Arnold Kling  

Thinking vs. Feeling

France and Germany... The Latest Oil Shock...

In a rambling essay, I write

I view economics as training in thinking. That does not mean that you lose your empathy with people. It means, however, that you pay attention to the consequences of policies, regardless of their motives. Or, as Alan Blinder put it, economists have Hard Heads, Soft Hearts.

For Discussion. Does the Internet represent a triumph for decentralized spontaneous order or for collectivism?

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COMMENTS (13 to date)
Paul Ledin writes:

I don't know where your daughter goes to school, but I assume that it's somewhere on the east coast and maybe that's the problem possibly along with her course of study. I'm not very far out of college from a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin(UW-Superior), and although you could spend your days in touchy feeling sorts of classes if you're so inclined (one of only like 5 schools in the world with a 'peace studies' major) this business of "indoctrination" is a bit much. Exactly where in a calulus class does one of these liberal/activist/socialist/communist profressors fit in his/her stance on public healthcare? But if you enroll in 'Philosophy of the Beatles', what do you expect?

Secondly the Left is hardly in a mononpoly position with regard to manipulating voters and failing to make the honest case. Let's have a little balance here, after all this isn't Fox News. While the Left is certainly guilty of trying to play the heart strings, it's the right abondons reasoned argument in favor of fear mongering every chance it gets. I think I'm probably best described as libertarian and I can't for the life of me understand how any libertarian inclined individual can jump on the conservative bandwagon as quickly as Mr. Kling and the rest of TCS's staff, save that hack Glassman. On economic issues a lot of the Bush administration's rhetoric isn't half bad. And although I'm not an economist I'm more interested in results than intentions so in that regard the Bush record is atrocious i.e. steel tariffs, farm subsidies, medicare drug benefit, etc. I can't believe that even the most liberal of liberals could do worse, in which I'd at least be satisified in knowing that I got what was promised. And the economic front is the good news where at least the rhetoric doesn't suck.

Pretty obviously the internet is allowing individuals to exchange information much more quickly, and that's Hayekian. It's no coincidence that the collectivist left hates that, along with similar sources of uncontrolled information such as talk radio.

If you can stand to read the comments sections at leftish blogs, such as Kevin Drum's, the left is not only fact free, but actively hostile to anyone who attempts to correct their delusions. It even goes so far as deleting comments from people who offer alternative ideas. I'm not aware of any libertarian or conservative blogs who do that.

asg writes:

If you count the "intelligent design" movement as conservative, then William Dembski's blog is famous for deleting comments which point out the gaping holes in his criticisms of evolutionary theory.

Lancelot Finn writes:

Re: Arnold's discussion question.

I know the decentralized spontaneous order vs. collectivism opposition is standard libertarian fare. But in this case the dichotomy rings false. The Internet is a huge collective and a fine example of decentralized spontaneous order.

Re: deleting unwanted comments.

I discovered Brad DeLong's blog a few months ago and jump into the debates as a commenter. It was really fun to watch the angry-liberal hordes answer my arguments. They obviously greatly disliked having a dissenting voice in their midst. If I made an argument, a big pile of angry comments would appear in reply within hours or even minutes. And most of them were pretty easy to knock down.

After a couple of days, Brad censored me as a troll. I was amazed. He sent me an e-mail "You're over the Troll Line..." I had no idea what that meant. Turns out it meant that most of the comments I had put on the blog had been deleted without a trace. Some he left bits of, with his rebuttals. In some cases my comments had been driving the debate, so in their absence the debate acquired a weird, censored character.

Argument is like a river; it meanders, it varies in pace, but it continues towards the sea of truth. Brad has to dam the river because he doesn't want to arrive at the truth, and cause his readers the inconvenience of changing their minds.

And maybe all this throws some light on Arnold's question. The left uses censored-conversation blogging as a tool for promoting a certain kind of collectivism. The right uses open-conversation blogging to develop an ideology characterized by decentralized, spontaneous order. Reason and argument are the defining characteristics of the contemporary Right; piety, ridicule, groupthink, censorship, and reaction, the defining characteristics of the contemporary Left.

In some cases my comments had been driving the debate, so in their absence the debate acquired a weird, censored character.

Welcome to the club, but it's not limited to DeLong.

Tom West writes:

After a couple of days, Brad censored me as a troll.

As a left-leaning poster, I find that *really* sad. Any blog labelling Mr. Finn as a troll can't possibly be interested in defending their point of view over a whole spectrum of beliefs.

I read Brad's blog occasionally, but admit that I found its comments somewhat boring (although his articles are often quite interesting). Now I know why. Nothing as dull as conformity.

spencer writes:

I can not believe that P. Sullivan is complaining about the left being fact free -- this from a man who never met a correct fact in his life as far as I can tell.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

I have recently been thinking about the evolution of collectivism, as I think it is as strong an inborn feeling as the tendancy to acquie religion (and perhaps linked).

I think one of the big problems in Africa is the continuance of tribalism, which is clan-based collectivism. This may have had important survival value in ancient times when people wandered in small clan groups, but today, it is a hindrance to the powerful value of global trade and free markets.

I can not believe that P. Sullivan is complaining about the left being fact free -- this from a man who never met a correct fact in his life as far as I can tell.

Perfect illustration of the phenomenon, spencer.

Unless you could present even one example.

spencer writes:

Guess what-- I hardely had to go back 24 hours to find an example of P. Sullivan being wrong. Moreover, it was not even me that first jumped on him about his facts being wrong.

"Fortunately Franklin Roosevelt was elected along with a Democratic Congress and as the New Deal was shaped and implemented the economy began to recover."

Yeah, about 1940. The New Deal started in 1933, and very clearly prolonged the Depression. Stein didn't say it initiated it. Stein's also correct that no serious economist blames free markets for the "Great" part either.

As for whether or not Friedman's monetarism was 'naive', we had no less an authority than the host of this blog rising to defend him:

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan | June 6, 2005 01:11 PM

Patrick, just how do you get from these words:

"Just to start, you say the great depression was 'widely blamed' on laissez faire policies. By whom? It has been blamed on many things, but no serious scholar has blamed it on free market economics. In fact, just the opposite--many blame it on price fixing and restraint of trade encouraged by the New Deal."

to your notion that Stein didn't say the New Deal "initiated" the great depression. what else does "many blame it on" possibly mean?

As for the economy, real GDP growth occurred in '33 - '37, fell off in '38, and then resume in '39 and, of course, during world war ii.

Now, perhaps in some test-tube parallel universe the New Deal extended the Great Depression, but here in the real world, the New Deal at the barest minimum didn't keep the economy from growing in 6 of the 7 years of the '30s that FDR was in office.... (

As for "laissez fare" policies, that is not, of course, the same thing as "free market economics," and no "serious" economist would claim otherwise.

Posted by: howard | June 6, 2005 01:26 PM

PS. Patrick, if you're going to cite the prof, you might want to indicate that you've read the footnotes:

"there are (a few) people who believe that the Great Depression was caused by the fact that the Federal Reserve did not deflate the American price level back to its pre-WWI level in the 1920s, or who blame the Great Depression on the Smoot-Hawley Tariff or the New Deal. The tariff certainly didn't help, but it was a minor factor. Some elements of the New Deal retarded recovery (and others accelerated recovery), but the Great Contraction was completely over when Roosevelt's 100 Days began."

Posted by: howard | June 6, 2005 01:31 PM

It would be hard to top spencer's 'proof' for pure imbecility. I pointed out to howard, and other readers at DeLong's blog exactly where they could find the scholarly version of my post. In an Ohanian and Cole article in the Journal of Political Economy.

Which apparently stumped howard, who merely whined that I hadn't provided him with the url for it. For spencer's benefit:

Real gross domestic product per adult, which was 39 percent below trend at the trough of the Depression in 1933, remained 27 percent below trend in 1939,...Similarly, private hours worked were 27 percent below trend in 1933 and remained 21 percent below trend in 1939.

Unemployment was over 17% in 1939. After six years of the New Deal.

Not even a nice try, spence.

Here's more thinking for our feeling spencer (Schumpeter, writing in 1942):

The subnormal recovery to 1935, the subnormal prosperity to 1937 and the slump after that are easily accounted for by the difficulties incident to the adaptation to a new fiscal policy, new labor legislation and a general change in the attitude of government to private enterprise .... [S]o extensive and rapid a change of the social scene naturally affects productive performance for a time, and so much the most ardent New Dealer must and also can admit. I for one do not see how it would otherwise be possible to account for the fact that this country which had the best chance of recovering quickly was precisely the one to experience the most unsatisfactory recovery.
James writes:

This comes a bit later than the original post, but this seems relevant.

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