Where finance and media intersect with reality

Why Rogan is the media’s “inverted yield curve”

inverted yield

The TLDR: Rogan’s mass appeal — much larger than that of the legacy media — feels like a market breakdown. It simply shouldn’t be happening. It’s the inverted yield curve of the media industry. Or the snubbing of structured data in favour of the unstructured sort. Neither should make sense, so when they manifest it signals something significant: the market is favouring inefficiency over efficiency. The question is why?

I haven’t written publicly about the Joe Rogan affair yet. But I do want to address the growing debacle that it has become.

I personally had not heard about Joe Rogan or his podcast until Elon Musk went on the show in 2018 sparking an instant online furore for smoking a spliff live on air. Since then, it’s been on my radar, but I confess I have never actually made it to the end of a single episode. That’s not because I knee-jerk disagree with the content. But because I rarely have three hours spare in my day or weekend to dedicate to a podcast.

This is an important point (beyond the show’s core content) that I think is often overlooked in the discussion. The format’s nature is self-limiting.

I’m going to make some sweeping assumptions and argue it’s mostly young childless people, the retired, and those who don’t have to worry about making ends meet every minute of the day. There’s probably some middle-ground demographic somewhere too, like those of us who regularly take long car journeys or commute. Or maybe those who like to send rockets up to space. But bros* are clearly up there.

Does that mean I disagree with long, largely unedited, formats? No.

I think it’s fine to be long and rambling. (I am, after all.) You just have to appreciate the structure is self-limiting and prone to cultivating an audience bias. Are audience biases bad? No. Every publication in the world is structured to appeal to an audience category. Being everything to all people is nigh on impossible and would involve too many editing compromises or contentions (as the BBC is now discovering).

But long formats in professional media do make a lot of people nervous. This is because they’re as close as you can get to a true reflection of someone else’s unfiltered reality. This can open the door to unexpected realisations, some of which go against mainstream narrative assumptions. Well known villains can be humanised through the process, while much beloved celebrities can be exposed as being far from perfect. Usually this reality check doesn’t matter, because the time-limiting factor of the content keeps it on the fringe. Broad public opinion is unaffected.

But Rogan’s mass popularity is upsetting this balance. With it, the long-held assumption that “mainstream media value” resides in filtering, refining and editorialising information for the sake of sensemaking is also being tested.

To put it in market trading terms, Rogan’s mass appeal — much larger than that of the legacy media — feels like a market breakdown. It simply shouldn’t be happening. It’s the inverted yield curve of the media industry. Or the snubbing of structured data in favour of the unstructured sort. Neither should make sense, so when they’re happening it signals something significant: the market is favouring inefficiency over efficiency.

Inverted yield curves should be fleeting phenomena

Viewed from this prism, the current backlash against Joe Rogan is a type of market correction. The structuring forces of the mainstream media have discovered not only that an arbitrage exists but that failing to close it might pose an existential threat.

If the market was working efficiently this closing of the gap would work to everyone’s advantage. The pearls of wisdom in Rogan’s content (currently overlooked by the mainstream) would be mimicked and adopted by mainstream practitioners, making the legacy media more open minded and less prone to knee-jerk censorship. It would turn them into a better information processor. The truly disturbing warts on the Rogan side, meanwhile, would also be addressed, identified and removed. Something that is already happening with Rogan.

My concern at this point, however, is that the arbitrage isn’t closing the way it should be.

Because the mainstream media remains convinced that Rogan is solely the problem, their focus is on lobbying to have Rogan filtered, tagged and condensed in line with mainstream sensibilities. The lack of admission that they’ve had any part to play in driving audiences to Rogan, however, is a mistake.

Inverted yield curves are distress signals precisely because they shouldn’t exist. They appear because there’s a wedge in the balancing mechanism. If that something doesn’t get unwedged via price adjustments, far more system-destabilising adjustments will have to happen elsewhere to compensate. Mass layoffs. Capital price corrections. Recessions.

Rogan is acknowledging the market breakdown. He is making strides in acknowledging his failings and accepting the responsibility he now bears because of his outsized audience.

But if Rogan makes concessions but the mainstream media doesn’t, that wedge is unlikely to be removed. New Rogans will reappear quickly because the substance of the conversations is yet to be seriously addressed.

Censorship is rarely the answer to information market inefficiencies. As is knee-jerk dismissal of anyone questioning authority. A better strategy is tackling the substance of the opposing views and coming up with better evidence or arguments.

Free-styling but with opposition

There used to be a show on Channel Four called After Dark. A type of forerunner to Big Brother, it took the form of an uncut late-night after-dinner party conversation, complete with smoking room attire.

After Dark made for edgy and compulsive viewing precisely because it was long-winded, unscripted and live. Guests would frequently get so triggered by each other that someone would inevitably get up and leave in a huff.

Unlike Joe Rogan’s Experience, After Dark ‘s guest selection was intentionally cherry picked to be both diverse and confrontational. One of the most contentious shows featured Enoch Powell, the contemptuous and racist Tory politician, alongside H-bomb inventor Edward Teller and anti-nuke campaigner Beatrix Campbell. The presence of the opposing views was seen by the producers as moderating the broader extremes.

The show’s format won many plaudits from the intellectual liberal class of its day. When the show was axed by Channel 4 in 1991, Wikipedia states the producers warned that the loss posed a threat to broadcasting freedom. “It is…the only television programme whose guests were not straitjacketed into a fixed time-slot, subjected to precensorship or editing.”

If Rogan’s free-styling evolved to take the shape of After Dark, that would probably be no bad thing. And since his show is pre-recorded, the really bad or legally contentious stuff could still be filtered away.

The counter-argument to the After Dark evolution, of course, is that some legitimate narratives have been so repressed by the current echo chamber structure of the mainstream media, it takes a friendly and non-hostile interviewer to allow them to be communicated properly at all. Does that render such interviews biased? Obviously yes. But in the grander scheme of information markets, I’m not sure bias is always the problem. As long as it is pre-declared, and the agendas are made transparent, it’s up to the viewer/reader to decide if the content is fair.

The responsibility to balance content becomes more acute when audiences get so much larger. As Jürgen Habermas, the ultimate intellectual authority on the structural formation of the public sphere, has long observed censorship or repression of any particular class only begets a market inefficiency. It is not a real public sphere unless it includes everyone. (Probably why Habermas himself has stayed off Twitter, eh?)

If you filter all of the above through Habermasian logic, the true clearing price of commodities, assets and goods can’t be arrived at unless everyone’s opinion — that includes “the dangerous” ones — is processed in the creation of public opinion. Anything else cultivates market asymmetry and mispricing.

Simply labeling anything you don’t like disinformation without addressing its substance — or worse than that, taking as a given that anything the state declares is always right and never to be challenged — is not the same thing as confronting it with a better argument. So no, I don’t think the unilateral fact-checking system solves this. As it stands, the fact-checking sites are equivalent to a force that likes to shut down debate by having the last word and not being open to any more challenges on the topic.

This is why the very concept that “spreading disinformation” will become a criminal offence under the online safety bill should terrify all of us. Whatever you think of Rogan, I think he makes a very good point that theories that were once considered fringe often become mainstream years later. The state is not all knowing. It is competent only if it can be held accountable with continuous challenges. Sometimes pushing back means making mistakes. But nobody is any worse off because of added scrutiny.

I caveat all the above with the fact that my experiences with communist Poland inform my views a lot on this. It’s worth remembering that anyone suggesting the dockers’ strikes in Gdansk were a substantial force to be reckoned with in the 1980s, would also have been labelled disinformation agents by the state. Yet we know what happened next.

That inverted information yield curve led to system revolution and system collapse. Let’s hope this time round we can work together to avoid total destabilisation.

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6 Responses

  1. Ad “The truly disturbing warts on the Rogan side” – would it change your view if this compilation was comprised of Rogan quoting some other people – and not directing this slurs himself against someone? I have not checked it myself – but: https://glennloury.substack.com/p/policing-joe-rogan

    I have not viewed much of Rogan – but the what I appreciate about him is how he changed his mind on the Moon Landing Hoax Theory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mmlmxamw_k
    It is an interesting story.

  2. the ‘yield curve inversion’ is not just the rise of Rogan, but the media, scientists and public health that have completely debased themselves through Covid propaganda and lies. trust has been obliterated, and it’s not going to be self-correcting or healing bc these organisations are incapable of self-reflection or change. it will get worse and they will continue to crack down on the Rogan’s rather than learning anything.

    Rogan is like Trump in a lot of ways; a mirror onto much of that’s wrong with the media and public discourse (just as Trump shone a light on the deep rot in politics and the political fault lines that had been yawning for decades). political discourse hasn’t gotten any better since Trump left, and I don’t think the state of the media will either.

    expect further inversion – or a recession?

  3. “…the market is favouring inefficiency over efficiency. The question is why?”

    Because the gains/benefits of these efficiencies aren’t benefiting many market participants

    “Rogan’s mass appeal — … It’s the inverted yield curve of the media industry. Or the snubbing of structured data in favour of the unstructured sort.”

    More like: unselected, un-massaged and unpackaged, e.g. getting to see the test data and methodology up close and not just the conclusions Pfizer made and claims they support. In the specific case of some recent Rogan episodes, Pfizer’s insistence on keeping such data (no doubt structured in spreadsheets and tables etc) under wraps has created demand for information that doesn’t agree with Pfizer’s conclusions but seems to agree with experiences “in the field”.

    “The responsibility to balance content becomes more acute when audiences get so much larger.”

    This didn’t seem to be a huge concern until the day before yesterday. How big is the CDC’s intended audience?
    In response to the Challenger disaster in 1986 the Rogers Commission was created, consisting of 14 experts led by Richard Feynman himself.
    For the Covid-19 response we have…..Anthony Fauci, and a hardly disinterested or spry Anthony Fauci at that.

    1. “The responsibility to balance content becomes more acute when audiences get so much larger.”

      I join you in calling BS on that one. Free speech works like weighing scales, when weighing scales are free. You can’t bring weighing scales into balance, from the outside, by fiddling around trying to recalibrate the mechanism to make it look the scales are in balance.

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