Arnold Kling  

Capturing the Dynamic

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Ross Douthat writes,


This is the perverse logic of meritocracy. Once a system grows sufficiently complex, it doesn't matter how badly our best and brightest foul things up. Every crisis increases their authority, because they seem to be the only ones who understand the system well enough to fix it.

But their fixes tend to make the system even more complex and centralized, and more vulnerable to the next national-security surprise, the next natural disaster, the next economic crisis. Which is why, despite all the populist backlash and all the promises from Washington, this isn't the end of the "too big to fail" era. It's the beginning.

Well, when the ruling class faces populist opposition, it certainly does not react by saying, "Oh, gosh, we are messing up and losing support, so we had better back off a bit here." Instead, they become convinced that the opposition, is extremist, unserious, and all the rest.

Our rulers are like temperamental children over whom we have lost control. When we criticize them, they become even more insecure and more temperamental.

Douthat seems to believe that in a deep sense, the Tea Party movement can never win.


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COMMENTS (8 to date)
Syd writes:

[comment removed for excess ad hominem]

James A. Donald writes:

It is the nature of any organization to become less efficient, absent extremely vigorous and coercive measures to maintain efficiency. Of all governmental and semi governmental organizations, only the army retains effectiveness, because when ineffective, people kill them.

Due to the the public good problems of operating political movements, government will always get worse. If government grows faster than the real economy, collapse will eventually ensue.

Since large government slows growth of the real economy, and large government worsens the public good problem of restraining the growth of government, a vicious cycle is apt to set in, which cycle leads to collapse.

One resolution of the collapse would be military dictatorship. The army rules by force, and blows off all the welfarism and do gooder agencies as the waste of money that they are. (The Mencius Moldbug solution) Then of course, the already cancerous growth of the army logistics and bureaucracy would worsen. Military dictatorships are apt to wind up with more colonels than privates, but it would work for a time.

Some mixture of anarcho piratism and feudalism might well give a better and more lasting resolution of the crisis than military dictatorship. British pirates produced good governance in the West Indies, though it was better for some people than others.

I hope, of course, for anarcho capitalism, but in a society as atomized as ours, a less pleasant resolution of the crisis is likely.

Norman writes:

"Our rulers are like temperamental children over whom we have lost control. When we criticize them, they become even more insecure and more temperamental."

With only minor modifications, your statement could be seen as an argument for the elites:

'Our [constituents] are like temperamental children over whom we have lost control. When we [use our power to provide security for] them, they become even more insecure and more temperamental.'

As true as your criticism might be, I find arguments that can be easily reflected back at the arguer to be unconvincing.

david writes:

Reality will ultimately prevail. It may however require the "Atlas Shrugged" solution.

Mercer writes:

"Well, when the ruling class faces populist opposition, it certainly does not react by saying, "Oh, gosh, we are messing up and losing support, so we had better back off "

When the Arizona immigration law passed the ruling class called it a racist, xenophobic violation of civil liberties that only Nazis and KKK members should support. Now that several polls have shown that a solid majority supports the law many of the ruling class have backed down. Unless a judge strikes it down the law will probably stay on the books even though the elites despise it.

nohype writes:

The wonders of feedback loops, a concept that needs to be emphasized more in economics. However, the dynamic may be this:

"People living under the yoke of corrupt governments tend to want … more government regulation. It’s a vicious cycle: in trusting societies, people act civilly and expect less government interference. In distrustful societies, people act selfishly and expect tighter regulation. But more government corruption leads to less-trusting societies, and citizens will generally “prefer state control to unbridled production by uncivil firms”—even when they know their leaders are crooked."
AaronG writes:

Norman, you said

'Our [constituents] are like temperamental children over whom we have lost control. When we [use our power to provide security for] them, they become even more insecure and more temperamental.'

The difference between Arnold's statement and yours is that the government ostensibly exists to serve the people. The people should have an expectation of being able to control the government; if the government elites have the expectation that they should control the people, that is precisely the problem.

Nico writes:

I've said it before, and...
Arnold, I think you might be projecting your own hopes on the tea partiers bit. How many of them would seriously scale back the scale of government were they in control? Where were they during the Bush years? How many of them are motivated by the conviction that Obama is not an American?

Based on what I've been reading, I'd hardly feel more secure putting these people in charge. Send the Mexicans back to Mexico! Torture more people! Don't dare expand government involvement in health care, but don't dare touch Medicare and Soc Sec, and spend as much on the military as we "need"!

Ok, it's a bit of a caricature, but is it that much of one? I'm sympathetic to Arnold's distrust of elites, progs, etc, but are the TP's really the answer?

Yes I know they're a loose coalition, and I'd be happy to be proven wrong.

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