Wednesday, February 10, 2010

too big to comprehend

Moe Tkacik wrote an excellent essay for the February issue of the aptly titled “The Baffler”: Journals of the Crisis Year . She reviews the many linear feet of books written in an attempt to explain the financial crisis, the recession, the meltdown, whateveryouwishtocallit. To distill her points into a one-liner would be unfair.

Some of her insight:
"The current financial system was constructed to make us all feel stupid, and in the process of building it the architects allowed themselves to become stupid as well. That ignorance begat infantilization, which bred cowardice and systemic moral decay. The only sustainable way out is to reacquaint ourselves and our fellow citizens with the wisdom of asking stupid questions."

Read it when you have some time. In it, she shares the view that some things are too big to comprehend, some stories too big to tell. Too big to fail sounds cool, but doesn’t stretch us to understand. Let’s take Moe’s essay and walk into the halls of government.

The media has learned a great deal over the past year, helping us to learn about the complexities of the connected institutional players in finance, nationally and globally. Add to this new genre of reporting, health care. Most journalists barely understood their own health care plan in January 2009. Now they attempt to deconstruct the nation’s possible emerging, could-be-bipartisan, deal-trough draft.

But how much do we read about the process of governance; bill writing, hearings, meetings, deals, committee meetings in session and offline talks? That’s boring process procedural stuff. Doesn’t sell papers or hits online. We enjoy personality (disorder) pieces. Gibbs with his list in hand having fun with Sarah, treks to the Appalachians, I mean pampas, pork rinds in a bowl from good deals, and more personality disorders. How did they make those pork rinds? The process of government surely is more than rhetoric at podiums. But that’s where we sit.

And from where we sit, from where we read, from where journalists report, comment, interview, and source, we will continue to scratch our heads in wonder when the process, the sausage machine, spits out a bill, a policy, a budget, a tax, an insurance clause that affects us.

Too many government insiders are not insiders. They merely have lunch invitations and wish them to continue. Journalists critique that we need to get the money out of government and politics, but perhaps we need to consider that we need to get the money out of journalism. Journalists writing on and about Wall Street, for example, are part of a very lucrative business which as long as we buy “too big to fail” will continue to pump ink centered on the results, not the process, and generally in line with John Galt’s famous speech.

We need more of the how, as boring as that may be. How can you change or improve something you cannot comprehend? In the absence of comprehending, people may wish to replace rather than improve. Replacements can be messy.

We have a chance to learn more of the “how” and process with the “Jobs Bill”. Will the surface entertainment reporting continue to dominate our digital devices of choice, our paper subscriptions, in light of the revenue challenges ahead?

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