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by on March 19, 2013

Cross posted from: This Episode of Life, by Tschaff Reisberg

Remember the $1 trillion dollar coin thing that happened a while back? How about the $16 trillion coin? No?

We all vaguely know the mainstream media sucks and this is bad for the nation. My sister, a marine, would write home from Iraq telling us the news we’re getting does little to convey to us the things she saw. I expected it. Then this $16 trillion dollar coin thing came along. It was a proposal generated and advocated by my small circle of internet friends where they toiled in obscurity until the fiscal cliff came along. The internet was buzzing with people who believed the coin was a better alternative to painful government budget cuts and tax increases along with ending the practice of paying interest to government bondholders. The whole movement was given a major boost when Paul Krugman threw his qualified support behind it. The media couldn’t ignore us anymore.

What happened next horrified me. The reporting on it was so shallow, so badly researched that the average Joe walked away with the opinion that these coin people are a bunch of mildly dangerous nut jobs. The status quo was maintained and today we’re bracing for cuts to Head Start and paying more in taxes rather than enjoying the fruits of an economic recovery. One major network (NBC?) recorded some footage of a guy in a random New York coin store saying how large a coin containing a trillion dollars of platinum would be. He was wrong on that account (I checked the math), plus the proposed coin could contain ten cents of platinum, the important thing is the face value stamped on it.

One of the so-called cable business channels had one guy on who knew something about the coin, alongside three guys who didn’t know anything. Seriously anything. If you believed them you’d walk away more misinformed than you came. The damage to public awareness was severe. Mark Twain’s dictum “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled” comes to mind. I saw what was happening to our nation a milder example of African tribesman who dismember albinos because they were told owning their limbs will make them rich. The talking heads shouted angrily on top of each other for five minutes. I lost friends. The coin was dead, vanished from public consciousness as quickly as it came, it never got the fair hearing it deserved. What are we to do as a nation if good ideas don’t have a chance?

It was a time for reflection for my circle. How can we ever successfully challenge the sociopolitical orthodoxy? Use the the effective dirty tactics of pandering to the public’s biases? Build alliances with more influential groups that have less intellectual integrity? Do PR stunts? Our previous methods of challenging the technical assumptions they make to get the conclusions they do has been met with limited success. Economists in general don’t like to be told they’re wrong. They ignore you or attack you, very few will give you a fair hearing. The general public will not follow you into the weeds (despite our best efforts to keep it clear and simple) so this method of convincing large numbers of people is met with very limited success.

Another strategy we have been using is to challenge the orthodoxy on moral grounds. This is more effective, but we are still voices alone in the wilderness. There are two more weapons of persuasion, ones that could be used to greater effect. First is to make the most accurate predictions consistently. Just one accurate prediction (the housing bubble) made people like Nouriel Roubini, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Peter Schiff, Robert Shiller and Steve Keen practically household names. Making accurate predictions and advertising it gets you noticed.

Another thing that will get you noticed is having a billion dollars. People listen to billionaires’ analyses, they just do. Lastly, and perhaps most hopeful is the need for accurate knowledge. Politicians need it to stay out of trouble. Rich people will pay for it so they aren’t swindled and blind to profit opportunities. There is new pressure on central banks to perform and they are now publishing things they never would have before this crisis, no similar thing can be said for academia.

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