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#TWET...But What If We're Wrong?

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But What If2.jpgWhy are we so convinced the things we think are true today will still be true for future generations? I mean, everybody knows The Beatles are the greatest rock group of all time, right? (And while pyroseed13 argues in the Comments that once the Baby Boomers are gone, no one will talk about the Beatles, the Stones, or Clapton anymore, as a Gen X-er, I assure you at least I'll still be talking!)

Klosterman notes our propensity to want predictions. Indeed, in thinking about what questions I might pose in our subsequent EconTalk Extra, I'm immediately tempted to do just that...ask people for predictions! Who will be the most widely regarded author/rock star/quarterback of our time? But that's the point, right? We can't know. According to Klosterman, it's all in how future generations will relate the products of our time to their own lives.

Probably the most interesting single concept that I took away from this conversation was Klosterman's idea of "ancillary verisimilitude," the notion that some sort of transparent reality is accidentally created in certain media. Klosterman brings this idea up when he and Russ are discussing TV shows. Klosterman argues that the shows we think are so culturally significant today are not the ones that future generations will see as emblematic of our times. He suggests Roseanne might be the representative. Any other suggestions? I live in Indianapolis, so it's tempting to suggest The Middle from today's lineup of shows. (#7FavTVShows seems to be trending today on twitter...Let me just say I hope Klosterman is right!)

The theme of the democratization of information comes up again, this time in the very beginning of the interview. Klosterman thinks that with widening channels of communication and more opportunities for people to voice their opinions, we might actually be making it more difficult to contradict or disprove even very bad ideas. This reminded me of Arnold Kling's recent review of The Revolt of the Public. Democratization, he says, has altered the landscape of "insiders" and "outsiders" dramatically- and to the benefit of the "outsiders." So what do you think, "How should we view the shift in the balance of power in favor of outsiders and the insiders' loss of legitimacy? Should we cheer, or should we worry?"


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COMMENTS (5 to date)
JK Brown writes:

Why would having a broader market in ideas and information be bad in comparison to having a broader market in soap powder, restaurants, etc.?

The purveyors of "taste" were nothing more than monopolists who controlled the market and limited the selections available to the consumer. There is little evidence that their choices were really better than those of a wider, more open market. In fact, given their becoming enamored with Marxism, we can see their taste was often for a far inferior product rife with defects.

I would suppose the question is whether there is a pricing mechanism on generally held ideas and information that would force a sorting via the cost for maintaining devotion to inferior ideas and information. We know there is no cost for a professor to maintain his/her devotion to Marxism, but there is a grievous cost to those who find themselves subject to those same ideas in their economic and political life. The latter costs can be mitigated if those paying the price have access to a broad market of diverse ideas and can easily switch to better ideas on how to run things. We see, however, that the norm is for the "insiders" to suppress alternative ideas and to use violence against those who try to switch to an alternative method of organizing their economic and political life.

Khodge writes:

Your Beatles example flows from what, in my childhood, was the equivalent example: we were subjected to western square dances and the music and dance of a generation away (not the generation of our younger teachers). Years later I noticed that the children were being subjected to the deafening (literally, frightening so) music of a generation away.

Historys are replete with examples:
Science: a generation of physicists had to die before relativity came to the fore; likewise geology and plate tectonics.
Medicine: Everything for several generations (doctors are especially stubborn).
Economics: Especially difficult because contra-factuals are exactly that.

The real question, I submit, is not future generations but what is the current generation refusing to accept?

anomdebus writes:

We have a built-in test for gauging how the future might view us correctly or incorrect. How do we view our distant past?

There are popular ideas of how things were. Do sociologists and archaeologists confirm these views? (Granted, they have an incentive to come up with counter-intuitive results)

On the other hand, it might be easier to understand broader changes from a distance. For example, the popular ideas of how the automobile might change society was probably not generally accurate when the Model-T came out.

Tim Worstall writes:

"Who will be the most widely regarded author/rock star/quarterback of our time? But that's the point, right? We can't know. According to Klosterman, it's all in how future generations will relate the products of our time to their own lives."

This is what Bernard Levin used to call "the filter of history".

Amy Willis writes:

@Khodge, I think Klosterman would largely agree with you regarding "the real question." Less so perhaps in music (he sees the link to youth culture as especially important and somewhat different than in the case of, say, literature). During the conversation, he joked about Quiet Riot, making me giggle (and showing my age!). But in literature especially, he posits that "the writer" will be someone at least relatively successful commercially and who "we" don't really take seriously. He cites Herman Melville as his past example. "Moby Dick" was a flop commercially.

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