Bill Keller, former executive editor of the Times, devoted his oversized every-other-Monday column to a snobby and elitist assault on an old foe – the dangers of internet commentary, mostly of the right-wing variety, on the state of economic debate: 'The Politics of Economics in the Age of Shouting.' Keller recently took a crash course in economics via airplane and bedside reading and came out of it with a foolproof, incredibly predictable economic fix of "spending cuts, increased tax revenues and entitlement reforms." Then he went after the Internet.
....I've come to think something is rotten in the state of economics. The dismal science, as Thomas Carlyle called it, has been ravaged by the same virus that has corrupted the rest of our national discourse.
Back in the very pre-digital days, the writer A. J. Liebling famously remarked that freedom of the press was guaranteed only to the man who owned one. Nowadays, of course, freedom of the press belongs to anyone with Internet access, from the information guerrillas of WikiLeaks to the blogger next door. The democratization of media has diminished the authority once held - and sometimes abused - by a few big newspapers and broadcasters. In many ways this has enriched society, creating a great global buffet of information and opinion, pooling the knowledge of the masses and providing an almost instantaneous reality check on the conventional wisdom.
The consequences have not all been happy, though. The easiest way to stand out in such a vast crowd of microbroadcasters is to be the loudest, the angriest, the most outrageous. If you want that precious traffic, you stake out a position somewhere in oh-my-God territory and proclaim it with a vengeance. Global warming is a hoax! Vaccines make you sick! Obama is a Muslim! In vanquishing the conventional wisdom, sometimes it seems we have vanquished wisdom itself.
Betraying the shallowness of his newfound economic expertise, Keller fell for the 'created or saved' line while defending Obama's 'stimulus.'
The Web site PolitiFact, the Pulitzer-winning fact-checking service, recently did a thorough debunking of Republican claims that Obama's 2009 stimulus program created, quote, 'zero jobs.' In fact, the checkers established, using still-trustworthy sources like the Congressional Budget Office, that the stimulus created or saved a couple of million jobs. Case closed? No, the Republicans just went on repeating the claim.
After mocking House Speaker John Boehner for putting out a list of 132 economists who signed a statement endorsing Republican proposals, Keller turned on bloggers, libertarian think tanks, and even state colleges.
With a few exceptions they were academics from off-the-beaten-path colleges (no offense to Dakota State University), bloggers (the Calafia Beach Pundit?) and economists from devoutly libertarian think tanks. But the news had the right-wing tom-toms beating with excitement.