My chat with Adam Davidson

My latest radio show, a long chat with Adam Davidson, is up in my radio archives:

June 9, 2012 Adam Davidson, host of NPR’s Planet Money and columnist for the New York Times Magazineon finance, innovation, bourgeois ideology, journalism, and being mean on the Internet (a conversation that was prompted by this piece of mine) [Davidson columns discussed include: Wall StreetBain dudeHonduras]

full conversation (unedited, except to remove some patter at the beginning and to suppress several volume spikes) is here

28 Comments on “My chat with Adam Davidson

  1. I really enjoyed listening to what you had to say the in interview, but I was disappointed in Davidson’s contribution. He didn’t really try to argue with you about your critiques of his work, he just tried to make nice. He didn’t even try to defend his assertions about credit being a cure for poverty, which, if you look at the evidence, as you pointed out, is pretty dubious. I see his doing the interview as a way to neutralize you, while having a bit of fun. It won’t air on NPR, so it won’t get to his audience. He can claim that he’s a fair guy because he brought you on, but he didn’t really debate you in a substantial way. He was gracious and nice, so you can’t really call him insulting names. He can go on producing the same kind of bland, mind numbing work that pleases his audience, while you are stuck in the left ghetto. While it was a nice diversion, it really doesn’t do anything for you.

  2. I was disappointed by the interview. It wasn’t even an interview. Instead, it was more a monologue by you. Instead of Davidson admitting anything, it was you who admitted that you don’t blog in a professional way, but simply for effect. Very strange, Doug.

  3. One wonders if Davidson has ever heard of these things called “colonialism” or “war” or, for that matter “history.” The idea that Haiti is poor because it lacks a proper credit system: Davidson’s professed ignorance of all things economic and political really does shine through, and it is not an asset, as he would like his audience to think. If you haven’t seen this article about Haiti’s labor movement and the challenges it faces from occupying UN forces, take a look at this for a quick riposte to the above:

  4. So sorry to disappoint you. And if that’s your interpretation of what I said about blogging style, then you may be beyond help.

  5. No offense but if the guy didnt have his position there’s no way you’d bother with him. He’s a neocolonial apologist, a voıce for the ”entrepreneurial economy” and possesses absolutely no depth of analysis. Basically a cheerleader for neoliberalism who adds a ”NPR touch” (human interest stories, glossing over history) to make his ideas seem noncontroversial to those on the left.

  6. Thanks for the interview Doug.

    While I think hardindr and JC summed it up quite nicely and I agree with them, it was still informative to hear Davidson really have nothing in response to the many excellent points that you made other that the old ‘It’s the best of the many bad systems’ line.
    He’s mostly playing dumb, except for the bit on Marx :)

    ellis, Doug didn’t say he blogged simply for effect. He said he had to use a more confrontational style to get the attention which Davidson’s exclusive postions put him in as a matter of course.

  7. Doug, I’m enjoying the recorded dialogue. However, at around 48 minutes, you did let Adam [insert metaphor]. After your brief overview of Marxism, he swerved into the old “pure Capitalism vs. pure Marxism” canard. You concurred !?!? That was the moment to take out his throat.

    I will continue listening now….

  8. I largely agree with hardindr’s comments, although I wouldn’t say Davidson was being intentionally malicious. My guess is that his personality and training are largely in line with the sensitivity and feelings of bad vibes he showed during the conversation. John writes of one thing Henwood let slide but there were many other and I found it all appropriate, considering Davidson’s openness and possible questioning of his work. But as Doug commented, we’ll see what he does with it.

    I was reminded of what Doug wrote about Hayes a little while ago:

    ” But this is one of those things that you don’t have to be asked to do—it’s how hegemony works. If you want to keep your TV show (or NPR and NYTM JOB), you can’t be seen as criticizing…”

  9. Fuck all of the haters Doug, it was a fantastic discussion. Adam didn’t come off as a total moron, but I actually would have preferred him to defend himself with more substance. But I suppose he wasn’t looking for a debate, but a clarification on your position – and from that p.o.v. you did a fantastic job. In fact, I would go further and say that every leftist should take a page from your book here and learn how to engage with people of other political persuasions. We often have a lot more common ground with other types than we realize, and the very act of putting in effort to build mutual understandings and commonalities (even in the context of a rigorous debate) builds connections and makes the political landscape so much less alienating.

    Also, I hate the style and tone of NPR.

  10. This is the reason Yves Smtih gave for not responding to Davidson’s email:

    “I must report that Davidson did e-mail me after one of my salvos at him, but I chose not read his message. If he would like to take issue with one of my posts, he is free to do so in my comments section. I do correct posts pronto if I have made a mistake or misconstrued an argument or data. Felix Salmon argues, and I concur, that one of the values of the blogosphere is that participants can engage in conversations in public, and it forces everyone to sharpen their discourse.”

    I’m guessing there’s more to it than that, as she is generally willing to post responses from people she’s attacked in the past. She really despises Davidson, and has done for a while. I’m guessing, and this really is a guess, that its for what she saw as the misogyny displayed in his truly appalling interview of Elizabeth Warren in 2009.

  11. Davidson was mistaken in saying that “…more [NPR listeners] self-identify as ‘conservative’ than ‘liberal’, although ‘independent’ is the largest group…” (at 41:23 of the full conversation). [He does admit to having only “vaguely heard” the point.]

    Here are the actual percentages (reported in 2010): “…middle of the road (25%), conservative (28%), and liberal (37%).”

    Compare those numbers to how the general public identify themselves: moderate (37%), conservative (36%), and liberal (22%).

    NPR listeners do appear to be considerably more “liberal” than the general population.

  12. I don’t think Davidson was intentionally malicious, I just think he views people who don’t share his neolibeal worldview as weird or bizarre. He almost couldn’t contain his astonishment when Doug said he was a Marxist, as if he expected all Marxists to be Bob Avakian worshipping weirdos, rather than the Brooks Brothers wearing kind that Doug is (I keed, I keed…). I think Davidson would like to put Doug in his hutch like some kind of curio and stare at it once in a while to get a chuckle.

  13. The mentality and age of Davidson places him as a 90’s era technocrat, when history was over, and the new economy via the stock market was going to change everything.

    They haven’t adjusted at all, it’s rather tragic in a way.

    Sort of like Romney, who still trots out the regulation is hurting jobs mantra.

  14. I thought the most telling part of the interview was during the Marxism/Social Democracy part, when Davidson asked Mr. Henwood “how certain are you of your analysis?”, and this is after Mr. Henwood had spoken about as clearly and as non-confrontationally as one could in the situation (and with the obvious relative success of the Scandanavian model being apparent to anyone who’s honest). THAT retort is the classic foundation of conservatism: “Let’s try something different, say one where poor people aren’t so screwed….” “But how do you know it will work? Status quo is good enough/best of all possible worlds.” Classic Burke to David Brooks. I’m not sure how to respond to that question, as it flabbergasts me and seems to signal an unbridgeable divide. It’s as if someone asked me “How certain are you of your analysis that the moon is a rock?” What can you say when the other person *doesn’t want to believe* the moon is a rock/that e.g. the Scandanavian model is relatively more just than the American one?

  15. Let me join my voice to those expressing disappointment with how you handled this interview. I typically like your stuff Doug, but you totally capitulated. You seemed in awe of his status or something and he had nothing of substance in his arguments! I’ve heard you be so clear and forthright but honestly, you came across as an old school Marxist ideologue instead of the radical thinker I know you to be! He won this debate/conversation without doing anything. Yuck.

  16. Henwood,

    I feel like for a minute the two of you guys lost your damned minds when Haiti came up. Two white guys sitting in an air-conditioned studio berating Haiti and saying that it is instructive of very little. Two white guys sitting in a room thinking that they know everything. I love your show Doug, it’s one of the few things I can tolerate listening to without a guffaw, but that little tangent (sadly repeated) deserves some response. I’m sure you could invite Robert Fatton to teach that mealy-mouthed Davidson a thing or two about Haiti.

    I actually missed this show because I was in Haiti working with Lavalas activists when you broadcast it and came back eagerly awaiting what was going to be said. I would have never, in a thousand years, thought that you would let some unintentionally racist apologist throw salvos at a country whose economic problems are instructive of a great deal with nary a word to counter.

    I think that he was able to throw that claptrap out into the airspace showed that you were a little sedated by his olive branch and disarming NPR charm. Please, the next time two white men are sitting in a room (one of which happens to be you) talking and black and brown skinned people come up, please channel Kevin Gray, Adolph Reed or Robert Fatton before you get too comfortable. Please don’t go back, they make you seem like an oddity that should be examined and dismissed rather than taken seriously.

  17. Yeah, I have to say that I too thought you went beyond the demands of civility. Davidson reminds of many of the young corporate bastards I work with, who often cloak their aggression in a vaguely therapeutic language of “understanding” and “feelings.” Dean Baker seems to be making a lot of strange allies these days; I have no idea if these kinds of alliances are generally productive or not.

  18. An interesting listen more because Davidson’s liberal sensibilities were on display eg his feelings being hurt, his curiosity being assuaged, his desire to make the political and intellectual into the personal. I don’t often experience that (it reminded me a little bit of Zizek’s characterization of a [liberal] talk-show host who was trying to “bridge the gap” between his left-wing and right-wing guests [and who ended up having them both turn on him]).

  19. Thank you for the interview and all you do.

    My reading of the tone and messages projected by your interview was overall that you could have done much better for yourself and us. You seemed awestruck and apologetic; a defensive tone that suggested even you don’t believe so much in your own arguments – and I strongly support and believe you are correct in your opinions. This was no doubt Davidson’s more experience at messaging. Where it mattered the most, on key messaging points, Davidson bested you (us). The example of this that sticks to mind was the conversation regarding the need for a credit system. You basically agreed with Davidson and supported his message, but completely apparently forgot to mention the real, critical liberal message that it is only a strong, Public infrastructure of justice, regulation and law enforcement that can allow a credit system to exists and be of any value – without these things there is no credit system, and a credit system on top of these things is almost a trivial addition.

    Additionally, I have grown up with NPR and seen it morph into the corporate agenda pushing machine it is today. Blatant lies are compared side to side against thoughtful and sourced commentary as equals, with frequently no push-back to the lies. And many times more conservative than liberal viewpoints are represented – often NPR has two conservatives posing as liberal and conservative pundits. There is/was absolutely no need for you to be apologetic.

    My encouragement is for you to do more interviews, in order to become more confident and focused in your messaging – and of course to further your message. In my humble opinion, you are doing amazing great and important work; please don’t forget this. Thank you again.

    BTW, I also totally agree with your Wisconsin analysis.

  20. Great stuff! I never have the patience to listen to/watch interviews on the internet– prefer to just read things– but I listened to the whole piece. I would loooove it if you did write that “sacred cows” column. I burst out laughing with your comment on Unitarianism. I’ve always thought why not just meet for coffee and call it a day if that is your version of church.
    Davidson really comes across as clueless (no surprise). I’m not certain why it is so hard to understand that providing access to credit is not a particularly effective mechanism for helping poor people. Certainly if I can grasp that, he can.
    And then his assertion that neither he nor the NYT does not have a “point of view” (just the facts!)– well, where does one begin?

  21. What struck me was both the breadth and profundity of Davidson’s ignorance. He seemed to have absolutely no knowledge and even less curiosity about the subject he professes to help other people understand.

  22. I, too, want to weigh in just because I thought it was such an interesting opportunity. Yes, Davidson didn’t engage in any meaningful dialogue on the substance of the issues, other than he wished he had characterized “Wall St.” differently and I wished Doug had pushed him by asking questions and getting him to go on the record, perhaps. But Davidson was only interested in trying to play the victim — you were mean to me! you called me names! Yves wouldn’t read my email! (and thanks to above who posted her response — she’s awesome).

    Davidson could barely get a thought out, he kept stumbling and trying to find coherent thoughts so he could actually finish a sentenceI. I hope Doug continues to tear apart what he writes, with or without calling him names. I don’t think pseudo-politeness or “niceness” is appropriate when someone like Davidson has so much influence and is such a clueless douchebag.

  23. At June 22nd all I get are adds the interview doesn’t not play.

    Was it removed at Davidson’s request?

  24. Just read this guy’s column in the June 10 issue–it is literally about how some quirky small businesses have survived because their owners “loved their businesses so much that they found a way to hold on to them, even if it meant making bad business decisions”. (It’s not, as the entire article up to that point illustrated, that a few businesses just get lucky sometimes.)

    The essay really hones the fascistic fetishization of the local that’s common to liberal apologetics. The article’s such a just-so story that the narrative style actually evokes the kind of educational-discovery adventure of a cartoon character in a children’s book.

  25. Pingback: New York Times’ Adam Davidson Strikes Again, Tells Us to Ignore Downer Jobs Data and Trust the Confidence Fairy | Economy | AlterNet « Ye Olde Soapbox

  26. Hi Doug,

    Fellow Pacifica producer Arnell Dowret from Equal Time for Freethought here; I hardly agree that you failed to make your points. What is confusing to me is why in these comments there are so many who wanted you to kick Davidson’s ass. Your comments were thoughtful and as always clearly communicated. There also wasn’t time, nor was it the place to challenge basic economic assumptions.
    To me the most significant part of your exchange was less about reconciling contrasting economic concepts and more about the way that one’s position to media access necessarily affects the way commentary is made. Your image of the futility of trying to knock down a wall with a pin prick was a perfect analogy and it seemed to register with Davidson.
    I’m troubled by the commenters who fail to see what is really great about this exchange. Although on reflection we can always imagine better retorts, for me it was gratifying that Davidson responded to your critique by reaching out to you and that you in turn showed up at his door for the discussion. If only a small percent of the ideological combatants one finds throughout the media could do this I believe our country’s dialogue would be dramatically enriched.
    I came to this audio as a result of my being totally annoyed by Davison’s colleague Chana Joffe-Walt’s recent piece on disability policy which appeared on This American Life on March 22, 2013. Although the story avoided expressing any overt condemnation of disability income recipients, the overall tone was condescending and filled with judgmental innuendo.
    I would have hoped that your diplomatic conduct when meeting Davison would have inspired him to broadcast some if not all of your discussion, and have you back for occasional input. Instead it looks as if the Planet Money people’s conservative orientation continues to be expressed without challenge.
    Your program was by far the most erudite that WBAI offered; I’m so pleased that you continue to offer your work to KPFK. Assuming WBAI continues to exist beyond our current crisis, and that you are available would like to have you on my program as guest sometime in the near future and I will get in direct touch with you about that soon.
    Meanwhile thank you for all of your excellent work.


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