By Douglas K. Smith, author of On Value and Values: Thinking Differently About We In An Age Of Me
Earlier this month, Matthew Yglesias of Slate tweeted “EXCLUSIVE: The activities of individual business executives have no relationship to the level of economy-wide employment.”
It’s hard to choose what is most ridiculous here: The adolescent “EXCLUSIVE”? The Olympian “no”? Or, the sophomoric logic? (Yglesias to world: you just cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the activities of one teeny-weeny, single, stand alone business executive have any relationship whatsoever to ‘economy-wide’ employment!! See!! Gotcha!! And, yes, I – with my high school sophomore level of maturity — really am smarter than everyone else!!!)
All of which reminded me of ‘useful idiots’: people who are propagandists for causes and goals they do not understand, and who are used cynically by leaders of those causes.
Urban legend says Lenin was the first to coin ‘useful idiots’ with reference to Western sympathizers of Communism – but no one has ever confirmed this. Lenin’s version of communism as a threat to democracy, the rule of law and capitalism is in the dustbin of history now.
In its stead, though, democracy, the rule of law and capitalism itself face the monster of corpocracy. The corpocrats control huge swaths of the global – and US – economies (finance, energy, housing, health care, etc), are the paymasters of legislative, executive, judicial and agency officials from all levels of government (local, state, federal and international), and heavily influence the nonprofit sector as well. Corpocratic power dominate both major US parties as well as mainstream media – and, no surprise, dictate the ideas that do – and do NOT – move through the Overton Window from unthinkable and radical to sensible and popular foundations for policy.
And, the corpocrats need useful idiots like Yglesias to warm hearts and provide ‘tough love’ to the 99% being prepped for misery. Yglesias apparently is only too happy to carry water for them. And, his ignorance of empirically and ethically sound economics in favor of superficial headlines from the orthodox version ensures that he’ll fail to grasp the actual causes and goals of those who must laugh themselves silly over his microfilm-thin ‘coverage’.
All this was enough to drive Mike Elk up a wall – not just over the silly tweet, but also Yglesias’ ‘tough love’ proclamation that the US needs an ‘asshole” (Yglesias’ word) like Mitt Romney to administer suffering because, in Yglesias’ celebration of Romney, that’s just the sort of thing Romney has learned by being a ‘bad guy’ capitalist. Read Elk carefully and you’ll see that he’s beside himself over the travesty of an outlet such as Slate providing this useful idiot Yglesias a perch that Slate describes as ‘covering’ economics.
Hey Slate, Elk basically bemoans, how about requiring Yglesias to ‘discover economics’ before allowing him to cover it?
That would be wonderful. But, it wouldn’t be nearly as much like the useful idiocy that, apparently, Slate wishes to promote as content safe for sponsorship. For Yglesias (and Slate) to do the bidding of the corpocracy, it’s best that he not probe too deeply. Otherwise, he’d risk bumping into inconvenient truths that wouldn’t sit well with the children’s book version of capitalism that is his actual ‘beat’ – and the propaganda preferred by Slate’s advertisers.
In Yglesias’ world of economics and capitalism, ‘good guy’ innovators – e.g. Apple – creatively destruct. And, yes, sadly, some people suffer. Or, as Yglesias grandiloquently intones: “Almost every successful business career is built on the ashes of doomed factories, pink-slipped workers, and towns laid to waste.” But, boys and girls, you see it’s all okay because the ‘good guy’ capitalists, gosh darnit, create jobs too. And, oh by the way, the ‘bad guy’ capitalists such as Mitt Romney are necessary evils. Why? Well they are sort of like surgeons who save lives by cutting out huge parts of the body. Holy snikeys Batman, Ygleasias admits, he’d personally much rather be the cape-wearing good guy capitalist than the garbage clean up bad guy capitalist. But, the cold truths and harsh realities of economics and capitalism require both these heroes. That’s what and how economics and capitalism work. And, Yglesias is here to explain it all to you on behalf of the good and bad guy capitalists who, after all, are just doing God’s work.
Elk points out that useful idiots like Yglesias cannot bother with logical, knowledge-based or, even, factual inconsistencies. For example, just as a matter of logic internal to Yglesias’ own claims: When business executives lay waste to whole towns, how is it that they nonetheless have no impact whatsoever on economy-wide matters such as jobs?
Or, move from logic to facts. In Yglesias’ children’s book of capitalism, good guy capitalists such as Steve Jobs and Apple create just as many jobs – even more!! – than the jobs destroyed by the firms who fail to innovate. In actual ‘facts about the real world’, it turns out the vast majority of jobs Apple created went to folks outside the United States who labor for little pay and in dangerous conditions so that the products of their labor can be sold on credit to U.S. consumers who are unemployed, underemployed, ill paid and in debt because of the predictable behaviors and strategies of both good guy and bad guy capitalists.
That’s just one take on all this. I welcome NC readers to dip into Elk’s comments as well as the Yglesias’ tripe about Romney and share your own thoughts in comments:
• What are the causes and goals for which Yglesias propagandizes without any understanding of those causes and goals?
• Who are the individuals – and entities — that cynically use idiots like Yglesias to propagandize on their behalf?
• Who are the folks out there who waste their time and endanger themselves by reading this nonsense?