Econocentric

I coined a term today that I think I will find lots of uses for in the future. So I figured I would formally define it here:

e·con·o·cen·tric     adjective     \ˌe-con-ō-ˈsen-trik\

  1. a tendency to view other economic classes from the perspective of one’s own.
  2. characterized by or based on the attitude that one’s own economic class is superior.

The econocentric biases of mainstream reporters allows them to think that their reporting is objective.

e·con·o·cen·tric·i·ty     noun
e·con·o·cen·trism     noun

6 Angry Women

12 Angry MenMichael Stickings over at The Reaction alerted me to the fact that we have finally heard from the last Zimmerman juror—the one who wasn’t white. Later, I got to see some of the actual interview that she did via a video from The Young Turks, that I’ve embedded at the bottom of this article.

I’m in complete agreement with Michael on this case. (We tend to agree about everything other than Latin American politics.) Given the prosecution, defense, and Florida law, an acquittal was at least a defensible outcome. But in listening to what Juror B-29 had to say, I’m inclined to tip a little more strongly towards the ruling being wrong.

There are two related parts to this. First, the argument that the juror gave for acquitting was an argument against murder, not manslaughter. Second, it is clear that this decision was all about intimidation. As lawyers know, a single confident juror can sway everyone else on the jury. In this case, I think that Juror B-37 (the one married to a lawyer who was going to write a book about it) was that person. And think about it from Juror B-29’s position: you’re on the jury with only white women who, after a short period of time are telling you that you’ve got it all wrong. That’s major peer pressure in a racially charged case with a racial divide on the jury. That would be hard to stand up to for the most confident and certain person.

Maybe my thinking is too colored by having recently watched 12 Angry Men. But I imagine it like the beginning of that film where all of the people who are certain of the kid’s guilt talk down to Henry Fonda. “Everything—every single thing that took place in that courtroom, but I mean everything—says he’s guilty.” And similar comments with the subtext, “You just don’t understand!” And in the end, they used an argument that could only be used against murder to get Juror B-29 to vote “not guilty” for manslaughter.

The truth is that I think it would be far worse if Zimmerman had been be falsely convicted. So in his particular case, acquittal is not the worst thing. The broader issue is what’s important. As Jay-Z noted, “Didn’t Trayvon have a right to stand his ground?” So that’s where this decision is troubling. And now it looks like Juror #10 (Ed Begley in the film; B-37 in the case) was the one who dominated the decision. I’m not saying that Juror B-37 is racist in the way that Ed Begley was in 12 Angry Men, but there was a clear thoughtless racism in her interview with Anderson Cooper. At very least, she seemed more interested in her book deal than in justice.

I’m glad that Juror B-29 came forward. I think we have a far better idea of what went on in that jury room. It really seems that Juror B-29 played the part of Henry Fonda (Juror #8). But if you remember the film, you’ll remember that Fonda would have folded too if it hadn’t been for Joseph Sweeney (Juror #9). So Juror B-29 should not feel bad at all. But Juror B-37 really ought to be giving some thought to her own actions.

And if you’ve had trouble with all my 12 Angry Men references, you really need to watch it again. It is a great film.

The Mythical Political Center

Ezra KleinYesterday on the cover of the New York Times, Jonathan Martin wrote one of those stupid Villager articles we all know and despise, Some Democrats Look to Push Party Away from Center. This is an issue I’ve been ranting about for years. There is no “center.” All the mainstream press does is define the “center” somewhere to the right of the Democrats and to the left of the Republicans. What that means is that the Republicans can and have moved the “center” far to the right, just by being extreme. The effect is that the left is defined by a practical approach to politics and the right is defined by the most extreme elements of our political system. As a result, we end up with a “center” that is skewed to the extreme right.

Ezra Klein pushed back on Martin’s article, There’s No Such Thing As ‘The Center’. He puts a different take on what the “center” actually means. “It’s more a reference to an amorphous Washington consensus.” That’s another way to look at that is undoubtedly more accurate. Because the truth is that on social issues, the far right turn of the Republican Party has not caused the mainstream press to move the center of debate on gay or abortion rights. It is just on economic issues—the issues that the nation as a whole cares the most about—on which the center gets constantly pushed to the right, despite the fact that nation is far to the left.

The whole thing makes me wonder—and I’ve written about this in the past—does the press move the economic playing field further to the right because the Republicans move right or does it work the other way around. I’m afraid it is the latter. When it comes to social issues, the country is relatively divided. But liberal economic ideas are hugely popular. So I doubt that the Republicans would have moved so far right if it hadn’t been that they got no push back from the press. A great example of this is the “professional moderate” industry. I wrote this last year about Serious Centrist Saletan’s Selfishness:

What most people find annoying about centrist pundits is the arrogance of their supposed objectivity. A quick look at their almost comically stereotyped views within the social and economic areas shows this clearly. Saletan’s social views are typically liberal: pro gay rights; pro abortion rights. I’ll bet he even believes in evolution! But his economic views are typically conservative: pro free trade; vaguely anti-union. Would you believe he’s very concerned about the deficit?!

The reason that Saletan and his peers share this kind of political outlook is clear enough: it speaks to their personal interests. They are socially liberal because the corresponding views improve their lives. They have friends who are gay. They’ve had girlfriends who have had abortions. Their careers depend upon a strong first amendment. So their lives would be poorer and their bank accounts too, if the social conservatives got power in the United States. As a result, they are socially liberal—even extremely so.

On the other side of things, they are rich. Whether on the TV, in newspaper, or increasingly even on the internet, pundits are rich. They are all well inside the top 20% of earners. As a result, Saletan finds it easy to be a booster for so called free trade. No Chinese worker is going to take his job. (Not that there aren’t about a million who could do it as well.) But unionized IT professionals might reduce his income. And increased taxes on the upper class could certainly reduce his income. So it just makes sense to argue that Social Security must be cut while ignoring the obvious fix of increasing the payroll tax cap, which it just so happens would increase his tax burden.

It is no accident that professional moderates like Saletan so often skew socially liberal and economically conservative. It is in their own best interests. And I don’t blame them. But I do blame the system itself, which selects for exactly this kind of thinking. It does it in the name of objectivity or “even handedness.” When accused of liberal bias, they can trot out conservative economic bona fides. When accused of conservative bias (Rarely!) they can trot out their liberal social bona fides. But these pundits are not objective or even handed. They are on the extremes in a very predictable way.

And this is what is happening with people like Jonathan Martin. (And even Ezra Klein at times!) They are surrounded by like minded people who have the exact same interests that they have. Thus they think they really are being objective; they are blind to their own assumptions. A good example of this is how “free” trade agreements are really unpopular but in the mainstream press, it is considered radical and stupid to suggest that these agreements are anything but the best possible policy.

To a large extent, this is why I applaud biased news sources. If you are reading this blog, you know that I am biased. I don’t claim to be “objective.” Just the same, I would never intentionally misinform you. And I try very hard to provide the strong counterarguments, when they exist (in the current political environment, that is sadly rare). But knowing my biases allows you to decide if you are going to listen to me. Much worse are people like Martin who play the part of objective reporter when they have as many skewed opinions as I.

Afterword

Here are a few other recent articles I’ve written on this subject:

Shaw and Mozart’s Son

George Bernard ShawOn this day in 1782, the Irish composer John Field was born. He’s fairly good. But the much better composer Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart was born in 1791. He was, of course, Mozart’s son. I assume that he was named after Franz Xaver Sussmayr, Mozart’s student and assistant. I have a great fondness for Sussmayr because he completed Mozart’s Requiem after he died. For a couple of hundred years, music scholars tried to disentangle what Sussmayr had done from what Mozart did. In the end, they had to abandon the project. As regular readers know, Mozart is probably my favorite composer. And he was a genius of unsurpassed talent. But he wasn’t a singularity and Sussmayr had no difficulty composing in the style of his teacher. Similarly, Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart was a Romantic composer, but very much following in the tradition of his father’s work. So enjoy this very nice Rondo for Flute and Pianoforte:

The great economist Alfred Marshall was born in 1842. The equally great psychologist Carl Jung was born in 1875. And the equally equally great Aldous Huxley was born in 1894. As much as I love 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World is far more prophetic.

Comedian Gracie Allen was born in 1895. Why couldn’t she have lived to be 100? Ethel Mertz from I Love Lucy, Vivian Vance was born in 1909. Director Blake Edwards was born in 1922. And so was actor Jason Robards. Another great director, Stanley Kubrick was born in 1928. And singer-songwriter Dobie Gray was born in 1940—not that anyone cares.

Brilliant and often funny photographer Elliott Erwitt is 85 today. Mick Jagger is 70, which is its own kind of creepy given how he looked at 60. Actor Helen Mirren is 68. Figure skater Dorothy Hamill is 57. Actors Kevin Spacey, Sandra Bullock, and Jeremy Piven are 54, 49, and 48. And Kate Beckinsale is 40.

The day, however, belongs to George Bernard Shaw who was born on this day in 1856. Although known primarily as a playwright with works such as Major Barbara and Heartbreak House, he was so much more than that. I am particularly fond of his literary criticism and essays. And, of course, he was a proponent of spelling reform and provided the excellent example of how to spell the word fish: ghoti. He was also a founding member of the London School of Economics.

Although Shaw was far from perfect, flirting with eugenics when he was younger and becoming deeply cynical in his old age, there is an enormous amount of highly misleading and downright wrong information on the internet about him. Because he was an outspoken proponent of socialism, people want to claim that he supported the Nazis and on and on. It’s outrageous, but what do you expect from modern conservatives who simultaneously hate socialism and don’t have a clue as to what it is. Regardless…

Happy birthday George Bernard Shaw!