Economics for dummies


Economics has never been my strong point. I still don’t understand a lot of the jargon and concepts.

But, if you watch CNBC, you’ll quickly see that an understanding of economics isn’t really necessary. As with political programming, it’s really all about the screaming.

With sound effects, yet, if you’re Jim Cramer. (Actually, Cramer seems to have sobered up a bit; he still does the “booyah” routine, but the carnival sound-effects board with mooing and yelling and oinking seems to have gone by the wayside. Can it be? Can our boy Jim have grown up, a little?

Nah. I think he just had a talking-to by some folks at the network.)

CNBC features stentorian ranters like Larry Kudlow, for whom capitalism is sacrosanct, and who can’t say President Obama’s name without a sneer. They have Joe Kernan of “Squawk Box,” sort of a minor-league Chris Matthews, who likes to hoot and mock and talk over other people. Most chillingly of all, they have Rick Santelli, who reports from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, and who snorts and spins and shrieks and waves his hands in the air. In case you’re not familiar with his work, Santelli credits himself (and is credited by others) with helping to found the Tea Party, with a famous / infamous on-air rant. Rick continues to fly into rages and make speeches on the air, hoping for another through-the-roof YouTube success; he did one the other day, in which he compared himself to the Founding Fathers standing up to King George. (Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up.)

(To be fair, the whole hyperactively angry thing probably made Rick Santelli very successful in business; trading is notoriously competitive, and I’m sure it’s an advantage to be bouncier and crazier than the other guy. On the air, however, these things don’t make you a journalist; they makes you a clown.  They certainly don’t make you a peer of the Founding Fathers.)

CNBC also has the pretty ones: Carl Quintanilla, Maria Bartiromo. These are mostly memorable for their fresh complexions. They seldom have anything deep to say. They ask questions that seem thoughtful and probing, but I wonder sometimes who writes these questions.

But – and here’s the thing – most of these “journalists,” the pretty ones and the howlers and the sneerers, make the most howlingly ridiculous statements on a daily basis.

For example: stupid generalizations and truisms. “Markets always fluctuate.” Hell, I barely passed Econ 101, and I could have told you that.

Also: I know the difference between macroeconomics and microeconomics. Macro is the economy as a whole; micro is economics as it applies to a family, or to a business. They are vastly different.

Then why do these CNBC people treat them as the same thing?

Debt, for example. For a family, and for a business, it ‘s a problem. For a sovereign nation, less so. Countries can print money. I certainly can’t. Countries can manipulate interest rates. Can you do that? I can’t.

But the Kudlows and Kernans speak as if the rules that govern the national economy are the same that govern you and me.

So: are they experts, or idiots, or wannabe demagogues?

I don’t know. It’s like watching Spongebob. It’s very unreal.

At least Spongebob is cute and well-meaning.

Because, I tell you frankly, these guys aren’t.

About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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