NBC FAWNS! The Today show pandered and fawned to Rhee. But then, what else is new?
TUESDAY, MARCH 22, 2011
What “every economist knows” about the federal deficit: In the past few weeks, we've thought of Michael Moore's Oscar speech on a daily basis.
“We live in fictitious times,” Moore said in March 2003. Boos and catcalls rained on his head. But increasingly, it's an act of what Moore called “fictition” to pretend that an American “press corps” exists at all.
Consider this news report by Newsweek's Andrew Romano, a young fellow who works for one of our best-known “news magazines.”
Ironically, Romano reports on the high level of civic ignorance displayed by American voters. (His report is headlined, “How Dumb Are We?”) In this passage, Romano discusses a well-known fact-many Americans are massively clueless about the federal budget:
ROMANO: But poll after poll shows that voters have no clue what the budget actually looks like. A 2010 World Public Opinion survey found that Americans want to tackle deficits by cutting foreign aid from what they believe is the current level (27 percent of the budget) to a more prudent 13 percent. The real number is under 1 percent. A Jan. 25 CNN poll, meanwhile, discovered that even though 71 percent of voters want smaller government, vast majorities oppose cuts to Medicare (81 percent), Social Security (78 percent), and Medicaid (70 percent). Instead, they prefer to slash waste-a category that, in their fantasy world, seems to include 50 percent of spending, according to a 2009 Gallup poll.
Needless to say, it's impossible to balance the budget by listening to these people. But politicians pander to them anyway, and even encourage their misapprehensions.It has long been clear that many Americans are clueless about the federal budget. But then, Romano is no prize himself. According to Romano, “Americans” believe that 27 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. Do all Americans believe that? Romano's text doesn't say-and his text is rather fuzzy on such issues throughout.
But that was the least of Romano's problems. Here is the start of the fuller passage in which he discusses that widespread ignorance about the federal budget. Note the groaning ignorance (or submission to power) displayed by Romano himself:
ROMANO: The current conflict over government spending illustrates the new dangers of ignorance. Every economist knows how to deal with the debt: cost-saving reforms to big-ticket entitlement programs; cuts to our bloated defense budget; and (if growth remains slow) tax reforms designed to refill our depleted revenue coffers. But poll after poll shows that voters have no clue what the budget actually looks like....Good God. According to Romano, “every economist” knows how to deal with the federal debt. Amazingly, they all agree on what we should do! Romano then presents a budget solution heavily tilted toward a very particular view of this issue. According to Romano, we need “cost-saving reforms” to our “big-ticket entitlement programs”-and we need to cut defense spending. Only if those solutions don't work should we even consider tax increases. Oh sorry! We should then consider tax “reforms.” Like the most servile politicians, Romano can't even bring himself to talk about tax “increases.”
Does “every economist” know that we should proceed in the manner described? Only in the fictitious world which seems to control this report. Some economists might tell you this: Our deficit problem would largely be solved if we simply returned to the tax rates of the (prosperous) Clinton years. Romano, ruing the public's vast ignorance, seems to be unaware of this school of thought.
Or is he just a tool? Is he simply deferring to power?
Increasingly, it's an act of “fictition” to believe that we have a “press corps” at all. (This is especially true now that the “liberal” world is adopting the culture of Fox.) Consider the painful illogic of an earlier part of Romano's report.
In the following chunk, Romano tries to explain why Americans are so ignorant about civic affairs. First, he explains why we're so dumb as compared to Europeans. After that, he explains that we actually aren't:
ROMANO: [I]t's important to understand where American ignorance comes from. In March 2009, the European Journal of Communication asked citizens of Britain, Denmark, Finland, and the U.S. to answer questions on international affairs. The Europeans clobbered us. Sixty-eight percent of Danes, 75 percent of Brits, and 76 percent of Finns could, for example, identify the Taliban, but only 58 percent of Americans managed to do the same-even though we've led the charge in Afghanistan. It was only the latest in a series of polls that have shown us lagging behind our First World peers.
Most experts agree that the relative complexity of the U.S. political system makes it hard for Americans to keep up. In many European countries, parliaments have proportional representation, and the majority party rules without having to “share power with a lot of subnational governments,” notes Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker, coauthor of Winner-Take-All Politics. In contrast, we're saddled with a nonproportional Senate; a tangle of state, local, and federal bureaucracies; and near-constant elections for every imaginable office (judge, sheriff, school-board member, and so on). “Nobody is competent to understand it all, which you realize every time you vote,” says Michael Schudson, author of The Good Citizen. “You know you're going to come up short, and that discourages you from learning more.”
It doesn't help that the United States has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the developed world, with the top 400 households raking in more money than the bottom 60 percent combined. As Dalton Conley, an NYU sociologist, explains, “it's like comparing apples and oranges. Unlike Denmark, we have a lot of very poor people without access to good education, and a huge immigrant population that doesn't even speak English.” When surveys focus on well-off, native-born respondents, the U.S. actually holds its own against Europe.Where does our relative ignorance come from? In that passage, Romano seems to suggest that it comes from “the relative complexity of the U.S. political system.” Only after that hard slog are we told that our relative ignorance is a bit of an illusion-that our lower scores are really a function of poverty and immigration.
Is that last claim true? We have no idea. Neither does Romano, we'd guess. (Warning: Romano's language is fuzzy here too. He only says we “hold our own” against Europeans after such adjustments.)
Tina Brown is a very smart person. She has published a very dumb report. Romano's account of what “every economist knows” is what you might call an act of fictition. Two questions: How does such sorry work get into print? As a nation, can we survive it?
“How Dumb Are We?” Romano asked. As to how we get so dumb, we'd have to say that part of the answer is found in his own fictitious text.
The scariest part of this piece: “Andrew Romano is a Senior Writer for Newsweek. He reports on politics...and appears frequently on CNN and MSNBC.”