Sunday, July 31, 2005

The "Media and Economics" School

See Richard Posner's recent roundup of eight -- count 'em -- recent books on the media. For those of you old enough to remember, Posner is the conservative academic/jurist who has led the "law and economics" movement since the dawn of the Reagan era. Posner and others have used L&E to do battle with many longstanding laws and precedents, interposing the economic cost/benefit analysis as the basis for deciding all manner of legal dispute. He's applying a similar economic lens today to the media scene, arguing that negative trends like sensationalism (think Michael Jackson) and polarization (think Fox, talking heads, and angry bloggers) are the result of "the vertiginous decline in the cost of electronic communication and the relaxation of regulatory barriers to entry, leading to the proliferation of consumer choices." But greater choice hasn't created a competitive market for truth and accuracy, says Posner. "[P]eople don't like being in a state of doubt, so they look for information that will support rather than undermine their existing beliefs. They're also uncomfortable seeing their beliefs challenged on issues that are bound up with their economic welfare, physical safety or religious and moral views." It's like a page from George Lakoff -- people generally prefer to listen to what fits their views, filtering out the rest.

A proponent of new media -- see his article for a lengthy and passionate defense of bloggers against charges from mainstream journalists -- the professor himself is a blogger, sharing a site with University of Chicago economist Gary Becker.

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