Sunday , October 20 2019
Home / John Cochrane - Grumpy Economist / Notes from a nameless conference

Notes from a nameless conference

Summary:
Martin Gurri at the fifth wave writes a very intresting "notes from a nameless conference." (HT Marginal Revolution). A few choice quotes, but do read the whole thing...In their hundreds if not thousands, I was swarmed by people of good will who were also smart, articulate, and hyper-educated.  They craved, sincerely, to help the disadvantaged ...

Topics:
John H. Cochrane considers the following as important: ,

This could be interesting, too:

John H. Cochrane writes Bans on fracking and nuclear power

John H. Cochrane writes More on low long-term interest rates

John H. Cochrane writes Intellectual property and the trade deficit

John H. Cochrane writes Why stop at 100? The case for perpetuities

Martin Gurri at the fifth wave writes a very intresting "notes from a nameless conference." (HT Marginal Revolution). A few choice quotes, but do read the whole thing.
..In their hundreds if not thousands, I was swarmed by people of good will who were also smart, articulate, and hyper-educated.  They craved, sincerely, to help the disadvantaged and save the earth.  The words “science” and “reason” were perpetually on their lips, as if they held the copyright for these terms – which, in a sense, they did.  And if they were a bit defensive, a tad obtuse, their intentions were the purest I could imagine. 
So why, by their own admission, do they no longer inspire trust? 
I have met their kindred before, in other glittering places.  They run the institutions that hold center stage in our society, but look on the world as if from a walled mountain fortress, where every loud noise from beyond is interpreted as risk and threat.  They disagree about minutia, but mostly move in lockstep, like synchronized swimmers, with word and thought.  They are earnest but extraordinarily narrow.  In a typical complaint, one speaker blamed the public for hiding in an “information bubble” – yet it occurred to me, as I sat through the conference, that the bubble-dwellers controlled the microphones there. 
The same unmodulated whine about present conditions circled around and around, without even the ambition to achieve wit, depth, or originality: 
The internet is the enemy:  of rationality, of democracy, of truth.  It must be regulated by enlightened minds. 
The public resembles an eight-year-old who is always fooled by tricks and lies.  For its own protection, it must be constrained by a Guardian class. 
Populism is the spawn of lies.  Even if it wins elections, it is never legitimate, and must be swept away by a higher authority. 
Climate change is a scientific mandate for torturous economic and political experiments, implemented by experts.  To deny this is worse than error – it’s a crime against humanity. 
Hate speech, offensive words, fake news, deep fakes, privacy violations, information bubbles, bitcoin, Facebook, Silicon Valley, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Brexit:  all must be controlled, criminalized, exploded, broken up, exposed, deposed, or repeated until the right answer is obtained. 
None of this was up for discussion.  None of it was uttered with the least semblance of self-awareness.  In the same breath, a speaker called for the regulation of the web and the education of children in “tolerance.”  If I had pointed out the contradiction, the speaker, I’m certain, would have denied it.  Tolerance, for her, meant the obliteration of opinions she disliked.
In fact, each narrative loop I listed above ends with the elites happily in charge, and the obliteration of the wretched present.  If we wish to understand why trust evaporated in the first place, consider the moral and political assumptions behind this rhetorical posture
Martin does not really strike home the central contradiction here. Though "threat to democracy" is also a constant mantra, this movement is in fact profoundly anti-democratic. Us the self appointed aristocracy, must run things in the interest of the little people -- and we must change the rules of the game so the benighted little people never vote wrong and replace us.


More
this present is defined by a radical distrust of the institutions of industrial society, and of the elites that control them, and of their statements and descriptions of reality.  The conference organizers got our predicament right.  At every level of contemporary social and political life, we are stuck in the muck of a profound crisis of authority. 
They utter the words science and reason like incantations, claim ownership to Platonic truth, and believe, with astonishing unanimity, that they have been overthrown by a tsunami of lies.  One need only restore truth to its former throne of glory, with themselves as mediating lords, they imagine, and the masses, as in the golden past, will bend the knee of trust.
 It never occurs to them, as it never did to my conference-goers, that they would profit from understanding the splintered perspectives of the public:  why, for example, a devout Christian with eyes wide open might vote for a man like Donald Trump.  A canonical explanation for Trump already existed, involving the usual tropes – fake news, Facebook, Putin.  Racism took care of the remainder.
There is more, including a perceptive understanding of how populism, and direct rather than representative connections, are emerging.

Finally
The decisive endeavor of our moment – far surmounting, I believe, any specific policy call – is the re-establishment of trust in the institutions of representative democracy
I didn't really hunt around much to figure out what conference he had in mind, but there are so many of them that it's perhaps best to let the post apply to all. 
John H. Cochrane
In real life I'm a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford. I was formerly a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. I'm also an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute. I'm not really grumpy by the way!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *