A friend rang me recently and laughingly told me I had been pilloried by a blogger over articles I had written.
Apparently I shouldn't be teaching in the classroom because of my unfortunate opinions which could negatively influence my students.
I am also a pretend economist with no real credentials in the subject. I was a bit bemused. I have always aspired to mediocrity in the classroom and occasionally surprised myself by achieving it. One of the great things about teaching economics is you get to make it up every year.
As for aspiring to be regarded as a professional economist, this is like striving to be a snake oil merchant or fulltime blogger.
But it did get me thinking about how partisan our political landscape has become. There is a growing tendency to attack the person rather than the argument. What is more disconcerting for our democracy is the decline in investigative journalism in recent years.
The likely reason for this is commercial. The media has been referred to as the Fourth Estate in a democracy. Its unofficial role in a democracy is to keep voters informed by investigating and reporting on issues that politicians and other powerful interests would prefer were not exposed.
But the traditional media is under siege because of rapid technological changes. Newspapers are struggling to figure out how to generate revenue from their online content as their hard copy and advertising revenues decline. Mainstream TV is fighting a proliferation of alternative sources of news and content.
Figuring how to survive and adapt leaves few resources available for costly investigative journalism. The possible commercial payback is too uncertain. It is cheaper to report breaking news and rely more on guest commentators.
Bloggers appear to have filled a void particularly in political commentary. A key difference between bloggers and traditional media is that bloggers have little or no reputational risk or editorial objectivity in what they comment on.
Apart from libel laws they are largely free to say what they want with little commercial constraint.
This is a mixed blessing.
They are usually partisan in what and how they comment on subjects. As a result they talk to those who bother to read them. These are usually people who want their own views reinforced. Bloggers' rants mainly preach to the converted but likely have little major impact on the majority of people who are too busy getting on with their daily lives.
But real investigative journalism is crucial to a well-functioning democracy. Unfortunately it is a costly endeavour for media outlets struggling to survive. This leads to a tendency towards descriptive reporting rather than investigation. This reduces the accountability of politicians and other powerful entities in our society.
The Nicky Hager revelations in the lead-up to the election highlighted the dearth of investigative reporting in New Zealand. As a small country we lack the critical mass to support this style of journalism on a larger scale.
Our political landscape is poorer for its demise. It reduces our politics to popularity contests and trivia while many of the larger issues slip by without proper investigation and exposure.
There have been a number of issues in recent years that should have been subject to greater in-depth journalistic scrutiny. In the economic sphere they include:
1. Who were the main beneficiaries in the partial sell-off of state assets?
2. How real was this year's slim budget surplus as opposed to creative accounting to serve a political purpose? What were the social costs of this apparent achievement?
3. Why were there so few criminal convictions and jail terms following the finance company debacles?
4. To what extent have child poverty and income inequalities grown in New Zealand?
I reassure the blogger that I don't aspire to the role. I have enough difficulty maintaining mediocrity in the classroom.
Peter Lyons teaches economics at St Peter's College in Epsom and has written several economics texts.