Bryan Caplan  

What's Wrong With DeLong?

Brad DeLong is Fantasy-Based... Technocrats and Populists...

I'm puzzled by Arnold's critique of Brad DeLong:

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.

Arnold's right on both points. But how do either undercut Brad's vision of an "ideal world"? After all:

1. If the alternative to technocrats is populism, then the real question is whether technocratic errors are more persistent than populist errors.

2. Politicians usually ignore wise advice. Is that a reason not to try to make them take wise advice? Brad's talking about his ideal world; I don't think he's claiming that it's likely to happen. He'd just like to push the real world in his ideal direction.

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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 (3 to date)
Rue Des Quatre Vents writes:

Brian, please sweep the leg on that response to your essay over at Cato Unbound.

John Thacker writes:

There was a time when technocrats decided that socialism was the way. And then of course it was European-style social democracy, followed by Japanese-style.

Voters can afford to be irrational because they don't directly bear many of the costs of their irrationality. But would technocrats? Wouldn't technocrats have a natural bias towards big schemes that involve lots of government and planning that makes the technocrats more important?

Politicians can be convinced that populist ideas are dumb. Rather easily, in fact. I think it's harder to convince them that technocrat ideas are poor. Populist ideas that are dumb tend to directly conflict with the interests of the elites and money and power, so there are powerful interests working against them. (See the big money behind free trade and immigration.) Technocratic bad ideas tend to co-opt and subsume the elites and those with money and power. Government working hand in hand with Big Business in Industrial Policy-- that's technocratic. Government working to attack Big Business Monopolies, restrict free trade, and immigration-- those are populist, but are all opposed by powerful forces.

Constant writes:
He'd just like to push the real world in his ideal direction.

One problem is, just because an ideal is (supposedly) good, that does not mean that moving towards the ideal is good. Hawaii is very good, but if I start walking to Hawaii I'll drown in the Pacific Ocean long before I get there.

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