Friday, June 26, 2009

The Hopeless Science?

. Friday, June 26, 2009

Robert Reich writes:

Someone recently approached me at the cheese counter of a local supermarket, asking "what can I do?" At first I thought the person was seeking advice about a choice of cheese. But I soon realized the question was larger than that. It was: what can I do about the way things are going in Washington?...

[I replied], We must make Obama do the right things. Email, write, and phone the White House. Do the same with your members of Congress. Round up others to do so. Also: Find friends and family members in red states who agree with you, and get them fired up to do the same. For example, if you happen to have a good friend or family member in Montana, you might ask him or her to write Max Baucus and tell him they want a public option included in any healthcare bill.
By implication, Reich believes that the absence of change is a consequence of an insufficient volume of mail. I wonder what underlying model of politics causes him to believe this. I can't understand how a professor of public policy at one of the best universities in the nation can offer such analysis. And why, in god's name, would a Nobel Prize winning economist endorse such analysis?

Surely political science offers moderately more compelling explanations for the status quo bias evident in DC? But, even if one lacks specialized knowledge of modern theories and theorems, basic familiarity with the U.S. constitution should encourage the recognition that American political institutions are designed to diminish the power of single individuals and diminish the power of each separate branch of government. Everything we know tells us that American political institutions make change hard. No volume of mail will change this institutional reality.

In short, the way things are going in DC is a consequence of the public hopes Obama embodies running smack into the reality of American political institutions. It is indeed audacious to hope that one man can bring rapid change in the American political system. Reich's failure to recognize this is a commentary on the failure of even basic precepts of modern political science to penetrate elite thinking.


Kindred Winecoff said...

DeLong lapped it up too:

i think there's a simpler explanation: these guys were hoping for single-payer, a large carbon tax/auctioned cap-and-trade, a rollback of every policy that Bush ever made, the nationalization of the banking sector, a stimulus as least twice as big as the one they got, regulatory overhaul, and a more progressive income tax.

and they're realizing that they're not going to get any of it, despite having 60 senators and huge majority in the House (and record-setting approval ratings for the president). what's funny is that Reich, Krugman, and DeLong have all worked in government. they were first-hand witnesses the last time a Democratic president couldn't get a single-payer system past a Democratic Congress.

they should all know better.

Chris said...

From a former Congressional staffer, I can assure you that Congressmen don't actually read their mail, and phone calls--while good for attracting specialized-interest action (speeding up passports and leaning on immigration officials to approve a case)--do little to change members' minds on public goods issues.

The Hopeless Science?




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