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Populism and the Media

Tuesday, November 22, 2016 11:25
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Simon Wren-Lewis:

Populism and the media: This could be the subtitle of the talk I will be giving later today. I will have more to say in later posts, plus a link to the full text…, but I thought I would make this important point here about why I keep going on about the media. In thinking about Brexit and Trump, talking about the media is not in competition with talking about disenchantment over globalisation and de-industrialisation, but a complement to it. I don’t blame the media for this disenchantment, which is real enough, but for the fact that it is leading people to make choices which are clearly bad for society as a whole, and in many cases will actually make them worse off. They are choices which in an important sense are known to be wrong.

Many will say on reading that last sentence that this is just your opinion, but in a way that illustrates the basic problem. Take Brexit. We know that erecting trade barriers is harmful: the only question is whether in this case it will be pretty harmful or very harmful. Some of this is already in the process of happening, as the depreciation reduces real wages. We also know that erecting barriers against your neighbours is extremely unlikely to be offset in any significant way by doing deals with countries further away. This is knowledge derived largely from empirical evidence and uncontroversial theory and agreed almost unanimously by economists.

The moment you reduce it to just another opinion, to be balanced by opposing opinions, as happened in the broadcast media during the Brexit campaign, you allow that knowledge to be ignored when critical choices are made. …


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