Let’s not play pretend boys and girls, both Republicans and Democrats have it wrong (in different—and in similar—ways). We’re told by pundits, politicians and sometimes parents that one side is good and other is bad. This kind of black and white view of the world is one of the deadliest poisons in our society. Like politics itself, it encourages name-calling instead of respect, yelling instead of listening and bickering instead of discourse.
Of all the shows on television, few capture this mentality better than CNN’s Crossfire. They should know. Jon Stewart told them Friday. Here’s the transcript.
I love Jon Stewart. I don’t always agree with him, but I love him anyway. Mostly because he’s willing to tell the mainstream media that they could do a much better job than they are now and their current trend it hurting the country. During his Crossfire interview, he told Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson their show is “theater.” It’s a debate show in the same way as pro wrestling is an athletic competition. He’s completely right.
The media is the most relevant example of a market failure—people could be getting so much more for their time. Instead of shallow entertainment, we could have knowledge creation. Instead of Jerry Springer, we could more have Bill Maher. In economics, this is particularly important as virtually every “economist” on television is replaced by what Paul Krugman so kindly calls “policy entrepreneurs,” or sell-outs: economists who now work for political parties. They spit out the (often protectionist and/or isolationist) party platforms and dress it up as sound economic policy. Bad media is bad economics but good politics.
There are exceptions, of course. News networks don’t hold a monopoly over information. We have our HBO and our Daily Show. The Internet is stuffed with blogs (I particularly like this one). But this makes just a small dent in the American psyche.
The core problem is information. People simply don’t know what they are missing. How can you, a consumer, really say if what you are getting as news is “worthy” if you don’t know what was cut? Do people even know that bi-partisanship and rational debates are actually possible?
I don’t really have an answer to this market failure. A law, of course, won’t work. The last thing we want to do is have politicians decide what should and should not be covered. Subsidize bloggers so they can advertise? I like that as a blogger, but not as an economist; we’ve just get a flood of partisan blogs. Break up the media giants into smaller companies? I’ve often thought about that but I doubt there would be much change.
The only real way to ensure our media smartens up is if the politicians do, too—that’s where the most discourse is needed (and where it’s most scare). If political parties start saying that they are tired of the endless bickering and actually want to start making real progress, the media would have to follow suit. Most of their guest speakers are from the parties.
So this is a shout out to all those party leaders out there. George, John, John, Dick, Donald, Condoleezza, Bill, Zell (especially Zell)—I know you guys read LL&L religiously and I know we haven’t had the best opinion of you over the short time the blog’s been active. But both sides have important stories to tell, and more important ones to listen to. You guys have your flaws and your strengths. I’m not asking for a marriage, just a talk. A real one. Come on you two, for the country?