CNBC Doesn’t Get It

It canceled the excellent Wall Street Journal editors’ talk show, the only TV show that I watched regularly. What a disappointment (and I’m not the only one who thinks so). Given the generally clueless, pointlessly argumentative, conventionally leftist journalism-school sensibility that pervades CNBC’s coverage, it was remarkable that the WSJ editors’ learned, civil, conservative discussions ever passed muster. And given the show’s uniqueness and obvious quality, the Investor’s Business Daily editorial attributing its cancelation to political bias at CNBC seems a likely explanation for what happened.

CNBC doesn’t understand its own business. They have a franchise in financial journalism but are pissing it away trying to be like CNN. Feh. I want information not intermediation. I want more straight business news and less politics and Beltway herd-wisdom. Enough talking heads, suck-up interviews with Hugo Chavez, and pointless soundbite exchanges between “experts” chosen mainly because they disagree with each other. Such dross is abundantly available elsewhere. CNBC’s edge came not mainly from analysis, but from unfiltered presentation of basic financial information: prices, govt statistical releases, consensus projections. The WSJ show, the only decent analysis CNBC had, was icing on the cake. How fitting that it was dropped and that the junk remains.

Increasingly, commercial television’s business model resembles the social model of an insecure teenager at an adult cocktail party: If you’re unable to say anything worth listening to, make yourself annoying enough and people will be forced to pay attention. However, given the expanding supply of news sources, this model is beginning to work as well in business as it does socially.

Decisionmaking Bias

Megan McArdle blogged:

I’m hearing a fair number of comments along the lines of “Wow! She’s not jaw-droppingly hideous the way she said she was!” I don’t recall ever really mentioning my appearance. . . how did I convey the impression that I was 300 pounds and covered with warts? Of course, I suppose it’s better to set up low expectations than to disappoint.
This is a good illustration of a common decisionmaking bias that behavioral economists call anchoring. In this case, McArdle’s occasional self-deprecating wisecracks were the only information about her appearance that many readers had, and skewed their expectations in the direction of “low.” Some of those readers were therefore surprised to learn that she is actually quite attractive.

Other examples of anchoring abound. In my own experience, traffic became systematically faster on a stretch of local expressway when a “Minimum Speed 40” sign was removed. When I met women through personal ads, I found that any explicit mention in my advertisement of a personal characteristic that I considered negative, and wanted to avoid in prospective mates, was likely to generate at least one response from somebody who considered it positive. (For example, “dislikes Clinton” might have a brought a reply from a two-time Clinton voter.) The existence of anchoring bias implies, among other things, that it’s wise in negotiations to mention desirable, even exaggerated, outcomes and avoid mentioning undesirable ones (make low initial bids and high initial offers); that you should avoid joking about death or lawsuits with the doctor who is treating you in an emergency room; and that platitudes about accentuating the positive and minimizing the negative may have an empirical basis.

Charity (Or Is It Competence?) Begins At Home

Professor Bunyip scores some excellent hits, en passant, on a well-known practitioner of the trendy stupidity that is known as “socially responsible investing.” The Prof. is harsh on the lady (there are so many other mediocre fund managers to pick on!), but his points are well taken. When evaluating uses for your money, look at results and not merely stated intentions. If the goals and realities don’t match, look elsewhere. And beware attractive do-gooders who take a big cut for themselves.

American empire?

James Bennett speculates. He thinks the only plausible current justification for empire is to “secure those areas of the world that can be characterized as failed states or regions of ethnic conflict than cannot be resolved within the currently existing frame of reference.” Even then it isn’t such a hot idea. His hypothetical examples are Liberia and Israel. The Israeli example is dispositive:

Similarly, would they be willing to contemplate making Israel a state or territory of the United States, again, permanently? The United States extends a security guarantee to Israel little short of what it extends to its own national territory, but the Israeli government has the ability to make that guarantee more or less difficult by its actions, in a way a U.S. state government does not. The logic of empire would demand that Israel be brought under formal control as the price of its guarantee. This would be the end of the Zionist dream in some respects, but would guarantee the security of Israelis as no other action could.
Americans wouldn’t want to do it and Israelis wouldn’t trust them to. Israel wouldn’t be willing to pay the price in independence. And why should we prop up Israeli socialism? (And would an economically reformed, more productive Israel even need us?)
I raise both of these cases not as serious proposals but as examples to try to concretize the question of what empire might mean in the 21st century. It is more likely that the mild hegemony currently enjoyed by the United States as a by-product of its technological, financial, and social successes is as much empire as most Americans are willing to contemplate, or pay for. It is also more likely that the future lies in the further development of the international cooperative links such as NATO and the North American Free Trade Agreement into organizations that are more loose commonwealth than empire.
Exactly. The idea of an American empire in the style of past empires is fantasy. The U.S. isn’t likely to benefit from annexing five or 10 more Puerto Ricos, and productive countries will do much better to see us as a trading and cultural partner rather than a patron. (There’s also moral hazard in our implicitly holding out colonial status to dysfunctional countries as an alternative to their domestic reform. The very fact that we think it’s valuable to stabilize a region gives its inhabitants leverage over us. If we involved ourselves and insisted that they reformed, would we — who wouldn’t be there if we didn’t value their stability more than they did — leave as long as they appeared to be making an effort? I suspect that it is always easier for local elites to placate bwana than to do the hard, and perhaps personally disempowering, work of liberalizing their own backward economies.) Rather than talk of empire, we should invite countries like Israel into NAFTA while at the same time reducing the subsidies we pay to them. That would increase their incentive to reform. Our treating them as colonies would only increase their incentive to remain unproductive and, hence, dependent.

(Bennett link: Instapundit)