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Republican conspiracy theory update

October 8th, 2012

Republicans are now so habituated to conspiracy theories that they have become the default mode of reasoning. Even minor news items, unfavorable to the Repub line of the day, instantly produce conspiracy-theoretic explanations. Moreover, existing, previously non-partisan conspiracy theories are being welcomed in to the Republican coalition. Three examples from the past week , two of them for the same news item

* Unexpectedly good employment figures produced the “jobs truther” conspiracy theory that the Bureau of Labor Statistics had cooked the numbers. This was first advanced by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, taken up enthusiastically by Republican rightists like Laura Ingraham and Allen West, and boosted by Fox News.

* As the difficulties with this theory became apparent, Repubs switched to a non-falsifiable alternative. Unemployed Democrats had conspired to lie to BLS surveyors by claiming they had found jobs, thereby boosting Obama’s re-election numbers.

* The third is a health conspiracy which is based on the idea that the symptoms normally associated with depression or chronic fatigue syndrome are actually a chronic form of Lyme Disease (an infection carried by deer ticks) and that the medical establishment is conspiring to suppress the evidence. Romney and Ryan are pandering to this.

The biggest (non-political) conspiracy theories remaining unclaimed are Ufology and anti-vaxerism. So far, at least these seem to be beyond the pale for the Repubs. Michelle Bachmann got a very negative reaction to her embrace of anti-vaxerism during the primary campaign, even though she was using it to bolster the rightwing case against HPV vaccination for girls. If we ever see a softening on this, we’ll know that the party has finally lost all remaining touch with reality.

Not quite on conspiracy theories, but here’s a Repub member of the House Science committee saying ““All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell,”.

How about Australia? So far at least, “cafeteria crazy” seems to be the rule in most places. Full-blown conspiracy theories on climate change coexist with routine political rhetoric on most other issues.

But the local right has long been dependent on talking points imported from the US, and the supply chain is increasingly dominated by conspiracists. Examples of full-blown crazy are the overlapping circles of Catallaxy and Quadrant who recirculate most the US conspiracy theories. Here’s Quadrant denouncing Darwinism. And more here from rightwing eminence grise, Ray Evans, linking evolution and climate science. And here’s Catallaxy pushing poll trutherism

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  1. Jim Rose
    October 8th, 2012 at 17:24 | #1

    The Left-wing of politics is built on conspiracy: the evils of the profit motive, private property, capitalism and the class differences between the workers and the bosses.
    • What is the point of unions unless there is a conspiracy of the bosses to keep wages down?
    • Peace movements would be very short on rhetoric without alleging the war is the product of an American-led conspiracy?

    Need I mention the endless machinations of multinational corporations, the big banks and the top 1%? Has the occupy Wall Street movement gone down a memory hole so quickly?

    What is the state of play with the vast right-wing conspiracy against Bill Clinton ‘since the day he announced for president’? Look up Hilary’s ranting on youtube.

    The best the left-wing conspiracy of all is neoliberalism. A conspiracy led the 1980s and 1990s by retired and dead professors who, apart from Friedman, its followers had never really heard off. Neoliberalism ringmaster Hayek was so obscure that it is hard to find obituaries of him in the major newspapers.

    See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vast_right-wing_conspiracy

  2. Ernestine Gross
    October 8th, 2012 at 17:33 | #2

    @Jim Rose

    I take it you wish to provide yet another example in support of Prof Q’s post.

  3. John Quiggin
    October 8th, 2012 at 18:30 | #3

    “Neoliberalism ringmaster Hayek was so obscure that it is hard to find obituaries of him in the major newspapers. ”

    Is this the FA von Hayek who won the Nobel Prize* in 1974, was quoted by Thatcher as the basis of her belief, inspired Pinochet etc. etc? The one whose lengthy NY Times obituary can be found by Google in under 10 seconds
    http://www.nytimes.com/1992/03/24/world/friedrich-von-hayek-dies-at-92-an-early-free-market-economist.html
    Also here 15 seconds later
    http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-12086569.html

    Or maybe you’re talking about Salma Hayek’s dad. He’s so obscure that I’m not even sure whether or not he’s dead. But he was an oil company executive, so I guess he must be the one.

    * I know, I know Sverige Bank etc

  4. Katz
    October 8th, 2012 at 18:35 | #4

    It appears that Jim Rose is the victim of a conspiracy to rip out the page of his dictionary containing the definition of “conspiracy”.

    As this crime appears to have been perpetrated on JR long ago, The NKVD must be a prime suspect.

  5. Mel
    October 8th, 2012 at 18:45 | #5

    Would a Rose by any other name still smell like flatulence?

    - Mel Shakespeare

  6. October 8th, 2012 at 19:23 | #6

    Apparently Bob Carr has told 4 corners:

    “‘perhaps an assassination combined with a major defection, taking a large part of its military, is what is required to get one; a ceasefire and two; political negotiations.’

    Senator Carr says it is unclear to what extent Islamic extremists like Al Qaeda are involved in the conflict.”

    Not sure I’m comfortable with an unelected Australian Foreign Minister suggesting that “assassination” is a good thing. And as for the idea that there are dark and shadowy forces at work, it is well established that those would be the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – (Reuters 1 August 2012):

    “A U.S. government source acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.

    Last week, Reuters reported that, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey had established a secret base near the Syrian border to help direct vital military and communications support to Assad’s opponents.

    This “nerve center” is in Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 60 miles from the Syrian border, which is also home to Incirlik, a U.S. air base where U.S. military and intelligence agencies maintain a substantial presence.”

    Where does this fall on the “conspiracy” spectrum? In fact, what is the conspiracy spectrum? We have throughout history a whole lot of conspiracies (eg: WMD, Gulf of Tonkin, Bay of Pigs) and then we have the perjorative “Conspiracy Theory”.

  7. Katz
    October 8th, 2012 at 19:40 | #7

    Yes, Megan. 9/11 was a conspiracy to destroy buildings and their inhabitants.

    Yet, these events are only infrequently called a conspiracy.

    Moreover, intelligence and counterintelligence organisations make conspiracies their stock in trade. Yet, conspiracies are spoken of as very rare events.

    Colin Powell was the lead actor in a plot to lie to the world in order to justify invasion of Iraq. He knew it and he didn’t like it. But his actions are seldom characterised as a conspiracy, though conspiracy it was.

  8. John Quiggin
    October 8th, 2012 at 20:09 | #8

    There’s an interesting terminological issue here. 9/11 was a conspiracy involving the hijackers, OBL and many others. But “9/11 conspiracy theory” refers to claims that the attack was faked, or orchestrated by unknown parties cf Watergate

  9. Jim Rose
    October 8th, 2012 at 20:18 | #9

    @John Quiggin
    thanks John, the NYT ob is rather short for a ringmaster of neoliberalism. If there is a third and other Hayek newspaper obs, they must be behind pay walls. His son’s obituary in the Independent was much longer mostly on the back of his increasingly famous father.

    The NYT ob says that ‘Mr. Hayek influenced virtually every prominent free-market economist, from Milton Friedman to George Stigler’! Hayek could not even get a job in the economics department at Chicago. Some even refer to Friedman as Hayek’s student! Friedman was a bitter critic of Austrian business cycle theory.

    the NYT Ob also says that “An ardent opponent of most Government intervention in the economy, he was all but ignored by other economists for 30 years after World War II, although he was respected for early contributions to monetary theory.” John Hicks commented in 1967 that Hayek had been forgotten as Keynes principal critic in the 1930s.

    Now cast your mind back to the 1980s or early 1990s: mentioning Friedman’s name at job interviews would have been extremely career limiting. Back then, the much less radical Milton Friedman was just graduating from being a wild man in the wings to just a suspicious character. Remember how opposed the Reserve Bank and Treasury were to inflation targeting until 1996.

    If you name dropped Hayek in the 1980s and early 1990s, any sign of name recognition would have indicated that you were been interviewed by educated people.

    Friedman has Newsweek columns, TV programmes and countless interviews. Hayek was struggling to find a job, much less a job with a pension, so he moved back to Europe in about 1969 to keep working. The Nobel prize was his retirement nest egg.

    both sides of politics waste their time with ideas that it is all a conspiracy.

  10. sdfc
    October 8th, 2012 at 20:32 | #10

    The RBA tentatively began to target 2 to 3 per cent inflation in 1993.

  11. John Quiggin
    October 8th, 2012 at 20:43 | #11

    So Jim, to summarize, for 25-30 years afer 1945 when Keynesianism was dominant, Hayek was largely ignored. He has only been a major figure for the last 40 years or so, since the Nobel

    It’s certainly true that Hayek has risen in popularity relative to Friedman (a much more significant figure in economics) in the last 10-14 years. That reflects, among other things, the appeal of his very silly Road to Serfdom to rightwing conspiracy theorists, and the attachment of the Austrian School to his long-obsolete business cycle theory.

    OTOH, Hayek’s actual contributions, on the informational role of prices, don’t get the attention they deserve, at least from his fans.

  12. Freelander
    October 8th, 2012 at 20:50 | #12

    While that Hayek paper was a good one, even its contribution is exaggerated.

  13. Jim Rose
    October 8th, 2012 at 21:51 | #13

    @John Quiggin
    thanks John, my recollection is Hayek’s comeback in economics textbooks and elsewhere was from early 1990s and was for his work on the knowledge problem and on the meaning of competition. That was work he published in the 1940s. Hayek resumed working on macroeconomics from 1974 to about 1981. His health then fell away.

    His Nobel prize winning work on Austrian business cycle theory has a small audience even now. You have discussed Austrian business cycle theory on this blog. I am not sure how much time you spent studying it in the years prior to blogging on it?

    Hayek’s fame has grown greatly in the last 15 years, as you say. That rise to a major public profile was well after the triumph of so called neoliberalism.

    Stigler contended that economists exert a minor and scarcely detectable influence on the societies in which they live. Stigler argued that if Richard Cobden had spoken only Yiddish, and with a stammer, and Robert Peel had been a narrow, stupid man, England would have repealed the corn laws to allow free trade in grain as its agricultural classes declined and its manufacturing and commercial classes grew in the 1840s and onwards,

    As Stigler noted:
    • the ideas behind economic reform had been around for a long time.
    • To affect public policy, ideas must find a market among those influencing change.
    • When their day comes, economists seem to be the leaders of public opinion.
    • But when the views of economists are not so congenial to the current requirements of interest groups, these economists are left to be the writers of letters to the editor of provincial newspapers.

    These days they would run an angry blog.

  14. Uncle Milton
    October 8th, 2012 at 22:17 | #14

    @Jim Rose

    This is garbage. The Treasury and RBA had money supply growth targets, based explicitly on Friedman’s monetarist theories, from the mid 70s to 1985, when deregulation of the financial system had made the old definitions of money (M1, M2, M3 etc) obsolete.

  15. October 9th, 2012 at 00:32 | #15

    I raise the terminological or definitional question because one decade’s “Conspiracy Theory” is a later decade’s “conspiracy”.

    In the year 2012 everyone has heard of, knows all about and is cool with the concept of the “President’s Working Group on Financial Markets” (a.k.a. the “Plunge Protection Team”), created by Reagan after the 1987 stock market crash to give Wall Street a hand if it ever again came under such terrible threat as it did when a whole bunch of supposedly independent and intelligent participants decided to get out the exits all at once and in a stampede formation.

    I remember first hearing about the ‘Plunge Protection Team’ via the internet about 2004 or so. I also clearly remember making a comment on an Australian blog (may even have been early days of this one!? – can’t remember) about this crazy idea.

    I very clearly remember the attacking comment/s that came back accusing me of being a tin-foil-hatter/conspiracy theorist. And, most vividly, the forceful assertions that there was no such thing as a ‘Plunge Protection Team’ or even anything remotely like it.

    My big hobby horse is the failure of our fourth estate to perform its vital role of keeping the populace honestly informed of truth, reality and facts.

    Without that we have no democracy.

    The fact that we can all argue about what is or isn’t ‘real’ while abusing each other for holding to ‘conspiracy theories’ etc.. simply means that we are all allowing others to steal our democracy from us while we pretend it still exists.

  16. rog
    October 9th, 2012 at 04:01 | #16

    On QandA veteran conspirer Piers Akerman claimed that the reaction against Alan Jones was by one person anonymously manipulating social media while C Pyne said it was an ALP sponsored form of counter insurgency. Both supported Jones freedom of speech yet Pyne criticised J Gillard staffers for not moderating troll comments and Akerman advocated “depriving the grubs of oxygen”. Neither admitted to any connection between Jones comments re Muslims and Cronulla riots and both seem to have forgotten Lib laws on sedition and established law on incitement to commit criminal act.

  17. rog
    October 9th, 2012 at 04:09 | #17

    Also on QandA we had Pyne loudly berating against claims that Abbott was mysoginist and that both he and Abbott were “feminists” (it’s all an ALP conspiracy) then loudly talking over and interrupting Kate Ellis. At some point both Pyne and Ackermen wove freedom of speech and carbon tax into their spiel. It is debatable that they even heard let alone understood the questions before launching into their answers.

    Jim Rose claims to be able to define conspiracy!

  18. John Quiggin
    October 9th, 2012 at 04:57 | #18

    To expand on Uncle Milton’s point, the high point of Friedman’s influence was the late 1970s, when monetary targeting was adopted with enthusiasm. The shift to inflation targeting, and to interest rates as the main policy instrument, in the 1990s was a response to the failure of monetary targeting, and represented a limited movement back to Keynesianism. This is all in my book.

    Until quite recently, the phrase “high priest of neoliberalism” would have been applied to Friedman, if anyone. To repeat, the fact that it’s Hayek now is an indication of the extent to which an intellectual confident and powerful movement has turned into a collection of crazies.

  19. John Quiggin
    October 9th, 2012 at 05:06 | #19

    @Megan If people rejected the conspiracy theory version of the Plunge Protection Team, that’s only because the “lone gunman” theory (aka the “Greenspan put”) was so much more plausible. In view of the godlike powers that were routinely attributed to Greenspan at the time, and his obvious willingness to prop up markets through monetary expansion, the idea that he would need to conspire with nobodies like the heads of the SEC and CFTC got little traction.

    From the perspective of 2012, the only thing more to be said is that this policy, whoever was responsible, was a colossal failure.

  20. Jim Rose
    October 9th, 2012 at 05:44 | #20

    the monetary contraction in the late 1980s was to rein in the current account, not control inflation. see Edward Nelson, 2005. “Monetary Policy Neglect and the Great Inflation in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand,” International Journal of Central Banking, International Journal of Central Banking, vol. 1(1), May.

    Newspaper coverage and policymakers’ statements are used to analyze the views on the inflation process that led to the 1970s macroeconomic policies, and the different movement in each country away from 1970s views.

    to understand the course of policy in each country, it is crucial to use the monetary policy neglect hypothesis, which claims that the Great Inflation occurred because policymakers delegated inflation control to nonmonetary devices.

    This hypothesis helps explain why, unlike Canada, Australia and New Zealand continued to suffer high inflation in the mid-1980s. The delayed disinflation in these countries reflected the continuing importance accorded to nonmonetary views of inflation.

  21. JB Cairns
    October 9th, 2012 at 07:02 | #21

    how people forget.

    Bernie Fraser specifically had staffers looking at inflation targets.

    I seem to remember two of them by the name of Stevens and Gruen!!
    .

    He brought in an inflation target of 2-3% in 1993 as SDFC has said.

    With regard to Hayek he declined from the economic scene after been given the rounds of the kitchen by Sraffa.
    Indeed Hayek recanted in 1936 and said he was wrong and even supported public works expenditure.

    Hayek did gain a reputation, justifiably, in philosophy,

    the RBA was very wary of inflation getting too low believing rightly combating deflation is much much harder than inflation.

  22. John Quiggin
    October 9th, 2012 at 07:57 | #22

    @Jim In reality, Australian inflation had fallen from double digit rates to 6-7 per cent by the mid-1980s, without sharp monetary contraction, thanks to the Accord, a textbook example of non-monetary anti-inflation policy. Again, this is all in my book. You should read it before commenting further, I think.

  23. Uncle Milton
    October 9th, 2012 at 08:39 | #23

    @JB Cairns

    Homer, as an aside, Fraser brought in the 2-3% inflation target without consulting his staff. He just slipped it into a speech. It might, from memory, even have been in answer to a question after a speech, as in

    Question from floor: “Governor, what do you think Australia’s inflation rate should be?”
    Fraser, thinking on his feet: “About 2-3%”

    And the rest is history.

  24. JB Cairns
    October 9th, 2012 at 09:04 | #24

    Uncle Milton,

    Inflation targeting became all the rage at this time.

    I was talking to a number of RBA staffers and they were all examining this.

    The problem of measuring inflation and how it was overestimated was all the talk.

    so I disagree with you. Bernie just didn’t slip it in.

    He like for his intellectual superiors t examine something and then come back to him.

    I can even recall a conference back in the early 90s looking at inflation etc.

    sorry old mate we beg to differ.

    Bernie is definitely the best governor of the RBA we have had.

  25. Freelander
    October 9th, 2012 at 09:53 | #25

    “Bernie is definitely the best governor of the RBA we have had.”

    That is a view I’ve heard a number of people express.

  26. NickR
    October 9th, 2012 at 10:51 | #26

    I do think there is some merit to Jim’s point in that there are left wing conspiracy theories. The idea that Bush was behind 9/11 had some momentum, and certainly many people think that the war with Iraq was all about oil. Nevertheless these beliefs are generally confined to the man on the street – I am not aware of any prominent Democrats pandering to this sort of thing.

    There are also surely economic type conspiracy theories about big corporations stealing everybody else’s money, but most of the chatter that I am aware of is fairly well based. The large increase in income inequality over the last couple of decades is an empirical fact, although some of the explanations might be pretty fanciful.

    A quick scan of the right wing punditry reveals popular Republican beliefs including

    (i) Pretty much the entire media is biased
    (ii) The economics discipline has a pro Keynesian bias
    (iii) Climate science is a giant conspiracy
    (iv) Political polls showing good news for Obama are biased
    (v) Evolutionary biology is a conspiracy
    (vi) The BLS is biased (only when they report good news for Obama)
    (vii) Obviously birtherism and Obama being secret socialist Muslim etc.

    These seem an order of magnitude greater than their left wing equivalents, and are certainly echoed by prominent Republicans.

  27. Uncle Milton
    October 9th, 2012 at 10:51 | #27

    U@JB Cairns

    Conference talk is one thing; action another. Bernie took them all by surprise.

  28. John Quiggin
    October 9th, 2012 at 10:57 | #28

    “All about oil” had some validity, in the sense that, if there were no oil in the region, the US wouldn’t care about it, and the war would never have happened.

    http://johnquiggin.com/2007/07/06/all-about-oil-repost/

  29. NickR
    October 9th, 2012 at 11:26 | #29

    @John Quiggin
    I do agree that oil was likely to be a relevant factor given its political importance. The conspiracy I was referring to was your “crudest form” where the U.S. would steal it all.

  30. Fran Barlow
    October 9th, 2012 at 12:57 | #30

    @John Quiggin

    While I’ve long found allegations of active involvement of the Bush Administration in 9/11 utterly nonsensical, there can be little doubt that they were grossly and recklessly incompetent before the fact — so reckless that even people who would be sceptical of criminal malfeasance might be inclined to entertain it.

    Ashcroft really was a prize nutter who should never have gone near a management role and was actively involved in complicating the FBI’s tracking of those who in the end carried out the attacks. One of the last things he did before 9/11 was reject an appeal by then FBI head Louis Freeh against a cutback in funds for the FBI to pursue domestic terrorism cases. Poignantly, the refusal letter landed on the desk of the new head of the FBI Robert Mueller’s desk shortly following the event — apparently dated Monday September 10 2001.

    Apparently Ashcroft had wanted the focus to be on the guns and drugs trafficking rings — a not unreasonable thing given their wider policy settings, but which with hindsight looks like one of those famously bad decisions.

  31. Jim Rose
    October 9th, 2012 at 16:29 | #31

    @John Quiggin
    thanks John, the 1983 Accord included half-yearly wage increases indexed to the consumer price index.

    As I recall from long ago research, a full CPI wage adjustment was awarded in only 7 of the previous 19 national wage cases. Shame, Fraser, shame! These details were take from Braham Dabcheck’s very good 1989 book on Australian industrial relations.

    Securing full CPI indexation at the end of the recession are being unable to secure cost of living increases in the majority of the recent national wages cases does not seem to qualify as wage restraint. What do you think? The no extra claims commitment, initially negotiated in the metal industry in 1981, was a small price to pay. Money for nothing.

    On “the high point of Friedman’s influence was the late 1970s, when monetary targeting was adopted with enthusiasm”, monetarism is not monetary targets.

    Friedman saw the core of the monetarist policy view was “that monetary growth should be steady and predictable”; on transition to this rule, he said “The most important device for mitigating the side effects is to slow inflation gradually but steadily by a policy announced in advance and adhered to so it becomes credible”.

    Friedman disavowed fine-tuning. His stabilisation policy was a constant monetary growth rule that removes monetary policy as an independent source of instability.

    Friedman also supported full wage indexation. The wage discounts in the Accord were unnecessary in fighting inflation. See Milton Friedman ‘Using Escalators to Help Fight Inflation,” and his books such as Free to Choose (p.277). He must have been a double agent for the unions??!

  32. Pete Moran
    October 9th, 2012 at 17:52 | #32

    Much more vigilance is required to prevent the US-stoopid scourge arriving in Australia.

    Cory Bernardi is trying. Campbell Newman seems to be putting it into practice and I’m not sure which US-looney Barnaby Joyce borrows his act from. Jim Inholffe maybe?

  33. sdfc
    October 9th, 2012 at 19:43 | #33

    @Uncle Milton

    Milt

    The RBA certainly thinks its been targeting inflation since 1993.

    http://www.rba.gov.au/publications/bulletin/1998/oct/pdf/bu-1098-1.pdf

  34. Jim Rose
    October 10th, 2012 at 16:21 | #34

    @sdfc
    John Quiggin wrote two very nice reviews of monetary policy in 1997 and 2007. One or both noted a lack of a real policy framework from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s.

    John also noted with all good tact that the reviews of monetary policy in the 1980s and 1990s written by bank officials afterwards tended to be rather kind to the Reserve bank as to what it was doing and why it was doing what it was doing.

    The only time I have seen a central bank admit a mistake was Bernanke on the Fed’s policies in the 1930s. Apologising for the long dead is better than nothing.

    basking in reflected glory is a key political skill.

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