Monday, May 16, 2011

'...But a Rich Person Told Me..."

Some years ago a friend expressed her frustration with the Ann Arbor political left, which she perceived as talking a good game but ultimately deferring to people with wealth or power. As a matter of human nature, or even as a matter of U.S. culture, that's not particularly surprising. But she had higher hopes for well-educated, politically informed people who arguably should be able to distinguish wealth and merit, and to recognize that even when wealth comes from merit the politics it spawns can come from self-interest.

When I hear Andrew Ross Sorkin speak, I am reminded of that observation. For example, the other night on Real Time, Sorkin was describing that a business executive told him that he was creating many new jobs for educated people, but was creating them overseas. "Why?", Sorkin asked. "Because they're smarter," the executive replied, apparently under an express or implied agreement that he would not be named. Sorkin appeared to accept that argument at face value. In reality, though, the U.S. is dripping with talent. The real answer is that U.S. talent costs more. Yes, as international universities have improved, they produce graduates with a much higher skill set than in the past, and thus much more attractive to people like Sorkin's executive. But we're still talking money.

I'm of course also reminded of his credulity when presented with the arguments about the AIG bail-out and the "sanctity of contracts". I previously suggested that Sorkin didn't believe the nonsense he was producing on that argument, but perhaps the issue is that an anonymous insurance executive was whispering in his ear and... instant credulity.

Sorkin's recent column on tax rates reflects the same sort of credulity. Does Sorkin understand marginal tax rates? He probably does, argues Atrios, but "but it's also the case that people who writes about this stuff frequently fail to explain it to readers in a way which seems to be designed to deliberately mislead." Or maybe he's repeating what an anonymous wealthy person told him, and perceives no need to think it through because wealthy people are better than the rest of us. Sorkin categorized himself on Real Time as a "New York Times liberal". And I know he's more than sufficiently informed and educated that, if asked, he would recognize the absurdity of deferring to somebody's opinion merely because that person happened to be wealthy or earning huge bucks as an executive. But here there's not much difference between the author and the reader - like the Ann Arborites my friend criticized, many of whom are Times readers, Sorkin appears to be accepting the positions of his wealthy, powerful sources without reflection.

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