On Sunday The Times published an article by the political scientist Brendan Nyhan about a troubling aspect of the current American scene — the stark partisan divide over issues that should be simply factual, like whether the planet is warming or evolution happened. It’s common to attribute such divisions to ignorance, but as Mr. Nyhan points out, the divide is actually worse among those who are seemingly better informed about the issues.
The problem, in other words, isn’t ignorance; it’s wishful thinking. Confronted with a conflict between evidence and what they want to believe for political and/or religious reasons, many people reject the evidence. And knowing more about the issues widens the divide, because the well informed have a clearer view of which evidence they need to reject to sustain their belief system.
As you might guess, after reading Mr. Nyhan I found myself thinking about the similar state of affairs when it comes to economics, monetary economics in particular.
“Can anything reverse this descent into dogma?”
Yes. Getting the money out of politics, as soon as possible.
Whether we got to the Great Recession by way of wrong-headed beliefs about how economies work, willful disinformation by a greedy few, a Pinky & The Brain come-to-life plot by the Koch Brothers, it doesn’t really matter. The reality is that the austerians were proven to be wrong. Deregulation out of a belief that markets self-correct was proven to be wrong. Dead-wrong, in fact. How is smaller government working out? One only need to look around them and all of the things and institutions that are in disrepair.
As to Pinky and The Brain… The Koch brothers may be the most prominent would be plutocrats, but there are others. Meet the brothers Farris and Dan Wilks. The more accurate label for them is would-be theocrats in the same class as the Hobby Lobby family, with the same aims.
On the left side, there are problems too. The middle to far left has been almost totally drowned out by the neoliberals.
As the grip of these nefarious forces on our democracy gets tighter, we are faced with doubts about which sets of facts to believe, and which sets of pundits to listen to. As Professor Krugman points out, “the well informed have a clearer view of which evidence they need to reject to sustain their belief system.” The problem is that until six years ago facts and beliefs were mostly distinct. They’re almost interchangeable now.
These are very perilous times.