Arnold Kling  

Brad DeLong is Fantasy-Based

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Brad DeLong writes


My natural home is in the bipartisan center, arguing with center-right reality-based technocrats about whether it is center-left or center-right policies that have the best odds of moving us toward goals that we all share--world peace, world prosperity, equality of opportunity, safety nets, long and happy lifespans, rapid scientific and technological progress, and personal safety. The aim of governance, I think, is to achieve a rough consensus among the reality-based technocrats and then to frame the issues in a way that attracts the ideologues on one (or, ideally, both) wings in order to create an effective governing coalition.

In your dreams. The reality?

Jacob Weisberg writes,


The most prominent nationalist candidate this year was Sherrod Brown, who unseated incumbent Senator Mike DeWine in Ohio, a state that has lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs since George W. Bush became president. Mr Brown is the author of a book called Myths of Free Trade: Why American Trade Policy Has Failed. Here is a snippet from one of his television advertisements: “Sherrod Brown stood up to the president of his own party to protect American jobs, fighting against the Mexico and China trade deals that sent countless jobs oversees.” For some reason, economic nationalists never seem to complain about job-killing Dutch or Irish competition. The targets of their anger are consistently China and Mexico, with occasional whacks at Dubai, Oman, Peru and Vietnam.

Thanks to Mark Thoma for the pointers.

In Brad's ideal world, he and Andrew Samwick (say) are technocrats who are given free rein to design social insurance, tax incentives, research priorities, and so forth, while elected officials keep the people at bay. (Come to think of it, I thought Bryan sounded similarly elitist.)

There are only two problems with this.

1. The technocrats occasionally make large errors, which tend to persist far longer than market failures.

2. Even when the technocrats are wise, the political process is never going to coincide with DeLong's fantasy.

The fantasy-based community of would-be philosopher-technocrats waits for a receptive cohort of political leaders the way that Cubs fans wait for their team to make the World Series. Life is one big gripe-fest about present disappointments, and next year we are going to see the world set right.


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



TRACKBACKS (3 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/600
The author at Economic Investigations in a related article titled Science Can't Substitute For Politics writes:
    Update: Arnold Kling and Bryan Caplan have discovered this older post by DeLong, and his “reality-based center-left technocrat” fantasy. Caplan replies. Kling replies. I just wanted to add that I’ve thrown by vitriol “avant la l... [Tracked on November 9, 2006 3:31 AM]
COMMENTS (5 to date)
Bruce G Charlton writes:

Yep - totally agree. Its the grey eminence fantasy, the power behind the throne - indeed, it is essentially a power fantasy - and most intellectuals are prey to it most of the time, because it is self interested.

ed johnson writes:

I think I agree with most of what you're trying to say. I definitely agree that we should be skeptical of the ability of government decision makers to fix things.

On the other hand, you need to acknowledge that we must and will have some sort of government, and so we should try to make it as good as possible. Also, some market failures, like air pollution externalities for example, can be very long lasting and really do need technocrats to ameliorate them.

dearieme writes:

"goals that we all share": vapid fantasy - who's this "we"? Much of the population of Iraq probably has the goal of advancing its clan while oppressing or exterminating others. Politics isn't about "goals that we all share", it's about conflicts of interest. What a balloon this fellow must be.

RogerM writes:

If Brad's fantasy became a reality and a cabinet of economists were put in charge of the economy, the next thing to happen would be a socialist getting elected as president and staffing that cabinet with socialist economists. Our system of government wasn't designed to maximize good decision making, but to minimize the damage of bad policy.

Juan writes:

Delong is about as reality based as a Simpsons episode. Last week he said that Lieberman winning his CT Senate seat and then resigning it to become Defense Secretary and allowing the powers that be to appoint a Republican to his empty seat was a "likely scenario."

In what "reality based" world is that a likely scenario? Oh, I know, the paranoid left-wing nut job world. The mean-spirited condescension of that guy boggles my mind more and more every day.

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