In the case of the new jobs proposal, however, the WH did make a point of giving me the plan in advance, under very strict embargo...And it felt as if I was really in the know — which, I suspect, is a big journalistic trap.I've written about this before, but Bill James in one of the Abstracts had a terrific riff on this, which I really learned a lot from. It was when he had started to do work (consulting on arbitration cases, if I recall correctly) that gave him inside information for the first time. What he found was that in baseball what distinguished inside information from public information was only time. That is, basically everything he learned became public sooner or later. That matches my experience in politics...I've had times in my life where I was very plugged in and times when I wasn't, and I'm not sure that there's much that I ever learned from the plugged in times that stayed on the inside (not to mention that plenty of the "inside knowledge" turned out to be dead wrong).
For the fact is that this kind of inside information — knowing the details of some proposal a few hours before everyone else — is deeply trivial...Yet the desire to be on the inside and have some kind of ultimately trivial scoop can, I realize, be a big motivator. Even I had to step back and say, hey, this doesn’t matter; what really matters is the kind of analysis that anyone with access to the web can do.
The basic idea is that there doesn't appear to be two different types of information, inside and outside; there's just a conveyor belt in which things move from inside to outside, and different people hear about things at different points along the conveyor belt. Of course, it is possible that outsider-type analysis (what Krugman does, and what I do here) is sometimes wrong because there's inside information that would have been relevant. But most of the time, that's not the case. As far as politics (as opposed to economics or baseball) is concerned, sometimes the inside stuff does matter, so it's worth noting where the information gaps are (such as: what's Senator So-and-so's real bottom line on the tax bill), but it turns out that one can go quite a long way with only the outside side of things.
And of course the big difference between now and when James was writing in the 1980s is that the conveyor belt has switched to a much faster speed.