Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Nature of Spin

It is the very nature of spin to simplify a complex situation into one that is simple to understand and strikes a chord with the "common man". For example on import tariffs the simplified situation is that they reduce imports, improving the trade balance which is good for the country doing it - bad for the other exporting countries. The spin corollary is that tariffs reduce unemployment while only slightly increasing prices for consumers. When there is an article on tariffs, there is not much way to tell the spin from the truth in reporting. However, economists make models on how an act of putting up tariffs affects the various economies - check these models against reality past and present, and conclude that tariffs are in fact a lose-lose proposition. The country putting up the tariff loses (arguably the other exporting countries lose even worse, but it's often spread amongst many countries) in just about every country imaginable where it has happened.

In the middle east the spin exaggerates the "evils" of the US and Israel - and codifies them as satan worshippers (from the Arab side). The truth is obviously more complex, but leaders (or journalists) who try to tell the truth are unlikely to be listened to (democratic or not). In Israel the spin is aimed at "converting" moral westeners to their cause and they place great importance of demonstrating to civilised nations their morals are superior to those of the palestinians. They codify it as there being a single enemy and that they don't desire much other than legitimacy and peace. This spin also grossly simplifies the situation.

If you look at the spin on both sides of a tariff example, say in WTO negotiations, the negotiations are made on the premise that if you are giving up a tariff, that is a loss to you and a mercantalistic negotiation ensues (ie. you give up this tariff if I give up that etc.) Over and over I've seen economists exasperated at the lack of reality of these assertions. I'm saying that if you try to look at the spin of both sides at the same time, you are almost certainly making the same mistake of believing the spin over the reality, of which you have to go back to those models that work to see a semblance. Political experts will at least give a feel of the complexity without perhaps getting the model right. Experts can make analogies with similar situations - economics experts will tend to befuddle the general public because they just can't get their head around the more complex models.

I don't believe the three entity model I'm talking about is *that* complex that at least political experts and the general intellectual can understand it.

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