Blogger Pots Call Senator Kettles Black

Matt Yglesias:

Senators who genuinely do believe that carbon dioxide emissions are contributing to a global climate crisis seem to think nothing of nevertheless taking actions that endanger the welfare of billions of people on the grounds that acting otherwise would be politically problematic in their state. In other words, they don’t want to do the right thing because their self-interest points them toward doing something bad. …

It’s not even clear that voting “the wrong way” poses particularly serious threats to one’s re-election. But even if it did, one might assume that people who bother to dedicating their lives to securing vast political power did so because they actually wanted to accomplish something and get in the history books.

Tyler Cowen:

It’s stunning how true this is.  …  Many people — especially those who become politicians — really do want fame and power and it is amazing what they will talk themselves into to get there and to stay there.  They don’t even want fame in the sense of being recognized, in the longer run, for having done the right thing.  They want more personal influence and power now.

Are Matt and Tyler really surprised here?  Senators are roughly our top hundred politicians, after all, and such critiques should most apply to our most elite politicians, who have been most selected for putting winning above other considerations.

A similar critique applies to our top columnists and bloggers. The topics on which they write show a strong correlation with topics that their readers (or patrons) are likely to find engaging, because those topics are “in the news,” or popular among other pundits, or perennially popular like sex or scandal, and so on.  Meanwhile, a vast cloud of good ideas remain neglected because they are less engaging, or even offensive, to readers (and patrons).

Yes many pundits do sometimes sacrifice their popularity to promote ideas deserving more attention, but the tendency is weak and weakest among the most elite pundits.  Pundits might similarly gain fame in the history books as having been among the first to give serious attention to some neglected idea, but they also show little interest in this prospect.

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