Arnold Kling  

More Classic Jeffrey Friedman

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This time, it's his essay on The Rhetorical Presidency, a riff on the book of that title by Jeffrey K. Tulis. The book's thesis is that before the Progressive era, Presidents were expected to stay in the background and mind their own business. The original Constitution was designed to keep government limited, regardless of the popular will. The Progressives saw thwarting the popular will as a bug, not a feature, and hence they rewrote the Constitution to unshackle government and redefined the President as an advocate for the popular will.

Anyway, that is my quick introductoin, but I recommend reading the entire essay. Friedman's take on the Progressive era differs in important respects from Jonah Goldberg's take in Liberal Fascism, and I think perhaps my take differs somewhat from either of those. I hope to have a discussion soon with Friedman about this topic.

Meanwhile, note the comment by "cmot from Chicago" on this post:


high density cities are less responsive to citizen concerns, and more prone to capture form the various extractive classes.

Read the whole comment. My intuition is that urbanization played a big role in shaping the role of government. As I said in the post, a dense urban environment makes Coasian bargaining difficult, creating demand for government intervention. However, as the commenter points out, the "solution" of stronger city government brings its own problems.


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



COMMENTS (6 to date)
david writes:

Something is wrong with the timeline of J. Friedman' paper. Yellow journalism in the overt aim of moving the federal government to war via popular rage predates the Progressive era by some two decades at least. The Populist era predates the Progressive one; William Jennings Bryan was a 1890s phenomenon.

"Of the people, by the people, for the people" is a sentiment from even earlier, popularized by Lincoln. The transition to popular appeal that Tulis and Friedman condemn dates even earlier, to the presidency of Andrew Jackson, when US states began moving away from landowner suffrage to universal male freeman suffrage (which did not generally exist at the time of founding, which is the obvious reason why the early Presidents did not bother addressing the public much). Recall that it was Jackson who kept asking Congress to repeal the electoral college.

It is worth asking why individual states began adopting universal suffrage at all, but Tulis seems incurious to the question.

How did an entire century of American history fall out of Tulis' narrative? Is trying to pin Big Gubmint on 21st century Progressives (who have, let's be honest, little to do with the achievements and failures of 1920s Progressives or even 1940s Progressives) so appealing that history must be rewritten?

david writes:

The problem with "Cmot in Chicago"'s thesis is that the US has seen multiple waves of urbanization and then flight to the suburbs, none of which seem to be related to significant changes in the quality of city government. The world did not begin in 1960 prior to white flight, which seems to the sole intuition undergirding Cmot's narrative.

A saner analysis of city government would at least point to the rise and fall of the spoils system and city machines, which (coincidentally) dates to, yes, Andrew Jackson! And a 40s-era Progressive finally ended it, too, no less.

The intuition of urban environments making Coasean bargaining intrinsically more difficult, and thus explaining most of the change over time in the quality of government, seems like one of those beautiful-but-wrong theories. One need only keep invoking Hong Kong.

Nathan Smith writes:

There are more externalities in cities. That makes Coasean bargaining harder. But there are also much larger and more liquid markets. That makes Coasean bargaining easier.

david writes:

@Nathan Smith

interesting way of putting it, I had not considered it that way. But why does your name link to an enormous PDF? :P

J_D_L writes:

Why hasn't Jeff been on EconTalk? He emphasizes complexity and ignorance in political science, and wrote an academic account of the financial crisis faulting the same. Seems like an attractive set of podcasts, given the audience.

mark writes:

I learned in the David Bernstein's book on the Lochner case that the leading progressive justifier, Brandeis, along with the leading New Deal justifier, Frankfurter, both wanted to repeal the Due Process and Equal Protection guarantees of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution because they were getting in the way of their legislative agenda.

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