Arnold Kling  

Intellectuals and Society

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It seems to be the theme du jour. The interview with Thomas Sowell continues. At one point, Sowell notes that we cannot blame Larry Summers for policies, because politicians are selecting the policies. I think that Bryan Caplan would say that you should not blame the politicians, either. Instead, it is the irrational voters who are selecting the politicians.

David Brooks writes that ordinary people are becoming alienated from intellectuals.


The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.

Read his whole column.

In my view, the fundamental mistake that most educated people make is that they favor concentration of political power. Perhaps at one level this is rational--it is possible that the status of intellectuals is higher when political power is more concentrated. But I am more struck by the adverse consequences of concentrated political power and the potential benefits of alternatives. See, of course, Unchecked and Unbalanced.

Speaking of that book, I say that the financial crisis was both a market failure and a government failure. Some folks, such as Marla Singer, interpret recent revelations about Fannie and Freddie as tipping the scales in favor of government failure. Matt Taibbi pushes back a little, but not to defend Fannie and Freddie.

David Brooks writes as if the revolt against the educated class is sui generis. In fact, I think that people can legitimately complain that the educated class that dominated Wall Street and Washington first made the mortgage mess and then railroaded through a bailout in which a transfer of wealth from main street to Wall Street was marketed as a benefit to main street. The educated class is losing the respect of the rest of America for reasons that are well deserved.



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The author at Samizdata.net in a related article titled Samizdata quote of the day writes:
    "I think that people can legitimately complain that the educated class that dominated Wall Street and Washington first made the mortgage mess and then railroaded through a bailout in which a transfer of wealth from main street to Wall Street was market... [Tracked on January 7, 2010 5:42 AM]
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Frank writes:

I would be interested if, in the course of your posting about the concentration of knowledge, you would address the following question. Perhaps you address it in Book 2, which I have not read, but I don't remember your doing it on this blog.

You seem to be making a kind of skeptical argument, and it is generally a challenge to skeptical arguments to explain why the knowledge, or claims to knowledge, required to establish the skeptical conclusion is so much more reliable than that deprecated by the conclusion. An analogous issue can arise for those who make sweeping statements about how society and government should be organized.

For example, you want to break up banks. The arguments you would, if pressed, make in support of this idea are complex and sophisticated, and involve some arcane statistics and somewhat technical knowledge. Nevertheless you and a few other elite commentators think that you know enough to recommend this dramatic use of state power, despite the fact that breaking up banks is just another one of those things that will have unintended consequences. How is the knowledge presupposed by this kind of recommendation qualitatively more reliable that that presumed by members of the Harvard-Goldman axis?

ThomasL writes:

I don't agree with Brooks' causation argument as implied by that snippet.

My own view is that he is exactly backward, and that belief in global warming, abortion rights, and gun control flows the other direction, an attempt to distinguish between "educated" opinion and popular opinion even if the conclusion is itself fatuous.

That is to say, the "educated" class is on the whole not nearly so educated as they are pretentious and desirous of the "inner ring."

They will swallow anything at all, so long as it is in a textbook or the right kind of newspaper and is acknowledged by the right people.

Not one "educated" person in 10,000 could explain the implications of using PCA when there is spatial autocorrelation. Yet they believe wholeheartedly. (In that particular case, I shouldn't be surprised if people wouldn't have to be told which was the "right" answer before they could vehemently believe it and poke fun at the deniers.)

No one at all can answer when life begins. The inability to answer the question definitely doesn't prevent mockery of anyone who would believe the wrong answer. (Where "wrong" is defined as anything less than N, where N is the [constantly shifting] intersection of Federal and [blue] state law.)

There is a wealth of history from the earliest days of this country available regarding gun ownership and regarding criminal violence. There has also been a great up tick in criminal violence in the mid-to-late 20th century. The reason, is of course obvious: access to firearms. Ignoring the pesky tangles of that history we can arrive at the educated fallacy that firearms were not in common circulation at all before 1934, and despite best efforts, became increasingly easier to access through the 1980's, as evidenced by a rising violent crime rate.

SydB writes:

"people can legitimately complain that the educated class that dominated Wall Street and Washington first made the mortgage mess"

Me thinks the fools who made commitments they couldn't keep were the real cause of the mortgage mess.

"The educated class is losing the respect of the rest of America for reasons that are well deserved."

I think the complaints about the "educated class," including Mr Kling's, are better described as the "culture of complaint." Victimology. Always blaming someone. Today let's blame the educated. Who should we blame tomorrow?

ThomasL writes:

"Who should we blame tomorrow?"

Whoever is up on the platform next, telling me they did it all for my own good.

Greg Ransom writes:

What Americans are beginning to learn is that the "educated class" know a lot about a very, very limited slice of things -- much of it rubish or not worth knowing, say feminist socialist dogma, gay German bondage lit, or post modern French literary theory, etc. -- but they couldn't tell you anything true about all of the business of "real life", in fact most of the "educated elites" beliefs about taxes, schooling, crime, govermnent spending, business, economics, guns, family life, etc. are false and built on a mass
of fictions and fallacies.

SydB writes:

"much of it rubish or not worth knowing, say feminist socialist dogma, gay German bondage lit, or post modern French literary theory, etc. -- but they couldn't tell you anything true about all of the business of "real life","

Please. People who use arguments like this prove themselves by examples to be part of that very class.

Here's the problem: Mr Kling argues, with respect to IQ, for example, that people should be treated by individuals. Yet he now collects together an entire group of people, called the elite, and maligns them.

It's both wrong and ridiculous. People should argue against it--as I am. Mr Kling argues that the elite are out of touch but I can't but help think that he's out of touch when he groups together and maligns people as he does.

Greg Ransom writes:

SydB ... whatever ...

Ryan Vann writes:

I second Greg Ransom's second post.

Arnold Kling writes:

Frank,
That is a good question. In principle, breaking up banks is an "I know better than you" policy. Starting from complete laissez-faire, it would be quite arrogant. It may also be arrogant starting from where we are.

I am making a judgment about political economy. I am saying that big banks are not necessarily bad economically, but they are excessively powerful politically. Again, that is just my judgment (a judgment shared by some others).

Probably my first choice would be to break up the concentration of political power. But if we cannot do that, then I would root for breaking up big banks. And that does require an exercise of political power that would be troubling.

hacs writes:

The educated class lacks creativity suggesting old paths to an old magical world which the public knows they do not work and can resurrect old torments again. Indeed, the educated class believes in global warming, supports abortion rights and gun control, but public opinion sees information manipulation, power concentration, malthusianism, eugenics, etc. Is the public so irrational and paranoid?

www.princeton.edu/~tleonard/papers

American Progressives and the Rise of Expertocracy

Thomas (Tim) Leonard
Dept of Economics
Fisher Hall
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544

The project of 21st –century progressivism is to uplift the poor and dispossessed via the humane agency of an expert, interventionist state. So too with the original progressives, the Progressive Era economic reformers who essentially invented the idea of expertise and statism in the service of uplift. But, the original progressives, in fact, defended a radically restricted vision of who among the poor and dispossessed deserved uplift, a vision that eugenically sorted the poor into worthy and unworthy categories, a vision that, moreover, depicted the unworthy poor as the cause rather than the consequence of low wages and other economic ills. Making invidious distinctions among the industrial poor, the progressive case for exclusionary labor and immigration legislation was routinely founded on their belief that the labor force should be rid of immigrants, women, blacks and mental defectives, whom they labeled “unemployable,” “parasites,” “low-wage races,” and the “industrial residuum”.

http://virtualatdp.berkeley.edu:8081/2657/lectures/eugenics/0

Only after the Second World War, when the horrific results of the Nazi eugenic program became fully evident, did the movement lose steam. Though much smaller in scope, it continues today. Although the Nazis' eugenical Holocaust of WWII constituted an enormous public relations disaster for proponents of eugenics, the movement would later resurface under the banner of POPULATION CONTROL AND RADICAL ENVIRONMENTALISM. Institutions such as Planned Parenthood had its start in Eugenics. Indeed, Planned Parenthood successfully carried the banner of eugenics into the post-WWII era. Planned Parenthood was founded by Margaret Sanger, a virulently racist woman who touted the slogan: "Birth Control: to create a race of thoroughbreds." Her manifesto, entitled The Pivot of Civilization, thoroughly delineates the mission of Planned Parenthood and its allied organizations in the eugenics movement. In this treatise, which featured an introduction written by Freemason and Fabian socialist H.G. Wells, Sanger reveals the true motives underpinning the promotion of birth control: Sanger believed that almost half the population was mentally handicapped, and only 13% truly of superior intelligence, and thus worthy of breeding.

The Molecular Vision of Life: Caltech, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Rise of the New Biology (Monographs on the History and Philosophy of Biol) by Lily E. Kay (Hardcover - Dec 3, 1992)

The Rockefeller Foundation supported eugenic projects such as the sterilization campaign of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene to restrict breeding of the "feeble-minded." Its sibling philanthropies, the Bureau of Social Hygiene (BSH) and the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial (LSRM) advocated domestic and international programs of birth control and population control that were in part based on eugenic principles. See, for example, page 27.

David Rockefeller speaks about population control
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpfMRrAEhs4

Climategate

etc...

R. Richard Schweitzer writes:

David Brooks mistakes an ACADEMICALLY PROCESSED CLASS as being an EDUCATED class.

There is a serious distinction.

Greg Ransom writes:

Anyone have any clue what drives DBs obsession with Niehbuhr? Niehbuhr moved from the far left to the FDR left.

Does Brooks personally identify with this intellectual life path?

Jeremy, Alabama writes:

Quoting Arnold:
"the educated class that dominated Wall Street and Washington first made the mortgage mess and then railroaded through a bailout in which a transfer of wealth from main street to Wall Street was marketed as a benefit to main street."

Thanks for this - it very concisely describes my position.

Frank writes:

Arnold,

Thank you for your response, but I am not sure you have focussed on my point. I was not contesting the merits of breaking up banks; I don't know anything about that. My question was whether your judgment of political economy about banking does not assume the possession by elite intellectuals (e.g. you) of just as much knowledge as is assumed by those who make the contrary judgment. Similarly for your judgments about health care, etc.--in which case it seems misleading to suggest that a fundamental basis for your political orientation is the belief that intellectuals do not possess as much knowledge as progressives believe.

Perhaps it would help if you could identify a specific category of knowledge claim relied on by progressives but not by you. I'm not sure how useful it is to think in terms of overall "amounts" of knowledge concentrated in intellectuals or regulators.

stephen jones writes:

"the root of the financial crisis" in the december 2009/january 2010 "policy review", makes no mention of the fact that in many states home mortgages are non-recourse to the personal assets of the borrower. in addition, i hear, the i.r.s. now makes no claims to income taxes that would have been owing on the amount of debt forgiven ; ie, the loan balance minus the liquidated value of the forclosed home. with these two factors government policy has created a no-lose situation for borrowers, and shifted the speculative excess to the taxpayer. it also incents borrowers to walk away from debts and serves to prevent the housing market from finding a bottom, and thereby inhibiting a sustainable recovery in home values.
your comments ?

Pat writes:

I think a major problem is that people get to be called educated by passing a series of exams and gaining a set of qualifications. It is widely assumed that they achieve this by being smarter than other people, but that is in fact only one factor. They may also be harder working- but mostly they must accept the current wisdom given in their textbooks, promoted by their teachers, and give the expected answers in their exams. There are far too many who believe they're really clever because they've accepted what they've been told without thought.
Being compliant does not make you smart.

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