What motivates the mainstream pundit?

I don’t understand why anyone writes mainstream political commentary or why anyone reads mainstream political commentary.

Here is a nearly perfect example from Matthew Yglesias. His comment is that Obama and his "economic team" wants to have a debate on the long-term budget, but Republicans won’t debate them.

This post is one lie piled on top of other lies.

In Washington, there is no such thing as a debate on a subject like the budget among elected officials. By the time a budget proposal gets to Congress for voting, no more significant policy changes are likely. Congressional "debate" is really a show-debate at best and is masturbation for the politically-inclined intellectual at worse.

The "President’s" long-term budget proposal (which was probably written by some kid a year or two out of college) is an enormous lie. It assumes growth rates that couldn’t be achieved even under Communist accounting methodologies (i.e. making up numbers). There is no way to "debate" such a proposal.

Even if by some miracle responsible parties on both sides actually developed and presented honest budgets (the mind boggles at this impossibility, since honest budget proposals would demonstrate that the US was completely insolvent), members of Congress and the President would be totally incapable of having a debate on the issues associated with the budget proposals since they don’t understand the issues associated with the budget.

Members of Congress are chosen for their ability to raise money and make idiots feel good about themselves. They are not chosen for their deep and penetrating knowledge of accounting and finance.

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14 Responses to What motivates the mainstream pundit?

  1. RS says:

    Is Yg that one leftie you resolved to read in pursuit of virtu? I’m not sure but Taibbi might be a lot better. He’s witty as well, if you can stomach witty accusations of racism. I cringed, I laughed, I… at least Brooks is a deserving target: http://trueslant.com/matttaibbi/2010/01/18/translating-david-brooks-haiti/

  2. Your jackbooted heels of logic crush kitten skulls by the litter, sir! I salute you!

  3. Jeff Singer says:

    Foseti,

    I won’t even go to Matt’s link, because I can’t stand him, but a couple of comments:

    1) I know you work in Washington and all, but I know plenty of folks who work there as well and this is just too much hyberbole for me:

    “Even if by some miracle responsible parties on both sides actually developed and presented honest budgets (the mind boggles at this impossibility, since honest budget proposals would demonstrate that the US was completely insolvent), members of Congress and the President would be totally incapable of having a debate on the issues associated with the budget proposals since they don’t understand the issues associated with the budget.”

    First of all, leaving the President out of this, there are in fact smart members of Congress who understand the issues — both in the Senate and in the House. Don’t tell me you couldn’t sit down with Paul Ryan or Rand Paul and discuss the budget with either intelligently. You could.

    Second of all, even though I can’t stand Matt, it is obvious he is not necessarily talking about individual members of Congress but their staffs and the President’s staff. Of course he is wrong about Republicans being the ones (meaning Republican staffers) unwilling to debate — the Democrats don’t want to debate right now because they are starting to finally lose the argument — people are actually concerned about government spending. I know that this concern is still in its embryonic stages, but still…I think we (meaning Republicans serious about debt and government spending) actually have a shot at bringing government back down to a reasonable size (20% og GDP?)

    2) Regarding Taibbi, personally I cannot stomach childish accusations of racism (there was nothing witty about them). I always thought Taibbi was over-rated and gets attention because he swears and uses naughty words but in the end he is just another left-winger who believes everyone is equal and we need to spend lots of money on the poor. Or something.

    He’s worse than Matt. I like my left-wingers serious and pretentious — sure they are wrong and often ridiculous, but at least they are grown-up.

    • Foseti says:

      No member of Congress can understand all aspects of the budget. The Congressmen you mention could have a detailed discussion of the long-term issues associated with social security reform or changes to medicaid, but they would sound like asses if asked to explain underlying economic growth assumptions or spending on other lower-profile items.

      Watch these guys on TV – they will only opine on 4-5 subjects on which they are experts.

      I do not mean this to be cynical. These people are not superhuman. There is no way for them to be experts on the infinite variety of subjects that the US government spends money on.

      A respectable budget proposal is thousands of pages long. Paul Ryan works hard on this stuff, but he has never turned out a 3,000 page budget – no single human being has either.

      • Jeff Singer says:

        “No member of Congress can understand all aspects of the budget.”

        Again, I disagree, although I think I understand now the bigger picture idea you are getting at which your later statement captures nicely: “There is no way for them to be experts on the infinite variety of subjects that the US government spends money on.”

        Essentially what you are saying is that the federal government is too big and that makes the legislative process more and more ridiculous when Congressmen vote on 3,000 page legislation that no one has read all the way through or has understood in every detail. You’ll get no disagreement from me. But rewind to 1802 — did Congressmen then understand every element of every much smaller spending bill they voted on? Or did they vote as they always do — along party lines, based on advice from their colleagues who were experts, based on what they were told the bill was ultimately trying to achieve, etc.

        I do think Congress was better informed in 1802 simply because the federal government was smaller (well, that and because the franchise was limited, but that is a story for another day) and that has to help keep everyone on top of the issues. We need to shrink the government. Period.

        By the way, I know you love to write about bureaucracy — have you ever read Niskanen’s stuff? His famous insight that always stuck with me is that just as firms maximize profits, bureaucracies maximize budgets. He is a brilliant scholar and I think he still does work for Cato.

      • SkepticalCynical says:

        How in the world does the CEO of Wal-Mart ever manage to set a budget that yields surpluses every single year? He couldn’t possibly understand the infinite variety of things that his company spends money on or explain his underlying economic growth assumptions, right?

      • Foseti says:

        No one expects him to – other than politicians.

        Everyone readily admits to the fallibility of CEOs. Also, CEOs are replaced much more often than Congressmen.

        More seriously, think about the differences in structure. Would a corporation ever run itself in the same way that USG runs itself? Of course not. The failings of USG are obvious – any large organization run in the same way would suffer from the same failings. Nothing magical happens with the organization is government.

      • SkepticalCynical says:

        I agree with what you say – CEOs are not required to understand minute details in order to budget successfully.

        Doesn’t that undercut your point that reasonably intelligent politician like Paul Ryan couldn’t possibly debate USG’s budget?

      • Foseti says:

        I don’t think so. My broader point is that CEOs are chosen for their ability to run a large organization. Politicians are chosen for their ability to get votes from mediocre people. These are different skill sets, to say the least.

  4. sconzey says:

    Foseti, you make the vicious assumption that Yg writes about politics with the intent that he impart some occult wisdom with his readers.

    Bullshit.

    The University I went to had a newspaper called the Wessex Scene. Nice place to advertise your club or society’s events, but the news and particularly the political commentary was inspid and poor. I wondered: “Why would anyone write for this? Why would the Wessex Scene editors select these pieces?”

    There was rather a brou-ha-ha later that term when the report on the Athletics Union ball contained some lovely photos from the event — but all of the editors and staff of the Wessex Scene; none of the sports teams that actually won awards.

    It was — to use the technical term — a circle-wank. The newspaper was sponsored by the university, and the writers were not paid for their product. The writers and editors were competing, not for readership of the newspaper, but for status with eachother.

    Folk like Yglesias will only maintain their quality in so far as it doesn’t get them fired. Why does Yglesias blog? So he can call himself a blogger, which, in the circles in which he moves, can be swapped for a fair amount of status.

    • Foseti says:

      Fine. Agreed. But he’s not an idiot – why post propaganda which he knows is false?

      • sconzey says:

        I wouldn’t underestimate the human’s capacity for self-delusion. Also: His purpose for posting is not to inform, but to signal. Therefore there is no value in being truthful, or accurate.

  5. Tschafer says:

    Taibbi is like a compass pointing south. If he says it, it’s almost certainly wrong. He’s like Hunter Thompson without any of the wit or irony, and Thompson had better drugs. Compare Taibbi to John Kenneth Galbraith or Herbert Marcuse, and we can see the intellectual decline of the Left illustrated. I can’t stand the guy – a drug-addled, pretentious, foul-mouthed, weaselly punk. Stick with Yg.

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