A majority of Americans agree that global warming is happening, manmade, and “most scientists believe global warming is occurring.” Nearly one-third of Americans disagree, and it’s not necessarily because they missed out on higher education.
If you’re an American, you might have noticed a tendency for reporting to present “two sides” of every issue. There are no spectrums or quadrants; there’s simply a balance that can fall only one of two ways.
I use the word “balance” above very intentionally. Why? Lots of news organizations aim to provide “fair and balanced” reporting, which is taken to mean presenting exactly two sides of every story. This often involves reporting how some say this, and others say that. This kind of reporting can lend to an impression among readers that, hey, the verdict’s still out, concealing facts like that only a fraction of scientists reject that global warming is occurring at all.
By seeking a superficially fair balance, real–and sometimes grave–imbalances of evidence are concealed. For more on this, see, for example, Columbia Journalism Review‘s “The danger of fair and balanced.”
I was stunned to see this at play in an economics article on HBR this morning. It’s not that I was stunned that it was at play, even in an HBR article. It was that I could see exactly how the power-concealing ideas behind “fair and balanced” were playing out, knowing that August 2016 me would–and could–not have seen it.
If you read much business literature, you’ll see occasional references to “short-termism”: roughly, the notion that companies are increasingly sacrificing long-term gains for short-term ones. In this particular HBR article (“Worries About Short-Termism Are 40 Years Old, but Are They Overblown?”), the author starts by pointing out many prestigious folks who have cautioned populations about the dangers of short-termism.
Then, in a move straight from all “fair and balanced” global warming articles, the author continues, “But not everyone agrees.”
I wasn’t laughing yet. I wanted to see what arguments would be brought forth, and who would be bringing them.
It was when I read the next paragraph that I started laughing. I laughed even harder reading the next paragraph.
Which economists, exactly, were disagreeing with the existence of short-termism? Larry Summers and a University of Chicago professor.
In other words, this article is a perfect example of how understanding which experts are being trotted forth matters.
See, Larry Summers and the University of Chicago have shown up in a lot of my readings the last year. Summers is, arguably, directly responsible for some of the suffering wrought under neoliberalism, which has played a heavy role in the rise of finance sector dominance that’s crushed so many millions of people who couldn’t point out Summers in a line-up. While Summers has shown up in at least a dozen books I’ve read the last year, here’s how he shows up in the last book alone:
- advocated cutting corporation tax and unemployment insurance;
- supported (while at the World Bank) the idea of rich nations exporting pollution to poor countries on the grounds that thinly populated African countries were “underpolluted”;
- denied anthropogenic climate change and resource limits;
- suggested women were inferior to men at scientific reasoning (for which he later apologized);
- actively promoted the deregulation of derivatives that turned out to be toxic (those that Harvard ‘invested’ in while he was President dropped in value by $1 billion dollars), and endorsed the removal of barriers between retail and investment banking;
- lobbied energetically for a range of financial businesses to which he gave lavishly paid speeches; in 2008 he made $1.7 million from 31 speaking engagements (Goldman Sachs paid him $135,000 for one speech);
- before his appointment by Obama worked one day a week at a hedge fund for over $5 million a year, while holding a chair at Harvard.
And the University of Chicago Economics department? For decades, they forcibly exported their toxic economic theories to Latin America, playing an enormous contributory role in the rise of economies with nominal growth–for wealthy fractions of populations, natch–and massive, massively fatal rises in inequality. You can read all about this in Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, if you’re prepared for about ten hours of being gut-punched by how much brutality has been spread to secure the enduring economic dominance of the few.
When these particular economists suggest short-termism is overblown, I understand exactly which industries–and which actors–benefit by the general populace believing the debate is still out … and that, of course, regulating anything more heavily would thus be premature. (A blow to “the market,” sigh. Can’t have that!)
I can see the puppet strings, and the fact I can do so makes me grateful for all the reading I’ve done.
But for that, I’d still weigh every expert equally. It’s the fair and balanced thing to do, you know.