"Epistemic Closure" at The New Yorker?


Many people are excited about Ryan Lizza's New Yorker profile of Michele Bachmann, but while procrastinating before diving into the 9,000-word monster, I came across something of note in the same issue of the magazine (yes, that's the cover on the right). Namely, a startling (and startlingly familiar) unanimity of opinion when it comes to economic policy. To wit:

John Cassidy, in the lead comment:

A political system that responded rationally to the country's problems would be concentrating on creating jobs. Washington is moving in the opposite direction: toward austerity and job cuts. […]

[T]he downgrade should not be allowed to distract attention from the unemployment crisis. What is needed, and what the system appears unable to deliver, is short-term action on jobs and credible long-term deficit reduction. About the best that can be said of the debt-ceiling agreement is that it doesn't entail major spending cuts for this year or next. […]

A substantive jobs bill is what's called for, and the White House should send one to Congress as soon as possible after it returns from the summer recess.

What sort of policies might make a real dent in unemployment? Providing subsidies to businesses that hire new workers is one. Extending extra tax cuts to firms that build new factories and offices is another. More radical ideas include investing in infrastructure projects, importing a version of the job-sharing scheme that Germany has used, and launching a national community-service program. Most of these things would involve the federal government's borrowing and spending more money, but that, of course, is what governments are supposed to do in an economic downturn. […]

The real barrier to a meaningful jobs program is not the markets or the ratings agencies but the G.O.P.

James Surowiecki, in his "Financial Page" column:

Even though the spending cuts are backloaded, so that the major ones are still more than a year away, they will likely hit precisely the kind of public spending—on infrastructure, basic research, and defense—from which corporate America reaps great, if often unacknowledged, benefits. More important, the debt-ceiling fight made clear that, even as the economy struggles to avoid recession, no help can be expected from Washington. President Obama may be talking about the need to create jobs, but, with the advocates of austerity in charge, it's hard to see where support for any new government initiatives is going to come from. Indeed, it's possible that Republicans will block the extension of unemployment-insurance benefits and of the current payroll-tax cut. That would deliver a significant hit to the economy next year. And the austerity advocates will also be emboldened in their attacks on the Federal Reserve, which they argue has been overly loose in its monetary policy (when in fact it's been too tight). The economy needs strong doses of both fiscal and monetary policy. The debt deal makes it more likely that we'll get neither.

Ed "Slut" Schultz, MSNBC host, in a lunch-counter/regular-guy advertisement between the above two pieces:

We don't have a tax problem, we have a revenue problem. We've told American workers they're not valuable anymore, that it's better to do it overseas than it is right here. That's wrong. We need to reinvest in people, reinvest in manufacturing. That's how we're going to turn our economy around.

I put that last bit in for a laff, though the glove does fit.

I don't open up The New Yorker to agree with its economics, and I'm sure the feeling would be mutual. But what's striking here is the absence of any engagement with the critique that we've already been dosing the economy with fiscal and monetary stimulus, we've already been pushing a "jobs, jobs, jobs, and jobs" agenda from Washington, and after three full years of this approach (which itself came after an eight-year federal spending binge whose multiplier effect can be scientifically calculated as bupkus), we have…the lowest labor-force participation since 1983.

I understand the counter-arguments, on those occasions when people stir themselves to make them–bailout economics saved us from an unimaginable financial meltdown, the stimulus needed to be several times larger, the Great Credit Unwind is greater and unwindier than we thought. That's why it's important to, you know, engage those counter-arguments.

But what we've largely seen on both the left and the great do-something center these past several days is not a willingness to persuade a skeptical nation, nor to grapple with the many inconvenient real-world after-effects of bailouts and stimuli, but rather a series of petulant declarations of allegedly settled economic facts, accompanied by some general stomping around and a crossing of the arms. To do this in one breath, then in the next condemn the Tea Party tendency as "ideological," strikes me at minimum as being a little lacking on the self-awareness side.