Loud, salty, and stupid (give em what they want)

Yesterday, I saw Dune 2 in a huge theater (with only one other patron.) Before the feature presentation, I was subjected to 35 minutes of torture. First a series of ads, then one preview after another full of loud explosions and ridiculous CGI monsters. (Remakes of Planet of the Apes, King Kong and Mad Max, among other things.)

It’s fruitless for me to bemoan the state of modern cinema, as these films are not aimed at me. In fact, Hollywood is doing an increasingly effective job at giving viewers what they want. As a film lover I’m appalled, but as an economist I applaud.

During the course of my life, I’ve seen corporate America become better and better at figuring out what people want. Here are a few other examples:

My wife and I often complain that restaurant food is too salty. But why is that? it probably reflects the fact that most people like salty food. The restaurant industry is become more efficient, better at producing giant portions of the sort of salty (and sweet) food that people wish to consume. Hence obesity.

When I was young, the news media consisted of dignified figures like Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley. Now you turn on the cable news and see mindless bimbos screeching out partisan propaganda at the top of their lungs. (Fox is the worst, but many other news sites have also gotten worse.) The TV industry figured out that people don’t want Walter Cronkite; they want wild conspiracy theories promoted by people yelling at the TV screen.

In the film American Splendor, there was this exchange between two characters

Mattress Guy #1: So is the girl smart?

Mattress Guy #2: Well, I guess she’s about average.

Mattress Guy #1: Average! Man, average is dumb!

With a few notable exceptions, the vast majority of readers of this blog have IQs well above 100. It’s tempting to assume that people with IQs of 100 are stupid. But they aren’t—they are average. In the days of Cronkite and Brinkley, TV news was pitched to people with IQs of 115. Now it’s aimed at average people. They only seem stupid, because you and your acquaintances live in a bubble surrounded by people who are above average.

The modern media is getting better at delivering what consumers want. Don’t like it? You are not the target audience.

PS. Even Trump and Biden presumably have IQs above 100. They only seem dumb because we subconsciously expect our presidents to be above average.

PPS. So what does average intelligence look like? This:

Robinson, who is the state’s lieutenant governor, has said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the 1969 moon landing was fake and the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an “inside job.” He’s “SERIOUSLY skeptical” of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and of the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas. He falsely accused David Hogg, a survivor of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, of being a paid actor. He’s claimed that climate change is based on “junk science.” . . .

In lesser-noticed social media posts, Robinson has said that news coverage of police shootings is part of a media conspiracy “designed to push US towards their new world order.” He and his wife both liked a since-deleted Facebook comment that stated, “WWG1WGA are my ‘Identity’ letters,” a reference to the QAnon rallying cry “Where we go one, we go all.” In October 2018, on a day when authorities intercepted pipe bombs intended for President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CNN, Robinson suggested on Facebook that they had done it to themselves. “If you can’t beat ’em, bomb yourself,” he wrote.

When Trump finally passes from the scene, Robinson will be the new face of the GOP.



24 Responses to “Loud, salty, and stupid (give em what they want)”

  1. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    7. March 2024 at 03:42

    The US has always been at the forefront of giving people what they want and has erected the fewest constraints on people having what they want. Other cultures have norms against various things, but in the US, those norms don’t seem too strong or able to hold sway for very long. Going way back to my first trip to the US as a young person in 1983, food in the US unfailingly tasted sweet (even sliced bread!) and serving sizes were twice what one needed. I think I added 10% to my body weight in a month. The US has less of a class structure than most other countries, which means that people with the means to fulfill their desires are not discouraged from doing so. That has lots of positives of course. But the fact is that 15% of the population is utterly incapable of making sensible choices; and another 70% is barely capable, but is still mostly or a lot better off than they would be in, say, Europe. As for the news, having access to the content I do now, I feel I was cheated for the first 40 years of my life when I had to consume media that was – at best – designed for readers or viewers with a 115 IQ. Nowadays, I almost never consume the average people stuff, and I seek to avoid average people at every opportunity.

  2. Gravatar of Miguel Miguel
    7. March 2024 at 03:56

    Great post, but how did you like Dune 2 as a film? What grade does it get? Planning to see it this weekend and not too excited about it TBH.

  3. Gravatar of Stan Greer Stan Greer
    7. March 2024 at 05:02

    Walter Cronkite was a foundation of misinformation, and no better than the news anchors of today, who are undeniably insufferable.

  4. Gravatar of MSS1914 MSS1914
    7. March 2024 at 07:49

    So, how was Dune 2?

  5. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    7. March 2024 at 09:10

    Rajat, Yes, we’ve always been ahead on that score, but recently it’s become even more noticeable.

    Dune was OK, nothing special.

  6. Gravatar of Acebojangles Acebojangles
    7. March 2024 at 09:30


    Don’t you think there are parallels to this post and your ideas about Democratic wokeness? People want to hate outgroups and anti-wokeness fits the bill. It feels good to people with a tribal mindset, regardless of what the other side is actually doing.

    On the other hand, does this all suggest that Democrat’s real problem is that they don’t lie about providing easy solutions to fake problems enough?

  7. Gravatar of Tamritz Tamritz
    7. March 2024 at 10:32

    If people with high IQ decided that it is forbidden to say simple truths anymore, because they are “racist” – for example, that the USA does not have to accept all the negative elements of the third world, otherwise it will look like a third world country itself, then why do you blame the low-IQ people for looking for other politicians.

    We have already forgotten how, before the Trump era, to say the simplest and most obvious things about immigration or crime was taboo.

  8. Gravatar of Eharding Eharding
    7. March 2024 at 11:25

    Sumner, given that your blog is to the right of center on economic issues, you should not be surprised that your comments sections are filled with posters who favor American political candidates to the right of center on economic issues.

  9. Gravatar of David S David S
    7. March 2024 at 11:50

    “….with one other patron.” That’s interesting.

    If you want to be amused, I suggest the documentary on Netflix titled:
    “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened”

    Billy McFarland will definitely be supporting Trump.

  10. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    7. March 2024 at 13:03


    What exactly is the evidence that people from “third world” countries make America look likewise? All I see is a growing labor force at the time we need it most, increased productivity, and lower crime rates among immigrants. Restricting immigration makes the US weaker than it would otherwise be, due to foregone real GDP.

  11. Gravatar of Tamritz Tamritz
    7. March 2024 at 14:52

    Does anyone dispute the consequences of immigration in Sweden or France? Was Geert Wilders elected in the Netherlands solely because this tolerant country is filled with malevolent racists?

  12. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    7. March 2024 at 21:53


    Let’s just focus on my question about the US. There are areas of the US, such as south Florida, many parts of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California where relatively high percentages of the population are immigrants. Are these like “third world” countries? I’m originally from Houston, which is a truly bilingual city and a large portion of my friends and neighbors growing up were of families that recently immigrated. I don’t remember any particular problems as a result. Quite the contrary, I loved my neighbhorhoods and the influence of Mexican culture.

    I took a trip to the Philippines last September and saw some truly appalling “third world” conditions in parts of cities like Cebu City and Iloilo, but I’d love to have as many Filipinos come to the US as possible, including from those neighborhoods. I had my laundry done in one of those areas. These were the happiest, friendliest people I’ve ever met. They could only make our culture better.

    Feel free to provide evidence of problems immigration causes in Sweden and France, as I don’t buy the conspiracy theories.

  13. Gravatar of BC BC
    8. March 2024 at 00:50

    “The TV industry figured out that people don’t want Walter Cronkite; they want wild conspiracy theories promoted by people yelling at the TV screen.”

    I think this one is due to the expansion of TV from three major networks first to 500 cable channels and now to almost infinite streaming and social media options. With three major networks, programs must appeal to broad swaths of the population. Thirty-three percent market share is average. With 500 channels, market share of 1% is already 5x the average. So, Cronkite was actually the networks’ attempt to appeal to everyone, mostly by not offending anyone. Now, programming is designed to appeal (strongly) to a niche, even if most people find it distasteful. Tucker Carlson was already bad enough at Fox, but he was afraid of losing audience to Newsmax!

  14. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. March 2024 at 09:58

    Acebojangles, You said:

    “providing easy solutions”

    There are easy solutions—reverse the stupid soft on crime policies that led to the problem. Fortunately, progressive cities are starting to agree with me:


    I don’t even know how to respond to people who don’t see the insanity of wokism (in universities, corporations and the government). It’s like when right wingers ask me why I think Trump is racist. How do you even respond to those people?

    I have many posts defining wokism and explaining the problem.

    Tamritz, So it’s “true” that immigrants from “shithole” countries like India and Nigeria have done poorly in the US? Is that your claim? Do you support the Moslem travel ban?

    In any case, nothing you say on immigration has any bearing on all the racist comments made by Trump.

  15. Gravatar of Acebojangles Acebojangles
    8. March 2024 at 11:54

    Mr. Sumner,

    This is my frustration with you on these topics: You switch back and forth between understanding that public opinion is based on reality depending on the topic.

    Are there legitimate objections to some “woke” issues? Of course. Is that what people are actually mad about? No! People are mad about “wokeism” because being mad about culture war nonsense is their loud, salty, and stupid entertainment and there are culture warriors who are good selling it to them.

    I guess it might be helpful if Biden/Democrats made public statements critical of the silliest woke stuff, but I’m skeptical. Opinions about Biden/Democrats are only tangentially based on what they actually say and do.

    What you seem to want is for Biden and Democrats to issue a directive to every left-leaning person on Twitter, every assistant professor, every mayor, etc to stop saying things that can be (mis)reported to make conservatives mad. An impossible and probably futile task.

    Again, crime is great example of all of this. Do you think people are making decisions about crime policies based on actual statistics and evidence on what works? Of course not. You’re not even doing that.

  16. Gravatar of Sara Sara
    8. March 2024 at 13:04

    It’s called “social engineering”.

    People want salt and sugar, because they’ve been trained to want salt and sugar. Not necessarily nefariously, simply because that’s what’s available on the market.

    If you grow up eating healthy foods, then you’re going to notice the difference between healthy food and salty food. If you grow up eating salty foods, then you won’t notice the difference.

    Your wife is chinese, btw, just in case you haven’t noticed after all these years. So when you say your wife complains about salty foods — I doubt it. There is nothing saltier than a Chinese dish. It comes with about 2000mg of salt per serving. And if you live in Thailand, it’s even worse because the 2000mg of salt is accompanied by 100mg of sugar.

    It’s the current nature of things, especially in inner cities, because fresh foods are hard to come by. You can thank Monsanto and Bill Gates for that.

    Gates, btw, recently decided to send thousands of geoengineered mosquitos to brazil, which he unleased into the forest. Millions of Brazileans now have the worst strain of malaria because of his so-called “benevolence”.

    RFK jr gave a great state of the unio speech. Take notes, watch fewer bucks games and 1940’s movies, and you might learn something.


  17. Gravatar of Paul Paul
    8. March 2024 at 15:38

    Do people have much of a choice?

    Lot of food is canned or frozen, and preserved with sodium.

    Restaurants also use mostly canned and frozen foods.

    I don’t think that has anything to do with the market satsifying tastes, as much as it’s the market satisfying a necessity. How else would you preserve food for weeks, months and years?

  18. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. March 2024 at 08:05

    Acebogangles, If you think wokism is a trivial problem, then you have no idea what’s going on in the country. I frequently meet people who have had their lives very negatively affected by woke excesses (losing jobs, etc.). It’s not a minor problem.

    Paul, You said:

    “Restaurants also use mostly canned and frozen foods.”

    I try to avoid those restaurants. 🙂

  19. Gravatar of Edward Edward
    9. March 2024 at 15:15

    We now have evidence that Cheney, Sumner’s hero, supressed evidence during the J6 hearing. She falsely claimed that the Trump administration had “no evidence” to support claims that the White House had requested 10,000 National Guard troops ahead of the mass demonstration in Washington, and that this request was denied by Pelosi.

    The Federalist writes:

    “A transcribed interview from Jan. 2022 conducted by the committee, and which has been obtained by The Federalist includes evidence that Cheney attended and personally participated in a meeting where this evidence was presented, which she later supressed, and which was kept from public release until now,” Mollie Hemingway reported Friday.

    You know it’s quite funny that Sumner has so much faith in these “elites.”

    Take the New York Times for example. Noam Chomsky wrote a whole book about the New York Times being a spokeperson for the government. And it’s not just frivilous claims. Chomsky’s books presents meticilous and irrefutable data. The book was titled “manufactured consent.” He read every article, documented all of them to prove his point.

    Here are just a few examples.

    The NYT spent a decade telling American citizens that the south vietnamese were opposed to the National liberation front (which the NYT bigotedly referred to as the Viet cong). That was the ethical justification for entering the war. It was a lie. Over 70% of the south favored the National liberation front, and fought against the western backed puppet.The very leader of the south was trained in the U.S., and the entire southern government was a western creation. The South was not an indigenuous movement, and the majority opposed it from the start.

    Doesn’t that sound a lot like Iraq and Ukraine. The NYT, ever the mouthpiece for our elite, said Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and that we had to “save humanity.” This was the justification for entering the war. Once again, it was all a lie. Now they tell us we have to save “democratic Ukraine” the same Ukraine that refuses to hold an election. The same Ukraine that ignored the Minsk agreement. The same Ukraine that was consistently rated the most corrupt country in the western hemisphere by several independent agencies including the corruptions perception index.

    The NYT supported the mass murderer Pol Pot after Vietnam toppled the government in 1978. But before 1978, the NYT told the truth about Pol Pot. Why the suddent switch? The CIA of course. The government or elite, told the NYT to shut their filthy mouth about Pol Pot, because those damn commies took out their puppet.

    The NYT, then, spent decades denying U.S. bombings in the plain of jars, even as tens of thousands of Lao children were having their legs blown off. Our government called it a “conspiracy theory.” And denied it until it was impossible to deny.

    But according to Sumner, we should all just trust the elite. Only low I.Q. people think that mainstream media is untrustworthy. It’s all just a big conspiracy, despite evidence to the contrary. The populists are the real bad guys. War criminals like Cheney, Bush and Bolton are the good guys. Just believe the elite all the time. LOL.

    Well, I’m proud to say that Christopher Langan, and his 190 I.Q. is a “Trumpista.”

    There is still hope for humanity.

  20. Gravatar of Bobster Bobster
    10. March 2024 at 08:58

    I think we are turning the corner on culture.

    Whatever one thinks of Oppenheimer and Barbie, they were not traditional blockbusters. This year we already have movies like Zone of Interest that are very unique and good.

    TV has been much better for awhile now.

    Even with the news, a lot more people are getting content from high quality substack writers and podcasters.

  21. Gravatar of Acebojangles Acebojangles
    11. March 2024 at 05:23


    Maybe I’m not familiar with your specific life experiences, but in my own life wokeism is a trivial problem where I have two kids in school and work in corporate America. I hear a lot of people without kids talk about indoctrination in schools, but I haven’t encountered that with my own kids. I had to watch a video about respecting people’s pronouns.

    Were the people who lost jobs in academia? I’m not saying that there aren’t problems, but I think the few problems there are get overemphasized for political reasons. Very few people who are mad about wokeism can cite actual examples or even explain what they’re mad about. Many high profile cancel culture stories aren’t really true.

    If this were a real problem, then I’d expect the opponents of wokeism to propose real solutions. Instead of that, they ban drag shows and talking about homosexuality.

  22. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    13. March 2024 at 15:51

    Bobster, “A lot more” might be an increase from 1/2% to 1%.

    Acebojangles, You said:

    “Very few people who are mad about wokeism can cite actual examples”

    That’s funny—almost everyone I know can cite multiple examples.

  23. Gravatar of Matthias Matthias
    15. March 2024 at 02:25

    The US isn’t particularly good at getting people what they want. Look at the longstanding criminalisation of most recreational drugs or Kinder Surprise eggs.

    They have a strong puritanical streak in the US.

  24. Gravatar of Matthias Matthias
    15. March 2024 at 02:28

    Scott, I don’t think salt leads to obesity. Or at least the causal chain must be pretty complicated. Eg Singaporean food is pretty salty overall, perhaps because people sweat so much here. But obesity ain’t that much of a problem.

    Anecdotally, the Dutch seem to use a lot less salt in their bland food than the Belgians. But it’s pretty hard to tell people from the two countries apart from looking at them.

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