Jonah Goldberg in National Review Online, August 31, 3011
No president since Woodrow Wilson or Franklin Roosevelt has been more enamored with the cult of expertise than Obama. That none of his economic predictions have panned out is not surprising. What is surprising is that so many people are surprised.
My National Review colleague Jim Geraghty has chronicled how, over the last few years, the media have greeted bad economic news by calling it unexpected. For instance, Bloomberg reports that “sales of U.S. previously owned homes unexpectedly dropped in July.” Reuters tells us that “consumer spending unexpectedly fell in June.” And so on.
Many who’ve been following the trend point to media bias. The press corps, writ large, wants Obama to succeed, argues American Enterprise Institute political analyst Michael Barone, so “they characterize economic setbacks as unexpected, with the implication that there’s still every reason to believe that, in Herbert Hoover’s phrase, prosperity is just around the corner.”
I certainly think there’s more than a little truth to that. The media get hooked on a story line — hurricanes are getting worse because of climate change, Obama’s a pragmatist doing the smartest things to fix the economy — and when the facts contradict the story line, it’s, well, unexpected.
But it can’t be simply media bias because the experts whom reporters call for quotes also are surprised. As Geraghty notes, groupthink is a culprit too. The guys on Wall Street use the same Keynesian computer models as the folks in the White House.
There are no more devout members of the cult of expertise than mainstream journalists. They rely on experts for guidance about what is “mainstream” and accurate and what is not. Sometimes that’s fine. Surgeons are extremely reliable sources to explain how a heart attack happens. They’re not as reliable at telling you who will have one, save in a statistical sense, and even less reliable at telling you when a specific person will have one.
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