I’ve long harboured the idea that economic journalists are a special breed because they have an actual subject. There are plenty of them about juxtaposed against political commentators, but the political commentators spend their time blathering – they’re engaged in what I call ‘pub talk’ to an embarrassing degree. ‘Pub talk’ is the kind of blather you go on with when you’re relaxing and gasbagging away about nothing much.
So you pontificate in a friendly fashion about the significance of the latest game of footy, Warnie’s injury or latest SMS scandal or when John Howard will retire or hold an election or the significance of the latest straws in the wind.
In this genre the rules are a certain kind of feigned balance. The old ‘he said – she said’. “Leaders differ on the shape of the earth and all that.” And no content. So you don’t report that a politician said black was white. Though you do report a politician speaking the truth – for instance Tony Abbott saying that some ‘protections’ for employees have been removed by WorkChoices as a ‘gaffe’.
Since Krugman was the first economic journalist to take this idea of reporting on a subject to its logical conclusion and as a result relentlessly pillory the post-modern extremes of mainstream Republican political tactics, I enjoyed seeing the same temperament express itself in response to all the nonsense that gets talked about by government and inter-government officials. Being somewhat dimmer than our Paul, I can’t afford the same degree of loftiness about it. (I try to cultivate tolerance for talking nonsense since there’s lots of it about within government and elsewhere and objecting to it does not make you very popular). Still, I enjoyed his thoughts about the language of technocracy – cited over the fold.
Twenty-five years ago I was on the staff of the Council of Economic Advisers (yes, it was the Reagan administration but I had a technocratic, non-political position, and was one of a number of Democrats working there, including a guy by the name of Larry Summers.) And one of my jobs was to go to international meetings, where I helped draw up communiques. These communiques were, by design, bland and uninformative because consensus, not insight, was the goal, so anything controversial was fuzzed over.
It was, in short, extremely boring: well-dressed important-looking men sitting around tables, saying nothing.
And reading reports on the latest G20 meeting brings it all back:
G20 finance ministers and central bankers conceded that the extent of the global economic slowdown following this summers turmoil in financial markets is difficult to predict.
Profound, isnt it? Equally exciting:
In their communique, the G20 said recent events have emphasised the need for greater effectiveness of financial supervision and the management of financial risks as well as to increase transparency among financial institutions.
And grown men spend their time doing this.