Friday, November 4, 2011

On No-Brainers

"Can anyone seriously deny that our political system is being warped by the influence of big money, and that the warping is getting worse as the wealth of a few grows ever larger?" - Paul Krugman, Oligarchy, American Style

Most Americans agree we should tax the wealthy. The evidence from economics is overwhelming: they can afford it, we need the money, having such a distorted income distribution is bad for the democracy we say we care about. So why do the people who say otherwise get taken seriously without having any real evidence?

Laziness among reporters really can't be the explanation: most reporters work their asses off. They hustle getting stories, getting clicks, reading and writing about what's going on day in and day out. They're some of the most informed people I've ever met.

It's not fear of controversy, either. The media loves controversy, because when people are talking about you they're talking about you which means reading you which means seeing the ads that pay your salary. FOX News has demonstrated pretty clearly that you make more money by taking a stand than you do by refusing to. And why would it be bad for business to take up with the more popular side of the debate?

I really don't believe it's fear of losing advertisers. Those folks want their ads to be seen, that's their entire occupation. They've never shied away from advertising heavily to conservatives, precisely because doing so makes them money. They'd make money from a well-run, popular liberal outlet; in fact, many probably already do.

Are businesses and advertisers afraid of what would happen if people were exposed to a default consensus that skewed to the left? Perhaps, but they don't seem thrilled with the direction a conservative consensus is taking us. These are (allegedly) pragmatic businesspeople, they know the costs of ignoring the environment and their bottom line is getting hammered by the recession. Granted they love their tax breaks, but their love for the GOP isn't infinite.

So why is the default consensus that raising taxes on the rich is, at best, controversial (instead of a no-brainer)? I think it's ultimately about a very human logical fallacy: if two people I know to be opposed to each other tell me something, I know that they both have an incentive to lie and so I'll just assume the truth lies somewhere in the middle. But that only helps me find the truth if both sides are wrong.