David R. Henderson  

Who is "We"?

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In a comment on my most-recent post, Arnold Kling seems to set up a straw man. I had made the point that if you looked at Osama bin Laden's goals, you would conclude that he achieved a good portion of them. Arnold seemed to disagree, but if you read his comment carefully, you'll see that he doesn't. Along the way, he seems to suggest that I'm not feeling pride and satisfaction at the U.S. government's killing of its former ally, Osama bin Laden.

I'm not sure why Arnold makes this latter suggestion, given the satisfaction I expressed on this very blog. Indeed, I have taught Navy Seals and so there's a small probability that one or more of the people involved was someone I taught.

I'm making a different point, as was Ezra Klein, the person whose article I highlighted. Arnold says that "we have mostly ourselves to blame." He uses "we" in the careless way most people use it. I assume he means by "we" the majority of politicians and the majority of Americans. If so, he's right. But that was Klein's point. Osama, even if he didn't have a good understanding of Americans, as "fundamentalist" notes, pushed the right buttons.

But the "we" doesn't include me. I've been speaking out against government oppression long before 9/11 and even more frequently after 9/11. Indeed, it was clear to me by September 12, 2001 that something like the USA PATRIOT Act was coming and I started speaking out against it, although I didn't have the outlet I now have. It is true that almost all of the bad stuff that's happened to Americans in the misnamed "war on terrorism" since 9/11 has come from our governments. But I didn't do it and I didn't even support it.

It's also true that most of this bad stuff was supported in large part by "ordinary Americans" and intellectuals. Think, for just one example, of Americans' financial privacy that my Hoover colleague, John Taylor, an intellectual, took pride in helping reduce while he was a Treasury official under George W. Bush.

By the way, I consider myself an ordinary American and an intellectual. I watch basketball, I'd rather watch "Modern Family" than a Shakespeare play, and I always defend the good parts of the Tea Party from the disgusting putdowns that many of my colleagues make about them. Moreover, if I didn't think "ordinary Americans" could be intellectuals, I wouldn't be an economics professor. Instead I would drive a truck, which I once did, or work in a mine, which I also once did. Who says ordinary Americans can't use their brains?


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CATEGORIES: Regulation



COMMENTS (3 to date)
Philo writes:

'We' should be considered a red-flag word. When I hear it, my impulse is almost always to echo Sam Goldwyn: "Include me out!"

rpl writes:

Ok, David, so newspaper columnists are every bit as much "ordinary Americans" as anyone else. Nevertheless, it occasionally happens that one can observe a difference in attitude between people who are in the business of broadcasting their opinions for other people's consumption and people who are not. Any suggestions on what we might call the latter group, on those occasions where we are making those observations? My proposal is that we could use a phrase like "ordinary Americans" and understand that what it really means is "the people who aren't the group I'm singling out for this discussion." Sure, it's context-dependent, but we're smart enough to keep track of that, aren't we?

eric falkenstein writes:

check out these stats on the costs generated by our response to OBL over at Mother Jones. Pretty sad. I think next time we just bide our time, send special ops guys, and leave it at that.

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