Paul Krugman: Fiscal Affinity Fraud – NYTimes.com


 

Innocent that I am, I never heard the term “affinity fraud” until the Bernie Madoff affair hit the news. But once you hear it, the concept is obvious: people are most easily conned when they’re getting their disinformation from someone who seems to be part of their tribe, one way or another.

And I found myself thinking about that reality when the predictable reaction to today’s column came in: irate and, I believe, sincere if often incoherent voice mails etc. declaring that I must be an idiot, evil, or an evil idiot for saying that the budget deficit isn’t a big problem. They know that I’m completely wrong.

But how? Have these callers gone through the numbers themselves? Of course not (although I have also gotten some sophisticated ignorance from people who don’t know the difference between a current-law and a current-policy baseline). No, they know I’m an evil idiot because they heard someone they trust say it — maybe Rush, maybe someone on Fox, maybe CNBC (which is often indistinguishable from Fox).

The question then becomes, why do they believe their sources? For on matters economic, the right-wing media have had a spectacular track record for at least 7 years, having been totally wrong about everything. Remember, Rush and others furiously denied that there was a housing bubble — that was all made up by the liberal media. Then they denied that we were in a recession. Then they insisted that expansionary monetary and fiscal policy would lead to soaring inflation and interest rates. Boy, you could have gotten rich just by taking their implicit investment advice and doing the opposite.

So why does anyone listen at all to these sources? The answer, surely, is a feeling of affinity — mainly, I’d say, based on shared anger and dislike. Rush hates snooty professors who presume to know something about economics, or climate, or whatever, moochers living on public aid (except Medicare and Social-Security-receiving conservatives, of course), and, above all, Those People. Hey, he’s their kind of guy! And the fact that he’s always wrong doesn’t register at all.

Do accountability moments ever arrive? Unclear. It’s true that ratings for people like Sean Hannity who were predicting a Romney blowout plunged right after the election. But my guess is that they’ll come back as the shock fades. Certainly Fox doesn’t believe that total loss of credibility matters: it has just renewed Karl Rove’s contract.

I don’t have any answer to this phenomenon. I don’t think playing up my regular-guy aspects would help; the affinity runs a lot deeper and nastier than mere mannerisms. All I can do is notice what’s going on.

Fiscal Affinity Fraud – NYTimes.com

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