David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Krugman’s Anti-Cassandra

Following on from before. I like Krugman’s comment enough I’ll just quote the whole thing:

Reading some of today’s news, it suddenly struck me: we’re living in the age of the anti-Cassandra.

Cassandra had the gift of prophecy — she saw, correctly, what was coming — but was under a curse: nobody would believe her.

Today, our public discourse is dominated by people who have been wrong about everything — but are still, mysteriously, treated as men of wisdom, whose judgments should be believed. Those who were actually right about the major issues of the day can’t get a word in edgewise.

What set me off was the matter of Alan Greenspan; as Dean Baker like to remind us, news analyses of the housing and financial crisis almost always draw exclusively on “experts” who first insisted that there wasn’t a housing bubble, then insisted that the financial consequences of the bubble’s bursting would remain “contained.”

It’s even worse, of course, on the matter of Iraq: just about every one of the panels convened to discuss the lessons of five disastrous years consisted solely of men and women who cheered the idiocy on.

Now, none of this is entirely new. Consider what Keynes said in 1931:

A sound banker, alas, is not one who foresees danger and avoids it, but one who, when he is ruined, is ruined in a conventional way along with his fellows, so that no one can really blame him.

Still, it seems especially extreme now. And think of the incentive effects. What’s the point of taking the risk of challenging conventional wisdom if, even after you’re proved right, only the guys who were wrong get invited to opine on Charlie Rose?


  1. Talk of the Nation on NPR today had a segment how anti-cassandra memes live on despite being repeatedly debunked. The repeated debunking seems to reinforce the original idea.

    We’ll talk about the psychology of a rumor in the second hour and how our brains distinguish truth from fiction. According to an article written by guest Farhad Manjoo for the New York Times, “repetition, psychologists have shown, easily tricks us… if one person tells you that something is true many times, you are likely to conclude that the opinion is widely held, even if no one else said a thing about it.”

    Full audio available at:

  2. Is it churlish of me to point out that Krugman himself is one such expert, who in the 90s was cheering on the “new economy” of the Clinton boom?

  3. Great comment by Krugman. Although, should we be surprised? Jobs are lost, innocents are killed in wars, every year more of the American people’s rights and freedoms are arrogated by a ruling class; and yet every 4 years we rush to the polls in support, genuine, heart-felt support, of that ruling class. Krugman’s comment is a snapshot of a larger problem in America, a lack of critical thinking.

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