Arnold Kling  

Anti-Masonomics

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What Do Philosophers Think - a... How Wise Is Repugnance?...

Don Boudreaux writes,


I'd like to ask Prof. Krugman why he's so keen to entrust vastly more resources and power to an agency that, even when controlled by the political party that shares his values and worldview, is "extremely dysfunctional." Why is he optimistic that an entity that can, and does, so easily malfunction will nevertheless - when vested with greater power - work selflessly and smartly to improve the lives of ordinary Americans?

In other words: Government fails. That's why we should use government.


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



COMMENTS (15 to date)
Tom Ault writes:

Because once government is vested with such power, it will become populated with smart and selfless administrators who work for the good of all and whose views just happen to align with professor Krugman's. Once everyone sees how competent and beneficent Krugman's preferred policies are, all opposition will cease, and the best and brightest will apply themselves to administering them rather than seeking out selfish graft on wall street.

Dain writes:

It's as coherent as "markets fail, use markets."

Doc Merlin writes:

Even better, ask him why he wants to assign more power to the organization that his political opponents will control in a couple years.

Patrick writes:

I think he'd point to Europe and say, essentially, that the irritation we feel when politicians and bureaucrats make stupid and/or politicized decisions is petty compared to the horror of children not getting their diabetes diagnosed because their parents are afraid their insurance companies will use it against them. And, of course, that the only way to make the distribution of wealth more equal is through the political process, despite all the crap that comes with that, because the market insists on telling the truth, which is that lots of people have little to offer and will live in squalor unless subsidized.

Well, no, he wouldn't say that. But I think he believes this.

I've come to believe the left-right divide reflects neurological differences in people. Have you noticed that libertarians can argue with each other with smiles on their faces? Leftist activists *never* do that. They are so fractious. It's all, "I won't be at that protest if *he's* going to be there." They're just more emotionally reactive, especially when feeling 'negative' emotions.

Libertarians think of the economy as a system to allocate resources in such a way that long-run living standards are maximized. Lefties think of the economy as something which should provide people with *assurances*: that people who work hard and play by the rules should never be poor, that financial planning shouldn't be a roll of the dice where a disaster outside your control can obliterate your savings, etc. A libertarian, though, would probably think of bankruptcy as a new beginning, not the end of the game.

The difference, I think, is that lefties feel worse when bad things happen. Economic efficiency means nothing to them if the price is insecurity.

KevinL writes:

So, Republicans don't believe that government can effectively address problems. When they hold power, they mismanage the government and run up tremendous deficits. Public confidence in the government drops. Since Republicans are the anti-government party, they use that sentiment for their electoral advantage. In other words: government can't do anything right, so entrust us with the government.

david writes:

I think Tyler Cowen wrote about this before.

Liberals see government failure and try to reform it. Libertarians see government failure and conclude that government is terrible always.

I like Dain's comment, too. When did Masonomists start forgetting their own creed?

Badger writes:

Wrong David.
Liberals are utterly incapable of recognizing government failure. Libertarians on the other hand not only are able to recognize it, they have workable solutions for it.

Tom West writes:

Patrick, I think you've nailed the left vs Libertarian debate very accurately (and I speak from the left-ward side).

I'd go further and say that the relative scarcity of Libertarian-type societies would indicate that generally humans will tend to go for security over wealth, the USA being the primary exception.

However, I think there are three factors that have influenced government over simple preference:
(1) If you have to live within the presence of wealth, relative status considerations will push things towards high-growth market-oriented policies
(2) If you're fairly wealthy, security becomes a bigger issue.
(3) A culture of security or Libertarianism tends towards being self-sustaining.

Thus, I think the USA drives the rest of the world (especially Europe) towards Libertarianism by being comparatively wealthy. The USA tends left-ward as it gets wealthier. The USA maintains its Libertarian-tilt against leftward popular pressure mostly because of its culture.

In the end, I think countries (including the USA) will trend inevitably leftward as we humans demand a solution for every problem. As we grow wealthier, "C'est la vie" becomes less and less an acceptable answer.

Marcus writes:

"Liberals see government failure and try to reform it. Libertarians see government failure and conclude that government is terrible always."

I don't believe that is accurately descriptive of the two views.

Liberals see government as being corrupted by the market. Libertarians see the market as being corrupted by the government.

fundamentalist writes:

Government failure is obvious. Just look at the war on poverty, drugs, education (no child left behind?), the Katrina "rescue". Market failure is no where near as obvious, and behind every market failure we can see the guv shooting the market in back with a 12-gauge.

I think the real issue is envy. Socialists elevate envy to a high virtue. Libertarians still see it as an evil. I was impressed with Caplan's description of his trip to Denmark. Though poor, they are content as long as none of their neighbors are better off. I read something similar of Russians. They would prefer starvation for all than to having a neighbor become richer.

guthrie writes:

Arnold is being consistent. The difference is, when the market fails there isn't a cabal of elites trying to engineer a fix. Diffuse knowledge/diffuse power vs. diffuse knowledge/concentrated power. Government's vested interest, *no matter the party*, is the concentration of this power (which is a very Masonomic concept), and it is the libertarian position that this has a negative effect on people's lives.

gnat writes:

Here is a pretty good answer:
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/12/14/091214fa_fact_gawande?currentPage=all

rvman writes:

Patrick: For "Libertarian" in your comment, substitute "utilitarian". Not all of the former are the latter, nor are all of the latter the former. I've run into plenty of humorless libertarians - mostly the moralists of either the "let's get there from first principles. Principle 1, if I own it, it is MINE by right... so stay off MY lawn/street/planetary system" or the "A is A and Rand is Right" school.

On the other side, plenty of liberals have a utilitarian, rational bent. They are the ones out there trying to gain civil liberties, and who justify government by actually looking at the costs and benefits of the program in question.

(Redistribution of wealth is socially utility maximizing, if the distributional effects outweigh the incentive effects - taking a buck from Bill Gates hurts him less than giving that buck to some poor person helps that person, assuming taking that buck doesn't discourage Gates and others from productive efforts. I mean, how many male deer does one person need?)

The irritating ones tend to be the "if it feels right to me, it is good. If it feels wrong, it is bad and must be fixed. Don't try to tell me that it is inevitable...lalalala I can't HEAR you" clan.

Tom West writes:

Fundamentalist:

I think the real issue is envy. Socialists elevate envy to a high virtue. Libertarians still see it as an evil.

If you're interested in being fair, I would modify your description as "assume envy is an unavoidable part of the human condition".

If the laissez-faire market outcomes mean that most people end up miserable, then regardless of reason, those on the left will assume that it's time to modify the market rather than modify the populace.

After all, markets are to serve humanity, not the other way around.

As well, the reverse is also true. There are lots of well-off people who also don't feeling guilty about being way above the poor. Redistributionist policies allow them to partially rectify this problem without reducing their relative wealth status (as their neighbors pay the same tax).

Granite26 writes:

And, of course, that the only way to make the distribution of wealth more equal is through the political process, despite all the crap that comes with that, because the market insists on telling the truth, which is that lots of people have little to offer and will live in squalor unless subsidized.

Nice... I could see a rational, intelligent person believing that. I like reading viewpoints that help me see liberals as rational about politics.

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