Don't Buy It: The Trouble with Talking Nonsense about the Economy


After everything that?s happened, how is it possible that conservatives still win debates about the economy? Time and again the right wins over voters by claiming that their solutions are only common sense, even as their tired policies of budgetary sacrifice and corporate plunder both create and prolong economic disaster. Why does the electorate keep buying what they?re selling? According to political communications expert Anat Shenker-Osorio, it?s all about language?and not ...
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Don't Buy It: The Trouble with Talking Nonsense about the Economy

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After everything that’s happened, how is it possible that conservatives still win debates about the economy? Time and again the right wins over voters by claiming that their solutions are only common sense, even as their tired policies of budgetary sacrifice and corporate plunder both create and prolong economic disaster. Why does the electorate keep buying what they’re selling? According to political communications expert Anat Shenker-Osorio, it’s all about language—and not just theirs, but ours.

In Don’t Buy It Shenker-Osorio diagnoses our economic discourse as stricken with faulty messages, deceptive personification, and, worst of all, a barely coherent concept of what the economy actually is. Opening up the business section of most newspapers or flipping on cable news unleashes an onslaught of economic doomsaying that treats the economy as an ungovernable force of nature. Alternately, by calling the economy “unhealthy” or “recovering” as we so often do, we unconsciously give it the status of a living being. No wonder Americans become willing to submit to any indignity required to keep the economy happy. Tread lightly, we can’t risk irritating the economy!

Cutting through conservative myth-making, messaging muddles, and destructive misinformation, Shenker-Osorio suggests a new way to win the most important arguments of our day. The left doesn’t have to self-destruct every time matters economic come to the fore—there are metaphors and frames that can win, and Shenker-Osorio shows what they are and how to use them.

Don’t Buy It is a vital handbook for seizing victory in the economic debate. In the end, it convincingly shows that radically altering our politics and policies for the better is a matter of first changing the conversation—literally.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Strategic communications consultant Shenker-Osoria's first book considers the word "economy" and the metaphors we use to illustrate it. Conservatives, for instance, view the economy as a "moral enforcer": "the individual is clearly to blame for what befalls her." Other people will allude to it in terms of health, water, or motion (think of sick economies, trickle-down theory and downward spiral). The author has very good points about how conservatives and progressives present their plans, and lack thereof, to deal with the present crisis. We should not speak in abstractions such as "costs grew" and "paychecks shrank." Rather, Shenker-Osoria exhorts, we should speak of CEOs, conservative politicians and lobbyists attacking labor unions and suppressing wages; we should talk less about hurting the economy and more about how the economy might hurt people. Without doubt, this book is written from the liberal or progressive viewpoint (though liberals economists like Paul Krugman take their knocks) and, while Shenker-Osorio is not an economist, her view of the rhetoric we suffer through is sharp and to the point in saying that we need to define what the economy is, how it works and what it can do for us. If someone can deliver that, we might have a solution-that is, if anyone will listen. Agent: Max Brockman, Brockman Inc.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher

“A persuasive case for retooling how activists think and talk about matters of the wallet.”

Daily Kos
"Shenker-Osorio, who's been fighting in the trenches of the word wars for years as a communications consultant to the ACLU, the MS. Foundation, America's Voice and dozens of other progressive groups, knows her stuff. Don't Buy It is a great handbook to start thinking about how to change the conversation, particularly on the economy."

Village Voice
“Anat Shenker-Osorio offers…one choice bit of invaluable advice: Stop talking about the economy like it's a tide that lifts, a body that ails, or an invisible hand that guides our collective fortune like whatever it is that moves the Ouija thing. It's the Lakoff and Johnson Metaphors We Live By argument—the one that goes that saying “time is money” conditions us to conceive of time as something that must be shrewdly spent or hoarded—smartly applied to the failure of progressive writers and policy-makers to make a broad, compelling case against Tea Party deficit hawks. Shenker-Osorio's prescription is to stop thinking of the economy as some organic and independent system that we can only affect by prescriptions—or bloodletting. Instead, she contends, we should consider it a construction that we can control, something concrete and knowable that works for us rather than vice versa”.

OpEd News
“Enormously Insightful”

Kirkus Reviews
In her debut, communications consultant Shenker-Osorio gives progressives marching orders on how to talk about dollars and cents. "When we take a ‘tax the rich' messaging approach to trying to rectify our deep and damaging inequality," writes Shenker-Osorio, "we succeed at one thing for certain. We get people to hate paying taxes even more." There are innumerable reasons for that psychological data point, including the juvenile magical-thinking belief that we're certain to be rich one day, but the fact remains, people don't like to hear about coughing up more money. So how to get them to ponder the possibility? Not through means the Democrats have already tried, for while Democrats are excellent at conjuring up complex solutions to complex problems, Republicans are masters at sloganizing their way to simplicity. One thing that remains to be done, writes the author, is generating appropriate and memorable sound bites--but, more important, another is "to sing our fight songs and never mind about pissing off those who disagree with us." President Obama may take a mild-mannered approach that seems to hold the thought of offending anyone as a cardinal sin, but it's gloves-off time. Beyond this big-picture reformation, Shenker-Osorio looks closely at the language of the first question on people's minds these days, namely the economy, and in this conservative presupposition reigns: "The genius...of conservatives," she writes, "is in not just trumpeting their version of events. They also embed the key ideas that (1) government activity is the problem and (2) economic fluctuations of this magnitude are normal and expected." The recent cataclysm is anything but "normal and expected," but so much of the language of the economy, she notes, is based on metaphors that suggest it's a living, breathing thing, and progressives fail to make the case that it's an artificial construct, subject to rules and regulations. A persuasive case for retooling how activists think and talk about matters of the wallet.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781610391771
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 9/25/2012
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 991,902
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Anat Shenker-Osorio is a strategic communications consultant based in Oakland, CA. She crafts messaging for issues from immigration to contraception and completed research on how people make sense of and come to judgments about the economy. Anat has worked with the ACLU, Ms Foundation, America’s Voice, Ford Foundation and dozens of others, presenting findings to members of Congress, and as a keynote speaker at Netroots Nation. This is her first book.

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Table of Contents

Preface: A False Idol
Chapter 1: Once upon Our Economy
Chapter 2: What We’ll Buy About the Economy
Chapter 3: Don’t Call It a Crisis
Chapter 4: Do You Think the Poor are Lazy?
Chapter 5: Words Mean Thngs
Chapter 6: The Audacity of Audacity

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