Here is another left-over question from my recent talk:
How do you think about when it makes sense for to consume the most-recent news, in light of Robin Hanson’s “news isn’t about info”? How would you advise the rest of us?
I consume the news avidly for (at least) these reasons:
1. For professional reasons, I am required to do so. That said, I am happy to note the endogeneity of that state of affairs. Consuming the news is fun, though in a pinch more sports, games, and the arts could serve much of the same role.
2. I actually care what is happening.
3. Consuming the news is one of the best ways of testing your views about the past. We are always revaluing what we thought we knew, in light of new data. Brexit teaches us that the UK was never quite so well integrated into the EU. The election of Trump may imply that certain late 19th century strands of American politics are enduring, and the evolution of the racial income gap will induce us to reassess various policies of the last few decades.
Under this theory, reading a lot of history books should raise the return to following the news. For most people, they haven’t read so many books and at the margin they need more books rather than more news. In this sense, following the news doesn’t make intellectual sense for most people, though they may need it for social bonding, signaling, and conversation purposes.
I would stress the concomitant point that following the news does not make one a much better predictor of the future, if at all. It may even cause people to overweight the most recent trends, due to availability and recency bias.
4. I also use the news to make history more interesting to me. It is easier to get “wrapped up” in the news, if only because of the social support and the element of dramatic suspense. If somehow the Balkans no longer existed, I would find it hard to wish to understand that “…the medieval Serbian Orthodox Church had established a new see at Pec in Kosovo in 1297…” As it stands, my interest in that event is sufficiently intense, and it remains important for understanding the current day.
5. It is perhaps addictive that the news comes every day. But that is a useful discipline. If you follow the news, you will work at it every day, more or less. Better those compound returns than to do something else once every three months and a half.
In essence, the news is a good, cheap trick for getting yourself to care more about things you should care about anyway, but maybe don’t.