Arnold Kling  

My Campaign-Season Pledge

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Readers have noticed that my tone has been relatively bitter the last several months. One possible reason is that the election campaign is heating up.

To me, political campaigns are not sacred events, to be eagerly anticipated and avidly followed. They are brutal assaults on reason. I look forward to election season about as much as a gulf coast resident looks forward to hurricane season. Meanwhile, I pledge the following:

1. That no politician will end America's consumption of foreign oil. Ever.

2. That no politician will figure out a way to bring the bottom half of America's children up to the level where they can benefit from a college education.

3. That no politician will figure out a way to make American health care--meaning virtually unlimited access to specialists and technology--affordable for everyone.

4. That no politician will alter the trends in technology and family structure that are driving the distribution of income and wealth.

5. That no politician will produce a sustainable fiscal outlook without trimming future Social Security and Medicare benefits. (I might have ended the previous sentence simply by putting a period after "outlook")

6. That no politician needs to create jobs. There is always too much work to be done. The problem is never to create jobs. The problem is for individuals to adapt their abilities to ever-changing job opportunities. UPDATE: Martin Feldstein and John Taylor break this pledge. Ughh!

7. That no politician will be able to articulate an economic difference between moving labor or goods from country X to country Y and moving labor or goods from Maryland to Virginia.

Etc.


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



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The author at All Three Rings in a related article titled Simple realities… writes:
    From Arnold Kling.  I couldn’t agree more: Readers have noticed that my tone has been relatively bitter the last several months. One possible reason is that the election campaign is heating up. To me, political campaigns are not sacred events, t... [Tracked on August 29, 2008 1:23 PM]
The author at Roth & Company, P.C. in a related article titled TAKE THE KLING PLEDGE! writes:
    Arnold Kling, half of the mighty EconLog duo, demonstrates his wisdom with "My Campaign Season Pledge." A taste: To me,... [Tracked on September 2, 2008 8:18 AM]
The author at Club for Growth in a related article titled Quote of the Day writes:
    From economist Arnold Kling: "To me, political campaigns are not sacred events, to be eagerly anticipated and avidly followed. They are brutal assaults on reason. I look forward to election season about as much as a gulf coast resident looks forward to... [Tracked on September 2, 2008 8:56 AM]
COMMENTS (25 to date)
Robin Hanson writes:

A good list!

DW writes:

Realistic? Sure. Bitter? Yeah, that, too.

#2 is tricky because it's a relative measure of 'status'

Not sure you're making a relevant distinction in #6

I like #7, but it sounds more like a challenge than a statement (might be achievable?)

Luke G. writes:

Excellent list. I just wish you had continued on past "etc."

You should run for office on that platform. You won't win, but it would be fun to hear people respond to it.

Chuck writes:

You could have started your list with 'etc.' and saved a little time.

aez writes:

Bracing and a pleasure to read.

Brad Hutchings writes:

Arnold, This is the time when you shine. A common complaint I get when I forward some of my favorite libertarian stuff to friends who are more mainstream in their politics is "oh, he's just being provocative". The campaign gives you precisely the context you need to be relevant.

dave smith writes:

The problem with #7 is the number of politicians who would be against both parts of the statement. (Think about "Buy Ohio.)

liberty writes:

Oh don't be too sure... a good Marxist platform could achieve 1,2*,6** and 7 and the illusion of 3,4 and 5.

* Reduce college education to propaganda and Marxist theory, so that everyone can do it!

** There won't be much work to be done.

David Friedman writes:

Your point 1 is optimistic, since it assumes that no politician will start a war, or cause some other catastrophe, sufficient to wipe out our species.

Your point 7 is implausible. An American President, for instance, can point to the large economic difference between moving labor from Maryland to Virginia and moving it from the U.S. to Canada. Workers in both Maryland and Virginia pay taxes to the U.S., workers in Canada generally don't.

Rob Sperry writes:

If by 2 you mean bring the entire bottom half up, then that is unassailable. I have no hope that a politician will improve education in general.

But from a educational engineering perspective a good chunk of the bottom half can reach a college level if given proper instruction. Direct Instruction and similar methodologies have shown that you do this. They can take schools in the bottom 20% and make them perform at the 50% level (See Project Follow Through).

Education is all about the instructional quality, everything else is a distance second. No politician is going to focus on instruction because it is not a tool of power. It requires actual understanding of what is and ignoring what people believe.

What is sad is that even at the college level education is mostly about sorting and not about educating. The basic process is to give hap hazard instruction that has undergone no testing and then to evaluate students with tests that have not undergone any accuracy or reliability studies. The goal seems to be to sort for who can learn despite a learning system with no quality control.

dearieme writes:

But this time there is a rather attractive woman to look at. Count your blessings.

Isaac K. writes:

5. Fantastic. I happen to be working for SSA. Love the post, Dr. Kling.

Chuck writes:

The other aspect of the education thing is to take it in context with free trade.

If people without a college degree can make a decent living, then no need for everyone to 'get a college degree'. And in truth, not everyone is cut out for a college degree.

If free trade moves millions of low-skill jobs over seas, then we'll need to get the low-skill people set up for something higher skilled, maybe something that even needs a college degree.

But not everyone is really cut out for a college degree, which is ok as long as we've not moved all the low skill jobs over seas.... lather rinse repeat.

Adam writes:

David,

An American President, for instance, can point to the large economic difference between moving labor from Maryland to Virginia and moving it from the U.S. to Canada. Workers in both Maryland and Virginia pay taxes to the U.S., workers in Canada generally don't.

Isn't that a red-herring, though? Since the actual labourers aren't moving, just the labour. The politician would need to also show that no new labour would replace the labour that moved.

Niccolo writes:

#1 Should include, nor should they.


For all the times I hear the "addiction to foreign oil," I want to smash my head into the wall.

Doug Ransom writes:

In Canada, we don't have to worry about unlimited access to health care services for everyone! The Government just decides which services are provided, and who gets them (i.e. rationing via queues, age or other expert judgment). For the most part, it is a crime to offer or purchase medically necessary services, so nobody can get better treatment options than you!

We are currently allowed to travel to foreign countries to purchase additional medical services - if our health and resources and foreign travel policy permit us to travel.

Snark writes:

Well, boast if you must, Doug Ransom. But it's only a matter of time (November?) before all of us here in the U.S. will be leaning on the everlasting arms of government, after which I'm sure we'll be more equal than Canadians!

Jay writes:

On #6, I remember conversations with my grandfather and father on the number of different jobs they held throughout their lives. They had to change "career paths," and adapt, why are people so resistant to it now? It is an unfortunate commentary on our societal evolution...

On #7, The difference is that the U.S. Government is able to tax those transactions and control the behavior

Kim writes:

It's a pleasure to see someone shares my cynicism about modern politicians! I'm always amazed when people expect the government to provide for all of their needs. What happened to that American work ethic of our grandparents? (Yep, behind my cynicism is a wistful optimist.)

Nick writes:

I, for one, don't want to live in a country where the majority of people believed that a politician could have that much power. I agree with Kim, American has lost their work ethic. The politicians can't change that, we have to change that.

I think that goes back to #6. We don't need more jobs, there are plenty around. What the public has to do is adapt to those jobs and get the work done until something better comes along. Too many people expect to get the lucky break without working to put themselves in a position to actually get the lucky break. We are too fascinated as a culture with making it big instead of making it work.

Ray G writes:

That would be a nice mass email. I loathe the things, but one of my dingbat co-workers always has an inbox full of them.

Maybe if I copy that list and send it to her, I could interject a bit of reason into their diet of celebrity worship.

Barkley Rosser writes:

In spite of Isaac K., the gloomy projections about social security have been ridiculously exaggerated, as I have pointed out in this venue on more than one occasion to no effective response. Of course, medicare is in serious trouble, although that looks like more of a sub-species of the more general problems in the financing of the US medical care system, the problem being rising medical costs rather than some demographic problem, with respect to which the US is in much better shape than most other high income nations.

Chris Holte writes:

I've been alternatively laughing and wanting to cry since I started reading your Cato article. You don't seem to even recognize ideological blinders when they are blinding you. This list is case in point. Your points are full of straw arguments, biased arguments, and false assumptions. How can they not lead to bad answers? You teach College, you are a smart guy, why not examine your assumptions?

1. American consumption of foreign oil will end -- because the world will effectively run out of foreign oil, and may stop accepting American Dollars long before it runs out. The only question is when.
2. No politician needs to bring half of American people to College -- Some people need specialized training not College training.
3. Health care that is affordable for everyone would be simple -- but that is socialism dude; Single payer. It can happen -- and it will.
4. Politicians can influence family and technology trends, none of them drive them. Alpha males lead by pretense when the herd changes direction; they run to get back in front.
5. A Sustainable fiscal outlook can be achieved by funding Social Security and Medicaid. May mean increasing taxes.
6. Answer to Question 2 Answers Question 6. There are times when politicians have to fund the work that needs to be done: Roads, communication, infrastructure. There are times when Schumpeter's creative destruction is permanently destructive; especially on the short term horizon.
7. Economic difference between moving jobs From Maryland to Virginia and moving them abroad. Wealth shifts to Abroad tend to be permanent and enrich Foreign middlemen. A person can commute to Virginia. It is difficult to commute to India.

What you call "irrational behavior" reflects a self-centered viewpoint. Your Cato Arguments reflect a biased viewpoint. You are right that people make systematic errors. These are driven by emotional driven biases, not simple "irrationality."

What you call "anti-market bias" is institutional memory of repeated financial market failures. What you call "anti-foreign" and "make-work" bias is also driven by perspective. An economy may be prosperous that is building mansions in Potomac, Lakeshore drive, and Hollywood, but if people are finding their jobs shipped overseas, prosperity is them having a job. It's not even a "free market" if folks are kept out of it or the owners of that market practice deception and false advertising.

People don't vote the way we like them to because they tend to trust the wrong people. It is very rational not to believe "experts" who are repeatedly wrong, and who regularly offer "remedies" that are worse than the illness. If people aren't too happy with "free market" ideas, it could possibly be that those ideas are faulty, or poorly applied.

However, American's keep voting for free market Pandits and politicians even though those people repeatedly demonstrate that what they pass off as "free enterprise" is anything but free or a panacea for their ills.

K writes:

I agree. Your list is spot on. It won't change anything. People need someone to lie to them and tell them these things will eventually happen so they have something to look forward to. Be it a "change" or more of the same...these things can/will not be changed by a politician.

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