In the beginning

Chapter 1

Chomsky tells a story about an alternative socialist press in Britan during the mid-1800’s. The government sought to shut it down with libel laws and prosecutions, and requiring an expensive security bond as a condition for publication. These coercive efforts were not effective. Instead a far greater evil shut them down. Free markets. Repealing taxes somehow destroyed socialist newspapers or something. He claims that the start-up cost for a profitable national paper went from 1000 pounds to 50,000 pounds for a London daily. The rise in capital costs, it is claimed were based on technological improvements. This begs the question, Why didn’t the socialists just use the older cheaper technology?

The answer that Chomsky would give (maybe?) is that advertising became more prominent. He writes “Before advertising became prominent, the price of a newspaper had to cover the cost of doing business. With the growth of advertising, papers that attracted ads could afford a copy price well below production costs. This put papers lacking in advertising at a serious disadvantage: their prices would tend to be higher [and] drive out of existence […] media companies that depend on sales alone. With advertising, the free market does not yield a neutral system in which final buyer choice decides”.

It is difficult to take the work seriously after a statement like that. Does he understand what a free market is? What is he advocating, making advertising illegal? Can any of my millions of readers make sense of this? No one is forced to purchase the advertised papers, the companies are free to advertise in any paper that they want. What is the problem? I assume that the problem is that Chomsky doesn’t like the results of the market process. He thinks that everyone should read Trotsky and Lenin and Marx, and if they don’t, well, there must be a problem with the process.

Complaints that advertisers pay more for wealthier audience rather than democratic “one person, one vote” principle that he thinks is correct. Why is one person, one vote superior? Because Chomsky says so. That’s all the proof that some people need, I guess.

He make the point that experts are featured on news programs often, and that many of the experts are from government and industry. I assume that the alternative that he would prefer is to have ignoramuses featured. That would give more voice to the common man.

Flak as a filter examples are given and then anti-Communism as a filter. This last one might be a little out of date.


17 Responses to “In the beginning”

  1. Jon Says:

    It’s not clear to me why you are having trouble making sense of the statement you quoted. Sounds very straightforward to me.

    No one is forced to purchase the advertised papers, the companies are free to advertise in any paper that they want.

    Who said otherwise?

    Why is one person, one vote superior?

    Here are our two alternatives. We can have a system where the content in the media reflects the needs and wants of the entire population or we can have a system where the content reflects the needs and wants of a privileged few. What do the privileged few want? More for themselves, less for others (naturally). If inequality in the US was like that of Haiti what would the privileged few want at that point? Same thing. There’s no end to it because the human appetite is insatiable. How to achieve that? Helps to keep people ignorant. Helps to get them to focus on unimportant things, like football and Anna Nicole. Helps to encourage fear so as to control people. Basically use propaganda as explained by Edward Bernays. If that’s what you think is better, then I guess you’re all set.

    But it’s interesting to me that on the one hand you argue that in fact people are getting what they want. They don’t really want news. They want gossip, etc. This is proved, in your mind, by the fact that they do watch gossip. Here Chomsky shows that in fact the product is not chosen by the final buyer, but by the wealthy advertiser, contrary to your claim. And you abandon your claim and just say “Yeah, so what? Why should we prefer one to the other?” So which is it?

    Here’s another straw man. C&H note that experts are frequently government and industry officials. I guess this means they prefer ignorant people. No. They prefer informed people that aren’t constrained by an incentive structure that demands that they report in a manner that reflects the needs and wants of the privileged few.

    • darfferrara Says:

      I guess the problem I’m having is that he isn’t making a clear statement again. He is insinuating that advertising is underhanded in some way. Once again, yokels are inferring that there are exactly two systems, one where advertising somehow props up the powerful, and another where there is universal happiness. Directly then, do you feel that advertising should not be permitted, First Amendment be damned?

      Let me make it clear, too, that I believe that some individuals want political news, although probably fewer than polls suggest. Others want sports and celebrity gossip. You seem to have no understanding up to this point that the marginal preference of individuals matters, not the average preference of a group.

      Alchien and Allen have some text devoted to advertising. It may not be as scientific as Chomsky, because there aren’t any polls, but it should be enlightening to you.

      • Jon Says:

        I’m not sure what you mean when you say “underhanded.” It’s not underhanded in the sense that it is hidden or conspiratorial. The outcomes that we see are the intended consequence of advertisers. Yes, they prop up the powerful. That’s their intent by design.

        “Universal happiness.” Ok. You gotta get in at least one straw man per comment.

        Should advertising be permitted, first amendment be damned? The first amendment wasn’t intended to defend the expression of hugely powerful non-persons called corporations in my view. So to deny corporations advertising may not necessarily violate the first amendment. I guess it depends on who you ask. The Supreme Court I suppose would say that it does and I’m not a lawyer. If the they are right then I think the first amendment should change.

        There’s a balance between individual freedom on the one hand and the effects of concentrated wealth on the general population on the other. I am not in favor of stripping the wealthy of all of their earnings, but I also recognize that with the wealth that Bill Gates has there are consequences. For instance he could destroy an innocent, poor person if he wanted. Or he could destroy many innocent people.

        But even he can’t destroy like a corporation can destroy. A corporation creates scads of enclaves of EXTREMELY concentrated wealth. Even a company that nobody has heard of can have resources that make Bill Gates look small. At the control of these institutions are these people that are constrained to make decisions based on one thing only. Short term profit maximization. It creates conditions that would lead them to act in a way that if it were a real person we’d consider them a psychopath.

        So while I don’t want to strip Bill Gates of his wealth I likewise don’t want to create entities that are 50 times as powerful as Bill Gates yet they are psychopathic. Yet if I am going to permit the existence of these entities I’m not going to feel bad about constraining them via regulation in ways that I would not constrain Bill Gates.

        I’m not sure if disallowing advertising of corporations is the best approach, but I think it is better than the present alternative, which is what we have now. States are the most powerful killing machines known to man, and I think the incentive structure of our media inhibits a check on that killing machine. It’s produced war cheerleading Fox News with all it’s deceit. It pulls Donahue off the air. And it does the kinds of things you’ll read about in upcoming chapters, which lead to massive death.

        The incentive structure of the media perpetuated Vietnam. It was the truth filtering through that lead to the objections and resistance. The whole war was an absurdity. B-52’s spraying chemical weaponry all over civilian population centers, all because they committed the crime of indicating they would vote the wrong way in a free election and install a social democratic government that wouldn’t permit corporate control. 4 million dead. Much fewer would have died if we had a media that produced a product based on the interests of the viewers. You don’t have to believe that now, but read the evidence offered by C&M and then decide.

  2. darfferrara Says:

    Usually the intent of advertising, as I understand it, is to sell products. That’s their intent by design. Outlawing advertising props up the powerful. Here is a parable about Big Tobacco. The market for tobacco products is fixed to some degree. The advertising that individual companies did mostly poached smokers from other companies. New firms could come in and pick off a segment of the market, and then there would be more competition. Big Tobacco lobbied congress to restrict advertising. This left the big entrenched firms with less competition, and higher profit margins because they didn’t have to waste money on advertising. Disallowing advertising benefits the powerful corporations. You believe the opposite, and you are wrong.

    And Bill Gates does have more power than most corporations. I defy you to find statistics that show most incorporated businesses have a greater net worth than Bill Gates. In addition I think that you will find that most corporation are run by people. They can be just as good, and just as evil as people can be. If you would like to know the reasons that corporations are formed, and why they are evolutionarily beneficial you can read up on the nature of the firm. I think you know where you can find this information.

  3. Jon Says:

    So what you’re saying is that government regulation increased profits for tobacco whereas the free market led to waste and inefficiencies. OK.

    I didn’t say MOST incorporated businesses have a greater net worth than Bill Gates, but at least you’ve met your straw man quota.

    I also didn’t say that a corporation CAN’T be good or CAN’T be as evil as a real person. There’s another good straw man to knock down.

  4. darfferrara Says:

    Marketing is not waste. Information is not free. Marketing provides information. Restricting this leads to what some call monopoly. In certain textbooks monopolies are referred to as price takers. You can find out how price takers can set prices above efficient prices in certain textbooks.

    You said “he can’t destroy like a corporation can destroy. A corporation creates scads of enclaves of EXTREMELY concentrated wealth.” You seem to be equating destructive power with EXTREMELY concentrated wealth. I will allow you to divide Gates wealth by the number of persons that he is (hint: it is one) and to determine the concentration.

    “It creates conditions that would lead [corporations] to act in a way that if it were a real person we’d consider them a psychopath.” Are you implying by this statement that corporation are, or are not more evil than individuals?

    • Bill Says:

      You could also define concentrated wealth as “assets per legal entity”, (corporations are legal entities with many “personal” rights). I am not sure how your point rebuts what Jon said regardless of the definition of wealth concentration.

      • darfferrara Says:

        Defined as “assets per legal entity” Bill Gates has a concentration of wealth greater than all but a handful of entities. Does he have another point? Maybe you can explain it to me, he tends to go off on tangents about mind control and Haiti and Vietnam. While your at it try to explain to Jon the difference between the average and the marginal. He seems to really have a hard time with that one. Also explain how prohibiting advertising benefits the powerful at the expense of the individual consumer.

  5. Jon Says:

    I’ve already addressed your claims about marginal and average. The problem is your claim is about an argument Chomsky “insinuated,” not one he actually made. Nobody disputes that polls are imperfect and don’t demonstrate a point conclusively. Still, the polling data are useful information and certainly more useful than your intuitions that the polls are wrong. I’m sure there are a few books out there on how your intuitions on matters such as this shouldn’t be trusted either.

    Additionally Chomsky has demonstrated in quotes you provided that we should not expect the content of media to be dictated solely by the desires of the viewing public. You implicitly conceded this point by saying in effect “who cares?” So because of that we should expect reliable polls to reflect that reality and they do despite your intuitions. So what is the relevance of pointing out that average and marginal desires can make polling data misleading? The data reflect what we expect based on the institutional analysis Chomsky did and you conceded.

    Who said information is free? Who said marketing is waste? Do you have an argument about “price takers” you’d like to make, or is it enough to just vaguely reference a concept in a book and pretend that it somehow applies to the situation? If history is a guide and it applies to anything it applies to a straw man argument you’ve concocted, so what’s the value in looking it up?

    Bill Gates is being used to illustrate an argument. The fact that he has more wealth than many, if not most corporations doesn’t change the principle I’m trying to illustrate. If the use of Bill Gates distracts you from the principle let’s use someone else. Maybe the CEO of Boeing. He may be a millionaire and may have a small ability to harm someone unfairly. But Boeing has much greater capacity with their vastly greater wealth and lack of accountability due to the way their structure exists. That is a key difference between corporations and real persons.

  6. Jon Says:

    We’re seeing H&C’s thesis play out clearly in front of our eyes with regards to Wikileaks. Thousands of documents detailing murders and lies from top government officials have been made available. But the emphasis from CNN and the NY Times is on Assange and how he’s mentally unstable, had rape charges levied against him, and various other tawdry personal allegations. The death of 100,000 and lies associated with those deaths are not being emphasized. Check Greenwald from today:

    Now, in your world people are simply interested in the personal life of Julian Assange, and the thousands dead are not very interesting. After all, that’s what the people are watching (since there is little by way of an alternative offered probably because nobody cares). Do you think it’s a coincidence that your beliefs about American preferences (preferring tawdry details about Assange’s personal life as opposed to the lies and murders documented in the released documents) just happen to conveniently align to serve the interests of our powerful governmental leaders? Isn’t it strange that people aren’t interested in any tawdry allegations levied against McCrystal or other high ranking officials responsible for massive crimes and enormous death, but they are interested in the allegations against Assange, who just happens to be villain #1 at the Pentagon?

    And if you go here:

    you’ll find that this is nothing new. The same was true for Daniel Ellsberg when he released secret documents detailing governmental lies and murder in Vietnam.

    That’s all just a coincidence I suppose since some book talks about the difference between marginal and average preferences.

    • darfferrara Says:

      I read Greemwalds piece and I agree with virtually the entire thing. And by the way, I actually do agree with certain parts of the “filters”. Mainly the part about how the media is subsidized by the enormous, monopolistic federal government. The one point of data that was interesting was that the Air Force (I think) spends 16 times as much on media as the next largest publisher. This really shows the size of the Government. (By the way, they really need to do something about the presentation of data. Dozens of tables is terrible. Tell Chomsky to read some Tufte.) It is also true that the government subsidizes the media, and supplies it with experts that have an agenda. But Chomsky’s remedies are ridiculous. Corporations are the problem! Consumer culture must be stopped! Advertising is evil! Raise Tariffs! Only allow unbiased expert on the news! (As if such a thing exists) He’s like a doctor who has correctly diagnosed the symptoms and prescribed leaches. If you learned some basic economics you might understand why his solutions are wrong and see what the right ones might be.

      • Jon Says:

        This is kind of confusing. We’ve been arguing here about how their thesis is absurd. They are dumber than a box of hammers to think the public would want something different based on polling data. This “propaganda model” is a joke. In other threads you talk about their position as if it’s the equivalent of smoke filled rooms and conspiracy theories. I’m arguing on behalf of their view, talking about how some things are left off the menu.

        Now you’re not denying any of this. Your problem is the actual solutions to the problem. You asked me about this and I offered some speculative solutions. But this is not anything I’m getting from H&C. You now agree with the central thesis as you’ve read it so far. Your problem is with Chomsky’s solutions even though you haven’t told us exactly what those are.

        So here’s what I’m taking you to be saying. You agree that the PM accurately describes our media. You agree that predictions can be made based upon this model and we’re seeing a good example with Assange. Media treatment is pretty much what we would expect given the PM. Do you agree with these statements?

        Now, if you don’t like his solution at least tell us what his solution is. The reddit interview, which I know you watched, is useful for understanding why he wouldn’t go along with your solution, which is basically to de-fang the government.

  7. darfferrara Says:

    If you could highlight your marginal average statement I would appreciate it. I haven’t seen anything in your posts that indicate you even understand my point. As far as the poll goes, we have evidence from two sets of data (poll and box office reciepts/ratings), as well as a priori (intuition, if you will). My prior is biased against the poll results. When people actually make decisions with their own resources (box office, eg) the results are even more strongly against the poll results. This doesn’t say that the poll is wrong, but it doesn’t give me much reason to move my prior very much. Further, the implication that he is Chomsky makes (do you agree that he is implying this?) is that overall utility will increase if there are more news and documentaries. You and Chomsky will be happier, but does this imply that overall happiness (sometimes called utility) will increase? Economics can shed some light on how utility is changed by different allocation methods in the news and entertainment industries. Maybe you could learn some economics.

    My intuition may be incorrect, but I’ve seen people who have studied issues thouroughly for years be mistaken, so it may be best to trust my intuition. For example, one person I know, a mechanical engineer who studied alternative nutrition websites, believed that he knew more about nutrition than a brilliant woman who graduated summa cum laude in biochemistry and then became valedictorian at the top optometry school in the country. Later this same person tried to explain to a medical doctor of Chinese ancestory that soy products hadn’t been used in any culture prior to modern times. This person held similar strong opinions about religious matters. All of these opinions this person later came to reject. Possibly my intuition is greater than all of this persons knowledge. That isn’t my intuition, but it’s possible.

    “So what you’re saying is that government regulation increased profits for tobacco whereas the free market led to waste and inefficiencies.” I had inadvisadly used the phrase “waste money on advertising” and you rephrased. This was my mistake. My goal in undertaking this dreadful book was to get you to learn some economics from a good source. But you can learn some of the same information from the wikipedia article on monopoly. The monopoly and efficiency section explains part of the point that I’m trying to get across, and I’ll highlight this part.

    “The theory of contestable markets argues that in some circumstances (private) monopolies are forced to behave as if there were competition because of the risk of losing their monopoly to new entrants. This is likely to happen where a market’s barriers to entry are low.”

    The barriers to entry are fairly low in cigarrete business, just tobacco, cigarrete paper, marketing, and a few scientists to manipulate the levels of nicoteen. Disableing advertising raises the barriers to entry. If you can’t let people know that you have a product, it is difficult to sell it. Entrenched firms profit, potential entrants into the market suffer, and individual consumers pay more than they would have in a competitive market. Tobacco isn’t a monopoly, it’s closer to an oligopoly, but I’ve simplified.

    We can stop discussing Bill Gates, but I don’t think that the book itself has discussed corporations at all. That corporations create bad incentives is something that you are asserting, not Chomsky, at least to this point in the book. That was one of the many things that you assert without evidence, but focusing on the book, Chomsky indicates that advertising and consumer culture is a problem. His claims about advertising don’t have anything to do with the legal structure of a corporation. Possibly we should discuss corporations when they make their appearance in the book.

  8. Jon Says:

    Here’s your argument from this post:

    The other problem is that even if the polls were accurate they describe the average preference of the populace, not the marginal preference of the individual. Average and marginal may sound like big words, but you should understand them to know why Chomsky sounds dumber than a box of hammers here.

    There’s not much of an argument there, but I took you to be saying that because of marginal preferences polls can be misleading. Here is how I replied:

    One piece of information relevant to this claim is polls about people’s wants and desires in media. It alone is not a proof. Polls are not perfect. But polls are a data point. Let’s not be Bob Dutko and pretend that since polls can be misleading therefore we’re entitled to pretend that they provide no information whatsoever or that single payer health insurance is not the preference of the American people. It’s a relevant data point that in itself doesn’t prove the case, but is another piece of data confirming what our expectations would be given the propaganda model.

    That’s a concession that yes, marginal and average preferences are different so a poll alone doesn’t show that the media product does not reflect the wants of the population. Still it’s useful information. Earlier I had stated that H&C did nothing but accurately report poll findings and you’re acting like this makes them stupid. Here is how you replied.

    It is true that I am rebutting arguments that Chomsky doesn’t make. This is because he doesn’t actually argue for a position, he insinuates and allows simple yokels with that don’t understand marginal preferences to infer what his arguments are.

    I suspect that you wish the argument was “Polls prove conclusively that media content does not reflect public preference.” Talk of average and marginal preference would rebut that argument. But that argument wasn’t made and is not affirmed by anybody except the simple yokels that exist in your mind. This you don’t like so you want to pretend the argument was “insinuated” by H&C, though it wasn’t.

    Maybe the problem is that I don’t understand your point. I’m doing my best to guess at what your argument is since I don’t see that you’ve made it explicitly.

    I have a hard time following your argument about my supposed past mistakes. I don’t think what you’ve described about me is accurate, but suppose it was. What does this prove? Let’s note the argument here. H&C cite a poll that insinuates a claim that goes against Darf’s intuitions. This makes them dumber than a box of hammers. Polls aren’t a reasonable basis for conclusions because of marginal preferences. Are Darf’s intuitions a better basis? Yes, because Jon was wrong about soy. I’m lost.

    You complain that I offered an opinion about what a solution would look like to this problem and that I raised the issue of corporations, not Chomsky. But you asked me for an opinion regarding a solution, so I offered it. You say this is “one of the many things that you assert without evidence”. You asked for an opinion and I offered it. I did offer evidence in the form of arguments. The example of Vietnam, the harm potential for the wealthy (individuals) as contrasted with the super wealthy (corporations) and how this affects the media. On the other hand there is speculation involved because I’m making predictions about what things would like like if we changed the incentive structure in the media. But it’s just an opinion.

  9. darfferrara Says:

    To be clear, I am arguing against a position that Chomsky does not explicitly make. And they are dumber than a box of rocks if they think believe the polls over ratings and BO receipts. As an example, they seem to believe that “the powerful” wanted people to watch the O.J. trial, and forced them to even though they would have preferred to watch, I don’t know, Pride and Prejudice. Do you believe that?

    The one point where I agree strongly with the “propaganda model” is point #3 (from wikipedia)

    3. Sourcing Mass Media News: Herman and Chomsky argue that “the large bureaucracies of the powerful subsidize the mass media, and gain special access [to the news], by their contribution to reducing the media’s costs of acquiring […] and producing, news. The large entities that provide this subsidy become ‘routine’ news sources and have privileged access to the gates. Non-routine sources must struggle for access, and may be ignored by the arbitrary decision of the gatekeepers.”[2]

    I agree with this, so long as the the powerful is understood to be the federal government.

    On the other hand

    1. Size, Ownership, and Profit Orientation:

    This one has been essentially proven wrong by the advent of the internet. The little people can and do get into the game (Drudge, Kos, many others e.g). To the extent that it is a problem it is because of 3.

    2. The Advertising License to Do Business:

    This is a misunderstanding on the part of Chomsky about the nature of advertising. Advertising is essentially a product bundling. Again, to the extent that it is a problem, it is a problem of the federal government subsidizing certain

    4. Flak and the Enforcers:

    This is a statement that people use tactics that serve their own interest. I guess I agree with that, but we’ll see if there are any examples in the book that don’t involve the government.

    5. Anti-Communism:

    Obviously outdated. Even with terror replacing it though, without the federal government subsidies it doesn’t really follow.

    And many of the statement Chomsky makes sound conspiratorial.

  10. Jon Says:

    Have a listen to a lecture I made available at dropbox called “Propaganda and Control of the Public Mind.” Chomsky claims that when propaganda was first being systematically implemented around WWI it’s proponents were quite explicit and honest about the means. Yes, they explicitly recommend distraction with superficialities, just like what the OJ trial offered (I think that lecture covered that point or it may have been elsewhere…still a very worthwhile lecture). So no, I don’t think that’s an accident. On the other hand this does not require a conspiracy. It’s kind of like evolution. Nature selects for the fittest and I think corporate media naturally selects for people that produce items that help the bottom line. The people that do the gossip shows probably think that what they do is important and worthwhile. They aren’t out to trick anybody.

    So nobody is telling Bill O’Reilly what to cover. Nobody tells him that he must convince others that Muslim violence against civilians shall be called terrorism and American violence against civilians shall be called peace keeping efforts. Nobody tells him to treat Assange as a villain and Patreaus as a hero. It’s just that if he didn’t already believe that himself he wouldn’t be sitting where he’s sitting.

  11. darfferrara Says:

    You may think of it in evolutionary terms, but Chomsky doesn’t describe it that way. And conspiracy fits the language that he uses better than evolution does. I’ll try to write about evolutionary perspective later, but if you can get a hold of Alchien’s paper “Uncertainty, Evolution and Economic Theory” it might give you a new way to think about evolution in the context of the media.

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