Arnold Kling  

Tyler Cowen's Column, Again

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Cowen writes,

Ezra responds to my column of Sunday with this post.

He also can point to Catherine Rampell and Bryce Covert.

In a comment on my post, Cowen wrote,

I definitely agree we are spending and borrowing too much and I have argued that repeatedly in a variety of forums, though that is not my intent in this particular column.

To me, it appears that he was trying to engage with the left by pretending to believe otherwise. I read the column as strongly implying that macroeconomic outcomes would be better if government were spending and borrowing more.

In my opinion, pretending you agree with people on an issue on which you disagree with them is as demeaning as dismissing them out of hand. Either way, you are treating them as if they are unable to deal in reasoned argument.

I think that social trust matters. I agree with Tyler that the high trust levels in Scandinavian countries give them more degrees of freedom to enact policies that work as intended. That is a very important point, and Tyler could write an excellent column (or even an ebook) spelling it out.

However, I do not blame the poor results of President Obama's economic policies on lack of trust. The policies that were enacted when Democrats were in control of the House failed because they were wrong-headed, not because of a lack of trust. I understand that there is an alternative narrative in which the situation was worse than President Obama thought, and then the public stupidly voted in a Republican majority in the House in 2010, so nothing else could be done. But I do not see that narrative as having any merit beyond serving as a comforting bedtime story for those on the left.

My narrative would be closer to that of Walter Russell Mead. I view the left as tapped out, both intellectually and financially. They do not have the money to sustain their big projects (government health care, European integration). They do not have the intellectual fortitude to confront the problems inherent in, say, public sector unions, unfunded public sector liabilities, attempting to manage health care resources using government boards, or attempting to address inequality of economic outcomes by increasing the concentration of political power.

Given that I view the left as tapped out, I might as well say so. Not because I think it will change someone's mind, but because I think it is more respectful to be above-board about what I think.

[UPDATE: Given Tyler's comment on the previous post and on this one, I should concede that he did not intend to imply support for expansionary fiscal policy.

On a substantive point, I agree that public opposition to inflationary monetary policy is a factor. But is that anything new? It seems to me that since the 1960s elite economists have been periodically saying that it would be better to live with higher inflation and the public has been saying, "No!" The public opposition predates recent developments, either in terms of the recession or in terms of declining trust.]

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (13 to date)
Tom West writes:

Indeed, and having done that, you are now being listened to only by those who are already thoroughly in your camp.

Likewise, the person who announces that ample evidence from around the world and the dawn of time shows that capitalism inevitably leads to crony capitalism, and those Libertarians are simply "useful fools" to allow the 0.01% to lock their financial and political control even further aren't going to making any points with half the population in *any* field.

Choosing to deliberately alienate half your audience before you even start (unless it's explicitly important to the point you were trying to make) is in someways a sign of that you have no interest in conversing on any topic with those whom you substantial disagreement on that one topic.

That's fine and all, but I would definitely *not* classify that as a sign of respect.

Pat writes:

I've thought for a long time that Cowen has had some ulterior motive for linking to Klein and Yglesias as much as he does. I think it's either an attempt to carve out some niche for himself separate from the rest of the libertarian economics professor bloggers and/or it's a way to ingratiate himself with people he hopes he can sway.

J Storrs Hall writes:

And because, as Socrates put it, "The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance."

Tyler Cowen writes:

There is no pretense in my column. I have a long and open public record on the issue of fiscal policy and stimulus, ad nauseum some would say and also in the NYT. I simply didn't have space to consider those issues in this column and had to note as such, since there was not space to re-argue my core view. Frankly I consider it a little insulting that you would say such a thing. What the column does endorse is more expansionary monetary policy and it comes out and says so.

tom writes:

Tyler, Arnold believes that you focused on "lack of trust" as a neutral story when you really wouldn't support the additional state borrowing even if people did "trust" in state government spending to moderate our economic problems.

Isn't he right about that? Didn't you choose the "trust" issue in order to avoid putting off left-liberals who might stop reading your column as soon as they realized that you support limits on state and local spending, especially limits on pension commitments, etc....?

I think you work very hard to stay credible to both sides, and that you understand it is both important and personally smart to occupy that space. But I bet you would support efforts to move all government worker pensions toward defined contribution plans and that you are not opposed to moves to reduce the powers of government worker unions, and not just because these things tend to reduce trust in government spending as a tool of economic [stabliliziation]. Is that right?

P.S. I think you and Mickey Kaus (now at the Daily Caller) should get together and go bowling. He actually believes in the "trust" part of your argument!

Greg G writes:

What could be more "tapped out intellectually" than being unable to believe that someone who disagrees with you on some point is sincere about it?

Someone who strays from the orthodox views of his friends and colleagues is more, not less, likely to be speaking candidly.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

The great failures in these exchanges is the continuing reification of The Government as some kind of entity other than a mechanism through which competing forces attempt to determine the allocations,impositions and avoidance of obligations (even as to deferred impact timing).

Where are the considerations of The Logic of Collective Action?

Jeff writes:
I've thought for a long time that Cowen has had some ulterior motive for linking to Klein and Yglesias as much as he does. I think it's either an attempt to carve out some niche for himself separate from the rest of the libertarian economics professor bloggers and/or it's a way to ingratiate himself with people he hopes he can sway.

I've often wondered the same thing. Problem is, it doesn't appear to be having much effect. I don't read either of them on any sort of regular basis, but I get the impression that Klein and Yglesias remain as odious as ever.

Tom writes:

Didn't you read Haidt's work? In his role as a partisan Democrat, he wants the Democrats to be able to talk to conservatives in a way that they might be receptive to the message he prefers. Talking to the other side in a way that requires them to admit they were in error may be satisfying (see McCluskey), but it's almost never productive.

Joe writes:

These are truly depressing times. Professional economist's are degrading the profession day by day. There is no consensus among economist's about what to do with the current mess and no clear methods to move economist's to a consensus. Now an economist wants to tell another one what they were thinking when they wrote a column. I was a truck driver for 13 years and mostly loathed it but in that environment if you overstepped with your speech there was some probability that you might get knocked on your ass. It did happen, mostly for the wrong reasons, but there is something honorable about that atmosphere. I would love to think that Tyler would take a swing at Arnold. I bet Arnold is a fragilista.

Becky Hargrove writes:

Arnold, the point at which one realizes the left doesn't have good weapons in their arsenal can also be a terrible burden with substantial implications. I struggle with that burden and perhaps Tyler does too. Let the healing begin.

Wade writes:

This is a very disappointing column. It appears to criticize a person's character in order to delegitimize his ideas, while not really addressing those ideas in a meaningful way. That is, instead of citing references which endorse your ideas, you simply assert "I view", "I think", and "It seems to me".
This makes it hard to take your views seriously, since they may not have been formed from rational thinking or the search for truth.
My dog has opinions, but I don't let him drive my car. He heads straight for the steakhouse, every time.

Bryan Willman writes:

So let's see if I grok this.

A group of "libertarian" (whatever that really means) thinkers are arguing about a piece one of them wrote, out of the zillions of things they all write. Largely because it appeared in the very widely read rather left-leaning NYT.

There then seems to follow a body of arguments various places on the web arguing about the effectivenes of this assertion, often joined by comments about the wrong headness of fools who do or do not embrace government as the solution to some set of problems.

OK - whatever.

But changing views on these matters will surely require:
a. One-on-one person-by-person explanation.
b. Careful presentations that overcome deeply ingrained default views.

Since we all grow up in a world where most problems are solved by Mom and Dad, followed by a world where High School and often College largely tell us what to do, the view that "we" or "some emergent effect" should rule the world is kind of biologically unnatural. That is a thing to overcome.

I'm not persuaded that the NYT is actually a very important vehicle for pursuing such individual eplanations.

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