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Nice work, if you can get it

Why doesn't Consumer Reports rate analysis from public intellectuals?

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In the authoritative words of one international affairs analyst in late October: "US policy has assumed that the Northern Alliance, and possible Taliban defectors or dissident tribal groups elsewhere in the country, would do the ground fighting to overturn Afghanistan's present government, once air power had broken its resistance. This is not happening." Barely two weeks later, that's exactly what happened.

Why was it that so many public intellectuals read the war on terrorism incorrectly? What explains their often "false prophecies" and ill-considered prognostications?

Richard Posner, a US Court of Appeals judge (known most recently for his mediation in the Microsoft antitrust case), senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, and prolific author, thinks he knows precisely why.

In "Public Intellectuals: A Study in Decline," Posner turns his poison pen on scores of public intellectuals, including the likes of Noam Chomsky, Edward Luttwak, and Paul Ehrlich, those "talking heads" who disseminate their thoughts to the wider public on issues of political and ideologically import.

Of particular interest are environmental decay, the darker side of realpolitik, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, former President Bill Clinton's impeachment, and the deadlocked 2000 presidential election.

Through the application of market economics and statistical analysis, Posner first identifies the seemingly endless supply of and demand for public intellectuals to pontificate on these matters and their various genres (such as the literary critic, the public philosopher, and the Jeremiahs or "declinists"). He also highlights the fact that market discipline is sorely lacking. Bad analysis rarely leads to reduced "marketability," which underscores the poor contribution of "knowledge workers" to molding better citizens. "Their difficulty in contributing to social betterment is the failure of a market rather than of individuals," writes Posner.


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