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My Consensus, Right or Wrong

With the revival of The Baffler, former WSJ columnist and current Harper’s Magazine contributor Thomas Frank reveals that success in Washington and big business has everything to do with belonging to the right pack, especially if that pack was dead wrong about the economy. –ARK

Thomas Frank in The Baffler:

A résumé filled with grievous errors in the period 1996–2006 is not only a non-problem for further advances in the world of consensus; it is something of a prerequisite. Our intellectual powers that be not only forgive the mistakes; they require them. You must have been wrong back then in order to have a chance to be taken seriously today; only by having gotten things wrong can you demonstrate that you are trustworthy, a member of the team. (Those who got things right all along, on the other hand, might be dubbed “premature market skeptics”—people who doubted the consensus before the consensus acknowledged it was all right to doubt.)

Christopher Hitchens became the toast of Washington only after he had gone safely wrong on the Iraq War. Or consider the curious saga of New York Times op-ed columnist Joe Nocera, who was elevated to the most exalted post in American journalism in 2011, and who has, since then, done outstanding work exposing financial frauds and assessing the value of the old Glass-Steagall rules regulating banks. But there’s a peculiar twist to this story. Before Nocera became an admirer of bank regulation, he played the opposite role: he was the journalist who told, in the 1994 book A Piece of the Action, the awesome and heroic tale of how the bankers blew Glass-Steagall apart.

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