mercoledì 7 gennaio 2015
Democracy and the media
In a previous post I deprecated the behavior of a colleague, Salvatore Biasco, a retired professor of international economics at the University of Rome III, previously engaged in some middle-rank political responsibility as a Democratic Party MP (and hence supposed to be a “left-wing” intellectual), who had put forth in the Italian media a completely absurd euro breakup scenario, talking about Italian airplanes being sequestered at Berlin airport, the price of gasoline increasing by 100% (which owing to the structure of Italian excises implies, as simple arithmetic shows, the cost of dollar to increase by 300% in the new Italian currency), and grossly misreporting previous cases of currency union breakups, e.g., blabbering about “four years of output free fall” in Argentina after the 2002 crisis. Just for you to know, these are the data about Argentinian real GDP in national currency (billions):
this is Weisbrot and Ray’s paper (ignored by our “expert”) that correctly reports the main stylized facts of some previous devaluation episodes, and this is my last paper on gasoline pricing in Italy (with Christian A. Mongeau Ospina), which I used to show how miserable the arithmetic of my colleague was. By the way, I am not endorsing Argentinians governments, nor criticizing them. My point is a completely different one: if output after 2002 was rising (according to the IMF), a serious economist should not affirm that it was falling (and a side argument is that Italian colleagues should really stop making silly comparisons with countries whose economic and political structure is completely different from ours: enough of amateurish economics!).
Some backstage before proceeding: it was really funny taking part at the closed-door workshop in which this guy presented his bullshit. I sat next to a young Democratic Party MP (one who risks to have a future), and I showed him on my smartphone the correct data and the scientific literature about devaluation episodes (basically, the information reported above), as the guy kept talking (ignoring that the knowledge of how ridiculous his arguments were was spreading across the audience).
Technology and truth can sometimes go hand in hand.
Nevertheless, in hearing such a huge amount of lies (or amateurish economics, who knows?) I was really ashamed both as an economist, and as an intellectual. My point is very simple. We are all keen to show our proudness to live in a western democracy. But where is democracy, if the intellectuals and the media keep lying to the voters? How can the latter exert their civil rights, if they are grossly misled by interested or ignorant media and colleagues? Democracy is not for free. This is what I have learned at the University of Rome I from Federico Caffè, who, back in 1981, deprecated how economic information in Italy had become so conformist that it was not an exaggeration to define it as regime propaganda. Things have gone worse, since then. An example will follow, but before amusing ourselves with the incredible sloppiness (or incredible ability to manipulate information) of Italian journalists, let me state clearly the moral of the story: democracy is not for free. If we believe in democracy, we have the duty to engage ourselves in a nonviolent resistance against the violence of the lies that the media, with the help of some shameless colleagues, diffuse over and over. As academicians, we have the duty to intervene, to take explicitly distance from the colleagues who discredit our profession be issuing analyses and statements that are way below a reasonable professional standard, and possibly to pillory them. I do not know whether you realize it, but we are right in the middle of an economic war, where our democracies are at risk, because the financial and political elites, and their media, indicate as a solution of our economic evil the evolution towards the dystopian “United States of Europe”. A solution which ignores a very simple point: there cannot be politics (I do not say: “democracy”; I say “politics”) without verbal communication, and there cannot be a truly shared verbal communication without a common language, which in Europe does not exist. In writing this post I keep checking a dictionary, and I will make many mistakes, for sure. And I am relatively fluent (much more in French, actually) and have a lot of time to invest in my education (I actually chose to become an academician in order to invest in my education all my life long). It is plainly obvious, therefore, that in the dystopian USE there will be no democracy, because there will be no politics at large. The European project in its present form was conceived to empower the technocrats. This is an acquired result of the political science research, nicely expressed by Kevin Featherstone. If you do not want technocracy (basically because you realize that it is spreading death and misery wherever it arrives, like in Greece), and prefer democracy, you have the duty to tread on such lying roaches.
An example follows.
On last January 5th “La Repubblica” (the official organ of the conformist “left-wing” intelligentsia: think of El Pais or Le Monde, for instance), published this interesting article on the Spanish miracle. Please have a look at the crucial passage:
The (anonymous) journalist affirms that “the unemployment rate decreased by 253.627 units, i.e. by 5.39%, over the last twelve months”. Now, a few background. The unemployment rate is the ratios of unemployed people to labour force, which in turn is the sum of the employed and unemployed people. In other words, the unemployment ratio is the ratio of a part (the unemployed labour force) to a whole (the labour force), and as such it must (please mind the verb: I did not say it should, it can, it may, it might, I said it must, because it must) be comprised between zero (0%) when everybody works, and 1 (100%) when nobody works. Therefore, in no way can the unemployment rate decrease by 253267 units. If you do not agree with me, well, you’d better to look for a therapist (or apply for a job at “La Repubblica”, of course). But there is something better. It is plainly obvious that the journalist (maliciously?) misled the number of unemployed with the unemployment rate. In my opinion, he actually did it maliciously. Why? Because this allows him to say that there was a decrease by 5.39% in the unemployment rate. Be careful! Spanish unemployment rate is somewhere between 26% and 25%. With an labour force of about 23 million, back-of-the-envelope calculation quickly show that the unemployed must be around a quarter of 23 million, i.e., 23/4=23x0.25=5.75 million. Eurostat provides us the correct figure: in 2013 they were 6 million. Where do the 4.45 million quoted by the anonymous journalist come from? This is something of a curiosity and of a mystery, but we will set it aside for a while-
My educated guess is that the journalist is performing a trivial spin operation, namely, he is trying to induce the reader to mistake a 5.39% fall in the number of unemployed with a 5.39 percentage points fall in the unemployment rate. Given the data above, a 5.39 percentage fall in the unemployment rate would mean a reduction by 0.0539x23=1.4 million in the number of unemployed person. Now, the (supposed) decrease in this number is 253267 units, i.e., 0.25 million! In other words, the journalist is suggesting to the reader that “structural reforms” had an impact on Spanish unemployment six times as large as the actual one.
(Just another detail: for a decrease by 253267 in the number of unemployed to be equal to 5.39%, the starting value of unemployed people – i.e., the annual data in 2013 – must be 4.7 million. This falls short of the 6 million reported by Eurostat. Again, I see some Spanish mysteries and no Spanish miracle...)
Of course, this only one among dozens of sloppy attempts to hinder democracy by misleading the Italian constituency with incorrect reports of what is going on in other countries. The “Repubblica” mantra is that we are like Argentina (which is supposed to be an insult, and is actually racism), and we should “do the reforms” like Spain (which is supposed to be an economic analysis, and actually is a lie). In order to support this view, our journals, and my colleagues, distort the past, because “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past”, as we all read, perhaps without fully understanding what Orwell meant. Now it is impossible not to understand it. By misreporting historical evidence the elite and their slaves in the newspapers are suggesting us that it is pointless for us to manage our economy, our lives, because when we were able to do that everything went wrong. Therefore, we must surrender democracy to the USE.
We must fight.
We must fight against that for our children.
I am proud of my victories. I forced “Il Corriere della Sera”, the second largest spin factory in Italy, to rectify its malicious statement that in 1977 unemployment in Italy was as high as today (here the data and here the whole story in Italian – sorry for differently European readers).
But I am apparently alone in my country.
Am I alone in Europe too?
Should the answer be yes, it would then follow that you (not me) deserve slavery. Please, help us to recover and defend democracy in our countries.