Talking Down

There are some good points to be had here from Chris Bowers, but there’s also a lot missing, and a lot to take issue with. Let’s start with what’s basically the fundamental point:

Being one of the roughly one hundred and eighty million Americans who opposed the bailout bill today, I have to say that I can’t remember being called stupid so often in a 24 hour period so many times in my life. Like the many other lobotomized zombies that compose, or decompose, the slathering, brain dead hordes who simply don’t understand economics, it is important to speak to me slowly, remind me that I should abrogate all of my decision making to academic experts and, if I don’t, that it will be an example of how democracy itself has failed.

Yeesh. I think I am developing a better understanding of why the conservative backlash narrative works so well. People on the losing side of major legislative and electoral battles in America really do have a habit of calling the winners stupid. When discussing the defeat of the bailout today, the pundit tone on television was almost universally patronizing, sneering disbelief. This even though the pundits were talking about members of Congress who almost all have advanced degrees, who all were democratically elected by hundreds of thousands of people, who acted under enormous stress and in opposition to all available leadership, and who by virtually every available measure are all really, very successful, hard working, people who work in public service.

First of all, I want to point out one flat out false equvalency. Bowers notes that many members of Congress have “advanced degrees,” but that’s not really the point. So far as I’m aware, no member of Congress has an advanced degree in economics or finance, and if there are some it’s not many. Acting as if all advanced degrees are equal as a point of argument is nothing but a straw man right off the bat.

Secondly, this kind of anti-intellectual tripe ought to be left to the right. There are people who devote their careers to advanced study and work in an area, and yes, generally speaking, that will make them more knowledgeable of the issue than you. I have more economic study under my belt than the median voter, and I pay more attention than most, but I still respect that there are people much more studied in certain areas than I, and when I find myself disagreeing with them, it gives me great pause and I make a protracted effort to reconsider the validity of my position. Talk radio listeners reject expert opinion out of hand because the radio told them otherwise.

And, in this regard, there was very real support across a wide range of economic opinion on the package, the most notable, to my mind, being Paul Krugman. No one with an ounce of familiarity with Krugman would call him a Wall Street lackey or someone who was out to put more money in the hands of the rich. Indeed, he was very upfront that he wasn’t even that fond of the package. But to his learned mind, the potential cost of not approving it was simply too much to bear, and the proposal was sufficiently acceptable to merit passing as such.

But also, it’s worth considering who would be hurt in the event that the rest of the economy goes sour. While I’m sure there is a fondness for the idea of watching the CEO’s of major banks “eating it” for their failures, the bottom line is that they’re going to be fine either way. Sure they’ll potentially lose their job, but it’s not like they don’t have enough stored away to do just fine for themselves. The same thing goes for Bush administration officials and members of Congress. The powerful and well to do never bear the cost of economic troubles, and that’s not going to start now. Indeed, as Ezra points out, the people hurt will be the working class people who see their wages cut, their health insurance rise in cost even more (or disappear altogether), or simply lose their jobs as the credit that greases the gears of the economy goes dry.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with opposing a bail out on the merits. Many people just don’t think there’s really a looming crisis if the credit markets lock up. That seems amazingly optimistic to me (something akin to believing it won’t really hurt if you jump off a 10 story building), but you can certainly argue it on the merits if that’s your belief. But what I don’t see from Bowers here, and indeed what I haven’t really seen at all from opponents of the package, is a well thought out, on the merits argument against it. I’ve seen quite a few people put forward various other ideas (which I’ll get to another time), but I’ll count that as being in favor of a bailout in general. On the other hand, most of what I’ve seen has been largely emotional appeals to let them “learn their lesson,” “eat their sandwich,” or whatever. But this isn’t an argument on the merits, it’s a populist appeal based on emotion, and something that belongs to Sean Hannity, not Chris Bowers.

Also, almost as an aside, I can’t let this idiocy pass without comment:

Besides, if there is one subject where everyone in America is something of an expert, it is the economy. Everyone is forced to live in it, everyday, and so we all have on the job training and experience in how it works. To then tell people that their lifetime of experience is not enough for them to hold a valid opinion on how it should be fixed is only bound to increase their resentment of you, and thus their opposition to your policies.

Yglesias already flagged this, but I think it deserves to be echoed repeatedly; this is, frankly, total bullshit. “Living in the economy” does not make you an economic expert anymore than having foreign countries as neighbors makes you a foreign policy expert or living in New York City makes you a financial expert. Indeed, as Matt points out, it’s usually these personal experiences that make people understand economics less, as they tend not to understand levers of macro policy that have little observable impact in their daily lives, even though they’re increibly impactful to the economy at large.

If Chris Bowers wants to make a reasoned case against the bailout package I’m all ears, but this sort of anti-intellectual know-nothingism is the hard currency of Rush Limbaugh and House Republicans, and frankly isn’t needed anywhere on the center-left side of the spectrum.