If Ezra Klein were Tyler Cowen

by on January 21, 2008 at 8:33 pm in Political Science | Permalink

A very good post.  On the specifics: relative to most libertarian economists, I am more likely to think — or should I say admit — that human beings are irrational, even when the stakes are high (see the self-deception chapter in Discover Your Inner Economist).  But, relative to social democrats, I tend to think that politicians are irrational actors trying to pander to irrational voters and that it can’t be any other way.  I am much less optimistic about democracy as an instrument for fine-tuning good policy or for that matter as a medium for enforcing progressive sentiments.  On health care I don’t think the solution is to strip away insurance, a’la HSAs, so I agree with Ezra’s paragraph more than not.  On The Wire, the defect is fully mine.  I’ve watched seven or eight episodes, from seasons one and three, and I thought: this is fantastic.  But I never really looked forward to the next episode and eventually I stopped watching.  I have an inability to appreciate all things gritty, regardless of medium.  I don’t enjoy Grapes of Wrath either, or for that matter Goodfellas.  I wonder if needing a tinge of romanticism isn’t some kind of character weakness of mine.

Addendum: Kevin Drum comments on the last round.

1 JVC January 21, 2008 at 8:58 pm

I’ll add this and Mr. Klein should consider this when yapping about economic issues:

Relative to Ezra Klein and other Social Democrats, Tyler Cowen is far more likely to make sense and be on the right side of an economic policy matter.

2 Russell L. Carter January 21, 2008 at 10:25 pm

“Tyler Cowen is far more likely to make sense and be on the right side of an economic policy matter.”

Yay for romanticism! There’s a revealing truth in this commenter’s quote…

Not that I mind.

Emphasis on the dysfunction inherent in the political process, has Tyler ever worked for a private firm? I have, small, medium, and very large, and in government labs, and excelled at all. Galbraith Sr. was not wrong… the smartest people in the bomb labs are just as smart as the smartest people at google.

Now if you could just extinguish some of those government functions that live too long. Like NASA, for instance. But not NOAA.

This is the problem with government. I wish to believe that it is solvable. After listening to several MLK speeches on KFJC tonight, I think it possible.

3 Tom Davies January 21, 2008 at 11:34 pm

“I wonder if needing a tinge of romanticism isn’t some kind of character weakness of mine.”

Have you read, and did you really dislike Annie Proulx’s “Wyoming Tales”? That book still depresses me when I think about it!

4 Andrew January 22, 2008 at 4:27 am

Further bravo to Tyler for engaging with these folks.

Rationally, we are more likely to achieve “peace” by talking to eachother.

But at this point, after struggling to gird myself so that I can protect my family and my voluntary associations and institutions, as well as make a positive contribution to socieity, I pretty much resent someone telling me how I have to do even more to protect someone I would choose not to, because it’s better for the “whole.”

I’m more likely to tell them “Go fund yourself.”

5 Slocum January 22, 2008 at 9:43 am

Klein says:

“But it is, at base, a disagreement over the likely behavior of humans, and how we should respond to it. The Cato employees of the world — Tyler is not one, incidentally — simply have a much more optimistic take on the individual’s mastery over his sphere. We are, with a bit of an assist from price signals, doctors, stockbrokers, bond traders, pension planners, and much else. I on the other hand, see more in the way of frailty and shortcomings, and am instead deeply optimistic that our self-knowledge of those vulnerabilities allow us to stand together and protect each other against not only the vicissitudes of a dangerous world, but occasionally, against ourselves.”

No, no, no! The alternatives are not either:

A) Be your own doctor, stock-broker, bond-trader, and pension planner, or

B) Have a social democratic government decide to handle all those decisions and provide all those services for you (whether you like it or not).

I am not my own doctor. But nor am I my own plumber or auto-mechanic. Yes, people often benefit from expert advice and assistance. But, no, people don’t need the government to tell them when they must seek it out. And they *really* don’t need the government to impose itself as the monopolistic supplier expertise and assistance.

6 Christina January 22, 2008 at 11:02 am

I understand the craving for romanticism, but I’m still able to love The Wire and Goodfellas because I try to focus on the question, “How good is this TV show/movie at accomplishing what it set out to do?” To me, they both excel.

7 KY Choong January 22, 2008 at 7:36 pm

In his Nobel prize lecture (http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economics/laureates/2002/kahnemann-lecture.pdf) Kahneman talks about two modes of thought – System 1 (intuition) and System 2 (rationality) – to explain how errors in judgement occur and how we correct for those errors. System 1 intuition is fast, parallel, automatic, effortless and associative, while System 2 reasoning is slow, serial, controlled, effortful, and rule governed. Further, System 1 intuition is slow-learning, while System 2 reasoning is flexible.

Perhaps society as a whole is like an individual trying to cope with uncertainty relying on System 1 and System 2 like processes. We need both System 1 (individual decision-making) and System 2 (collective decision-making).

8 Dave M January 28, 2008 at 3:34 pm

I wonder if there’s a relationship between interest in / tolerance for “gritty” narratives and the political viewpoints of an audience; might narrative grittiness add a human face to certain negative externalities of the free market?

9 AV July 28, 2008 at 7:30 am

Very nice article! Thanks for this!

10 r4i gold March 3, 2010 at 11:56 pm

Well, I’ve read ’em both, and I think Tyler Cowen makes a better Ezra Klein than Ezra Klein does–certainly a more politically sophisticated one. Obama would, as Cowen notes, be much better positioned to get something substantive done than Clinton–and that matters more than the details of your campaign planks.

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