Arnold Kling  

Pragmatism, continued

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In this essay, I discuss the recent piece by Jonathan Chait, who argues that liberals are pragmatic and conservatives are ideological. I write,


The market solution for health insurance is something that has never been tried. I believe that it is possible that the market could come up with a reasonable solution. I would like to see an environment in which some radical alternatives to the current models of health insurance were given an opportunity to prove themselves, before we close off all experimentation by imposing a government solution.

In general, I think that relying on the market is more pragmatic than imposing a government solution. Markets make mistakes, but there is an ongoing trial-and-error process that tends to lead to improvement. Government mistakes tend to become self-perpetuating.

In fact, I think that this modern view of the market--as a trial-and-error process--is more powerful than the neoclassical view of the market--as an allocation mechanism. That is on of the themes of Learning Economics.

For Discussion. Is the case for Social Security reform insufficiently pragmatic, as Chait argues?


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COMMENTS (8 to date)
Bob V writes:

I think the link to the essay is broken.

Mark writes:

Also, a link to Chait's piece would be helpful.

Jared writes:

Both U.S. political parties seem to want to "patch holes in the sinking boat" of Social Security. What they don't seem to realize is that there is more hole than boat.

Currently we have welfare for old people, where the young make transfer payments to the old. A system like this that encourages people to rely on others doesn't do anyone any favors.

The proposed alternative is a government managed investment system. I find it hard to believe that a government that can't manage its own finances will do a good job with mine.

I don't think either party has a realistic view of what is needed or of the outcomes of their proposals.

Rick Gaber writes:

The effects of imposed government solutions since WWII are charted here.

Paul N writes:

Liberals and Conservatives are no more idealistic or pragmatic than each other, on average. We can find issues on each side where idealism trumps pragmatism (eg. environmentalism among liberals, same-sex marriage among conservatives)

The difference is values. The attempts to rip the other side by saying "they" are less pragmatic than "us" are stupid.

Lawrance George Lux writes:

The case for Social Security reform is pragmatic, but the Bush and Conservative suggested reform handles none of the real issues with the system. Private Accounts hold no solution, and only serve the personal and ideological desires of Proponents--mainly driven by Personal Gain.

The real necessity is to get FICA tax revenues out of the General Revenue budget, and invested in something independent of political intervention; I have suggested purchase of the Federal Reserve system with cancelation of the unfunded liability of the Federal Government to Social Security. It provides investment for current surpluses, takes FICA revenues away from the General Revenue Budget and invests them, and allows for Banking measures to raise Business Profits on both Investments and Holdings. lgl

Bob writes:

Chait is right but doesn't understand why it isn't the big deal he thinks it is. All he's recognizing (without recognizing) is the consequence of liberals and conservatives differing over whether the end justifies the means. This shows up when he implicitly assumes that "making people better off" is limited to wealth. Happily, freedom seems to maximize wealth, but should conservative apologize for recognizing the primacy of freedom over wealth maximization? That is, would it be better to support enslavement if it somehow increased peoples' material well-being?

Of course, I agree with Arnold and Paul that these all-encompassing labels are pretty pointless. Many liberals value freedom and many self-styled conservatives are happy to enslave.

R Killingsworth writes:

"this modern view of the market--as a trial-and-error process--"

Hmm. Sounds exactly, but exactly, like Léon Walras' metaphor of "tâtonnement", which is usually rendered in English as "groping in the dark".

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