I've been pondering Daniel Davies's attempted takedown of Milton Friedman, or for that matter Jon Chait's book on supply side economics, and so I slip beneath the fold...
What strikes me is that these writers, and also their counterparts on the Right, see so little need to adduce anthropological evidence to characterize other people’s views. When it concerns the Laffer Curve, or global warming, or the correct measure of civilian deaths in Iraq, the concern is for the highest standards of evidence. Yet the question of what other people "really believe" also can be treated in more or less sophisticated form, most of all with the tools of anthropology. Web quotations are relevant, but there is no substitute for getting out there and speaking to those people, for a start.
I’d like to propose a new research convention. Anytime a writer or blogger talks about what The Right or The Left (or some subset thereof) really wants or means, I’d like them to list their personal anthropological experience with the subjects under consideration. Davies presents Friedman as a shill for the Republican Party; I’d like to know how many (public or non-public) conversations he has had with Friedman about the topic of the Republican Party. I’ve been present for a few, and while I’m open to feedback from Davies, my guess reading his post is that he hasn’t been there for any. Yet he writes with a tone of certitude: "it’s clearly not intellectual honesty that makes American liberals act pretend that Milton Friedman wasn’t a party line Republican hack."
Is it really true that "The ideological core of Chicago-style libertarianism has two planks. 1. Vote Republican. 2. That’s it."? And Davies’s own quotation of Milton Friedman does not support his core claims; he simply asks us to believe that Friedman is lying. I would ask Davies to apply the same standards of argumentation and evidence that he does to the Lancet study of Iraq or the many other topics he has written excellent blog posts about.
How many supply-siders has Chait talked to? It might be a lot, but again I’d like to know. Has he met with the people who write The Wall Street Journal Op-Ed page? How many of them? How many leading Republican donors and strategists does he know? Did they really chat with him, or were they in controlled "interview mode"? How motivated are they by supply-side doctrine? What did those say who weren’t so motivated?
How many intelligent pro-life Republicans do you know? How many southern racist Republicans do you know? Have they confided in you? Do they trust you? Do you really think you know what they believe?
I don’t mean to suggest that such anthropological research will always yield sanitizing answers. Nor do I believe that the Left is worse in ignoring the anthropology of ideology than is the Right.
It is sad that anthropological research has such a low status among so many smart people. It is fashionable to open up data sets for replication. So let’s do the same for research into ideology or even just proclamations about the ideology of others, especially those you disagree with. Tell us how much field work you did, who you did it with, how much they trusted you, and what you wish you could have done but didn’t. That is easy enough in the on-line world.