Baruch at Ultimi Barbarorum tried his hand at motivational speaking this weekend, imploring the econoblogosphere to get its act together on financial reform. I applaud the effort, but as pep talks go, this one was a bit of downer:
With [the economy recovering and memories of the darkest days of the financial crisis receding] I fear some of the spice has gone out of the commentary… [T]he econoblogosphere is moving back to where it used to be, which is to cater to a niche… with a circumscribed influence.
… Political money and public ignorance has corrupted civic decency in the US to such an extent that doing the right thing for the Republic appears quite impossible.
All these things should make econo-bloggers all quiver with righteous anger, which we would communicate to our readers who would then rise up en masse against the legislators captured by Big Banking, and some form of actual reform might even take place.
…To be sure, there are brave souls who carry on the fight… But the rest of us seem to have stopped caring so much. The minutiae of practical policy is much less amusing than making lots of money in financial markets that really, truly appear to be on the mend.
…At its best, the econo-blogosphere can be the last haven of truly independent, non-captured, and crucially, informed, commentary able to affect policy and opinion makers positively. It used to do just that. It may not help in the end but let someone at least try.
Get your game back on, people. Get some fire in the belly again. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste, and it looks like we are on the verge of wasting ours.
It’s a powerful message—don’t waste our crisis!—and it’s been echoing around the econoblogosphere for months. But I see things playing out differently.
We haven’t wasted the crisis because there was nothing to waste. To be sure, the public is angry. But it’s folly to have hoped that the public’s anger ever could have been channeled into grassroots support for meaningful reform. The anger is too diffuse. Worse, to attempt to corral this anger in service of reform is to risk having it turned against you by professional anger-wranglers employed by anti-reform opponents. It’s too easy for these opponents to convince the ill-informed that government is the problem, and to tar you with the same broad brush in the process. Like a loose fire hose, public anger is only useful if it can be controlled—otherwise it is unwieldy and potentially dangerous.
Some believe that it is the duty of We Finance Bloggers to inform the public—to walk them down the garden path with reasoned argument for which specific reforms we need and why. It is not. The cynical reason is that meaningful reform is impenetrable to the public. Voters don’t know the meaning of resolution authority—to take one example—and they never will. Try as we might, we cannot shame lawmakers for kowtowing to the interests of those who profit from deregulation. The less cynical reason is that it is not our job to shape minds in the public sphere. Leave that job to the professionals—i.e. politicians, pundits, and PR flacks. (Besides, our reach is too niche.) Rather, it is our job to debate the merits of specific reforms, in the hopes that the right people are listening.
Which brings me to the good news. From where I stand, and contrary to Baruch’s call-to-arms, the last two months have been the richest yet for wonkish policy discussion within this little econoblogosphere we inhabit. Policy recommendations are getting more specific, debate is happening, and the intended audience is indeed taking notice. Yes, there are some unpleasantries. Fissures are forming in the ranks of those previously aligned on regulatory reform, as the merits of specific reforms are judged differently by the varied players in the technocracy. And yes, it’s taken quite some time for the powers that be to get the ball rolling. But that’s exactly what we should hope for and expect.
So while I’m not naïve to the realities of sausage-law-making, I’m sanguine that great things are happening in the ‘sphere and that we may yet see its collective fingerprint on a meaningful reform bill.
Keep it up.