By David, who was born in England but hasn’t lived there for a while
It was, I suppose, sometime early in 2007 when I began to wonder if I was the only sane person in the world. Does that sound a bit extreme?
Well, consider the situation at the time. The world economy was falling to bits before the eyes of anyone who had them open. The dominant belief was that you could build an entire economic system out of taking debts that people couldn’t pay, slicing them into bits and selling them to others, who would then sell them to others, and so on in an endless progression. That had always seemed a trifle surreal to me. It now looked more like a clown death-march heading blindly towards the edge of a cliff.
But it wasn’t just the clowns who seemed unaware of this. Bankers and politicians were congratulating themselves on how well the world economy was doing, and economists and financial journalists were licking the toes of the same banks and politicians. And then, about the time the first clown fell off the cliff, I discovered Naked Capitalism.
With great relief, I realised that at last I had found a no-bullshit site that was highly informed, well-written and unafraid to say what needed to be said. To my even greater relief, I found there were lots of other sane people out there, excellent writers and thoughtful commentators. For reasons I’ll go on to explain, NC rapidly became a daily fixture in my reading. Quite quickly thereafter, it became my principal everyday source of information, not just on economics but on other things as well. A few years later I began the habit, which I still have, of making it the first thing I look at in the morning, and the last thing I check at night. A few years after that, I started commenting occasionally when I thought I had something original to contribute. And talking of contributions, for some years now I’ve donated money to support the annual fundraising drive. Listen, and I will explain why you should do the same. (Hint, the Tip Jar is here).
To begin with, consider the alternatives. Like a fair number of NC regulars, I grew up in the days of mass print media and relatively few TV stations. We shouldn’t idealise those days, but, compared to today, there were far more diverse news sources. Newspapers and TV stations had large teams of professional journalists, and, if you allowed for some inevitable bias, you could pick up any serious newspaper, or turn on any TV station, and get at least some idea of what was going on in the world. This isn’t the place to go through the reasons for the collapse of the media since then: I’ll just recall a few obvious ones; media concentration, massively reduced news budgets, the desperate search for internet clicks, the devastating effect of Twitter, not enough genuine news to fill the 24-hour cycle … and so on.
But the problems with the media today are not only technical and financial, they are also ideological.
Historically, newspapers had editorial lines, and journalists had biases, but there were understood limits. After the end of the Cold War, a new school of mainly younger journalists started to emerge, practising what BBC reporter Martin Bell called the “journalism of attachment,” which meant no longer honestly reporting the news, but taking sides for “good” against “evil.”
In the bewildering profusion of what counts as “news media” today, this attitude is widespread, as part of the post-Cold War ideology of soggy economic and social liberalism that characterises today’s political elites. And the hysteria of the same media about some more recent events, from Brexit to the election of Donald Trump, to the alleged worldwide threat of “populism,” is explained by the fact that, just as the world economy fell apart in 2008, so the liberal ideological underpinning has been steadily falling apart ever since. The facile certainties of the media class are being undermined daily, sowing panic and fear among its members. Add to that financial and advertising pressures, insecurity of employment and fear of personal and professional ostracism, and you have much of the explanation for the rancid swamp that is today’s media.
So the people who should be telling us how it is, can’t themselves accept how it really is, and are desperately trying to persuade us (and themselves) that it’s how it isn’t. So I rarely “read” newspapers now, because I don’t trust them to tell the truth, and judging by opinion polls, I’m in good company.
Unfortunately, a common response to this lack of confidence has been, not an attempt at objectivity, but a simple-minded contrarianism, taking the white hats and black hats of the mainstream media and simply switching them around. That’s no good either. But NC is the sanest and most balanced response I know to this disastrous downward slide in the conventional media, which is one reason why I donate every year, and one reason why you should too (remember that friendly Tip Jar…).
Then think of NC’s strengths. What are they? Well, let me mention the most important. First, there is the calm and measured, but firm and coherent, management of the site by Yves and co. Every day brings, not a random list of links, but a carefully evaluated and curated collection, illustrating different sides of complex questions, and not scrupling to say that you ought to read something that’s completely wrong, just to get a sense of what ideas are powerful.
Then, there’s the intellectual grip of the site’s editors, who don’t just throw links at you, but provide commentary and informed original analysis, often on questions of great complexity. Here, I want to underline Yves’s formidable capacity to dive into the depths of complex issues and come up with sensible conclusions that ordinary people can understand. This has been most evident recently in the stellar NC coverage of Covid (and a word of appreciation there to Lambert as well) but I was actually most impressed by NC’s Brexit coverage, where Yves quickly got to grips with a host of complex legal, political and cultural issues, and produced and facilitated coverage which was, honestly, better than anything the UK media could offer at the time. (The same was true, incidentally, of the 2015 Greek financial crisis, about which I frankly have to say I knew nothing until NC educated me.) These are great strengths, and they are another reason why I donate to NC, and you should too.
But there are other strengths as well. Anyone can be right occasionally, if only by chance. Anyone can be early. But to be both early and right is a very rare combination, and it’s a combination that NC can be rightly proud of. Again, NC was consistently both right and early with developments in the Covid saga, as it had been in the different stages of Brexit and the chaos that has resulted.
But Naked Capitalism was also very quick to spot that Tesla and Uber were investment cons, that various pension funds were in fact looted by crooks, that frequent business travel and mass tourism would never come back, and that the globalized supply chain was breaking down. NC is among other things an excellent early warning mechanism, to avoid being taken by surprise by things that happen in the world, and that’s another reason why I donate to keep it going, and you should too.
And there’s the international dimension. You can find any number of links sites pushing what American, or British, or European commentators think about events elsewhere in the world. But NC is unique in two ways. First, it links to a wide range of stories and comments from all over the world— and not necessarily in English—which collectively give a far richer and more accurate impression of what’s going on. Second, it explicitly understands that we do, quite genuinely, live in an interconnected world, and what happens in one part of the world affects others. Many sites and publications pay lip service to the idea, but few put it into practice as NC does, which is another reason I donate every year, and so should you.
Finally, there’s the commentariat. We like to say that NC has the best commentariat, but isn’t that the absolute truth? If there’s a better one, I’d like to see it.
After the poisonous shambles of the comments sections of most of the world’s allegedly leading newspapers, Naked Capitalism’s comments section (which I always skim first, if I come late to the site) is a haven of interesting and lively debate. Anyone who obeys the rules (and a word of thanks to the heroic comment tasters) can post here without running the risk of the kind of personal abuse that’s so common on the Internet. Partly that’s because of the tight ship that Yves runs, with the help of the backstage team, but I think there’s also something in the very collective spirit of the site that encourages people genuinely interested in information and debate to come here, and those who aren’t to stay away.
But it’s not just the tone of the comments, it’s also the content. The “best” commentariat is also the most informed I have ever come across. Off the top of my head we have experts here not only in economics, banking and finance, obviously, but in computers, IT, science and engineering, mathematics and statistics, medicine of all types, construction and civil engineering, agriculture and farming, ecology, most aspects of law in different countries, politics, culture, linguistics, literature of all types, music of different sorts … and half a dozen others. It’s rare for a subject to be featured in Links where we can’t field an expert; normal for a story to run about a country, and find we have a native or a long-term resident or frequent visitor who can comment. The best and most informed commentariat on the Internet is another reason I donate to NC, as you should too.
As usual, NC is ahead of the game in spotting the issues that will dominate the next year. As well as the interminable all-in mud wrestling that is American politics, on which NC has educated us non-Murkins greatly, there’s the accelerating dysfunction and breakdown in organisations of all kinds, there’s the crisis in Myanmar (scarcely covered elsewhere), the most important elections in France for at least fifty years, the stresses within the EU because of Brexit and other issues, the potential for disaster in Lebanon which could send the whole region up in flames, the continuing rise of China, galloping environmental breakdown and the future and the consequences of Covid … to name, as they say, only a few. NC is on top of these issues already, and we need to make sure that it stays there. That requires resources, including hard cash. So get out your wallets and donate. Now.