Arnold Kling  

Book 1, Book 2

The Great Depression as a Reca... Accountability and the Web...

Tyler Cowen recently said,

if everyone read the book and was persuaded by it, would anything change for the better? An author should aim to write a book which matters.

My latest book, Unchecked and Unbalanced is out. We might call it Book 2, since it is the second of my books to appear this month. Although there are a number of flaws in the structure and the argument of the book, I think it passes the Tyler Cowen test with flying colors. In any event, Tyler himself wrote one of the blurbs on the back.

I think that Book 1, From Poverty to Prosperity also passes the Tyler Cowen test, but it is less world-changing. On the other hand, in terms of structure and content, I think that Book 1 is likely to hold up better for longer.

Both Book 1 and Book 2 are anti-intellectual. No, I am not advocating Tea Parties. But I am attempting to enhance the off-diagonal element in the following matrix. Inside the matrix is the type of political leader that might represent that element in the matrix:

Institutional PreferenceNot Highly EducatedHighly Educated
Central PlanningHugo ChavezBarack Obama
Decentralized MarketsSarah Palin?

What the matrix says is that if you look at today's American politics, you have to either support central planning or support a political party that hates intellectuals. If you are an intellectual who believes in decentralized markets, it's not an appealing choice.

My guess is that the top right is going to decline. Indeed, I am amazed at how rapidly the Obama Administration is losing legitimacy. I suspect that the next step is for the Democratic Party to move toward the top left in order to retain power. My guess is that in 2012 we will see an Obama that puts less emphasis on Harvard and more emphasis on collectivism and solidarity. Unfortunately, the bottom right is likely to remain empty.

Perhaps if the intellectuals all shifted from the top right to the bottom right, then the anti-intellectuals would all shift to the top left, and we would end up with Hugo Chavez. (Is Lou Dobbs auditioning for that role? If not, then someone else would no doubt try.) That would be an outcome to fear.

Still, if everyone were to read Book 2, they would move to the bottom right. The would be disenchanted with the intellectual ideal of a democracy ruled by technocrats. Those who are enchanted by the hope of centralized technocratic government would be talked out of their illusions. Instead, they would demand a more equal distribution of political power and support competitive government. Competitive government is my version of libertarian utopia, but it is not something that requires a sudden revolution to achieve. We could get there from here, by experimenting with reforms that give ordinary citizens greater opportunity to secede from local governing bodies and more power to allocate tax resources. One thought-experiment I propose in Book 2 is to imagine if TARP had to be funded out of voluntary donations rather than taxes.

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COMMENTS (20 to date)
Fenn writes:

As someone who is likely to buy both, but not immediately (xmas book store gift cards), I'd love to see a post addressing the flaws in the arguments of book 2 so I can get the most out of it.

forager writes:

I'm terribly interested in both of these books, but your Kindle accessibility is pretty poor. Unchecked and Unbalanced is not even available on Kindle, and From Poverty to Prosperity is ~$15 for an eBook, which is just far beyond what I'm willing to pay. It's not even that I don't want to you (Prof Kling) to get the extra money, but I refuse to participate in this price creep upwards for a .txt file. Reduce the price to $10, and I will gladly purchase both books. Instead, I purchased Tyler Cowen's "Create Your Own Economy".

Snorri Godhi writes:

Congratulations. Book 1 is of interest to me; before commenting on book 2, I'll wait for the look inside feature.

The transition from the upper right to lower right quadrant is statistically much less likely than that in the opposite direction. This can perhaps best be seen in the case of the Victorian liberals, although there were examples already in ancient Greece.

In the case of the modern American intelligentsia, I'd think it easier to move from upper right to upper left than to lower right. In this, too, there is a precedent: Mussolini used to be one of the leading intellectuals in European socialism, as I remember. With the important difference that, at the time of Mussolini, socialism had not yet been shown to be a failure.

Perhaps you are better off trying to lure people from the lower left to the lower right. For instance, you could send a copy of each book to Sarah Palin: she seems intelligent enough, and badly needs some intellectual backbone for her platform. You could also write a dumbed-down version of book 2.

Tyler Cowen writes:

So due credit is received, the point I expressed comes ultimately from Bryan.

David C writes:

"Still, if everyone were to read Book 2, they would move to the bottom right. The would be disenchanted with the intellectual ideal of a democracy ruled by technocrats."

Well, at least you're humble about it.

Jorge Landivar writes:

The reason you don't see a bottom right is because the bottom says we don't need technocrats. This results in fewer people who want to be or are technocrats going for the bottom. It also means that technocratically-able people with the bottom's views aren't needed since we claim not to need technocrats.

dWj writes:

I think Bobby Jindal might fit in the bottom right corner. Still, there's a history of people I like and respect from a distance running for President and showing themselves to be rather less attractive to me.

mick writes:

Ron Paul is highly educated and pro decentralized markets.

david writes:


Yes, Ron Paul is so pro-decentralized markets that he opposes free trade, voting NO on NAFTA, CAFTA, and trade agreements with Peru, Singapore, and Australia.

Try again.

Dain writes:

Ron Paul wants real free trade, not managed trade. In the gritty world of imperfect politics, this makes him...anti-free trade. Apparently.

Jagdish Baghwati is anti-NAFTA too according to the latest issue of Reason.

david writes:

Yes, it's incredibly easy to say you want free trade while voting against every new legislation committing the US towards such.

Do you really support politicians merely on what they claim to be, or their actual voting records? By that standard every politician is the Christ returned in flesh.

Greego writes:
Yes, it's incredibly easy to say you want free trade while voting against every new legislation committing the US towards such.
It's also incredibly easy to use the words 'free trade' in legislation and have the legislation allow everything but. Do you really think NAFTA needed to be 1000 pages long? You could argue that it's an improvement on what agreements were already in place, but a free trade agreement it aint.

Do you really support politicians merely on what they claim to be, or their actual voting records?

You're using that argument about Ron Paul?

Les writes:

It seems to me that the bottom right corner is empty because people intelligent enough to become competent in economics have attractive and challenging opportunities in honest professional careers.

Why would they want enter the sleazy swamp of politics, which has a strong claim to be the oldest profession?

Mike Rulle writes:


Just recently started "book 1" and look forward to reading it----and moving on to book 2.

I have commented in this space before about Palin and your "pro-intellectual" bias in politics. Syntax, teleprompters, and degrees aside, rare is the time I agree with Obama policy prescriptions when placed side by side with Palin's.

So what does "educated"---in a political sense--- mean? I am glad you do leave that box blank in the lower right quadrant. Do you think that is coincidence---given what I believe is your "virtual" definition of "educated"---that is, an Ivy League or equivalent graduate degree?

Are there not other forms of education? I am willing to bet you did not read Palin's biography (honestly, I would be really impressed if you did). Yes there is much if not mostly pablum---but other forms of her education shine through.

My point is not to shill for or defend Palin. But it is disturbing--as one who spent 6 years at Columbia in 2 graduate programs--when you seem to define education (I am clearly speaking here of education relative to being a wise and effective politician) in terms of academic pedigree.

I believe Hayek himself wrote an essay re: adverse selection and the Left--as it relates to their control of academia. That is one reason your lower right quadrant is blank.

I am generalizing above, but I think my point comes through.

John Fast writes:

Snorri Godhi wrote:

Perhaps you are better off trying to lure people from the lower left to the lower right[...]You could also write a dumbed-down version of book 2.

Of course there is a Catch-22: people on the left side of the chart are not inclined to read books in the first place.

Mike Rulle wrote:

So what does "educated"---in a political sense--- mean?

Depending on the context, I'd say it either means "credentialed (i.e. having a degree from an Ivy League [or other top-tier] school or any above-aveerage graduate/professional school)" or "articulate and able to think on one's feet in an interview or debate" or else "intellectual (comfortable/preferring dealing with abstract concepts)."

ajb writes:

The lower right quadrant is very, very important. It prevents the Right from being dismissed as ignorant and unintelligent. The fact that economists are on the whole more sympathetic to markets and allergic to wholesale regulation partly stems from the rise within academia itself of neoclassical theory and the Chicago school. Mixed as their blessings have been, the economic ideas of Chicago (and of the Law and Economics School) have prevented economics from becoming the mathematical version of sociology or multicultural studies or climate science.

Maybe I should run. I'm a bottom right. I am often discouraged from running, though. Or from being much involved in anything that supports free markets. I have yet to figure out why nobody ever wants to use me for anything (David Henderson being the one exception). You would think that someone with a lot of education, who supports free markets, and is a good writer (it's my area of expertise, in fact), would be golden. Apparently, not so much. Do people not trust someone who would be bottom right?

Tim writes:

Kindle edition of U&U please.

When will libertarians stop complaining and start organizing?

If Ron Paul isn't worthy of your support who is?

Unless the pro-liberty community gets practical, organized and solution oriented, the big gov't folks are going to continue stealling our money and freedom.

Chris writes:

The person you are looking for in the bottom right hand corner of your figure is Stephen Harper, MA in economics and Prime Minister of Canada.

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