Part 1—Paul Krugman’s foolish act: Last Friday, in the New York Times, Paul Krugman did something extremely foolish.
He wrote a highly informative column about several important topics.
His column concerned the current discourse concerning the high price of oil, which affects the high cost of gas. Each evening on Fox, viewers are treated to various claims about President Obama’s key role in creating this unfortunate state of affairs. As he started, Krugman named a major political candidate who has been making similar claims:
KRUGMAN (3/16/12): To be a modern Republican in good standing, you have to believe—or pretend to believe—in two miracle cures for whatever ails the economy: more tax cuts for the rich and more drilling for oil. And with prices at the pump on the rise, so is the chant of “Drill, baby, drill.” More and more, Republicans are telling us that gasoline would be cheap and jobs plentiful if only we would stop protecting the environment and let energy companies do whatever they want.Obama has caused the high price of gas! He won’t let the drill babies drill!
Thus Mitt Romney claims that gasoline prices are high not because of saber-rattling over Iran, but because President Obama won’t allow unrestricted drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The chanting of this powerful mantra continued on the Fox News Channel last night. Midway through last Friday’s column, Krugman offered a different take:
KRUGMAN: Strange to say, however, while natural gas prices have dropped, rising oil production and a sharp fall in import dependence haven’t stopped gasoline prices from rising toward $4 a gallon. Nor has the oil and gas boom given a noticeable boost to an economic recovery that, despite better news lately, has been very disappointing on the jobs front.You can and should read the full column yourself. Krugman only gets 800 words, but his piece was full of information concerning some major topics.
As I said, this was totally predictable.
First up, oil prices. Unlike natural gas, which is expensive to ship across oceans, oil is traded on a world market—and the big developments moving prices in that market usually have little to do with events in the United States. Oil prices are up because of rising demand from China and other emerging economies, and more recently because of war scares in the Middle East; these forces easily outweigh any downward pressure on prices from rising U.S. production. And the same thing would happen if Republicans got their way and oil companies were set free to drill freely in the Gulf of Mexico and punch holes in the tundra: the effect on prices at the pump would be negligible.
Behaving this way was very foolish. This isn’t the way our world works.
Krugman’s piece would make perfect sense in a world of the type the ancients described—a world in which we “rational animals” conducted intelligent discourse. In fact, we don’t live in any such world, although the norms of western mythology tend to prevent us from noting this fact.
That, and our manifest dumbness.
In the world the ancients described, Krugman’s column would have been part of an unfolding public discussion—a discussion about the actual reasons for the rising price of oil. But we don’t live in that world or in a world dimply like it.
We really aren’t part of a “rational” culture. Our IQs simply aren’t up to the task. We don’t partake of intelligent discourse.
We aren’t the rational animals. In truth, we don't even come close.
As an example of what we mean, consider an intriguing news report in today’s New York Times.
In some ways, the piece is a breakthrough. The report was written by Jonathan Broder, a veteran New York Times reporter. Its headline announces a new, long-overdue approach to our nation’s political dialogue.
We’ll use the headline and text which appear in our hard-copy Times. Given the New York Times’ crazy-quilt pattern of warring editions, your headline and text may differ:
BRODER (3/20/12): Obama Energy Policies Differ From Romney’s PortrayalFor the on-line version of Broder’s report, just click here.
In a television interview on Sunday and a Web video released on Monday, Mitt Romney said that President Obama has sought higher gasoline and energy prices and called on the president to dismiss three cabinet officers Mr. Romney claims have abetted him.
But the assertion is largely unsubstantiated or misleading, as are other statements Mr. Romney has made in recent days about Obama administration policies.
On its face, Broder’s report represents a breakthrough. In this report, the Times is doing something observers have begged for in recent years. The Times is printing the major statements of a major political candidate. It is then subjecting these major statements to an accuracy test.
In a rational world, this would be a normal part of upper-end journalism. In our own low-IQ world, major newspapers sometimes perform this type of function in segregated “fact check” columns. But it’s very rare to see a newspaper conduct this type of truth test as part of its normal reporting.
Within our journalistic culture, major dissembling by powerful figures is almost completely ignored.
Here at THE HOWLER, the analyst cheered when they saw the headline on Broder’s report. Their cheering grew lustier when they read those first two paragraphs.
Then they read the full published text, and their faces fell.
We live in a very low-IQ world, although prevailing mythologies of various kinds work to obscure this obvious fact. Mike Judge addressed this problem in his 2006 film, Idiocracy.
We will examine this low-IQ world over the next several weeks. Overpaid stars of the liberal world do play a key role in this culture.
Tomorrow: Broder’s best effort