The competitive advantage of deficit hacks

People who think we need to cut retirement benefits have no problem repeating themselves over and over and over ...

Published March 11, 2013 8:13PM (EDT)

                                                                      (Reuters/Anton Golubev)
(Reuters/Anton Golubev)

As I mentioned earlier, economist and blogger Duncan Black has written that Social Security should be expanded, instead of cut. He has written this multiple times, making essentially the same argument in consecutive USA Today opinion columns. That is a good thing, because it is an argument that is frequently absent from discussions of "entitlements" on cable news and in the political press.

But Black will have to write the exact same column hundreds and hundreds more times in order to have made this argument anywhere near as often as deficit fear-mongers make their arguments.

Paul Krugman today blogged about various "zombie ideas" that he thought he had debunked years ago still being repeated. And, duh, "no one listens to Paul Krugman" is basically the history of the United States since Y2K. Since the Bush era, Krugman has really just written the same five or six columns, over and over again. But they are good, useful, correct columns! And still, the rest of the media lavish praise on "deficit hawks" and beg for "entitlement cuts" Americans do not actually want, at all.

I think a lot about contemporary political debates makes a great deal more sense when you realize that hacks, especially hacks shilling for awful ideas, have a competitive advantage over non-hacks: They do not care if they constantly repeat themselves, even if what they are constantly repeating is wrong.

For a writer or pundit who actually feels some sort of responsibility to inform and/or entertain his or her readers, writing the same damn thing over and over again seems wrong (it is also boring). But bad ideas are constantly being repeated by people who feel absolutely no shame about saying the same things over and over and over again. Indeed, "shamelessness" is in general a defining characteristic of hacks. Also, frequently, people are being paid to repeat the same awful ideas over and over again, and unfortunately usually there's more money to be made repeating bad ideas than good ones. (Hence: Lanny Davis.)

Arguably, American conservatives are better at sticking to their pet causes in general, as liberals move from fight to fight. Look at how contraception "suddenly" became a matter of national public debate last year, years after liberals thought it a well-settled question. Or look at how long the movement spent trying to roll back the majority of the New Deal, a project that continues to this day!

And on the question of the deficit and the "grand bargain," Pete Peterson and a few others have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and decades of their lives making the exact same argument, and setting up organizations that pay others to make the exact same argument, until a majority of Beltway centrists internalized the argument and began making it themselves, over and over again. When it comes to centrist pundits, the unsophisticated brainwashing technique that has utterly failed to move the public at large over the last 25 years has worked perfectly. (Because centrist pundits are simple, credulous people, by and large, and also because they will not rely on "entitlements" to survive, when they retire from their very well-compensated jobs.)

So liberal and left-wing thinkers should probably strive to be more Krugman-esque, and hammer home the same causes and arguments no matter how boring it gets, because that is what Joe Scarborough is doing every morning.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Deficit Hawks Media Criticism Paul Krugman Politics Social Security