Anti-Cassandra

Lots of bloggers have pointed out that those who opposed the Iraq war from the start still have a hard time getting a hearing in much of the media, while those who were wrong are constantly sought out for their views. Jim Henley expressed it best.

I liked Paul Krugman’s description of the phenomenon as the age of the anti-Cassandra. He was provoked by the continued reverence for people like Alan Greenspan, but he must have had the Iraq example in mind as well:

Today, our public discourse is dominated by people who have been wrong about everything — but are still, mysteriously, treated as men of wisdom, whose judgments should be believed. Those who were actually right about the major issues of the day can’t get a word in edgewise.

Update: Alex Tabarrok explains:

The answer is media incentives. It wasn’t just the experts who were wrong, the majority of the American people got Iraq and housing wrong. The war was popular in the beginning and people continued to buy houses even as prices rose ever higher. So what does the American public want to hear now?

The public wants to hear why they weren’t idiots. And who better to explain to the public why they weren’t idiots than experts who also got it wrong?

Update to the update: Henry Farrell doesn’t buy Tabarrok’s explanation:

It’s an interesting argument, but one that I’m highly skeptical about. One of the golden rules of survey research is that questions that ask about the political views that respondents held in the past are likely to get highly inaccurate replies. The reason is that people’s memories are quite malleable, so that they often reshape their recollections of what views they held in the past so that they accord better with the views that they hold today. I’d be prepared to bet a significant amount of money that the number of people who believe that they supported the war back in 2003 is far lower than the number of people who actually did support the war back in 2003. Indeed, I suspect that the number of people who believe that they supported the war back in 2003 is a minority of the US public. Since the Cassandra-backlash effect that Tabarrok is talking about is contemporaneous, and presumably depends on people’s current beliefs about what they thought in the past, this makes me think that something else is going here (and that this something else has to do with the desire of elite actors in the commentariat to hold onto their privileged position in the public discourse).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *