Rather than acknowledge that the experts on whom they rely had badly misunderstood the problems facing the economy, the Post just acted as though nothing had changed. “Everyone agrees we need stimulus.” Isn’t that simple?
This refusal to acknowledge fallibility stems from the same sort of anti-democratic impulse displayed by the Soviet-era press. Just as the Soviet press wanted the public to trust the wisdom of the party bosses, the Post and other pillars of the elite media want the public to believe that the experts who are the insiders on the decision-making process in Washington are uniquely qualified to craft policy.
Quite right. This reminds me of the debate several months ago about the “foreign policy clerisy”, one facet of which investigated whether the foreign policy clerisy was unique or simply one of several communities of experts who essentially controlled the parameters of policy discussion. I leaned pretty heavily towards the latter position, and Baker seems to agree:
Of course this is true for all areas of public policy, not just economic policy. Does anyone who failed to recognize that invading Iraq would lead to a long and costly occupation deserve to be viewed as an expert on Middle East policy? But the Post and other elite media outlets perform a beautification process whereby even the most enormous mistakes are conveniently swept under the rug.
Misunderstanding the economy’s weakness earlier this month is trivial compared to the much more grandiose mistake of failing to recognize the $8 trillion housing bubble, or before that, a $10 trillion stock bubble. If performance mattered, then the experts who got things so hugely wrong would no longer be the ones shaping public policy. Instead, with the Washington Post style beautification process, experts can jump from policy disaster to policy disaster and never have their failures affect their standing.
If we are ever to have an open debate on economics, or any other area of public policy, we will need media that honestly discuss policy failures and that hold those in charge accountable. In the current situation, the economic disaster facing the economy was entirely preventable, but the Federal Reserve and the rest of the inside crew were either too incompetent to recognize the housing bubble or felt the short-term benefits outweighed the costs that the country would inevitably face when the bubble burst. The Post and most other major news outlets chose to hide any serious debate on the problems posed by the bubble on the way up, and they would like to prevent any discussion of this massive policy failure even in retrospect.
In a related development, Matt Duss and I are currently working on a project that investigates the origins of the foreign policy clerisy, and includes some musings about its coming collapse. We’ll keep you updated.