Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Truthiness, media framing and the political economy of economics

Concealed deep in the bowels of the ivory tower is this little-known academic endeavor sometimes referred to as "political economy of communications." These guys study "media bias" or "media framing." They've even done content analysis that goes beyond harping at the very serious personhood of this or that individual columnist or newspaper.

For example, in Framed! Labor and the Corporate Media, Christopher Martin identified Five Dominant Frames in the media coverage of labor disputes:
(1) The consumer is king;
(2) The process of production is none of the public’s business;
(3) The economy is driven by great business leaders and entrepreneurs;
(4) The workplace is a meritocracy; and
(5) Collective economic action is bad.
Stated somewhat more evasively, these also happen to be the tenets of the dominant frame in contemporary economics  -- the "equilibrium price-auction view of the world" (aka subjective preference theory or conservative ideal). Surprise, surprise!

Has it ever occurred to anyone that the dominance in elite economics of a particular economic ideology may owe more to the dominance of a congenial corporate media frame than to any inherent theoretical elegance or empirical support? Of course not.

There is this peculiar rhetorical mise en abyme in which editorial punditry takes its Delphic authority from what "economists say" while what they say simply regurgitates something they read (over and over again) in the press.

"I'm an economist and I'm O.K. I say what I've been told that 'economists say'."

Wouldn't it be worthwhile to ask whether the economics practiced today is, in effect, a subsidiary of the corporate mass media rather than an independent academic discipline?

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