Common mistakes of left-wing economists?

by on March 9, 2011 at 7:27 am in Economics, Political Science | Permalink

T., a loyal MR reader, asked for a compendium.  This is my off-the-cuff list, but in the interests of fairness I'm doing one on market-oriented economists as well.  What are some of the common views found on the left which I consider not just disagreements but more along the lines of a mistake?  

By no means is everyone is guilty of these mistakes, nor does it have to mean that the associated conclusions are wrong.  Still I see these frequently:

1. Suggesting that money matters in politics far more than the peer-reviewed evidence indicates.

2. Evaluating government spending on a program-by-program basis, rather than viewing the budget as a series of integrated accounts.  Cross check with the phrase "Social Security," or for use to take many discretionary spending cuts off the table.

3. A reluctance to incorporate sophisticated "public choice" theories into the analysis of favored programs.  

4. Sins of omission: there are plenty of bad policies, such as occupational licensing, which fail to come under much attack from the left.  Sometimes this is because the critique would run counter to the narrative of needing more government or needing more regulation.

5. Significantly overestimating the quality of the political economy of an America with more powerful labor unions and underestimating the history of labor unions as racist, corrupt, protectionist, and obstructions to positive change.

6. Overestimating the efficacy of fiscal policy, underestimating the power of monetary policy, and sometimes ignoring or neglecting how the two interact ("the monetary authority moves last").

7. Citing weak versions of structural unemployment theories and dismissing them with a single sentence or graph, while relying on stronger versions of structural theories in other, non-cyclical contexts.

8. Lack of interest in discussing ethnicity and IQ as relevant for social policy, except in preferred contexts.

9. Overly optimistic views of the fiscal positions of state governments.  Since the states don't have the same tax-raising powers that the feds do, and since state government spending is favored, there is a tendency to see these fiscal crises as not so severe, or as caused by mere obstructionists who will not raise taxes to the required levels.

10. A willingness to think that one has "done one's best" in the realm of policy, and to blame subsequent policy failures on Republican implementation, rather than admitting that a policy which cannot be implemented by both political parties is perhaps not a good policy in the first place.

11. Use of a strong moral argument for universal health care coverage, combined with a fairly practical, hard-headed approach to the scope of the mandate, and not realizing the tension between the two.  Failure to indicate where the "bleeding heart" argument actually should stop and at what margins we should (and will) let non-elderly people die, if only stochastically.

12. Implicitly constructing a two-stage moral theory, which first cordons off the sphere of the nation-state (public goods provision, etc.) and then pushing cosmopolitan questions off the agenda in the interests of expanding a social welfare state.  (In fairness, many individuals on the right don't give cosmopolitan considerations even this much consideration, although right-oriented economists tend to be quite cosmopolitan.)

13. What about countries?  Classical liberals are increasingly facing up to the enduring successes of the Nordic nations.  There is not always a similar reckoning with the successes of Chile and Hong Kong and Singapore; often this is a sin of omission.  (Addendum: comment from Matt here.)

14. Reluctance to admit how hard the climate change problem will be to solve, for fear of wrecking any emerging political consensus on taking action.

In most cases you can find evidence and links by searching back through the MR archives.  

Gabriel E March 9, 2011 at 3:52 am

10. A willingness to think that one has "done one's best" in the realm of policy, and to blame subsequent policy failures on Republican implementation, rather than admitting that a policy which cannot be implemented by both political parties is perhaps not a good policy in the first place.

I strongly agree with this point, and it's something I've brought up before with liberal friends of mine.

I believe this should become a "golden rule" for both parties: If you wouldn't want the power you'd like to give the government you like to be used by the government you don't like, don't give any government that power.

dearieme March 9, 2011 at 4:17 am

"the peer-reviewed evidence": come, come – have the implications of the antics of the Climate Conspirators not yet penetrated to economistland?

Marked to Market March 9, 2011 at 4:50 am

Regarding 1: I think I see two possible interpretations. I think I know which Tyler means, and he may in fact mean both, but as he is a great deal smarter than me I would appreciate some clarification. Is point 1 meant to be a denunciation of the Koch brothers putative purchase of influence or of the putative purchase of influence of major corporations? I see these as being somewhat separate issues and there have been several articles on this blog which I believe express skepticism over corporations role in the legislative process. For example: http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolut

Danny March 9, 2011 at 5:21 am

These all seem pretty obvious, but most liberal economists I know of are only guilty of just a few of these. Except Paul Krugman, of course.

Andrew Edwards March 9, 2011 at 5:39 am

Some of these are right on the money and 100% fair. 3, 4, 6, and 10 right particularly true to this leftie's ears.

I would turn #3 and #5 around – I would insist that right wing types significantly underestimate the public choice economics of corporations, and the role of corporations as actors against the just or the efficient. For example, grain subsidies are often not generally a left wing idea or right wing idea (everyone hates them!) but rather a product of corporate lobbying.

Maybe another way to say is that right wing economic thinkers equate "corporations" or "business" with "free markets" in a way that ignores public choice economics. In a proper free market few corporations should consistently outperform their cost of capital.

Nicoli March 9, 2011 at 6:00 am

#8: No clue where you can really go with that one. Talking about both in the same sentence is good way to kill your opportunities for any future political appointments not to mention your career.

Nathan W March 9, 2011 at 6:06 am

I'm not sure I understand the significance of #2. I mean, I sort of understand what it means, but not why it's important or possible ramifications for conclusions/results of theoretical and/or empirical works.

Anyone care to take a stab at that?

Dan Weber March 9, 2011 at 6:16 am

I'd be interested in hearing some discussion of why this is a mistake, or at least an expansion of what the latter clause means.

Many left-wing commentators say that Social Security is in fine shape because it is owed a lot of money by another party, even if that party is going to have incredible trouble (or cause incredible trouble) keeping that promise.

dave March 9, 2011 at 6:20 am

#13

Some will say that forced saving means Singapore's taxes really are high, but there is a big difference between forced saving and taxes. Forced saving is still in the name of the saver for the benefit of the saver. They own it. The government isn't going to take it. There is a huge difference between an account you have a claim on and pay as you go government ponzi schemes.

Yes, both Singapore and HK have government control over much of the land. They are incredibly condensed city states. The government interference isn't all that different then you'd get in any crowded city. If they had a lot of land like we have in the US I doubt they would exercise that level of control.

Walt March 9, 2011 at 6:31 am

Are there enough "libertarian" economists for a similar post?

mulp March 9, 2011 at 6:39 am

11. Use of a strong moral argument for universal health care coverage, combined with a fairly practical, hard-headed approach to the scope of the mandate, and not realizing the tension between the two. Failure to indicate where the "bleeding heart" argument actually should stop and at what margins we should (and will) let non-elderly people die, if only stochastically.

So, the arguments behind the law calling for a Supreme Court review of providing health care to a dead woman (Terry Schaivo) at government expense were those of left-wing economists?

And the attacks on paying doctors to discuss end-of-life planning with healthy Medicare patients and setting up review processes on end-of-life care recommendation by calling them "death panels" makes people like Sarah Palin, either a left-wing economists or tools of left-wing economists?

Are any of the points you made unique to "left-wing economists" and not used by "right-wing economists"?

Of course, I see the premise of this post being economics is more religion than science or even philosophy, or else purely politics that is largely detached from facts and reason.

13. What about countries? Classical liberals are increasingly facing up to the enduring successes of the Nordic nations. There is not always a similar reckoning with the successes of Chile and Hong Kong and Singapore; often this is a sin of omission.

If we look through the archives of MR, we will see a failure to face up to the successes of three dozen plus nations with universal health care coverage with significantly lower cost health care than the US, with universally better outcomes, which violate all the "public choice" arguments made here in MR on the way to control health care costs without sacrificing quality. Does that make the content of MR primarily that of left-wing economists?

I'm guessing that I would be considered a left-wing economist, yet I attack the "mainstream" and "right-wing" and even "left-wing" economist arguments in every one of the themes listed above.

The entire post is a list of logic fallacies used to advance a false argument of over generalization.

GW March 9, 2011 at 7:13 am

Dave –

Unfortunately, we have a recent example, in Hungary under the current (conservative/nationalist) government, of the "forced savings" introduced by the prior (socialist/liberal) government as a private portion of pensions being confiscated by the state for use in the general coffer. As long as the government can control, indeed seize, the funds in this way any distinction between a tax and "forced savings" is moot.

Bernard Yomtov March 9, 2011 at 7:19 am

#4. It's oversimplification to say that occupational licensing is "bad." Some is, some isn't. It's fair to say that this is worthy of soem discussion, but is it really near the top of the list of economic issues to be worried about?

Sergey Kurdakov March 9, 2011 at 7:46 am

14. Reluctance to admit how hard the climate change problem will be to solve, for fear of wrecking any emerging political consensus on taking action.

it looks like it is not clear now – how hard it would be.
there should be list of alternatives and estimations.

space based shadow might cost just few trillion dollars – a huge sum, but within reach – just two three times more than spent on iraq/afghan wars.

or, say Sahara Forest project is a success, then turning sahara, australia, us and mexico deserts into forests – will bring benefit and also significantly affect the climate.

in ussr there was a huge project to turn deserts to forests in Stalin time : see illustration, it was abandoned due to tortrix moths epidemic and other ideas how to increase food production ( see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_Lands_Campaig…) .

still – the result of that project was positive and china has forestation projects of same kind ( though to lesser degree see here).

so the question is – to access all alternatives – and no one even bothered to make that. But – it looks – if people really bothered – the solution is not such difficult to phrase it "how hard".

Lou March 9, 2011 at 8:12 am

To add to my list, "the uninsured" is a timely example.

Libertard March 9, 2011 at 8:32 am

How about the relative tone of left wing economist bloggers versus the market oriented/conservative? One groups wins, hands down, for being more polite and less polemic.

LarryM March 9, 2011 at 8:51 am

Cliff very predictably doing exactly what I was talking about – using the solid consensus on heredity being the primary (though not complete) explanation for individual differences in IQ ("academic literature on heredity") to bolster the far more problematic "science" of group differences ("academic literature on genetic populations and IQ"). There is a pretty strong scholarly consensus on the former and not the latter.

There is, of course, a very good methodological reason for this. Twin studies (though subject to more potential flaws than their advocates acknowledge – as Tyler has pointed out) are pretty solid ways to control for factors other than heredity. There is no comparably solid methodology for investigating group differences, leaving us with very shaky "evidence" which just coincidently appeals almost exclusively to people who believed in racial differences even before looking at the evidence, and who ignore evidence pointing the other way from other scientific disciplines.

Brad P. March 9, 2011 at 9:15 am

How about using other nations as examples of why certain policies are good, while ignoring the underlying social and economic factors that allow for those programs to be successful? Swedish health care, Japanese trains, etc.

Marja Erwin March 9, 2011 at 9:51 am

Where is the left in all of this? Most of these "left-wing" mistakes are quibbling within authoritarian/right-wing ideologies. I think nos. 2, 9, 10, 11 and 12 are particularly egregious.

Are you seriously confusing the left with the Democratic Party? Both socially and economically, the Democratic Party is just another hard-right party. It supports wars, it supports border controls, it supports the insurance and intellectual property mafias, it supports drug prohibition, it supports governmental discrimination against LGBT people, it supports the surveillance state, it supports the torture of whistleblowers…

Alex March 9, 2011 at 10:00 am

12. Implicitly constructing a two-stage moral theory, which first cordons off the sphere of the nation-state (public goods provision, etc.) and then pushing cosmopolitan questions off the agenda in the interests of expanding a social welfare state. (In fairness, many individuals on the right don't give cosmopolitan considerations even this much consideration, although right-oriented economists tend to be quite cosmopolitan.)

How is this "more along the lines of a mistake" than a disagreement? Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Rawls, and many other political philosophers all argue for some sort of two-stage moral theory. If anything, this view is more the norm in the history of Western political thought, and moral cosmopolitanism is the exception.

John March 9, 2011 at 10:30 am

@ Tag-closer, I think Andrew was getting at something more than merely the corporate lobbying that takes place. I think the suggestion is that we apply the PC analysis to corporate behavior in terms of how it decides on the distribution of the producer surplus generated by the joint production process we call a corporation.

Greg Ransom March 9, 2011 at 11:36 am

Add:

Failure to read or comprehend via careful study the work and research of market-oriented economists.

Combined with failure to read and study the work of market process economists using the well know principle of charity.

MR observer March 9, 2011 at 11:38 am

LarryM and Millian: I have no pretense of scientific insight here, but I think it's awfully telling that newspapers are willing to publish front-page reports saying Ashkenazi Jews have significantly higher IQs than other groups ….

Los Angeles Times

April 18, 2009 Saturday

Legacy inscribed on Jews' genes?;

Those of European descent are prone to certain diseases but also have higher IQs. Two scientists say that's no coincidence.

BYLINE: Karen Kaplan

SECTION: MAIN NEWS; National Desk; Part A; Pg. 1

… but that we're not allowed to even think the opposite is true — some groups are below average — because it's so unpalatable.

The world is Lake Woebegone. We're all above average!

LarryM March 9, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Telling of what? The fact that journalists – overly maligned in some respects, but generalists and usually unable to properly evaluate the truth or falsity of scientific claims or, in this case, less reliable sociological/psychological claims – are more willing to entertain fairy tales* about above average (genetic) group IQ than they are about below average IQ – even were it true** – tells us NOTHING about the validity of the underlying science.

And despite my strong feelings on this & prior harsh comments, let me suggest that the fact that you "have no pretense of scientific insight here," yet still seem to accept the ethnic IQ differences hypothesis, suggests priors on your part that … well, put it this way: I'm skeptical of the motives of someone who claims to have entered the debate neutral and been convinced by the evidence (because of the weakness of the evidence), but that's at least possibly true. But someone who hasn't studied the evidence, but believes it anyway, is BY DEFINITION a racist.

*Yes, fairy tales. The scientists cited have been heavily and convincingly criticized for a host of methodological and other errors.

**The article you cite does "go there" – making it clear that, if the research is correct, it has implications regarding the Bell Curve debate as well – so it isn't really even an example of the alleged phenomenon that you are alleging.

Cliff March 9, 2011 at 12:14 pm

LarryM,

Do you have any links to support what you are saying? Because most of it I am hearing for the first time. For example, the idea that most people who believe there is a link between genetic populations and IQ already believed in substantial differences between genetic populations before learning the science is not supported by my experience. Razib is a born racist? The many serious scientists in that area are born racists? I can tell you personally that I was always told and assumed that there were no substantive differences between ethnic groups for my entire life until I became acquainted with the science.

What evidence goes against the idea of IQ differences between genetic populations? And please do not say the Flynn effect, which is apparently not g-related. You mention "genetic science"- what specifically are you referring to?

Julian March 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm

[i]Even today, given that Chile's primary economic engine is the state-owned copper industry, it's difficult to call Chile a free market success.[/i]

Oh no, not this again. In Chile, the copper *industry* is not state owned. The state owns a mining *company*. It used to be fairly big at the beginning of the 90's, but its share of the market has been systematically diminishing since then. Check: http://www.economist.com/node/17311933

LarryM March 9, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Cliff,

Sadly I've spent more time on this thread than I can afford, and have some other time commitments, so I'm going to have to punt a bit. In any event, comment sections are not the best place to thrash these kinds of things out, for obvious reasons. (I even tried to do a brief synopsis, but realized that I couldn't do it justice in the time I have, so I omitted it).

But all I can say is that if you are NOT aware of what I am talking about (in terms of the research and legitimate disputes, you aren't familiar with the broad range of primary sources, and you have been limited yourself to secondary sources with a certain point of view. It sounds like your familiarity with the other side of the debate is limited to comment threads, where you can indeed find a lot of ignorant people on both sides of the issue. The fact that you, as well as other people in this debate, can suggest with a straight face that there is any kind of academic consensus in this area, is either mendacious, or (and I'll assume the former in your case) a product of ignorance.

On motives … look, I can't really speak to your personal experience. Color me skeptical for reasons previously stated. But as for "science" – it's social science we're talking about here, not hard science. Social science can be valuable, but is methodologically far more problematic, as well as subject to more biases, conscious or otherwise.

nemi March 9, 2011 at 1:25 pm

So, in “2” they are doing it wrong because they look at individual aspects instead of the whole – and in “4” and “5” they are doing it wrong because they look at the whole instead of the individual aspects?

I kind of agree with “2”, but as a caricature of a first best economist, I didn’t expect Cowen to say such a thing.

Chris T March 9, 2011 at 1:32 pm

They are evidence, yes, but, given the TOTALITY of the evidence, not enough to convince an intelligent, informed non rac … well, I won’t say it.

This is not the statement of an unbiased observer. Once you’ve attached moral significance to a particular outcome, you’ve heavily compromised your objectivity.

It is sufficient to state that not enough good research exists to lean one way or another with any confidence.

LarryM March 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm

HP,

You win the thread for either most cynically dishonest comment, or most honest but idiotic comment. Get a clue: what else could “ethnicity and IQ” possibly mean?

I mean, if I said “Lack of interest in discussing movement conservatism and mendacity as relevant for social policy, except in preferred contexts.” I think you could make the reasonable inference that I was linking movement conservatism and mendacity. Or, not, not infering, but linking explicitly.

jamie March 9, 2011 at 4:01 pm

#8, as a scientific matter, a can of worms. As far as public policy and ordinary speculation are concerned, liberals are right to forbid that conversation. Ethnicity doesn't have any particular correlation to intelligence once you do the work of controlling for other stuff.

In any way that matters, it's a pointless conversation that is generally begun by racists and marginally informed people who like the idea of being iconoclasts. The conversation has been had. Liberals are right about that. Anyone who doesn't know the details should go to the library. It's not worth having go explain this stuff over and over and over. Better to let it be taboo except for scientists. Until they find something compelling, leave it be.

Seriously. Not every idea is worth entertaining. Simple versions of the race and intelligence theory are stupid, and complex ones are too subtle too effect anything anyway, and too abstract to be intelligible to laypeople. It's offensive and pointless, and liberals are right to hold their ground on it.

Not every hypothetically important topic that one might talk about in a dorm room at three a.m. is really something that we need to have a public conversation about.

That stance, "let it be taboo," always rankles some libertarian person or other. Meh.

Otherwise this is a pretty good list, and I see some pretty good suggestion for additions in the comments.

lxm March 9, 2011 at 4:12 pm

"Sins of omission: there are plenty of bad policies, such as occupational licensing, which fail to come under much attack from the left. Sometimes this is because the critique would run counter to the narrative of needing more government or needing more regulation."

Dean Baker is certainly a voice against occupational licensing especially when it comes to doctors and lawyers. He sees it as a free trade issue which, in its current form, is certainly supported by the right. So I am not so sure this is a failure of the left. Instead it's trade protectionism by the right.

I'm also not so sure that more government and more regulation is necessarily a component of the left no matter how much the right would like to believe that. If recent history is any guide some regulation is helpful and that is what the left wants in the best of all worlds: regulation and government that works. And that is what the right sees as bigger government and more regulation and that is what is reflected in your point, right wing views superimposed on left wing actions.

Steve Sailer March 9, 2011 at 4:56 pm

"8. Lack of interest in discussing ethnicity and IQ as relevant for social policy, except in preferred contexts."

I think that would also rank highly among intellectual weaknesses of most right-wing economists, as well (although Tyler is admirably learning more and more as the years go by).

Steve Sailer March 9, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Dear LarryM:

I realize I am an Evil Person and all that, but please allow me to point out that:

A. There is no scientific dispute over whether or not there are differences in average IQ between the major racial groups recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau. These differences in average IQ exist (as do differences in average real world behavior that correlate with IQ).

B. There is, however, a perfectly reasonable scientific dispute over the _causes_ of these differences in average IQ. Is it a combination of environment and genetics or is it purely environment? This dispute will probably go on for a quite a few more years, because unraveling the genetics of IQ appears to be a very complicated problem.

C. These differences in average IQ have existed for a number of generations. And, while there have been modest changes over the generations, nobody at present has a clue how to make them disappear within, say, the first half of the 21st Century.

D. For example, perhaps there will be a giant breakthrough tomorrow that will eliminate IQ gaps among racial groups in all future generations. For example, say it were discovered and immediately implemented that a previously unknown vitamin if taken by pregnant women would turn America into Lake Wobegon. Then, the racial gaps in average IQ would finally disappear from the American workforce around 2077 A.D.

E. Now, 2077 is a long ways off. So, maybe we ought to discuss policy as if racial gaps in average IQ will be around for awhile. From a policy perspective (e.g., education, immigration, mortgage lending, disparate impact hiring law, etc.), the relative stability of the IQ gaps over recent generations suggests that it is imprudent to attempt to handwave these gaps' existence away by loudly denouncing people who point out the likely continued existence of these gaps as too unspeakably evil to be listened to.

Rahul March 9, 2011 at 6:48 pm

8. Lack of interest in discussing ethnicity and IQ as relevant for social policy, except in preferred contexts.

1. If we assume that IQ is linked to ethnicity (or heredity) how would it change social policy? Are there concrete examples?

2. Can anyone elaborate on the exception Tyler put in. In what "preferred contexts" do liberals evoke the ethnicity-IQ link? Any history?

Rahul March 9, 2011 at 7:13 pm

@SteveSailer

So, maybe we ought to discuss policy as if racial gaps in average IQ will be around for awhile.

How? What policy changes would you then suggest if this gap were real and acknowledged more widely.

Rahul March 9, 2011 at 8:47 pm

If we change our immigration policy to only admit Mexicans with triple-digit IQs, then our average national IQ will increase.

I disagree. National IQ can't be an end in itself. For lower-end jobs (agricultural labor, janitors, restaurant workers etc.) high IQ isn't essential. It hardly matters if my tomatoes were harvested by a 120 IQ Mexican or a 90 IQ Korean and the decision is best left to the farm-owner not some central Immigration-czar.

There's place in a nation for a whole range of IQ's and the occupational profiles have evolved to support this.

Mor March 9, 2011 at 9:46 pm

> Usually when someone uses "cosmopolitan" in a vague and evasive context, it's an anti-semetic code word. Maybe Tyler is using this item and #8 to introduce a new theme.

Are you joking? He said cosmopolitanism should be increased.

Mor March 9, 2011 at 10:30 pm

> A commenter above apparently conceded that IQ is at least somewhat hereditary, while denying that this implies anything about differences in hereditary ethnic groups. I think this position is ridiculous, but it doesn't really matter.

Call me a pedant, but he's correct. There is no implication from this information alone. No doubt there was some century when people in country A were well-fed while those in B weren't. You would probably find different heights, masses, and IQs between the two populations during that century, even if each of those values is the same for both countries when they are in the same nutritional condition.

What's not very plausible at all is that there could still be a cryptic non-genetic variable(s) which is responsible for ethnic IQ differences in the United States. It's obviously nothing to do with income or stimulating parents; if you take the top 20% of blacks by income and the bottom 20% of whites, their children have the same mean IQ. Or something like that; I'm not sure the actual number is 20% but I am certain about the rest of that observation.

So what is it? Racist corporate fascist whites glower at them and their IQ goes down 0.1 points a minute? I'm certainly not saying that these hidden environmental variables cannot possibly exist. It seems very unlikely, though. And every possible intervention has been tried; none was at all effective in raising adult IQ (which is more stable upon re-measurement, and also more heritable, than IQ measurements taken on children).

Of course, that's only one piece of evidence for a genetic cause. There is a lot more than that, and together they weave into a pretty darn strong fabric.

Schismatism March 10, 2011 at 3:05 am

"1. Suggesting that money matters in politics far more than the peer-reviewed evidence indicates."

Perhaps you have to take into consideration the baseline. Does money really affect politics? Probably not, but that's likely because the people getting into power already agree with those who are lining their pockets. Of course there wouldn't be any evidence.

Ivan March 10, 2011 at 6:53 am

Why is Hong Kong used as a model for Libertarian economists? I lived there for a year. Nearly half the residents live in some form of public housing (private housing has very high rents). They also have fantastic public healthcare.

Taggert J. Brooks March 10, 2011 at 7:31 am

Excellent stuff. How about a post on common agreements. Particularly agreements where the public is furthest from Economists.

The classic line we have the least influence where we are most in agreement. Free trade is the classic example.

My latest favorite is the fetish with "job creation". We all agree in the long run employment is about labor supply. I'm appalled that students leave principles and fail to get this.

Meg March 10, 2011 at 10:59 am

If limited to things the right can successfully implement, the only thing the left could ever do is cut taxes, raise deficits and hand bags of cash to corporations.

Additionally on the companion post, there have been excellent approaches to health care that came from the right, but they add up to Obamacare. We will be able to judge their value versus the value of the left's alternative of single-payer effectiveness-rationed care by comparing the cost-effectiveness, health outcomes and availability of coverage against single payer systems. The further-right doesn't have any additional ideas for health insurance, because further right of "support the private market providing the services" is "let market forces provide services". India and services for transgendered individuals in the US are examples of real market-based health care, but they lead to people not getting the health care they desire because they can not pay for it, which Medicare has guaranteed will never happen in the US.

RossB March 14, 2011 at 2:15 pm

#10 A willingness to think that one has “done one’s best” in the realm of policy, and to blame subsequent policy failures on Republican implementation, rather than admitting that a policy which cannot be implemented by both political parties is perhaps not a good policy in the first place.

This assumes that both parties are reasonable, moderate and want to make good policy now, instead of winning future elections. The Obama (and Clinton) health care proposal was very similar to the Nixon health care plan, yet it had no support from Republican Senators. It is safe to assume that this was purely political. I am confident that the same moderate Senators would have supported the plan if they had been around when Nixon proposed it. Similarly, if the EPA or the Endangered Species Act did not exist and was proposed by Obama (instead of Nixon), I wonder how many Republicans would support it?

It is quite possible that it is not politics, but extremism that leads a policy maker to declare that they have “done one’s best”. Imagine if the Democratic party had taken a clear move to the left. Imagine if the Democratic party was led by Socialists who did not support the free market and wanted to nationalize every major industry (steel, oil, etc.). Just about any Republican policy (such as breaking up Ma Bell) would be opposed by the Democrats. Does this make it bad policy? Of course not. A quick review of history and policy shows that Obama and Clinton policies are much closer to Nixon and Eisenhower than current Republicans policies are to pre-Reagan policies. The Republican party has moved far to the right, and has had a great deal of success doing so. From a political (and philosophical) standpoint, this makes it hard for Democrats to work with them.

mbt March 18, 2011 at 6:08 am

What about countries? Classical liberals are increasingly facing up to the enduring successes of the Nordic nations. There is not always a similar reckoning with the successes of Chile and Hong Kong

Brant March 30, 2011 at 12:52 pm

5. Significantly overestimating the quality of the political economy of an America with more powerful labor unions and underestimating the history of labor unions as racist, corrupt, protectionist, and obstructions to positive change.

For “unions” you may substitute “corporations, governments, churches, schools” or any other institution. For “leftist” you may substitute “conservative”, “Democratic”, “Republican”, “libertarian” or any other category. ALL HAVE SINNED.

In partisan debate, it’s always the other side that is racist, corrupt, protectionist and obstructionist to positive change, but in reality, all American institutions and most partisans are these by turns. This seems to me to be much more common at the right and authoritarian ends of the spectrum, but that might be a bias on my part, although I very much doubt it.

Several of the items on this list may be peculiar to part of the political spectrum, but several are not and may be copied over into any other lists you may wish to devise.

13. What about countries? Classical liberals are increasingly facing up to the enduring successes of the Nordic nations. There is not always a similar reckoning with the successes of Chile and Hong Kong and Singapore; often this is a sin of omission.

I have never, except perhaps in the most carefully moderated and intelligent discussion threads, seen a conservative American or “classical liberal” who would acknowlede that the Nordic social democracies do anything right or successfully. More usually, the rank and file believe that the numerous indexes, lists and rankings which the Nordic countries invariably top are conspiracies by leftists to malign America, American values and American successes, that the successes are invented, and that America is number one in all things and if she isn’t in some thing then that thing doesn’t really matter.

But God forbid a leftist should acknowledge or claim any success on the part of China, India, or other authoritarian, despotic, communist, or oppressive regime that makes Chile, Hong Kong and Singapore look positively utopian. This will be imputed to them as grave sin.

Once again, partisanship and politics renders the whole point moot or transferable to any other partisan group or system.

Personally, I am well aware of the racism, corruption, protectionism and obstructionism of unions (they are made up of the same sorts of people as any other human institution and work the same way as any other institution). I am also aware that some reprehensible political systems and societies have their noteworthy successes, largely because one can make decisions more quickly, more decisively and even with greater wisdom than many can, except in cases where the “wisdom of crowds” is required or efficient.

There is nothing peculiar about these mistakes. They are universal.

14. Reluctance to admit how hard the climate change problem will be to solve, for fear of wrecking any emerging political consensus on taking action.

As for this one, alas, what political consensus or action? Even the most concerned and fearful partisans of consensus and action fall short. Even the most agreed upon facts and responses are widely denied and blocked. Solutions for the climate change problem will have to wait until the problem seizes us by the throat and shakes some sense into us all. There are plenty of climate change scientists and activists who recognize the difficulty. There are even a few who dispair of solutions. But that is SNAFU. This is one of those problems which are difficult to communicate because the externalities are so great and so remote from direct experience that you get better results turning the thermostat up in the lecture room than by pointing out the trillions of dollars of economic and environmental damage that will result from failure. I mean this literally. Do a search for “global warming” and “room temperature” and open the first scientific article you find.

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