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Letter to the Editor: Avoiding the spin
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Dear Editor: A pollster once asked me to name the biggest problem facing our country. He clearly wanted me to name something like the military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorism, the economy, or health care. Instead, I insisted it was the inability or unwillingness of Americans to utilize the learning and knowledge of its academic population.
For example, a consensus of genuine academic-level economists concludes that we avoided a depression by deficit spending. This even includes Milton Friedman economists.
Understanding this, however, means understanding issues like bond rates, the liquidity of banks, inflation/disinflation/deflation rates, the concept of a zero boundary, and so forth. The fact that the Federal Reserve Bank chairman, Ben Bernanke, spent his academic career studying the Great Depression sadly does not carry weight with most people.
Instead, those with a political agenda or who sincerely do not understand economics say we should have let banks fail and curtailed spending, exactly what the Hoover administration did in 1929. Even Roosevelt gave in and tightened spending, a move that slowed, if not killed, recovery until World War II.
We have a society where psychological warfare (also known as spin, marketing, or public relations) relegates our academics to the sidelines. Those with the audacity to speak up find themselves quickly shot down as liberals who come from the ivory towers. Pseudo-experts and fringe academics are quickly brought in to obfuscate issues in the media and provide the reasons to ridicule those few, foolish, academics.
One can see why an academic would quickly give up or never even speak up in the first place. This leads to a society where uninformed or contrived opinions trump the knowledge of those whose stock-in-trade depends on getting their facts right, on understanding history, on having their reasoning examined by their peers, and on testing their conclusions against the real world. This is especially sad in a country with so many who have college or higher degrees.
As an aside, I find the hallmark of a good academic is his/her ability to explain without prejudice the reasoning of all the sides of an issue. That academic may have one position he/she feels more strongly about than the others, but can even criticize his/her own position (instantly providing fodder for the psychological warfare crowd).
If I did not have children who will have to live with our decisions, I would be willing to stand by and watch our country fall to second-rate status or, worse, lead the planet to environmental disaster. I agree that sometimes the academic community gets it wrong, but far less often than it gets it right. For my part, I would rather put my money on those whose livelihoods depend on accuracy and sound reasoning than uniformed common sense, or worse, psychologically manipulated opinions.

Roy Everitt