Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Muzzling Dissent

"People everywhere confuse what they read in newspapers with news." -- A. J. "Joe" Liebling
Two somber thoughts. First, economics is not only not a science; it is not even a scholarly discipline. It is a subsection of journalism. There is the style section, the sports section, the front pages and economics. The academic jargon mills with their fancy maths are there solely to lend a cachet of prestige to the front line hacks. Case in point: Henry Hazlitt.

Second, the function of a "free press" in an oligarchy is the muzzling of dissent. As Liebling also wrote, "freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." The most effective way to muzzle dissent is to simply drown it out. That way you get to suppress speech in the name of free speech. Who could object to free speech? Those totalitarians! It's no coincidence that American fascists in the 1930s called themselves "Liberty Lobby."

Connecting the dots (and with one eye on the unexpurgated history of economic thought) the real purpose of economics today is not to foster understanding of how the economy works but to confound and marginalize those who understand even a bit of how it works.

All the flap about the "crisis of economics" and its inability to predict the great recession is so much bunk. Economics is performing exactly as it is supposed to, thank you very much.

Postscript: Having mentioned both Henry Hazlitt and Joe Liebling in one post, I started wondering if they ever crossed paths. Google Scholar produces one item that mentions both of them, a 2006 article in the Canadian Journal of Communications, "'Labor's Monkey Wrench': Newsweekly Coverage of the 1962-63 New York Newspaper Strike."


Bruce Wilder said...

Economics is the prime example of The Big Lie in the Era of Inverted Totalitarianism. All criticism is defeated by the sheer audacious scale of the thing.

Thornton Hall said...

The upshot of this is clearly a point I have made elsewhere: Paul Krugman and Brad Delong are two of the most dangerous people alive. If liberal elites refuse to understand that their rabid defense of orthodox economics is literally causing death, who is ever going to be in the position to point out that the emperor has no clothes?

There is some hope in the fragmentation of the press and the accompanying rise of diverse view points caused by the Internet. The police have been executing unarmed Black men at a steady rate since the 70s. That it's now a story is big progress.

But the coming election is bound to be disheartening. All that can be truthfully said about the Clintons and the Bushes has been said. That means that the election may very well be decided by a "narrative" that to be new will be, by necessity, total fiction. A fiction even more dubious than the notion that Al Gore was the liar in the 2000 election