Simon Wren-Lewis wonders why some economic journalists have been too generous to George Osborne's claim that austerity has worked. The answer lies with Adam Smith. We have, he says, "a disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful":
We frequently see the respectful attentions of the world more strongly directed towards the rich and the great, than towards the wise and the virtuous. We see frequently the vices and follies of the powerful much less despised than the poverty and weakness of the innocent. (Theory of Moral Sentiments,I.III.29)
What the FT and Ms Flanders (to take Simon's examples) are doing in giving Mr Osborne too much credit is exactly what Gordon Brown did when he praised the "great personal warmth and kindness" of Paul Dacre. They are mistaking power for virtue.
This error mightn't be due merely to the hope of favour. As Smith said, "Our obsequiousness to our superiors more frequently arises from our admiration for the advantages of their situation, than from any private expectations of benefit from their good-will."
One way of correcting this framing is to ask ourselves of a political speech or newspaper article: what would we think of this if it were a blog? I suspect we'd overlook Osborne's thoughts as juvenile cliches. And we'd pass over that notorious Geoffrey Levy piece as mere linkbait, pausing perhaps only to wonder about the state of mental health care.
This framing-induced deference has two pernicious effects. One is that it is yet another way in which inequality feeds on itself. The other is that it helps to narrow the Overton window. In giving excessive respect to the ideas of the powerful, we help to entrench such "thoughts". And the counterpart of this is that ideas - from right and left - which aren't in the mainstream are dismissed as "unworkable" - if, indeed, they are even considered.
Luckily, though, the Overton window does shift: for example, within my lifetime, public ownership of utilities has gone from being received wisdom to unthinkable and might now be shifting back again.
Exactly how the Overton window does shift is unclear. What is clear, though, is that moving requires us to ditch some centuries-old cognitive biases.