Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Truthiness, media framing and the political economy of economics

Concealed deep in the bowels of the ivory tower is this little-known academic endeavor sometimes referred to as "political economy of communications." These guys study "media bias" or "media framing." They've even done content analysis that goes beyond harping at the very serious personhood of this or that individual columnist or newspaper.

For example, in Framed! Labor and the Corporate Media, Christopher Martin identified Five Dominant Frames in the media coverage of labor disputes:
(1) The consumer is king;
(2) The process of production is none of the public’s business;
(3) The economy is driven by great business leaders and entrepreneurs;
(4) The workplace is a meritocracy; and
(5) Collective economic action is bad.
Stated somewhat more evasively, these also happen to be the tenets of the dominant frame in contemporary economics  -- the "equilibrium price-auction view of the world" (aka subjective preference theory or conservative ideal). Surprise, surprise!

Has it ever occurred to anyone that the dominance in elite economics of a particular economic ideology may owe more to the dominance of a congenial corporate media frame than to any inherent theoretical elegance or empirical support? Of course not.

There is this peculiar rhetorical mise en abyme in which editorial punditry takes its Delphic authority from what "economists say" while what they say simply regurgitates something they read (over and over again) in the press.

"I'm an economist and I'm O.K. I say what I've been told that 'economists say'."

Wouldn't it be worthwhile to ask whether the economics practiced today is, in effect, a subsidiary of the corporate mass media rather than an independent academic discipline?


Bruce Wilder said...

I suppose it flows both ways. Consider how the Virginia school of political economy developed the rhetorical frame around "rent-seeking" even while analytic consideration of the role of economic rents in organizing the economy faded from mainstream economic teaching. "Rent-seeking" became an all-purpose pejorative in political rants, while neoliberalism was busy dismantling the rent-granting New Deal structural features that protected industrial unionism or a diverse financial system.
One might wonder in retrospect whether figures like James M Buchanan or Mancur Olson were critics or architects of parasitic rent-seeking.

Thornton Hall said...

In response to your first question: yes.

Thornton Hall said...

I should reiterate that the problem with the media isn't that it's "corporate", it's that it's objective and over-educated.

It's not who owns the paper, it's the replacement of working class hacks with elitist "journalists".

Sandwichman said...

Yes, indeed, there are always precisely two sides to every story -- even when there are many sides or only one.

Did I mention mise en abyme? Set those two sides objectively facing each other (like mirrors> and you can see infinitely far!

Thornton Hall said...

A massive driver of Reagan/Thatcherism is the huge class change among reporters that occurred after WWII. Professionalism in the media is the worst thing that happened to America in the 20th Century.

Bob Woodward was a stenographer who revealed a Nixon crime so small and unimportant in the Nixon oeuvre that it's almost endearing. Nellie Bly had a grade school education and blew the cover off of the torture of tens of thousands of poor Americans in our nation's insane asylums.

Thornton Hall said...

The biggest scoop of the Watergate era? That belongs to an Army press release detailing the Mi Lai massacre. The J school draft dodgers didn't even run the story.