“Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”
- Stephen Colbert, 2006
One of the longest running fictions regularly trotted out by conservative propagandists is that of liberal bias in the media and the classroom. Through incessant repetition, mostly by bad faith actors, this has somehow become received wisdom, despite being utter nonsense.
To be sure, both journalism and academia are rife with liberals. But is it a coincidence that these same people are also concerned citizens, that they’re educated voters whose brains get regular exercise? If conservative thought is unappealing, or even distasteful to these people, does that make them biased? What the propagandists call liberal, I’d call intellectually honest.
Of course, reporters and academics alike tend to look favorably on things like human rights, basic freedoms, and rule of law. But that doesn’t make them either biased or liberal. It just makes them American — or it used to. To say that a political viewpoint drives their conduct is disingenuous, dangerous, and very Republican. If legitimate intellectual inquiry happens to run parallel to the tenets of liberalism, and counter to those of conservatism, that’s not bias. That’s reality (Thank you, Mr. Colbert).
All the actual bias is on the other side — a bias toward corruption, toward self-dealing, toward putting as many thumbs on as many scales as possible. To hear conservatives turn it around and call it liberal is — you’ll be shocked to hear — projection on their part.
Because conservative thought is, really, an oxymoron. It is almost impossible to attribute to conservative thinkers — either journalists or academics — any idea, theory, or policy that derives from either intellectual rigor or good faith. The Republican party itself has not put forward a new idea of any kind for several decades, despite the multi-millions being regularly sunk into their so-called think tanks.
Any actual thinking done in these tanks inevitably starts with the solution: lower taxes and deregulation. It then works its way back to the problem, deftly retrofitting the hypothesis to the foregone conclusion. Anyone who doesn’t see the logic — or points out flaws in the methodology — is clearly showing liberal bias.
This has led to what Paul Krugman calls “zombie ideas,” ideas that have been thoroughly debunked, or marginalized, or otherwise ejected from the realms of respectable thought, but which live on long after their supposed deaths. They live on mostly through people with a vested interest in corrupt ideas, who will fund specious research, collect suspect data, and bend any results in the direction of their fraudulent payout.
By far the most prominent zombie idea is “supply-side economics,” which first came to our attention with Ronald Reagan. It was the brainchild of one Arthur Laffer, a quack economist still revered in conservative circles — Trump gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year, which should tell you all you need to know.
The supply-siders believe, with messianic fervor, that by lowering taxes you increase tax revenue. Got that? Lower taxes equals higher revenue.
“Voodoo economics” is what George H. W. Bush called it, but that was before he became Reagan’s running mate and ultimately embraced it. But Laffer’s theory was gleefully seized upon by the people who could most benefit from it, and who could finance the push for its adoption. What they got for their money was an elaborate pseudo-economic rationale — the “Laffer Curve” — purporting to prove, categorically, that up is down. And anyone maintaining that up is, in fact, up, is showing liberal bias.
But the theory, absurd as it is, has actually been tested in the real world, with predictably disastrous results. Reagan was elected largely to lower taxes for rich people (the first of many similarly-charged Republicans), and the Laffer Curve gave him the thin veneer of legitimacy he needed to rationalize the boondoggle.
Reagan proceeded to run up a huge, record-setting deficit — as opposed to taking in more revenue — which you might think would discredit the theory. Not so. Zombie-like, it rose from the dead to cause more misery. Specifically in Kansas.
Starting in 2012, when Sam Brownback — the now disgraced ex-governor — foisted supply-side economics on the state of Kansas, he went all in on the lower taxes. But somehow the revenue spike he was expecting never materialized. Just the opposite: the state started hemorrhaging money. So he went all in on austerity instead.
He gutted the state budget, starved the school system, crippled government services, pissed off just about everyone in the state, and drove a large segment of the electorate to vote Democratic for the first time in their lives. The current governor, a former Republican, was elected as a Democrat. In Kansas this is roughly the same as hell freezing over.
Of course, all the people who criticize supply-side economics — which includes all the world’s legitimate, intellectually honest economists — are known to be biased.
As am I. I’m biased toward curiosity, expertise, and accountability. I’m biased toward critical thinking, scientific inquiry, factual reporting, cogent analysis, and good faith agendas.
When did these things become liberal? I thought they were just common sense.
Berkley MI, 06/19/20