The Modern Right and Its Snake Oil Theory – 08/31/2021 – Paul Krugman

You don’t hear a lot about “economic anxiety” these days. Most observers agree that the rise of the Trumpist right was propelled by racial and social antagonisms rather than economic populism.

And yet, there is an economic element to political extremism, although it is not what most people would expect. Right-wing extremists, and to some extent even some of the mainstream conservative media, depend on financial support from companies that sell nutritional supplements and miracle cures – and this financial support can be seen as an important factor in pushing the right towards political ends. more extreme positions. .

Indeed, right-wing extremism is not just an ideological movement that receives a lot of money from the sellers of snake oil; some of his extremism can be seen not as a reflection of a deep conviction, but as a means of promoting sales of snake oil.

Consider the situation we find ourselves in now in the fight against Covid-19. A few months ago, it seemed likely that the development of effective vaccines would soon end the pandemic. Instead, she continues, with hospitalizations approaching the peak they reached earlier this year. This is in part due to the emergence of the highly contagious delta variant, but also, crucially, it reflects the refusal of many Americans to get vaccinated.

And much of this refusal is political. It is true that many people who refuse to be vaccinated are not Trumpists, but there is a strong negative correlation between Donald Trump’s vote share and the vaccination rate in different parts of the United States. In July, 86% of people who identify as Democrats said they had received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared to 54% of those who identified themselves as Republican.

But those who refuse the vaccine do not just reject an inoculation that could save them; they are also turning to alternatives that are life threatening. We are seeing increased sales – and poisonings – of ivermectin, a product commonly used to kill worms in livestock but recently featured on social media and the Fox News network as a cure for Covid.

OK, I never imagined this would happen. But I should have guessed. As historian Rick Perlstein has pointed out, there is a long-standing association between charlatans who sell counterfeit drugs and right-wing extremists. They serve more or less the same audiences.

In other words, Americans who are willing to believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and that Italian satellites were used to shift votes in favor of Joe Biden are also the kind of people who are willing to believe that the medical elite is lying to them and that You can solve your health problems by ignoring professional advice and buying over-the-counter medications.

As soon as you realize the connection between snake oil and right-wing politics, you realize that it is pervasive.

This is clearly true in the feverish swamps on the right. Alex Jones of Infowars has won an audience by defending conspiracy theories, but makes money selling nutritional supplements.

And the same can be said about the more established and conventional parts of the law. For example, Ben Shapiro, considered a right-wing intellectual, touts supplements. Find out who is advertising on the Tucker Carlson show on Fox News. Below Fox’s own listings are My Pillow and three companies that sell supplements.

Snake oil sellers clearly view consumers of right-wing information and analysis as a valuable market for their wares. So it’s no surprise that many right-wing Americans see vaccination as a liberal conspiracy and look to questionable alternatives – though, again, I never imagined that would result in the use of deworming drugs for the livestock.

The interesting question, however, is to what extent the link between right-wing politics and the commercialization of snake oil has helped shape the political landscape.

We can put it this way: There are big financial rewards for extremism, because extreme policies help promote over-the-counter drugs, and these are very profitable. (In 2014, Alex Jones’ operations earned him over $ 20 million in revenue, mostly from the sale of supplies.) Do these financial rewards encourage the know-it-alls on the right to be more extreme? It would be surprising if they didn’t – as conservative economists say, incentives matter.

The extremism of media figures radicalizes their audiences and prompts politicians to become more extreme.

And in this way, it is possible to understand how vaccination has become such a strong point of conflict. Getting people vaccinated is a top priority for a Democratic president, which automatically generates immense hostility in people who want to see Joe Biden fail. And these people were already predisposed to reject specialist medical knowledge and accept the remedies offered by charlatans.

Everyone on the right must have realized that even Donald Trump was recently booed when he told rally attendees that they should get vaccinated. He’s unlikely to repeat it, and Trump’s future hopes certainly won’t.

None of this would happen if it weren’t for a climate of mistrust and anger that unscrupulous commentators and political leaders can exploit. But the fact that extremism helps market over-the-counter drugs creates a financial incentive for extremism to grow.

You could argue that part of the reason America’s democracy is at risk is because the sellers of snake oil – and not figuratively, but literally, bad drugs – have resorted to this strange trick.

Translation of Paulo Migliacci

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