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May 25, 2010


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Account Deleted

I'm just cracking the spine on my first Noam Chomsky book "Chomsky on Anarchism", but he already diagnosed this problem in 1969.

In general he worried aloud about the difference between specialized technical elites assuming power and molding society to their whims and hereditary and aristocratic elites who had done the same in earlier ages.

Specialization leads infinitely to an ever smaller elite having monopoly on power. Or in this case, on what get's deemed as "news".


That's it, Jeffrey. Come to the dark side! ;)


"Specialization leads infinitely to an ever smaller elite having monopoly on power."

That would include law professors, wouldn't it?

sean coon

wait until you get to "understanding power" ...


Yeah, I really don't know what to do with all my power. I'm making a list. Watch out world!

Jim Caserta

Specialization is one of the primary tenets of capitalism. Chapter 1, part 1 of the Wealth of Nations - division of labor...well before the invisible hand makes an appearance.

The greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is any where directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labour.
Would you rather have two general writers or one who specialized in business and the other who specialized in sports?

If you were on trial for murder, would you want a defense attorney who specialized in those cases, or a lawyer with no specialization?

Account Deleted

Jim as always you make a very good point. In this specific instance I was referring to the decision makers who control the main arteries of information flow.

But in general I have been exploring a theory that specialization is leading to many of the conflicts in our society.

Jim Caserta

Is the elite that wields power really smaller than it has been in the past? Is the 'power' that elites (whatever their number) hold really larger than it has been in the past?

I hadn't read the article, but now (after reading) completely disagree with its premise. A lot of the financial blogs I've been reading were started by amateur writers, but people who brought expertise and understanding. Compare Joe Nocera, one of the better business reporters, to Yves Smith of nakedcapitalism. Ms. Smith has experience at Goldman Sachs & other Wall St firms, which gives an actual point of reference as opposed to Nocera's career as a journalist. Or look at the late Tanta from CalculatedRisk compared to Gretchen Morgenstern. Tanta worked in the mortgage business and could see the deteriorating underwriting conditions, and coined the prescient, "we're all subprime now" in Oct...2007. (GM actually worked at Dean Witter for 3 years, but still lacked the specialized expertise of Tanta.) Also, CR is not a fan of GM.

Without the internet, Mss Smith & Dungey's writings would never have been read. Ms. Smith has transferred her writings to a book, but that book wouldn't have made it w/o the blog.

The internet has democratized access to readers. You have more specialized writers, but a diffusion of influence.

Account Deleted

Jim: I would agree with your premise if it was only applied to seekers like those that frequent this blog. If I did not thirst for knowledge would I spend my time on Ed's website? Probably not. His perspective has always challenged my base assumptions and that is the main reason I frequent his blog. I like to learn from people who don't come from my particular background.

Now if I did not have that thirst and had a steady stream of MSM then I think the linked article's premise is on target.

It goes back to specialization. You obviously have a specialized interest in finance and economics. I would posit that the vast majority of people in America have a specialized interest in pop culture and celebrity gossip and thus it poses a danger as described by the linked article that those topics could subsume harder news and analysis when it comes to what the mass of information consumers gravitate toward.

Jim Caserta

The article singled out the web as a medium that trends towards trash. Seen the check-out-aisle lately? Enquirer, US Weekly, and the others. The linked article claims that the web makes real journalism hard, while I think that the web opens up the writing of many people regarding serious topics.

As a concession, the act of writing is not something that should be specialized. Kelly focuses on 'journalists', while my examples are not professional journalists. From that point of view, limiting writing to specialized journalists would be bad. However, writers with specialized skills and expertise are extremely helpful.



But in general I have been exploring a theory that specialization is leading to many of the conflicts in our society.
- Sykes

The inevitable result of specialization toward an extreme, is complexity.

Editor Gail at The Oil Drum quotes Kurt Cobb in review of this dynamic on the Horizon spill:

It is a strategy as old as civilization. Assign each person to do a part of the entire job, and the job will get done faster and better as each member of the work team hones skills and learns tricks to improve his or her performance with each repetition of the task. It's called the division of labor, and as it spreads and intensifies, it leads to greater and greater complexity in society.

My view is this isn't inherently a problem, but problems do arise such as MSM elites, or oil technical expertise in only the hands of corporate entity. I see solutions to the digital topic easier to solve than the oil topic while I would argue the relative importance of each topic to continuing status quo of Western 21st century life, is the reverse.

Account Deleted

Thanks RBM. I'll check that out.

Jim Caserta

A lot of the best writing starts out pro-bono, or with limited blogads type support. One of my favorite college sports blogs started like that. The guy was funny and a die-hard Gator fan. After a while, he got a gig at the Sporting News, and his blog is now on the SBNation network. I believe CR & NC started out as uncompensated bloggers.

Kelly's point is at people writing for money. If the instant money is your only goal then you can get sucked into writing garbage. If you're writing for some other reason, then the web allows a way for your voice to be heard, and for the listeners to tell others, and the aggregated demand to allow the best and most insightful writing to begin to yield financial benefits.

Jim Caserta

RBM - I disagree with the idea that complexity was the root cause of the oil spill problems. Regulators at MMS were interested in...umm...other things, and BP/Transocean didn't put enough effort into the failsafe backups because they are more expensive. I think they knew the risks, and like Tyler Durden, weighed the cost of a recall/extra failsafes vs. the cost of settlements/lawsuits/cleanup.

Ed Cone

Interesting discussion, but (although I'm a big booster of democratized media, which, ironically, empowers specialists) I don't think it's quite getting to Kelly's point, which goes beyond "it's hard to get paid to write anymore."

Yes, there's a ton of great, even expert commentary out there now, but the signal-to-noise ratio in the mass media (and maybe our common culture) is is diminished when serious, investigative journalism gives way to hit-chasing.

Certainly a lot of people tuned out the serious stuff all along in favor of whatever bread and circuses they preferred, and mass media has always offered plenty of junk food, and mass media may have been a temporary phenomenon in the first place.

But as the new media landscape emerges - and smart folk have argued that this may take a while - there are some dangers to the clicks-uber-alles business model.


"Yes, there's a ton of great, even expert commentary out there now, but the signal-to-noise ratio in the mass media (and maybe our common culture) is is diminished when serious, investigative journalism gives way to hit-chasing."



Uh, oh. You've been noted, Ed.

Jim Caserta

Wasn't Kelly's point that it is the web that is causing it to be harder to get paid to write anymore?

I would ask this - how many 'mass media' finance writers were warning of the dangers Long Term Capital Management were creating? I'll be it was mostly rah-rah, this many quarters w/o a loss. What would have happened if Harry Markopolos had written his ideas about Madoff in a blog, probably have to be anonymous, instead of in letters to the SEC? The low SNR is not a new occurrence, or one whose basis can be traced to the web.

Lots of necessary information will come from sources outside the 'mass media'. The web allows that information to get to more people.

Is writing a means or an end? Some writing is an end to itself, but Kelly is not talking about that. Lots of businesses are bemoaning increased competition making things more difficult, but that increased competition delivers something useful in the end.


Hey, Ed "noted" me first...

Ed Cone

"Wasn't Kelly's point that it is the web that is causing it to be harder to get paid to write anymore?"

I don't think that's quite it, and certainly not all of it.

Her crucial point is that in-depth, reported journalism -- the stuff that takes a lot of time and effort (and thus expense) to produce -- is getting chased from the scene.

So, yes, the web enables a lot of high-quality writing to be seen, and allows some expert voices to be heard.

Maybe that will prove an adequate replacement for institutional resources and broad audiences. Looks like we're about to find out.

Jim Caserta

Let's look at this a different way. Compare the S&L crisis to the recent housing/credit bubble. Was the reporting at this stage of the S&L cleanup better or worse than a lot of the writing that has come about regarding the current crisis? You have to factor in the size, scope and complexity difference. Did you have SEC reports being read by thousands and their opinions spurring more analysis? The WSJ has an article on repo's at the end of quarters, something that the Lehman report, and its churn through blogs, highlighted.

The fact is that the funding channel for journalism has changed and is continuing to change. That does not necessarily mean that the quality of information getting to people will go down.

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