific.

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    2. Some regular readers (such as myself) feel bad when Somerby invests a lot of effort into a post that is then attacked by trolls in disgusting ways. I suspect some of us are posting these attaboys to counteract that negative influence in the comments. It is reassuring the me that at least a few others here recognize the value of what Somerby does every day, without having to make a more specific contribution. When these trolls appear at Drum's site, perhaps others will feel the need to support his efforts too. Why aren't they over there? Maybe because Drum doesn't take on Rachel Maddow, Maureen Dowd, and other psuedo-left media pundits the way Somerby does. Or maybe Drum bans disruptive trolls -- I don't read his comment section so I don't know.

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    3. "Why aren't they over there? Maybe because Drum doesn't take on Rachel Maddow, Maureen Dowd, and other psuedo-left media pundits the way Somerby does."

      "Maybe???"

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  4. Ah, remember the glorious time nine years ago I was cited in a Krugman column? It could happen again. It could! Krugman was this close to mentioning me today. "There is a tide in the affairs of men," said Brutus. And he was right. We keep getting results!

    Oh, is the point here that fancy modern things like cable TV and the internet can spread phony scripts around to the point it becomes a general belief? Do you mean even crazy scripts like WE'RE BEING INVADED BY KILLER MARTIANS could cause widespread panic among otherwise normal intelligent people?

    Gee, if cable and internet can wreak that kind of havoc, we'd best revert to an earlier, more innocent form of technology, like radio.

    Or, now that Hollywood's out with another terrible rendering of "Walter Mitty," how about I refer you to Thurber's "The Day the Dam Broke," in which an early-20th-century town goes berserk by word-of-mouth?

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    1. And your useful point is . . . what? That it's happened before, so therefore it's of no purpose to identify when it's happening now? I suppose it was fruitless for anyone to inform people the "War of the Worlds" broadcast was a hoax.

      OK, so snark rules in your universe, I guess.

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    2. I found my way to Somerby's site years ago because so many other liberal bloggers were listing it in their blogrolls and referencing posts made here. For a site that supposedly no one reads (according to our trolls), there are a lot of ripples out there from it. Saying "I told you so..." is one of the few pleasures of making a correct prediction about something unfortunate happening on this planet.

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  5. From the hated enemy:

    http://www.salon.com/2013/12/28/there_wont_be_a_liberal_rush_the_economics_of_conservative_media/

    "This bias is frequently illustrated by hosts who will use coverage of a story in the New York Times or other mainstream outlet as a jumping-off point for conversation. Talk will then focus on why the story must be understood in a different context"

    Explains this blogger to a T. He is packaging and selling outrage at "librulz" same as Rush et al. - but all he can do is eat his own heart out with envy at the relatively paltry sums made by liberal commentators.

    The iced-tea drinkers would never hear it here:

    "The income of the top outrage hosts and personalities demonstrates just how lucrative talking about politics can be. At the very top of the business is Rush Limbaugh whose yearly income approaches $60 million. Fifty million dollars of this comes from his syndicated radio show. Glenn Beck has built a remarkable empire in a relatively short period of time and derives his fabulous income from many more platforms than does Limbaugh. Forbes estimated Beck’s annual paycheck prior to his departure from Fox at $32 million"

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    1. Did you know that Glenn Beck collects Hitler memorabilia? I find that kind of interesting.

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  6. Krugman has earned the right to crow on the issue of budget deficits. Many of us thought these deficits would have caused high inflation by now. Krugman was right and we were wrong.

    OTOH his position on Social Security seems weak. So far, SS estimates have proved to be optimistic. One way to see this is that the predicted date when the SS Trust Fund is predicted to run out of money keeps moving earlier.

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    1. With so many people out of work, it stands to reason social security estimates made based on continued employment levels would be underestimates of actual revenues to the fund following the recession. That doesn't mean the scripts about social security are true -- that the money has already been spent, etc.

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    2. There are two scripts about the money already having been spent, one false, one true. The SS Trust Fund contains real assets, namely federal bonds. This money has not been spent. (More precisely, it has been spent, but that spending is reflected in the deficit and the national debt. From the POV of SS, their US federal bonds are no different in principle from an investment in other countries' bonds.)

      However, it's actually the case that most of the money paid into SS has been spent. The program is pretty much pay-as-you-go. The bottom line is that today's young people will receive lower SS benefits than my geezer generation is receiving. This follows from Stein's Law, “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”

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    3. David, the Earth itself will not go on forever and will ultimately stop, as will the universe and the cosmos. What does that have to do with anything?

      There are too many factors affecting the economy to predict that today's young people will receive lower SS benefits than today's retirement age people ("geezer" is derogatory). Our economy may change dramatically due to new technology, unimagined bubbles, shifts to a different model of how to fund services and provide for the public good, wars, even a zombie apocalypse. Your prediction arises from pretending that current conditions can be extended into the future as a prediction line. Futurists know that extrapolating the present into the future doesn't work as a predictive model.

      And you say this, even as you acknowledge that improvement in test scores may level off and stablize at a higher level. If any of today's retirement age people had known that there would be a recession in 2009 making their 401k accounts substantially less valuable as a source of retirement income, do you suppose they would have made those choices in their youth? If things can change for the worse, as they clearly have, cannot they also change for the better? The least likely outcome is that things will remain exactly as they are until today's young people reach retirement age.

      If you consider that SS was never meant to be anyone's sole source of income, it stands to reason that what percentage of a person's expenses it accounts for will not only vary from person to person, but also with other economic factors contributing to a person's wealth. These change from month to month, as do a person's needs. Taking SS payments and dividing them by some arbitrary figure to decide whether SS is the same as it was at some point in the past (even in real dollars), is pretty ridiculous. What matters is whether you can pay your bills. That becomes increasingly difficult for reasons that have very little to do with SS benefits and a great deal to do with our attitudes toward aging and work in our society. Scaring young people with horror stories that pit them against their grandparents in a class-struggle isn't helpful, in my opinion.

      When people cannot work, someone must help them or we must become inured to the sight of suffering and premature death. It would sadden me if a wealthy nation like the US were to adopt values that make us callous about the needs of those who cannot work, whether elderly, disabled, or unskilled to meet the needs of those offering jobs. Stein's Law is incredibly stupid in this context, as simplistic as other statements emanating from the right, such as "no free lunch," as if young people will understand that such a law implies that they will support their grandparents, whether through SS (which affords everyone some dignity) or through filial responsibility, as occurs in China, India, much of Latin America and in places without any safety net. We can become like them, if you'd prefer that David. Just keep voting Republican.

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    4. Anonymous, my opinion regarding SS is meant to be predictive, not normative. That is, I'm not recommending that SS benefits be cut; I'm simply predicting that they will be cut.

      BTW the relative poverty in China, India and Latin America supports the Republican POV. These countries have long followed leftist economic policies. India's economy more recently began to grow faster when they deregulated. PRC also began to do better when they introduced a greater degree of capitalism.

      Texas and California tell the same story. California's liberal policies have led to a declining economy overall (although the SF Bay Area where I live is doing well.) Texas's more conservative policies have resulted in a booming economy.

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    5. Poverty in China and India predates leftist govts.

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    6. Time's change, but you don't DAin CA. California's economy is booming. So is Texas'. Texas is the rightard paradise -- low taxes, fewer regulations. And the state is the winner in the contest to create the most minimum wage jobs. Also in the categories of child poverty and lack of health insurance.
      Ironically, Texas is booming in part because it didn't suffer the foreclosure crisis of other states including California. This due to Texas' stringent mortgage rules. Go figure.

      Even so, Texas' budget deficit for FY13 is a larger percentage of the budget than California's.

      The perfect symbol for the Texas economy is last June's fertilizer plant explosion. Just a few blocks from homes, schools, and a nursing home.

      Regulations? They don't need no steenking regulations.

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    7. California was hard hit by the Enron scandal that arose from the deregulation of energy. Then it could not cope effectively with budget problems because a handful of Republicans were obstructing government, much as the Tea Party did with the federal government over the budget. That made it handicapped when the real estate bubble hit -- I had the joy of living in one of the counties with the highest foreclosure rate in the country. Even our mortgage is not upside down any more and CA no longer lets a handful of Republicans dictate state policies -- Brown has helped us recover from our difficulties. We can provide well for our residents and be fiscally sound -- without following the harsh example set by Texas. I am very proud of the changes that have occurred in CA.

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  7. DinC,
    Yes, you have been predicting for some time now that SS benefits will be cut. And I have been telling you each time that it doesn't have to be this way. Stop electing people who want to kill or cut SS benefits.
    I'm much more at to predict my house will burn to the ground, if I keep allowing firebugs to house-sit when I'm not home.

    Berto

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