Policy, Politics And Reality

Paul Krugman condenses our current democratic dysfunction into one pithy paragraph.

In principle, voters should judge politicians by their actions; they should support politicians who pursue policies that help them, oppose politicians whose policies would hurt them. To do this, however, voters should have a reasonably good idea of what policy is doing.

Krugman is focused on economic policy, but his evaluation of what voters know–very little–is equally true of other policy domains. As he says, In a sensible world–i.e., one that worked as envisioned– voters would have both “a reasonably accurate picture of what’s happening” and a basic understanding of what aspects of our lives are actually under politicians’ control.

As he points out, in the world we inhabit, neither of these things is true. (This observation echoes a popular meme making the Facebook rounds, to the effect that it’s easy to believe in conspiracies when you have no idea how things really work.)

Krugman uses the current gloom over the economy as an example.

Start with the state of the economy. You might be tempted to assume that in a world in which getting and spending occupies a large part of everyone’s life, people would have a pretty good sense of how the economy is doing, even if they aren’t familiar with national income accounting. In reality, however, economic perceptions are largely shaped by media coverage — and, increasingly, by partisanship.

Indeed, the role of partisan skew has gotten so large recently that the Michigan Survey of Consumers, probably the most influential gauge of economic perceptions, highlighted it in its most recent data release; you might say that the Michigan Survey has warned us not to trust the Michigan Survey.

He has appended a chart illustrating the wide differences in consumer sentiment among self-identified Democrats and Republicans since 2019. The chart shows–among other things- that today’s Republicans  have a more negative assessment of economic conditions than they did in March 2009, when the country was in the depths of the financial crisis, a time when unemployment was at 8.7 percent and the economy was losing 800,000 jobs a month.

Other data confirms Krugman’s point that people’s views on the economy reflect what partisan media and their own political preferences are telling them; they show “a huge divergence between what people say about the state of the economy, which is quite negative on average, and what they say about their own personal finances.”

Then there’s the grousing about Biden and the increase in gas prices, despite the fact that the rise is global and Presidents have virtually no control over them.

So we’re living in a nation with many voters who seem to have both a distorted view of the state of the economy and false beliefs about what aspects of the economy politicians can affect. How is democracy supposed to function well under these conditions?…

The fact remains that public perceptions have become extremely disconnected from reality — economics is just one example. It’s a real conundrum. And if you’re waiting for me to propose solutions, well, not today.

That disconnect from reality is an absolutely foreseeable consequence of our national inability to know who and what we can trust.

The constant drumbeat about “fake news,” the willingness of far too many elected officials to lie through their teeth–not to mention their unwillingness to call a lie a lie–aided and abetted by media outlets engaged in propaganda rather than news, are all bad enough.But they would be far less effective if the population at large was minimally knowledgable–if people knew the basic facts about America’s legal framework, the rudiments of economic theory and the difference between science and religion.

When people who are ignorant of  those basics are constantly told that the “legacy” news media is peddling falsehoods, that “others” are to be feared and their voices discounted, that the United States was founded as a “Christian Nation,” that scientific “theories” are  nothing more than wild-ass guesses, and much more–they are far more susceptible to conspiracy theories and disinformation. Some of those theories are so far out–space lasers, pedophiles in charge of the federal government and similar lunacies–that most relatively sane people will reject them, but others–the President is in charge of prices at the gas pump, or the economy is not as robust as it looks–are far more likely to take hold.

When we no longer have Walter Cronkite (or reasonable clones) to trust, all bets are off.


  1. Yes, we’ve thoroughly covered those problems on this blog. As I’ve written about it numerous times on my own news website, and even added my own hashtag on Twitter, #TruthMatters.

    Since I’ve had my blasts of spiritual awakenings last year, from time to time, I am channeling someone with a British accent and writing in prose. Had no idea where this archetype was coming from until last night. Someone on Twitter responded with a link to a 2005 Nobel Laureate by the name of Harold Pinter. It was his acceptance speech where he blasted the United States foreign policy which was labeled, “Anti-Americanism.”

    But his words are absolute truth. What does that say?

    Here are this playwrights beginning utterances in his acceptance speech in 2005:

    “Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of the territories of truth since the majority of politicians are interested not in truth, but in power and the maintenance of that power.

    To maintain their power it is essential that the public remains in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us is a vast tapestry of lies.”

    He goes on to say about our global atrocities:

    “The deaths never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.

    The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. Especially in the corporate-controlled media.

    You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good.

    It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of global hypnosis.

    I put to you that the United States is, without doubt, the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful, and ruthless it may be, but it is also very clever. As a salesman, it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self-love.

    It’s a winner.”

    I found who has invaded my body! LOL

  2. Yesterday Secretary Buttiegieg appeared on Meet The Press. He’s the guy responsible for a department of the federal government that will oversee nearly a $trillion of investment in our crumbling infrastructure. But all the host Chuck Todd wanted to talk about was the so-called growing rivalry between Pete and Vice President Harris for the 2024 nomination to become the Dem nominee for President (assuming Biden doesn’t himself run for a 2nd term).

    There is no reliable source of truth in our current media landscape and what we refer to as mainstream or legacy media are labels that are no longer meaningful if they ever were. I don’t know where that source is but, so far, I’m finding more success in following individual news reporters and writers on policy than I do following a particular media outlet such as NYT, WaPo, NBC, etc. etc.

  3. “Then there’s the grousing about Biden and the increase in gas prices, despite the fact that the rise is global and Presidents have virtually no control over them.”

    Today’s economy regarding gas prices, which always seem to increase after a new president has been inaugurated, has me questioning why there are so many vehicles on our streets and roads weekdays during what should be work hours. One day last week the traffic was so heavy on all streets going all directions, I began to wonder if Indy was being evacuated for some reason.

    The 6% increase in prices, with empty shelves due to lack of merchandise due to lack of delivery, makes me wonder why these price increases are not considered “price gouging” during the emergency time we are living in due to the Pandemic…and Politics?

    The perception of “That disconnect from reality is an absolutely foreseeable consequence of our national inability to know who and what we can trust.” That leads me to Manchin, a rarely heard of name in the Senate, who has now become the top Democrat in the media with the ability to hold up progress in our slim Democratic majority in that body of Congress. We are relying on two Republican Representatives in the House to help save our economy and continue voting for progress under the Democrats.

    “Policy, Politics And Reality” is now watching to see which Republican will win the contest to hire Kyle Rittenhouse into our government body. As a nation we await the verdicts in two other race-based criminal trials and hope for justice for the victims. Families gathered in a mid-size Wisconsin town are mowed down like bowling pins waiting for their holiday parade to pass. How in God’s name has this become America’s reality?

  4. I think Patrick’s use of Chuck Todd to attack the press in general misses the point. What he said is correct, but Todd and every other “pundit” is not looking for information or explanation, he and they are looking for a way to get a newsworthy person to make a statement that they (Todd et al.) can be remembered for for generating a new story. It boosts their self-esteem if they can score a point. They are not there to convey news to the public: they are there to create a new line in their resumes.

  5. Everyone on the right, including the media, seems to be singing from the same songbook, denigrating everything and everyone deemed to be liberal. Everybody on the left is singing his/her own song, no book needed. The mainstream media isn’t focused on the disfunction on the right. They seem to love reporting on the disagreements on the left, regardless of what the end result is. I would love to see the NY Times run a headline that say Democrats pass legislation, rather than Democrats in disarray over BBB.

    I’m not sure how many times it must be said, but here it is once more: Governance is hard. What we think of as easy fixes aren’t so easy, when 269 people have to agree.

  6. Everything is not what it seems. Historically, Federal infrastructure money has been used by states to build new roads, not fix old ones. This time, the law was written so they couldn’t. Donors stepped in and it got kicked out at the last minute. More roads, more driving, more pollution. This was the DEMS….

    The BBB bill is a lot of the same. Some things only are funded for a couple of years. Others don’t kick in for several years. By ’22, the GOP will be in charge to negate much of it. Wake up and learn.

  7. All the effort to find out the facts, then think critically to form an opinion sounds like work. So much easier to believe a bumper sticker.

  8. There are many global forces over which the POTUS has no control, including economic ones.
    I’m lucky to have a Prius Prime because it markedly decreases how often I need to fill my gas tank. There is an alarm that tells me when my tires are low so that I can avoid decreasing my gas mileage due to tires that are low on air.

    It is important that we pay attention to government policies both state and federal. I wonder how Indiana will use the 8 billion dollars in infrastructure funding from the feds. Will they use it wisely? Will any of the funds be used to help reduce global warming?

    I wish people really did pay attention to the facts. I miss Walter Cronkite and the other newscasters of his day. And, I must say, it was better than a 24 hr news cycle that told me repeatedly of all the horrible catstrophic events happening in our nation and around the world. There is something horribly addictive about it that results in vicarious traumatization. (not to mention that it creates a desire to escape) So, needless, to say, I avoid CNN and other such news media sites.

    My family of choice and I will celebrate Thanksgiving. Before we eat we all share some things for which we are grateful. Funny thing about gratitude. It seems to be effective in creating joy. I think I will totally skip the news that day, probably this cynical blog as well.

  9. I think that most of us would agree that, on average, the Americans who are dying off now, those born during WWII, and all of the generations that follow us, have lived more comfortably than any humans before us. That should be a good thing, right? We can exist higher on Maslow’s pyramid and concentrate more on living up to our potential because we don’t have to devote resources to survival issues.

    Has that been the reality though? Seems maybe not. Why? We are kept whipped up into a frenzy of fear and anger and blame by our entertainment media. Why? for political reasons, and by that I include the political realities of government, business, and relationships. We all try to manipulate each other by some level of performance motivated by trying to maximize our own comfort. Of course, people who practice politics professionally and have the megaphone of media are much more influential than us amateurs. So as postulated by social media there are influencers and those who are not successful at that.

    Some influencers have discovered that on their stage, maximizing their comfort comes from keeping their audience afraid, angry, and, frankly, ignorant. Barefoot and pregnant used to be how that was expressed.

    Based on all of that, where is our extraordinary comfort leading us? It seems to me that perhaps those influential social and cultural forces can and are and have made comfort unstable and likely to collapse on itself.

    Has that collapse already begun here in the states previously united?

  10. As to gas prices, it would be difficult to explain to many that the Sherman Anti Trust Act of 1890 has no application to the OPEC monopoly, an international cartel itself and not “the market” in charge of supply and demand of oil, and that our president and the leaders of other oil-consuming countries cannot do anything about it. No oil = no Dubai, no UAE, no MBS etc., and as a positive aside to Lester’s observation that more driving means more pollution > I think not, not with electric cars and other vehicles in the offing irrespective of our political future.

    As to today’s topic, I though Todd’s recitation of Pinter was accurate. Cynical? No. On the mark? Yes. Politicians spin reality to suit the emotional needs of voters (and their own reelection prospects) rather than honestly attempting to solve the real issues of the day, (e.g., let’s talk about what some lady legislator is wearing rather than Miami underwater and murder in the name of “freedom”etc.).

    What to do? Hammer away at Sheila’s pet peeve, i.e., the lack of civic education. Tell the truth whether good or bad. Propose solutions to the real issues of the day, and most importantly, defend our greatest civic virtue, our democracy, with relentless vigor.

  11. 2nd Timothy 4:3 Reads, for there will be a period of time when they will not put up with wholesome teaching, but according to their own desires, they will surround themselves with teachers to have their ears tickled.

    The prophet Isaiah’s prophetic words summed it up; “this people honors me with their lips, yet their heart is far removed from me. It is in vain that they keep worshipping me, because they teach commands of men as doctrines.” Isaiah 29:13. Isaiah’s words were repeated by Jesus Christ at Matthew 15:8

    King Solomon stated at Proverbs 3:27, 28 which reads, “do not hold back good from those to whom it is owing, when it happens to be the power of your hand to do it. Do not say to your fellow man: go, and come back tomorrow I shall give when there is something with you.”

    James wrote These inspired words at James 2:15,16; “if a brother or a sister is in a naked State and lacking the food sufficient for the day, yet a certain one of you says to them: ‘go in peace keep warm and well-fed,’ but you do not give them the Necessities for their body, of what benefit is it?”

    Jesus Christ said during his Sermon on the Mount, “you heard it said, you must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. However, I say to you: continue to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”

    And of course ,Jesus Christ spoke these inspired words in Matthew 25, “when the son of man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will sit down on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate one from another, just as a Shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will put the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right: come, you who have been blessed by my father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world. For I became hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you received me hospitably, naked and you clothed me. I felt sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you visited me. Then, the righteous ones will answer him with the words, Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you , or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and receive you hospitably, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? And reply the king will say to them, truly I say to you to the extent that you did it to one of the least of these my brothers you did it to me.”

    If, this country was based on Christian standards, the above words would be followed as letter of the law. Unfortunately they do not follow Christian or Christs Dogma and neither do they follow his law. Nothing but nonsensical dribble comes out of their mouth. Nothing short of being a manure spreader.

    And lastly, the Apostle Paul stated in no uncertain terms in his second letter to the Thessalonian congregation in Thessalonica, let no one lead you astray in anyway, because it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness gets revealed, the son of Destruction. He stands in opposition and exalts himself above every so-called God or object of worship, so that he sits down in the temple of God, publicly showing himself to be a god. Do you not remember that when I was still with you, I used to tell you these things?”

  12. One more, of many myths that impact the economy, and culture:
    Roscoe Conkling, a corporate lawyer, former senator from N.Y., subsequently claimed that the 14th amendment had meant that corporations were “people.” He was the sole still living member of the committee that had drafted the 14th A., and, some evidence supports the claim that he’d lied. BY 1937, Justice Hugo black was able to point out that “only one half of one percent of the 14th amendment cases that came before theocrat had anything to do with African Americans or former slaves, while over half of the cases were about protecting the rights of corporations.” “These Truths,” Jill Lepore, pg. 338

  13. Todd, I’m glad for you, as you have sorted out such a basic truth of your own life!
    Lies, and myths, and the latter are a form of the former. From George Wahsington being unable to tell a lie, to James Polk lying us into war
    with Mexico, and the lies about every war but WWII (Korea, you know, of course, was “just” a “Police Action.”
    This line, ” that it’s easy to believe in conspiracies when you have no idea how things really work,” just goes to the heart
    of it all.
    But, hey, let’s not edumacate the populace, they might learn something.

  14. Peggy, all of my right leaning friends consider the NY Times a leftist rag, in the Fake News category, but they. do. report the news. If people weren’t so brainwashed to see that normal political parties have disagreements, and the right was no so much in lockstep to point out these healthy disagreements as normal politicking, nobody would notice. Normal has shifted so far abnormal, that most people are lost in in propaganda machine.

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