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Saturday
May052012

Krugman acknowledges cultural cognition (at least in others!)

The point of the cool Justin Fox post that I noted yesterday now has been seconded by Paul Krugman, who says he already knew this -- that cultural cognition contrains public acceptance of scientific evidence -- based on the failure of his own columns to persuade people who disagree with him:

Justin Fox has an interesting post documenting something I more or less knew, but am glad to see confirmed: People aren’t very receptive to evidence if it doesn’t come from a member of their cultural community. This has been blindingly obvious these past few years.

Consider what the different sides in economic debate have been predicting these past six or seven years. If you got your views from, say, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, you knew – knew – that there was no housing bubble, that America in 2008 wasn’t in recession, that budget deficits would send interest rates sky-high, that the Fed’s expansion of its balance sheet would produce huge inflation, that austerity policies would lead to economic expansion.

That’s quite a record. And yet I’m well aware that many people – including people with real money at stake – consider the WSJ a reliable source and people like, well, me flaky and unbelievable. Much of this is politics, of course, but that’s intertwined with culture: the kind of people who turn to the WSJ, or right-wing investment sites can clearly see that I’m a latte-sipping liberal who probably favors gay rights and doesn’t worship the financially successful (I actually prefer good filter coffee, black, but that’s otherwise accurate), and just not part of their tribe.

I suppose that in my quest to improve policy and understanding I should be trying to fit in better – lose the beard, learn to play golf, start using “impact” as a verb. But I probably couldn’t pull it off even if I tried. And as a result there will always be a large group of people who will never be moved by any evidence I present.

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