Tuesday, December 1, 2009

True Words

. Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What the matrix says is that if you look at today's American politics, you have to either support central planning or support a political party that hates intellectuals. If you are an intellectual who believes in decentralized markets, it's not an appealing choice.


That is Arnold Kling, describing why his two new books are important. By "central planning" Kling does not mean the Politburo (at least I don't think that's what he means), but rather a too-strong faith in the ability of technocrats.

Over Thanksgiving, I had a conversation on this topic with a family member who has also worked for the Republican Party. I described to him why the McCain/Palin ticket was so abhorrent to me that I ended up voting for Obama/Biden despite much trepidation. What I said was that while I disagreed with Obama on a great many issues, and hoped he was lying about others, at least he was surrounding himself with very smart people who could give him good advice. People like Goolsbee, Furman, Cutler, the Romers, Summers, Thaler, Blinder, Galbraith, Tyson, and Volcker. I don't agree with all of these people on everything, but I do think that they approach economic analysis honestly and with real care. If Obama took these people seriously, I thought, the economy would be in pretty good hands.

McCain, on the other hand, surrounded himself with ideologues with little or no formal training in economics (and was forthright about his own lack of understanding). People like Gramm, Hassett, Fiorina, and Luskin. The only actual economists that McCain consulted were Holtz-Eaken and Laffer. The former embarrassed himself in the campaign while the latter's views have been routinely distorted by McCain and the rest of the GOP. By the end of the campaign, McCain was mostly relying on Joe the freaking Plumber for his supply of economic policy platitudes.

In other words, to me the choice was between sensible, smart people who had some views that were somewhat different from mine and dangerous ideologues who had proven themselves wrong about nearly everything over the past 10-20 years. My vote went to the group I thought would be better technocrats, and nothing McCain or Palin have said or done since then has made me regret it, despite the fact that I have not been especially happy with all of Obama's decisions.

That said, I'm not actually sure that Kling has his matrix exactly right. Despite a lot of talk about the virtues of decentralized markets, the recent record of the GOP shows a strong pattern of susceptibility to corporate and other lobbyists. This is certainly true of Palin (Kling's example of an anti-intellectual supporter of decentralized markets), and not how a true believer in the virtues of decentralized markets would legislate. To be sure, Democrats are also successfully lobbied by interest groups. Since the political scientist in me expects lobbying to always be somewhat successful no matter which party is in control, the choice (in this case) was simply between the intellectuals and the anti-intellectuals, and that's not much of a choice at all.

Until the GOP can fill in the bottom-right blank in Kling's matrix, they'll have a difficult time winning votes from people like me, and I suspect there are a lot of us.

(ht: MR)

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