Department of No Clue

by on May 30, 2008 at 7:14 am in Political Science | Permalink

Christopher Hayes writing in The Nation.

The vast majority of interest groups in
Washington, from the Sierra Club to the AFL-CIO to Planned Parenthood,
are pursuing what Edsall calls "substantive reform"–attempting to push
legislation and enact policies that will provide public goods, protect
citizens from harm and redistribute benefits, rights and privileges away
from the powerful and toward middle-class citizens and disenfranchised
minorities.

And if you believe that, might I mention that if you act quickly I have some land in Florida just ripe for development.

Auto May 30, 2008 at 7:48 am

Well, of course you’d sneer. You’re a public choicer at GMU.

If you regard humans as nothing more than self-interested utility maximizers, then such claims about the motives and intentions of the Sierra Club are silly.

But we have other social identities besides being consumers. We’re also citizens, family members and members of organized religions. These roles/identities can influence our motives and goals.

I think in 50 years we will look back on public choice theory and wonder how so many smart people could have so stupid. The equivalent of vulgar Marxism.

8 May 30, 2008 at 9:52 am

“substantive reform”——attempting to push legislation and enact policies that will provide private goods, inflict harm on citizens and redistribute benefits, rights and privileges away from the masses and towards enfranchised elites.

The trick in Washington is to declare something public and good, even if only you and your friends care about it.

tgb1000 May 30, 2008 at 10:28 am

So who are you saying is without a clue – Hayes, Edsall, or the organizations mentioned? Or perhaps all of them. Whichever way, it’s not a very useful post on your part. Let’s file it under “Department of Pointless Snark”.

Xmas May 30, 2008 at 10:42 am

The problem I can see, is that many rich and powerful people consider themselves to be “middle-class”. DINKs and those dual-income suburban families in $300,000+ three bedroom houses, are they middle class when they fall into the top quintile of family earnings? They like to think that they are…

JasonL May 30, 2008 at 11:27 am

Why is it that Lessig thinks political sausage making is a new feature of the landscape? Is the author misrepresenting Lessig here?

Christopher M May 30, 2008 at 11:34 am

Jeroen is right. The quoted sentence is obviously not literally true, but in context it’s completely obvious that Hayes isn’t claiming that most interest groups in Washington pursue the kind of progressive policies he describes. Rather, he’s saying that within the world of progressive interest groups, the vast majority pursue substantive reforms rather than procedural.

Did you read the whole article? It’s hard to see how you could have misunderstood Hayes’ meaning this badly if you did.

Franklin Harris May 30, 2008 at 12:03 pm

And if you believe that, might I mention that if you act quickly I have some land in Florida just ripe for development.

Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Cliff May 30, 2008 at 12:20 pm

The context of the quote is not important because, as has been pointed out, that sentence is not particularly relevant to the rest of the article. Nevertheless it is striking that the author believes this and moreso that he threw it in there as if it would not be controversial.

Christopher M May 30, 2008 at 1:16 pm

No, “silly you” because the point of Hayes’ claim clearly has nothing whatsoever to do with the question of what fraction of interest groups (center-left, progressive, or otherwise) actually do everything they can to enact progressive policies and what fraction fail to do so for public-choice reasons. Rather, his point (and this is really very clear in the article) is that the mission of most progressive interest groups is defined in substantive terms rather than procedural. “Protecting the environment” or “reducing inequality” or whatever, rather than “improving the political process.”

You’re mocking the sentence for being wrong, but the supposed wrongness is just orthogonal to any claim Hayes was actually making.

David N. Welton May 30, 2008 at 1:38 pm

One of the reasons I read economics blogs instead of politics ones is that supposedly there is a bit more of a basis for rational discussion. This sort of “neener-neener” name calling is, on the other hand, neither reasoned nor interesting, and doesn’t add much to the discussion, and it’s something you guys don’t have a comparative advantage at: anyone can get involved in political blah blah, but I (and I presume others) read what you have to say due to your knowledge of economics.

8 May 30, 2008 at 4:31 pm

Reading it again, it’s not entirely clear if Hayes is quoting Edsall or not.

It still doesn’t change the fact that whoever said it is completely deluding themselves.

Russell Nelson May 31, 2008 at 2:37 am

Auto (first comment): wow, before you criticize public choice, you should put some effort into understanding it.

TGGP May 31, 2008 at 9:05 pm
TGGP June 1, 2008 at 11:12 pm

SheetWise, I don’t quite get the reference.

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So who are you saying is without a clue – Hayes, Edsall, or the organizations mentioned? Or perhaps all of them. Whichever way, it’s not a very useful post on your part. Let’s file it under “Department of Pointless Snark”.

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