The Shoddiness of ‘Big Think’ Media

Eric Zuesse, originally posted at Strategic Culture
On October 5th, The Atlantic, a pretentious American popular ‘big think’ magazine (selling 552,242 copies per issue), headlined an 8,500-word essay from the New York Times columnist and PBS NewsHour commentator David Brooks, “America Is Having a Moral Convulsion: Levels of trust in this country — in our institutions, in our politics, and in one another — are in precipitous decline.” This article documented that levels of trust in America have plunged; distrust has soared not only between people but against virtually all institutions. Brooks devoted the entirety of his essay, however, not to that well-established fact (which was documented, actually, not by Brooks himself, but by a linked squib that the magazine’s editor added to his lengthy blab), but he devoted it instead to paraphrasing other writers who are favored by the U.S. Establishment, such as Samuel Huntington, Alan Wolfe, Francis Fukuyama, Sisela Bok, Robert Putnam, and Zygmunt Bauman; and, at the end (after all of that Establishment ‘wisdom’), Brooks closed his commentary with 1,300 words on “How to Rebuild Trust,” which finally ended the article with only a one-sentence proposed answer to this “How”: “Trust can be rebuilt through the accumulation of small heroic acts — by the outrageous gesture of extending vulnerability in a world that is mean, by proffering faith in other people when that faith may not be returned.” His pompous answer came from out of nowhere — not even from his ‘sources’ — because his article hadn’t been saying anything about that, hadn’t said anything at all about it. His proposal was totally unsourced, instead of a conclusion from his lengthy prior blab. In other words: Brooks didn’t have any idea, whatsoever, as to why this “collapse of our institutions and the implosion of social trust” has occurred in America. At the end of his 8,500 words, came that utter cop-out.
How much time are people wasting, to read such stuff? But it’s typical, not a bit abnormal, for ‘Big Think’ media. Vacuous speculative commentaries, which don’t deliver on their promises, are the routine in such media. Truthful, and reliably sourced, analyses, appear there almost never. The function of such billionaires-controlled media is to add yet further to the prestige of their selected team of propagandists (by referring to them as being sources of ‘wisdom’, or by interviewing them on their TV shows). It is indoctrination, not information, that they actually purvey.
Basically, the public who buy this sort of pretense are paying to be gradually lobotomized and robotized. No billionaires will hire writers to think deeply about — and pay people to write or say — anything deep, except about possible investments and future trends; so, the media that they own, the country’s major media, issue writings and talkers only in order not to stir the waves and rock their boat in any way that might cause it to tilt so much as for some of their gold bars to slide off and sink down into the ocean of corruption beneath their yacht.
Mr. Brooks certainly isn’t out to stir any waves, or rock any yacht. So, he has to stay on the safe side — the side that’s safe for the ultimate paymasters. This excludes a writer’s getting into what really has caused America’s collapse. If the public will buy such Establishment pablum, then the public, and not the owners of those huge media firms, will be taking all of the losses — and not only on investments, but on everything. And this is what is actually happening in America.
Therefore, one will have to look elsewhere than in Establishment media in order to find what is causing the decline. After decades of lying to the public, America’s Establishment has naturally become less trusted. It’s plain false to assert that, “Trust can be rebuilt through the accumulation of small heroic acts — by the outrageous gesture of extending vulnerability.” That 8,500-word ‘analysis’ is just another con. It might sell magazines, but it can’t even begin to answer any of the questions. It is part of America’s “Moral Convulsion,” and can only advance yet further the “catastrophic decline in trust over the past few years.” That’s because it doesn’t deal with the problems. It ignores the problems, which are decades of the Establishment’s having been lying to the public.
The best-known of these lies were the ones that deceived Americans into supporting the 20 March 2003 invasion of Iraq. More recently, the long hoax, since 2012, that was ‘justifying’ the operations by the U.S. and UK Governments to take down Syria’s Government, was stunningly described in a major news-report that, of course wasn’t in any of the billionaires’ ‘news’-media, but instead at the Gray Zone, and headlined on September 23rd, “Leaked docs expose massive Syria propaganda operation waged by Western govt contractors and media”. For example: “More than half of the stringers used by Al Jazeera in Syria were trained in a joint US-UK government program called Basma, which produced hundreds of Syrian opposition media activists.” It was mainly an astroturf ‘grassroots’ U.S.-UK ’revolution’, to overthrow Syria’s secular, non-sectarian, President Assad, and to install, ultimately, a leadership that would be selected by the Saud family. The footsoldiers in this war were also ones that they considered to be acceptable. Virtually all of the Syrian ‘rebels’ were Al Qaeda affiliated, except in Syria’s far northeast, where they were U.S.-supplied Kurdish separatists. But did this stellar news-report from the Gray Zone get even mentioned on the TV ‘news’ and other mainstream media? Of course not. Americans are instead treated as suckers to be fooled. (Educated ones especially are.) Hiding such crucial truth is the way that it’s done. However, even the major news media can no longer hide America’s economic decline, which blatantly contradicts the American myth. Americans throughout most of the country have been seeing, with their own eyes, the increasing percentages of long-term emptied former mom-and-pop storefronts and shopping-mall vacancies, since well before the coronavirus suddenly struck. For example, on 15 April of this year, the Wall Street Journal reported:
As of December 2019 … households in the bottom 20% of incomes had seen their financial assets, such as money in the bank, stock and bond investments or retirement funds, fall by 34% since the end of the 2007-09 recession, according to Fed data adjusted for inflation. Those in the middle of the income distribution have seen just 4% growth. … Incomes for all but the highest-income Americans have been stagnant or falling for decades. Median household income in 2018 was only about 3% higher than in 2000 after adjusting for inflation, according to the Census. For the poorest 20%, incomes had declined 2%. 
That article also vaguely mentioned an important economic study which had been published as a working paper that same month. The paper wasn’t linked to, and even its title wasn’t mentioned. (This is the way to keep the readers away from the facts so that the ‘news’-medium’s paraphrase will be accepted and believed, even if it misrepresents that alleged source.) It’s “Indebted Demand”, which the study defined by saying, “We refer to a situation in which demand is depressed due to elevated debt levels as indebted demand.” That paper documented the failure — the falseness — of standard economic models, which have been guiding the U.S. Federal Reserve (especially after the costly invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, so as to finance the resultant soaring federal deficits from America’s exploding military expenses):
Popular [among America’s super-rich] expansionary policies [such as “QE” 1, 2, 3, 4, …] — such as accommodative monetary policy and deficit spending — generate a debt-financed short-run boom at the expense of indebted demand in the future. When demand is sufficiently indebted, the economy gets stuck in a debt driven liquidity trap, or debt trap. Escaping a debt trap requires consideration of less standard macroeconomic policies, such as those focused on redistribution or those reducing the structural sources of high inequality.
The three economist-authors knew better than to bite the hands that might feed them in the future, and therefore used only such delicate verbiage to point out the failure of “standard macroeconomic models.” Persons who read or listen to heavily promoted writers such as David Brooks won’t see any such discussion, at all, because the reasons behind the things that the ‘intelligentsia’ are complaining about need to be hidden instead of exposed in the media which are owned by America’s super-rich (who employ this same ‘intelligentsia’ to generate and spread their propaganda).
That Wall Street Journal article was referring to the period “since the end of the 2007-09 recession,” and thereby its readers are only indirectly being informed by it, that the 2008 recession hasn’t actually yet ended — if it ever will — except for America’s super-rich. It ended fast, for those super-rich. However, the failure of it to end for the general public is clear in the classic 2014 paper from Saez and Zucman, “Wealth Inequality in the United States Since 1913”, which showed, on page 63, that, whereas the “Top 0.1% wealth share” in 1978 (before Ronald Reagan entered office) was 7%, it was 22% in 2012, having risen pretty steadily throughout that 34-year period, taking three times as big a chunk of the nation’s privately held wealth at the end as at the beginning. Also, page 60 shows that the “Share of income earned by top 0.1% wealth-holders” rose from 2.8% in 1978 to 8.1% in 2012. So, extending the Reagan economy now, for 42 years, has produced only the extremely wealthiest having been doing well — it has been an economic boom-time for them. And those are the people who control the media, and the weapons-makers such as Lockheed Martin (essential for such things as invading Iraq), and the megabanks, and the oil companies, etc. They have been doing fabulously well, by getting their Federal Reserve to pump “Indebted Demand,” throughout at least the 1981-2020 period, 40 years. But the lower on the wealth and income scale that an American has been, the more the person has been experiencing the growth of debt, instead of the growth of wealth or of income. It’s no ‘economic recovery’, at all, for them.
Furthermore, as Edward Wolff documented in his classic November 2012 study “The Asset Price Meltdown”:
6.2 The share of overall wealth gains, 1983 to 2010 
Table 4 shows the absolute changes in wealth and income between 1983 and 2010. The results are even more striking. Over this period, the largest gains in relative terms were made by the wealthiest households. The top one percent saw their average wealth (in 2010 dollars) rise by … 71%. The remaining part of the top quintile experienced increases from 52 to 101 percent and the fourth quintile by 21%, while the middle quintile lost 18% and the poorest 40 percent lost 270%! By 2010, the average wealth of the bottom 40 percent had fallen to -$10,600. … The top quintile collectively accounted for a little over 100% of the total growth in wealth, while the bottom 80 percent accounted for virtually none.
In addition, the rich parents generally have rich children, and the parents who own little generally have children who also will own little. An “equal opportunity” society is something that today’s America definitely is not. It is instead an aristocracy, which rules the country. The “Indebted Demand” paper has a sub-section that opens:
9.4 Intergenerational mobility 
We have so far ignored mobility across saver and borrower dynasties. Yet, since current mobility levels in the US are low while income inequality is rising (Lee and Solon 2009, Chetty, Hendren, Kline, Saez, and Turner 2014), several policies have been proposed to promote intergenerational mobility.
In other words: while the children of the super-rich have been experiencing terrific economic opportunities, the children of the poor have been experiencing the exact opposite. It’s not the American dream, but it is the American reality, and hiding it is becoming increasingly difficult to do. (Just look at the downtowns, and the shopping malls, to see that.) How could “trust” NOT be plunging in such a society?
Conservative Americans blame the poor. Liberal Americans blame racism, instead. But, even the White poor are suffering. And, the billionaires’ media have succeeded in getting plenty of poor Whites to be racists, instead of revolutionaries (people who demand to change the system, and not merely its personnel). Though violence will be going up in such a society, the results will be very different if it is between races than if it is between classes. The top class obviously don’t want it to be a class-war; and, so, their media instead promote there being a race-war.
The situation is the same in UK, a more ancient aristocracy, as is displayed in the visual which was buried in page 131 of the pdf of this UK Government report, which shows that whereas 8.9% of very low-income (or “FSM”) male Whites who apply to UK colleges and universities get accepted, 40% of very low-income (or “FSM”) male Blacks who apply get accepted. There is now in UK a system by its aristocracy to hide their country’s extreme classism, by placing as many black faces into their colleges and universities as possible, to front for UK’s ‘equality of opportunity’. UK’s aristocracy is just as classist as ever, but pretends to ‘support equality’. A right-wing UK website used this same UK Government data as instead an opportunity to resent UK’s Blacks. That’s exactly the way UK’s billionaires would want it to be interpreted. Consequently, in a country that is falling apart, there are virtually no revolutionists. But, for how much longer can that go on? Maybe for as long as the public remain deceived.
“Trust can be rebuilt through the accumulation of small heroic acts — by the outrageous gesture of extending vulnerability in a world that is mean, by proffering faith in other people when that faith may not be returned.”
Deceiving the public can be essential to the people who hold the real power. But, how long can it continue to succeed? Maybe for as long as bigotries, of all sorts, can be increased, or at least maintained. Perhaps, if bigotries could end, then the deeper problem could finally be addressed. However, if bigotries continue, then there either will be no revolution at all, or any revolution that occurs will be misdirected and thus fail to solve the problem. Every aristocracy, throughout history, has been protected by one or another type of prevalent bigotry. It deflects the public’s incoherent rage, to the wrong targets. Furthermore, once a given aristocracy are overthrown, will it be replaced by another aristocracy, or instead by an authentic democracy? Replacing one aristocracy by another solves nothing. But that’s usually what happens.
And you won’t be reading about any of this in ‘Big Think’ media, but only in media such as you now are reading. This is no con; it’s instead the anti-con. Please pass it along to your friends, to help spread the anti-con, maybe to their friends. Perhaps it’ll get a good discussion-group going.
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