I know how he does it...
"How does Richard A. Posner do it?" I read this Sunday in the Up Front material of the NYT Book Review section. They're referring to his prolificacy, of course, something I've remarked upon before. As a legal scholar with economist training, Posner takes to heart the maxim that "anything worth doing is worth doing poorly," and that "better than nothing" guideline has served him well. How else do you explain a book entitled Public Intellectuals: A Study in Decline that contains no longitudinal analysis and thus no exploration of decline?
I'd contest the claim that Posner's work isn't formulaic as well. His typical approach to any issue is straight from general equilibrium analysis: identify the primary interests in a given decision/rule, assign values to those interests, apply neoclassical price theory and draw up supply and demand curves. Easy as cake. The problems inherent in identifying relevant interests and cavalier assignment of values to those interests are a common theme on the Anti-Becker-Posner blog.
Also, many of Posner's books collect or grow out of his articles. For instance, his latest book on intelligence reform is an expansion of his NYT book review of the 9/11 report.
The occasion of the NYT editors' marvel is Posner's review of several books about the embattled press. I thought the essay was slapdash and fatuous, sometimes hilariously so. For instance, Posner's discovery of "recent Pew Research Center poll data that show Republicans increasingly regarding the media as too critical of the government and Democrats increasingly regarding them as not critical enough." He attributes this to the polarization of media, but in fact it's merely an aspect of typical disconfirmation bias, the "hostile media effect." Of course Republicans will increasingly regard the media as too critical of the government as the government becomes more Republican. The same is true of Democrats. Oddly enough, Posner relies on the confirmation bias (without identifying it) earlier in the essay to explain why people don't consume news media to become better informed.
I raised Posner's failure to deal in longitudinal analysis earlier, and Jack Shafer in Slate notes the same failing in this review. Like Shafer, I blanched at Posner's claim that the presence of Fox News has pushed CNN to the left, as I recall Wolf Blitzer questioning whether liberal Paul Begala was a good Catholic (compared to Robert Novak) during CNN coverage of the Pope's funeral.
In the end, Posner's article pronounces diagnoses, explanations, and conclusions that can satisfy almost everybody. The mainstream media (MSM in blog-ese) are liberal AND more politically polarized AND market-driven AND more sensational AND interested in making the public better informed AND more scandal-prone AND less accurate AND serving the public well. The last conclusion is not only predictable (coming from Posner) but necessary, since Posner assigns almost all of the changes in media recently to the decreasing cost of entry into the media market. Under such conditions, it's practically an article of faith that consumers are better served.
Anyway, how does Richard Posner do it? Quickly, and without a lot of care.