On his NYT blog, Paul Krugman asks this question. This time, it's about WSJ predictions that QE2 would destroy the dollar and jack up rates on Treasuries. (They were wrong. They are always wrong.)
But I thought I'd try to answer his question.
My father is an on-going experiment in the value of public discourse. He is a "Kennedy Democrat," by which he means he hasn't voted for a Democrat since Kennedy. Jack Kennedy. He was a delegate for Humphrey in '72, but voted for Nixon. He was a delegate for Carter in '76, but voted for Ford! In that time, he made some money, got remarried to a physician with a deep conviction about abortion rights, and kept moving righter and righter. (Bizarrely, so did she.)
Now I'm always puzzled when the poor vote for Republicans, and I get voting your pocketbook when you make a lot of money. It's dispiriting but not shocking to want to pull up the ladder of opportunity behind you (see, for example, Thomas, Clarence). But there's a madness that's infected the Republican party in the past decade, and I was kind of shocked that my father wasn't, well, shocked. You see, he's reasonably well educated, well traveled, and well read in history.
So when I discovered, about 5 years ago, that he was getting most of his news from Faux News, CNBC, and the WSJ editorial page, I decided to start feeding him a more balanced diet. I started with a couple of documentaries ... Inside Job was the one that did the trick. Then I shared a little Krugman.
He read the columns I forwarded and always said something like this ... "I never liked Paul Krugman, but he's probably right about ... " I just rolled with it. But as the world came apart at the seams over the past 4 years or so, and as Krugman's columns were eerily accurate, the truth became harder and harder to resist. As an investor of some means, he had to admit that there was a disconnect between what he had been hearing from his traditional sources and the reality he saw himself. After all, they were cheerfully leading any listeners who followed their investment advice off the cliff.
He was often satisfied with anecdotal perceptions. I visited him in the spring of '09 and we went out for a steak dinner on a Saturday night in Toledo. The restaurant was packed. His response: "What recession?" I was relentless: "It's the only decent restaurant in town. And look around - are these the people you'd expect to be laid off? Of course they're out for dinner." He'd fly on an airplane and tell me it was packed. I'd remind him that the airline cut half the service on that route, and the plane only had 24 seats. I resisted the meme and reminded him that he lived in a rarified world.
Finally, in the last couple of months, I confronted him. I said, "Look, the world has changed. And your perspective has to change, too. Otherwise, you will be investing as if you inhabit a world that simply doesn't exist any more. And we'll get killed." The basic facts prevailed. We have begun to be able to discuss the world, and investment strategies, in a much more constructive way. That's because we now agree on a fundamental view of the world. Our facts have lined up.
This is incredibly important. It took 4 years, millions of dollars in real losses, and a general economic catastrophe on the scale of the Great Depression to get my father to abandon his false idols. His goals and objectives, his values, his personality haven't changed. But he now recognizes that the lies and distortions being peddled on the corporate news machine were just that.
Still, I don't believe it would ever have happened if I hadn't been there, every step of the way, demanding that he look at the world differently. The financial losses, the general economic disaster, these weren't enough.
So in my mind, we need a clarion call, a call to action, to speak out to our fellow citizens. We need to break down the barriers between the left and right and initiate a person-to-person dialog. We on the left need to appeal to our fellow citizens, to their humanity, their wisdom, their fairness. I don't know how to do this. It's incredibly time-consuming, and it can't work if you don't start with an underlying relationship like mine with my father.
But the short answer to the question at the top of this diary is this: Business people listen to the WSJ Editorial Page because nobody else is talking to them.
That needs to change.