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America, We Have a Problem

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When Rep. Paul Ryan was nominated, I welcomed the choice because, even while I documented ways in which his numbers don't add up, and while we at CBPP documented his reverse Robin Hood'ism, he espouses a vision of government's role that is very different from my own as discussed here at this blog. As he says, this is the debate we need to have.

But I also worried, loudly, that we won't have that vital debate if we are not highly vigilant. Yes, we need to have this debate, but "... whether we actually have it will be up to the candidates, the media, the fact-checkers, and analysts like those of us at CBPP who try to break things down in ways they can be understood."

Following Ryan's acceptance speech last night, the fact checkers and many in the media have been working hard to correct the many falsehoods. The Plum Line blog at the WaPo, for instance, has been on that case, contributing their own analysis and collecting relevant links.

The fact checkers, including Politifact, Factcheck.org, and those Pinocchio fetishists at the WaPo have also been making great contributions. I have criticized these groups when they get stuff wrong and not been nearly supportive enough when they get it right, which is the vast majority of the time. My bad and I'll be sure to further amplify their worthy fact checks in areas of interest around here.

But what's got me very worried today is the blatant acceptance of post-truthiness that one feels creeping deeply into our national debate. Most -- not all -- of the news stories on the speeches from the convention -- and I'm sure this won't be limited to the Republicans -- focus on the emotional, the personal stories, the strategic (did the speech accomplish its goal...did is rally the base... did it appeal to [interest group]?), the political horse race.

And then there's this other section of the show or the newspaper-if you're lucky or interested in going there -- that asks... um... how much of what you just heard was true?

Think about this for a second. Just the fact that newspapers now need a fact-check section is itself evidence that we're deep into the post-truth era. There's the news... and then there's the question of how much of the news is true.

We need a debate about the role of government. It's not a simple debate, but neither is it rocket science. It has to do with how we provide income and health security for those past their working years, how we sustain a safety net for economically vulnerable families, how we offset market failures like the Great Recession, and how we regulate volatile sectors, like finance, to avoid the next bubble and bust.

There are distinct choices in how societies deal with these challenges, how they apportion risk, how they decide which of these functions are critical and how they pay their costs.

And today, with so much disinformation and post-truthiness, I'm having a hard time seeing how we will be able to make the right choices in a true democratic manner.

This post originally appeared at Jared Bernstein's On The Economy blog.