When will we ever learn?:
Marches of Folly, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Ten years ago, America invaded Iraq... Some voices warned that we were making a terrible mistake... And those warnings were, of course, right. ... So did our political elite and our news media learn from this experience? It sure doesn’t look like it.
The really striking thing during the run-up to the war was the illusion of consensus. To this day, pundits who got it wrong excuse themselves on the grounds that “everyone” thought that there was a solid case for war. Of course, they acknowledge, there were war opponents — but they were out of the mainstream.
The trouble with this argument is that it was and is circular: support for the war became part of the definition of what it meant to hold a mainstream opinion. Anyone who dissented, no matter how qualified, was ipso facto labeled as unworthy of consideration. ...
All in all, it was an object lesson in the dangers of groupthink... But as I said, it’s a lesson that doesn’t seem to have been learned. Consider, as evidence, the deficit obsession that has dominated our political scene for the past three years.
Now, I don’t want to push the analogy too far. Bad economic policy isn’t the moral equivalent of a war fought on false pretenses...
But now as then we have the illusion of consensus, an illusion based on a process in which anyone questioning the preferred narrative is immediately marginalized, no matter how strong his or her credentials. And now as then the press often seems to have taken sides. ... How many times, for example, have you seen news articles simply asserting that the United States has a “debt crisis,” even though many economists would argue that it faces no such thing?
In fact, in some ways the line between news and opinion has been even more blurred on fiscal issues than it was in the march to war. ...
What we should have learned from the Iraq debacle was that you should always be skeptical and that you should never rely on supposed authority. If you hear that “everyone” supports a policy,... you should ask whether “everyone” has been defined to exclude anyone expressing a different opinion. And policy arguments should be evaluated on the merits, not by who expresses them; remember when Colin Powell assured us about those Iraqi W.M.D.’s?
Unfortunately, as I said, we don’t seem to have learned those lessons. Will we ever?