October 11, 2012
/ by Peter.Benincasa
In recent years, new media has opened up incalculable avenues for the distribution of information. But with every blog post, tweet or Facebook share come equally incalculable opportunities for misinformation to leak into the public sphere. While some may find this dismaying, others, like Jeff Madrick, the new economics columnist at Harper’s Magazine, have made an increased effort to set the record straight.
Madrick, formerly a columnist at The New York Times, chose a peculiar name for his new economics column at Harper’s: The Anti-Economist. But for Madrick, this title perfectly summarizes the column’s purpose, which is to dismantle some of the most widely touted fallacies in contemporary economics.
“I call it The Anti-Economist because I think a lot, not all, but a lot of mainstream economic analysis is simply inadequate and even contributed to the financial crisis and the relatively poor performance of wages and public investment over the last 40 years,” he said.
Madrick hopes to provide the average reader with a fuller analysis of economic issues by illuminating concepts that may be too complex or inconvenient to receive adequate coverage elsewhere.
“My long term plans for the column are to point out to people important facts and ideas they may have missed and to correct conventional economic wisdom when it goes awry, which it often does,” he said.
Today’s economic crisis will be featured prominently in his column, as one would expect, but he will also focus on common narratives that misconstrue its origin. For example, he intends to dispute the conventional idea that America’s economic decline is particularly recent or abrupt.
“One of the truly inadequately explored subjects is how poorly the economy has done for 40 years, based on the idea that the economy was successful,” he said. “But it simply wasn’t successful.”
He will also challenge the popular belief that income inequality is the most severe problem in America’s economy, concentrating instead on income stagnation.
“It’s not so much that inequality bothers me. What bothers me is the very large stagnation of incomes,” he said. “The American dream is not about rags to riches. The American dream is about working hard and seeing your income go up on balance every year, or at least on balance over two or three years. And it always had in America, but it stopped doing that for many Americans in the late 1970s, and that’s the source of a lot of anger, extremism in politics, and polarization today.”
Another theme Madrick intends to peruse is the impact of political rhetoric on economic thought, focusing specifically on what he calls “anti-government nonsense.”
“The government, properly run – I emphasize properly – guarantees you freedom and freedom includes educational opportunity even as a very young person, nutritional adequacy and job opportunity for all. Without government, that simply wouldn’t exist. A free market economy on its own doesn’t provide those,” he said.
While Madrick’s column appears only in print, he does maintain a strong online presence through regular contributions to The Huffington Post and the Harper’s Magazine blog, among various other Internet media outlets.
He is also on Twitter, which he finds useful in tracking thought leaders in his field. Although he appreciates social media, he does find it lacking in certain areas.
“The problem, of course, is separating the trustworthy and high quality from the rest of the pack,” he said.
In addition to his new column at Harper’s Magazine, Madrick also regularly contributes to The New York Review of Books. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe and various other publications.
He has made appearances on several broadcasts including CNN, CNBC Cable Network, CBS Television Network, NPR, Frontline and The Charlie Rose Show, among others. He has authored several books with the most recent title Age of Greed, The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970-Present. He is the director of the Rediscovering Government Initiative at the Roosevelt Institute, a think tank in New York. He is also the editor of Challenge: The Magazine of Economics Affairs and a visiting professor at Cooper Union.
Like most journalists, Madrick prefers pitches that are personalized and exhibit a familiarity with his work.
“If they are relevant to the sorts of things I write about, and the way I write about them, they are useful,” he said. “If I am part of a general cattle call, they can be annoying.”
Email is an appropriate method of contact.
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