Arnold Kling  

Technocrats and Populists

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What's Wrong With DeLong?... Will the Real Wise Advice Plea...

Bryan writes,


Politicians usually ignore wise advice. Is that a reason not to try to make them take wise advice?

Coming from a libertarian (or someone who I thought was a libertarian a few weeks ago), is that a trick question? Suppose that it's 1935, and the "wise advice" that the technocrats give is for a pay-as-you-go Social Security system. (That indeed was the considered advice of economists working for Roosevelt at the time.) Should we be happy that Roosevelt took that advice?

I don't want to set up a world in which technocrats compete for the attention of politicians by offering elegant government solutions to problems. That just leads to things like the Massachusetts health plan. Incidentally, there still is no Massachusetts health plan. So far, as I predicted, it is proving impossible to produce a plan within the perimeters set by the legislation.

As a libertarian, you don't want to see politicians trolling for technocrats with clever schemes. You want politicians and the public to be properly skeptical of government. At least, that's what I want.


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



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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 3:32 AM]
COMMENTS (7 to date)
Swimmy writes:

Wise advice.

John Thacker writes:

In my opinion, it comes down to the balance of power. Most dumb populist ideas such as Bryan hates are opposed by most of the elites, by those with power and influence and money. That means that there are forces mitigating them. Dumb technocratic ideas tend to co-opt the elites; the worst of them co-opt the academy and business (along with the bureaucrats) simultaneously. Seems to me that bad technocratic ideas would lack powerful moderating forces arrayed against them if we weakened the control of the populist voter.

Lancelot Finn writes:

Don't you mean "parameters," not "perimeters?"

Let me propose a compromise between you and Bryan. Government should do less than it tends to do. But it has to do some things, e.g. enforce property rights, national defense, etc. And it will probably end up doing more things too. That's where technocrats come in: they help the government to do what it does well.

A libertarian should want all of these people-- voters/the public; politicians/elected officials; and technocrats-- to be more libertarian. A libertarian public will be less likely to ask the government to do a lot of things. Libertarian elected officials will resist pressure to solve problems through big government programs. And if politicians turn to libertarian technocrats for "solutions" to "problems," libertarian technocrats will often say: "Any big program you enact will be a boondoggle. There's no way to get the incentives right in the public-sector context. However, part of the problem is caused by Stupid Regulations X and Y. If you get rid of those, the market will come up with the best solution that's really possible given the current state of technology."

dearieme writes:

I'm with Bryan: the common misuse of "parameter" must surely be because it sounds like "perimeter", but somehow posher. Pah!

Don Robertson writes:

Let me make what I assume will be an unpopular analogy in order to expose the inflationary effects of anything government gets it dirty little hands into. Also, I've stopped looking at the economy until I ferret out whether it's part of the doling government economy, or part of the real private enterprise economy.

While it may be difficult for many to believe, I once was a college student, 1968-1973. Even then higher education was part of the doling government economy, as opposed to the real private enterprise economy, though the analogy I'm going to draw here clearly demonstrates that the doling government economy is a tide that just keeps coming in drowning all in debt.

When I went to school, my tuitition costs were $47.50 a semester, for up to a 20 hour study load. That's not a per credit hour cost. That's the per semester cost. Most of my text books ranged between $7.95 and 14.95 with a few budget busters at $19.95, and unlike today, these college text books weren't all pictures, graphs and grammar school words. You pretty much had to be able to read then. Those texts then even had useful indices and something not everyone here will know about, bibliographies! (Look it up in your dictionary, er, online.)

And then the doling government economy really took over. I now have a daughter-in-law who teaches at U/Maine/Orono, an ambitious lovable little thing, who makes roughly $25K per year for 80 hours per week, and who is also $120K in debt due to her student loans.

Now, medicine is part of the doling government economy already. And for those who believe stuffing it further into the doling government economy fold will have any other effect than simply driving up the costs to where everyone from birth will be an indentured servant, like my daughter-in-law, well... they're right, there is more to it. Medicine is going to be dumbed down too, just like education, and beginning the very day that medicine for everyone plan is put into place.

My wife's younger, youngest of three actually, brother's birth, hospital cost and delivering doctor bill total was $75 in 1962, and I'm willing to bet that doctor and everyone on the staff at the hosptital then could speak English well enough to be easily understood, something that was at one time valued in the work pool.

The amazing thing in retrospect is that he and all his siblings survived their maternity ward moments given that they must've been born like little lambs in a field for that price.

So, as you're analysing all the economics of the land, I think I've adequately shown 1) the doling government economy is an inflationary economy consuming all before it, 2) indentured servitude is likely the most efficient means of getting the broad legions of the population economically from cradle to grave, 3) no one really needs a doctor for anything less than dying.

Me? Mine will have to be an accidental death, for I'm planning on living forever. It's not a realistic plan, but in this world, who says anything about realistic plans these days anyway?

Don Robertson, The American Philosopher
Limestone, Maine

An Illustrated Philosophy Primer for Young Readers
Precious Life - Empirical Knowledge
The Grand Unifying Theory & The Theory of Time
http://www.geocities.com/donaldwrobertson/index.html
Art Auctions:
http://www.artbyus.com/auctions.php?a=6&b=4807

RogerM writes:

The best solution is more books like "Common Sense Economics." Get the people on your side and the politicians will follow. Politicians don't take "wise" advice because neither they nor their constituents don't see it as wise. The elitists are simply frustrated with a republican system and want to take a short cut via a modified dictatorship.

Matt writes:

"..offering elegant government solutions to problems.."

here is the problem. It should read:

"..offering government elegant solutions to problems.."

The main problem is that politicians look to government first.

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