A few months ago, I made a conscious decision to overhaul my Twitter feed. The vast majority of accounts I followed were not only economists, but they were white, male, and in an ideological range from libertarian to Technocratic Left. I eliminated a lot of those accounts, replacing them with accounts representing a diverse range of views/demographics. Even in this simple experiment, the A/B test gives me conscious conclusions about how one’s media bubble affects one’s line of thinking, and suggests there are even more implicit outcomes that I don’t recognize. It also made me realize how reasonable it is that nearly everyone is under-exposed to an optimally diverse set of views in their media diet.

B.O. (Before Overhaul), I was pretty sure there weren’t any smart socialist thinkers out there. And this extends past purist socialism and even into what you might now call the “Bernie Left.” Most arguments I read were caricature defenses of socialism that frankly could easily be refuted. Naomi Klein would make outrageous ad hominem attacks on Milton Friedman and claim it delegitimized the market economy, Jeremy Corbyn would defend the wonderful work Hugo Chavez did in Venezuela for the poor, college-aged kids would spew half-baked defenses of what they thought Marx meant, and a plethora of writers would accuse anyone against rent control as selfish idiots. If the best arguments I came across were entirely unconvincing, it only made sense that I became more confident in my views.

But that’s where the problem is. I assumed the views I was being exposed to were the best ones out there. By default, my media diet as a self-identifying liberal/cosmopolitan/technocratic/educated guy included MainstreamMedia sources like the New York Times, Washington Post, The Economist, The Atlantic, Vox.com, etc. Those sources don’t often include a prominent voice on the socialist left. Just as David Brooks and Thomas Friedman are unconvincing voices for a centrist conservatism, the voices I was being exposed to were making weak arguments for socialist and left-populist economic policy. The reasonable voices were in a narrow range of centrism somewhere between Paul Krugman, Matt Yglesias, and Greg Mankiw. In hindsight, this group of people has way more in common than I or they ever realized. What I mean to highlight is that these sources, the ones I was reading as an Enlightened Educated Gentleman, were not amply exposing me to economic arguments for strong pro-labor, pro-nationalization, massive taxation, or significant adjustment to labor laws aiming to equalize gender/racial disparities. The people I was reading were all pretty in favor of markets as a basis for economic policy, where technocratic solutions through NBER papers and incremental adjustments were the road to ideal policy. The debates, in retrospect, were over the magnitude of redistribution and balancing economic liberty with regulation. Joseph Stiglitz would enter into the picture every now and then, but not enough to really shake my worldview.

It turns out there are a lot of smart people that have very far left economic views. Matt Bruenig, Elizabeth Bruenig, Marshall Steinbaum, to name a few, consistently are writing things that not only give a drastically different point of view – they are writing things that I find very difficult to argue against given my current toolkit of existing knowledge. This is when you know you’re actually exposing yourself to new ideas. Before, it was as if I was unconsciously exposing myself only to straw men arguments and red herrings in order to simultaneously reenforce my priors and give me a false sense of being open-minded. These people were always out there, but they don’t have a prominent (enough) voice in where I assumed a good media diet was found. [Elizabeth writes for the Washington Post now, and many of these people have some exposure, but you get my point]

The same can be said for the level of female economists out there. I used to rationalize not reading many female economists by saying that the field just didn’t have many women. While the discipline does seem to be hostile to women and it’s not at total parity, I was dead wrong. Some of the best work in academia is being done by people like Alice Evans, Claudia Goldin, Dina Pomeranz, and many many more. But except for Janet Yellen, Joan Robinson, Anna Schwartz, and a handful of others, female economists don’t have too much exposure in the mass media. Only one woman has ever won the Nobel Prize in economics (and she could be considered more of a political scientist). Paul Krugman, Greg Mankiw, Mark Thoma, Brad Delong all seem to get much more exposure than their female counterparts. Without making a conscious effort to include more female voices in my media diet, I was left reading a much more homogenized set of views.

The same can be said for non-economists. I have made more of an effort to include historians, sociologists, and anthropologists in my twitter feed and blog roll. Robert Solow once quipped, “Everything reminds Milton of the money supply. Well, everything reminds me of sex, but I keep it out of the paper.” Economists are prone to see everything as an economic problem; it’s all about incentives. All other disciplines fall prey to their own unique narrow-mindedness. But forcing yourself to look through that lens can be quite revealing. Looking through a lens of “everything is gendered” or “everything is explained by our irrational cognitive biases” at least exposes you to the possibility of these ideas.

So far in my experiment, I’m happy to report I’m much less sure of any of my beliefs. When Matt Bruenig gives an analysis with thorough empirics and theory showing the greatness of socialism, I can scoff all I want but if I can’t convincingly refute his points, how sure am I of the greatness of markets? I think I have a good idea of how economic history shows that markets and liberalism set the stage for the industrial revolution, but when Pseudoerasmus talks about the oh-so-ridiculous conventional wisdom that I of course had wrong, how sure am I about any of those beliefs?

Twitter is pretty much the worst, but also can be used for good. The freewheeling platform made it pretty easy to find these new alternative voices once I made the conscious effort. My worry is not that people don’t have access to a diverse set of views, it’s that their habits and circumstances will inevitably lead to equilibria that perpetuates echo chambers.

There’s still one thing everyone in my twitter feed agrees on: Trump is the worst. I’m not yet ready to start following alt-right accounts, Holocaust deniers, or MAGA fanboys. Yet it does beg the question: if I did, what would the mere exposure to these accounts do to my confidence in my own beliefs?


With newspapers having dramatic drops in circulation and the internet quickly becoming the source where almost everyone gets their news, traditional media outlets are scrambling to make a business model that turns a profit. By “profit”, I mean they’re trying to run organizations where their revenues exceed their costs. The problem for a lot of newspapers that are trying to find their way on the internet is their difficulty with making enough advertising revenue to support their operations. Having “free” news online apparently just isn’t working. So the New York Times is following the Wall Street Journal and other Murdoch-run papers by charging a fee to online readers for their material.

Charging online readers is little more than an inconvenience. Compared to many other news outlets, buying a monthly subscription to the online WSJ is pretty cheap. But with internet users used to everything being free, the WSJ and New York Times are predicted by some to lose some valuable customers. This might be true but I support the organizations for the time being in their quest to find a sustainable business model. If the papers aren’t making enough money by having their news be free, what are we to expect them to do?

Now, I’ll segue to the next logical issue: online media accountability. If big news outlets like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal start charging money, intuition would lead me to believe that readers will switch their viewing to free sites. Often times, these free sites are blogs that need not send someone to Baghdad to get the scoop on the current events in Iraq or go to the Detroit airport to interview government officials about somebody’s underwear catching on fire. These blogs, while providing meaningful commentary, do nothing to get news and can be famously unreliable. But Glenn Greenwald recently had a great post discussing the unreliability of America’s media. We may be rightly hesitant to trust blogs but how reliable is the Associated Press or the New York Times anyways? Often times one report, made by an anonymous source, is repeated by every major news source assuming that the facts have already been checked.

Consider the record of the American media over the last two weeks alone.  Justin Elliott of TPM documents how an absolute falsehood about the attempted Christmas Day airline bombing — that Abdulmutallab purchased a “one-way ticket” to the U.S., when it was actually a round-trip ticket — has been repeated far and wide by U.S. media outlets as fact.  Two weeks ago, Elliott similarly documented how an equally false claim from ABC News — that two of the Al Qaeda leaders behind that airliner attack had been released from Guantanamo — became entrenched as fact in media reports (at most, it was one, not two).

I’d agree that the above misconceptions are indeed engrained right now into most news-followers’ minds as being fact. The media can also be selective in what they print – perhaps not inaccurate but not telling the whole story:

…in 1996, then-Secretary-of-State Madeleine Albright was asked by 60 Minutes about the fact that American sanctions on Iraq resulted in the deaths of “a half million children” — more than the number killed at Hiroshima — and Albright dismissively replied:  “We think the price is worth it.”  At the time, FAIR documented that while the number of dead Iraqi children — as well as Albright’s quote — was known far and wide in predominantly Muslim countries, it was almost completely blacked-out in the American press.  How many Americans know that our sanctions resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children?

Greenwald explains the lazy journalism:

None of the falsehoods documented here will ever lead to any accountability, because the identity of the falsehood-producers will be shielded by their loyal journalist-servants, and the journalists themselves will simply claim that they wrote what they did because their hidden sources told them to.

He makes a good point. Blogs and small-time online news sources are often criticized as using links as citations for their information – links that are often broken, phony, or completely contradict what their personal report says. But what makes newspapers necessarily any better? “Anonymous” sources, like during the Killian documents scandal, can be an easy way for journalists to hide behind false stories that are “too good to check”. On the other hand, like in any other news industry, big companies use their reputation – along with economies of scale – as the main source of their business. The New York Times has much more of an incentive to avoid a scandal than some small-town blogger whose audience is small.

So what’s the solution then? Are we best to be left with blogs? Bailout the newspapers like some people are arguing for? There’s no silver bullet solution to make the media reliable, accountable, and profitable. I agree with many arguments that blogs are particularly more unreliable and unaccountable than newspapers. I think the presence of big media outlets like the Associated Press and New York Times is better than having tens of thousands of blog sites to rely on for the news. But how to solve it? I don’t know. If the Wall Street Journal and New York Times can attract enough people to their sites to warrant their fee-based service, then they should do it. If they can’t, they’ll have to find a way to make money.

Will informed me the other day that John Stossel is leaving his long time home at ABC to join FOX. The NY times reports:

Mr. Stossel will start work in October, and his weekly program, named “Stossel,” will begin someti me in the fourth quarter. Fox said “Stossel” would include news segments and conversations about “libertarian issues in the United States and abroad,” including free-market economics and civil liberties.

In a post on his ABC blog, Mr. Stossel said he wanted to “dig into the meaning of the words ‘liberty’ and ‘limited government’ ” on the program.

“ABC enabled me to do some of that, but Fox offers me more air time and a new challenge,” he added.

…Mr. Stossel publicly fumed after ABC chose to run a report in late June about Michael Jackson’s death instead of a segment he had prepared about the dangers of government-run health care systems. “I am sick of the coverage of Michael Jackson,” he wrote in a blog post. The segment was eventually shown four weeks later.

Stossel has been the most articulate free market advocate on TV for a long time (here’s the first part of one of my favorite old Stossel classics on greed). I’m afraid, though, that the move to FOX is going to seriously undermine his credibility. On ABC, he was a libertarian voice questioning the conventional wisdom of the mainstream television pundits. On FOX, he becomes part of the tea-bagger echo chamber. I don’t agree with Stossel on everything, but I think he’s far better than any part of the supposedly free-market oriented Hannity-Cavuto-Beck-O’Reilly team of right wing stooges. I cringe every time I hear Glenn Beck call himself a libertarian (this is actually a big part of my reluctance to apply the term to myself), and I think it’ll be hard for Stossel to distinguish himself in the minds of most viewers from the nationalist, collectivist, flag-fetishizing anti-intellectualism espoused by most of his new colleagues.