Very serious people

Paul Krugman promoted the phrase "Very Serious People" to describe people who showed a certain behaviour in regard to economics and fiscal policy. He took specifically aim at those who got much attention and were treated by the press as if they had great competence on fiscal policy, but in reality they were just following a pattern of claiming that terrible things would happen (mostly inflation, or collapse of social safety net) if the government did not cut programs that benefit the poor and middle class Americans.
The problem wasn't that such people held such opinions (though some of them were legislators), the problem was that the print and television news media simply pretended that theirs was an obviously correct opinion and treated them as if they were some wise men who had the conviction to say unpopular truths. Another problem was that the "Very Serious People" were wrong.

Simon Wren-Lewis promoted (or created) another, related, term in the UK; mediamacro. Somehow the British media (newspapers and BBC mostly) pretends that the economy works in certain ways, even though the state of economic research is completely different. Again, the media bias just happens to favour the pro-plutocracy, right wing stance over science.

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I suppose there's a similar bias problem in regard to defence and security policy, and in fact this may already have been the origin of "Very serious people".
Outright war porn and jingoism aside, why is it that the news media appears to associate only one move with solving problems in the military; bigger budgets? I have seen dozens if not hundreds of articles pretending so, not once -not even in the wake of scandals- did I see the suggestion that maybe firing and replacing people or changing upper management culture might be a solution. Significant structural changes of armed forces were rarely promoted by the news media and public commentary as well. The few examples that I remember were all about making the armed forces more "expeditionary" - more useful for playing great power games on distant continents (and thus less useful for deterrence & defence for the national benefit).
Similarly, the deployment of armed forces appears to be a standard, unimaginative, concept associated with solving problems abroad.
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I wonder why, for both spending more nor deploying troops abroad have abysmal success records.
To spend more usually doesn't change problems, it just increases the sizes of armed forces. Training quality issues, tiny spare parts inventories and small munition stocks relative to force sizes, poor equipment choices, recruiting and retention issues and poor doctrine remain unaffected by budget growth.
The deployment of troops into conflict areas almost never solves a conflict, and often even fails to at least freeze it. A whole generation of news media people gained experience on the job while observing that the Afghanistan War solved jack shit (and there were loud voices by well-informed people that it was doomed to fail already around 2008). Still, the impressively unimaginative news media people keep talking of troops deployment at the first hint of some crisis abroad that involves armed forces.
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I understand that certain circles have standard answers about the reasons why. For-profit corporations controlling the media, influence by arms industry et cetera. There are also full-blown nutjob answers, of course.
I don't think that's the problem. 
My suspicion is that sociological and psychological research needs to be undertaken to understand where this bias comes from, and how to compensate for it or remove it. Parts of the problem are certainly ignorance and laziness: People presume that a certain belief is true, and fail to test that belief with a little research about the real world and its history.
I'm also positive that limitations of the very model of news media play into this: The typical news media journalist is a universal dilettante. He's horribly incompetent on all topics, and thus only capable of the most obvious and primitive conclusions. There are a couple journalists with great accumulated expertise on certain topics, but a universal dilettante editor-in-chief calling in a military-specialised journalist to report on say, the Ukraine crisis, is already the aforementioned bias at work. News media people also sometimes interview different experts, such as foreign relations experts, political science experts - but then the interviews are unlike other interviews. Such experts actually answer the questions (politicians don't, they "answer" whatever they meant to say anyway), and the questions by the universal dilettante interviewer are already biased.

In all fairness I should mention that I am aware that news media people also pretend that economic sanctions have magic powers. Economic sanctions are being treated as a conjoined twin to military deployments abroad when the perceived troublemaker is a government. That's unimaginative as well, albeit I agree that such sanctions are sometimes legitimate and appropriate.

P.S.: I wrote this briefly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and deemed this draft ill-timed, pushed it forward several months, but apparently I also did hit the 'publish' button at some point. It wasn't really meant to go live, but here it is, and I have nothing better ready for this Saturday, so I leave it published.


  1. News is entertainment and it's part of the job requirement to be a dilletante, because readers don't want to be educated by a teacher when they read. This was clearly spelled out, when I was interested in a career in journalism and dissuaded me, because I like to dig deeper for knowledge.
    A solution to the problem might be different formats of information presentation such as videos on YouTube that are easier on the eyes than black and white text.

  2. "because readers don't want to be educated by a teacher when they read. "


    "A solution to the problem might be different formats of information presentation such as videos on YouTube "

    No. The underlying issue is the unwillingness of most people to spend time with complex problems that may require some hard work to understand. Format of data is IMHO a secondary problem.

  3. Is there supposed to be a link after the first dashed line? It goes nowhere.

  4. 1. There is a Cult of deference to the armed forces in USA / UK; it is “unpatriotic” to criticise our boys / girls
    2. A government that fires the top level in the military, and replaces them with radically different senior officers (who I am not sure exist) will only see the downside in negative press and likely will not see any positive improvement before the next election.