Why do so many intellectuals favor governmental solutions?

by on December 28, 2017 at 12:53 am in Education, Philosophy, Political Science | Permalink

Building on an essay by Robert Nozick, here is Julian Sanchez:

If the best solutions to social problems are generally governmental or political, then in a democratic society, doing the work of a wordsmith intellectual is a way of making an essential contribution to addressing those problems. If the best solutions are generally private, then this is true to a far lesser extent: The most important ways of doing one’s civic duty, in this case, are more likely to encompass more direct forms of participation, like donating money, volunteering, working on technological or medical innovations that improve quality of life, and various kinds of socially conscious entrepreneurial activity.

You might, therefore, expect a natural selection effect: Those who feel strongly morally motivated to contribute to the amelioration of social ills will naturally gravitate toward careers that reflect their view about how this is best achieved. The choice of a career as a wordsmith intellectual may, in itself, be the result of a prior belief that social problems are best addressed via mechanisms that are most dependent on public advocacy, argument and persuasion—which is to say, political mechanisms.

…If the world is primarily made better through private action, then the most morally praiseworthy course available to a highly intelligent person of moderate material tastes might be to pursue a far less inherently interesting career in business or finance, live a middle-class lifestyle, and devote one’s wealth to various good causes. In this scenario, after all, the intellectual who could make millions for charity as a financier or high-powered attorney, but prefers to take his compensation in the form of leisure time and interesting work, is not obviously morally better than the actual financier or attorney who uses his monetary compensation to purchase material pleasures.

Here is the full essay, via Jeffrey Flier.

1 shrikanthk December 28, 2017 at 1:16 am

Thomas Sowell had a book on this that came out 3-4 years ago – “Intellectuals and Society”..

I didn’t read the book. But his interviews on the same with Peter Robinson from Hoover, were very good. Link –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyufeHJlodE

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2 Thor December 28, 2017 at 3:31 am

Thanks for this.

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3 Adrian Ratnapala December 28, 2017 at 5:37 am

I think Sewell’s book has a better theory, but I can’t remember it well enough to give a fair account. It is to do with what he calls the “Contrained” and “Unconstrained” visions. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Conflict_of_Visions

My take is similar. By trying to give a self-serving explanation, Sanchez is being both too neat-and-tidy and also *insufficiently* idealistic. Intellectuals generally come up with ideas about “what WE should do about problem X”. The desire to implement such ideas is called progressivism. This is entirely rational and noble, until you realise that isn’t really a “WE”, there are only social structures (customs, laws, instiutions) within which people do stuff.

All people of good will can do is contribute their a bit towards ensuring those structures work out well in general. Non-intellectuals do this instinctively, by living out traditional norms. Libertarians and Burkeans find intellectual grounds for a norm-based world-view. But the majority of intellectuals, being human, beleive in the WE — which is basically the General Will posited by the ur-progressive Rousseau.

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4 shrikanthk December 28, 2017 at 5:48 am

Yes, “A Conflict of VIsions” is regarded as his best work!

But the interviews with Hoover’s Robinson convey the key takeaways without one having to read the books. Robinson features Sowell in close to a dozen videos.

This is one of the more entertaining ones. I think there is one that discusses “A conflict of visions” as well.

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5 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ December 28, 2017 at 9:42 am

By this definition (perhaps both definitions, yours and Nozick’s) Greg Mankiw with his Pigou Club is a big Progressive.

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6 Art Deco December 28, 2017 at 10:13 am

Mankiw is not a progressive. He is what you might call a ‘pet dissident’. I think if you took a census, you’d discover that the vast majority of starboard commentators with a regular income from an institution are pet dissidents. The odd exception is Robert George.

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7 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ December 28, 2017 at 10:23 am

Pointless pontification.

The on-topic here is that everyone, academic or everyman, has a place or twenty for government action.

It is the shallowest straw man that if someone is for “an” intervention, they are for all intervention all the time.

Mankiw and Cowen (IIRC) can be for a carbon tax, without being closet Communists.

8 Art Deco December 28, 2017 at 12:59 pm

It is the shallowest straw man that if someone is for “an” intervention, they are for all intervention all the time.

When you’re done striking attitudes, let me know.

9 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ December 28, 2017 at 1:08 pm

It is the whole game:

“The choice of a career as a wordsmith intellectual may, in itself, be the result of a prior belief that social problems are best addressed via mechanisms that are most dependent on public advocacy, argument and persuasion—which is to say, political mechanisms.”

Wordsmith writes an article, therefore he has “prior belief that social problems are best addressed yadda yadda”

10 nigel December 29, 2017 at 11:35 am

What’s your basis for distinguishing Robby George?

11 shrikanthk December 28, 2017 at 5:59 am

An alternative way of explaining the intellectual preference for technocratic problem solving is to view modernity as the “age of science”.

Science is deterministic. Science is rational. Science is incontrovertible. And hence science can help solve social problems through the exercise of rationality. and pure reason. Harvey Mansfield, arguably the greatest of all American conservatives has written a brillaint essay on Scientific hubris wherein he contrasted “Science” with “Non Science” –

https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/science-and-non-science-in-liberal-education

A few extracts –

“Science has an implicit argument that science is important; it is a grand project for making human life more reasonable, less customary, less concerned with ambition and greatness; in sum, science seems more democratic. It undermines all traditional elites, but quietly, implicitly, replaces them with a scientific elite hostile to all elitism except its own. Science democratizes everything but its own despotic self.”

“Science cannot learn from common sense, which scientific method rejects on principle…………social science needs to reconsider the attitude of science toward common sense. All science is opposed to and suspicious of common sense, the enemy of science that upholds prejudice and relies on mere appearances. Social science bears the burden of opposing common sense on behalf of all science because common sense has to do mostly with human behavior. Natural science can easily defeat the common-sense view that the sun moves and the earth stays still, but social science has more difficulty overcoming common sense. The common-sense stereotypes of sex differences, for example, have been in many cases confirmed by social psychology”

There are many more gems in this brilliant essay. While Sowell’s Constrained vs Unconstrained vision is one way of explaining the intellectual proclivity for government solutions, Mansfield’s critique of Science and the Scientific mindset is an equally useful way of thinking about intellectuals and modernity.

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12 GoneWithTheWind December 28, 2017 at 11:01 am

In general the reason that anyone favors government solutions is because it is relatively easy to pervert the system and use it to provide money and power to those who have an inside connection. That is why government projects cost twice what they would cost if built by a private company. Everyone has their hands out and everyone who supports or owns a politician gets a piece of the action.

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13 FG December 28, 2017 at 12:16 pm

I have trouble imagining that the average Democrat or pro-government voter makes their choices hoping that it will enrich people with inside connections, so the idea that “the reason that anyone favors government solutions is because it is relatively easy to pervert the system” seems wrong.

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14 GoneWithTheWind December 28, 2017 at 6:00 pm

The “average” Democrat expects either free stuff or special treatment. One of those desires requires money the other requires the power that money can buy. Voila

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15 Mulp December 28, 2017 at 1:06 pm

Thomas Sowell has failed to justify his calls for government control people over letting the private exchanges by individuals take place freely.

What is it about the concept of individual in individual liberty doesn’t he get that he seeks government redefining what an individual is in order to assert government control over individual females?

What doesn’t he understand about individual desire for other individuals that requires government pick winning and losing individual relationships. Why does he think government should trump nature? Or God’s will, if you believe individuals are God’s creation?

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16 derek December 28, 2017 at 1:20 am

The desire to be part of an authoritarian power structure runs deep. An ‘intellectual’ believes in solutions. The two obviously lead to the conclusion discussed.

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17 Thor December 28, 2017 at 3:37 am

What I have observed over some years is that my colleagues in the academic world have never been out of that milieu for long. They have especially not been entrepreneurs. They have little conception of what it might be to have an idea — however modest — and then have to hustle to fund it or sell it.

And they are authoritarian by default as the academic world is still patronage based and very hierarchical.

I could add that many are nerdy or dweeby and they are unconsciously taking revenge on the world by shaping it according to an (invariably) authoritarian ideology but that’s only true of a minority I’m sure. (Disclaimer: I may not be a dweeb myself but I’ve never been an entrepreneur.)

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18 clockwork_prior December 28, 2017 at 4:55 am

‘What I have observed over some years is that my colleagues in the academic world have never been out of that milieu for long.’

Oddly, I could give you the name of one of Prof. Cowen’s former GMU econ dept. colleagues, but whenever I mention it, the comment seems to be able to be read by a select few. Nonetheless, not every tenured member of the GMU econ dept. has remained in that milieu with the dedication that Prof.s Cowen and Tabarrok have.

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19 Art Deco December 28, 2017 at 10:10 am

Few people are entrepreneurs. Most are accountable to a supervisor though, in ways professors simply are not.

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20 mavery December 28, 2017 at 12:39 pm

If you think successful academics have never had to hustle to sell or fund an idea of theirs (and usually they’re modest ones), you aren’t paying attention.

In my experience, this is what they spend most of their time doing. The venues and audience they hustle for are naturally different than those of an entrepreneur, but it’s the same shtick. You try to make a slight improvement on an existing idea or tool, find some niche market where your version is the best, and all the while you keep plying your connections and friends that have funds for investments to keep your little projects afloat. Go to trade conferences to advertise your thing and network. When you find some success, you have to take on more management responsibilities in order to increase production, and even if you have good ideas, screwing this up can ruin you. It’s often not the person with the best idea but the person with the best connections that finds the most success.

The range of outcomes is usually tighter (fewer bankruptcies but also fewer multi-millionaire “stars”), but that’s a different discussion.

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21 Art Deco December 28, 2017 at 12:58 pm

Again, depends on how large is the research component of your work and it depends on how much you rely on grant funding. Molecular biology at the University of Iowa is one thing. English literature at Coe College is another.

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22 Art Deco December 28, 2017 at 10:09 am

Academic departments are political. They are not authoritarian. There are few occupations in which practitioners have more effective discretion over their time. (Charles Sykes put it thus: “the fine art of the 7.5 hour week”). Of course, many academics put in lengthy hours (seeking tenure or just practicing their craft). However, I’ve talked to a few who would be mortified or disgusted to be subject to the social relations of common-and-garden office employment. There are also few occupations wherein a certain class of employee can regularly frustrate their superiors if they’re patient enough and form enough of a critical mass. The faculty may have to wait 20 years for it, but they get their way in the end.

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23 Nick December 28, 2017 at 1:42 am

I think one needs to be careful when casting about to find reasons ‘why my political philosophy is unpopular’ and therefore rationalizations explaining how unpopularity is itself somehow proof of the popular, or somehow mitigating it as ‘not truly unpopular.’

We all love a good confirmation bias, and I’ve got the conveniently preferred studies to prove it.

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24 tjamesjones December 28, 2017 at 4:45 am

this is that classic thing of having a go at someone else’s “confirmation bias” as a way of confirming your own bias.

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25 Nick December 28, 2017 at 2:26 pm

How many levels deep do you want to go on this?

“having a go at having a go at someone else’s confirmation bias…”

😛

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26 clockwork_prior December 28, 2017 at 2:10 am

‘Why do so many intellectuals favor governmental solutions?’

A tenured public choice economist is asking this? Why?

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27 Thor December 28, 2017 at 3:42 am

Because it’s a good question for a libertarian leaning thinker to ask?

Notice that you can’t even imagine that someone might make a living in a state or public sphere funded (academic) institution and yet not be entirely blinkered as to what’s wrong with every solution being a statist solution.

The scab you pick at, as ever, is someone’s putative hypocrisy.

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28 clockwork_prior December 28, 2017 at 4:52 am

‘Because it’s a good question for a libertarian leaning thinker to ask? ‘ – Prof. Cowen may be any number of things, but a libertarian leaning thinker does not write articles advocating government expenditures on defense so as to increase economic growth. Even a man like Eisenhower, by no stretch a libertarian leaning thinker, recognized that fallacy, in a speech not so ironically also called the Cross of Iron in 1953 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chance_for_Peace_speech

‘Notice that you can’t even imagine that someone might make a living in a state or public sphere funded (academic) institution and yet not be entirely blinkered as to what’s wrong with every solution being a statist solution.’ – Do you honestly think every democratically derived decision is statist?

‘The scab you pick at, as ever, is someone’s putative hypocrisy.’ – Come now, Prof. Cowen is no scab, he is also a public policy institute general director and chairman. Who just also happens to draw a life long guaranteed pay check from the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Virginia, regardless of what he advocates in any other role. Sounds very libertarian leaning, at least if one views such activities through a public choice lens – and are unconcerned about rigorous accuracy

But let us be honest, I am a disloyal reader, stretching back decades in a sense – I don’t need to make any defenses for how people like Prof. Cowen act (and thankfully, I was never paid to do so in the past, so no need to need to charge hypocrisy. Walter E. Williams or S. Fred Singer – well, that is a bit more complicated, but neither are considered in the same libertarian light as Prof. Cowen).

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29 Chris Smith December 28, 2017 at 5:47 am

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, any more than they expect https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_law_of_oligarchy

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30 Anonymous December 28, 2017 at 3:29 am

If the worst social problems generally stem from governmental or political causes, then in a democratic society, doing the work of a wordsmith intellectual is a way of making an essential contribution to addressing those problems. All intellectuals are secretly libertarian.

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31 clockwork_prior December 28, 2017 at 4:57 am

Absolute bullshit – why not ask China Miéville if he agrees? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_Mi%C3%A9ville

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32 Anonymous December 28, 2017 at 5:11 am

That’s..the point.

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33 clockwork_prior December 28, 2017 at 5:22 am

What point? That most intellectuals are not secretly libertarian? Including Prof. Cowen, whose libertarianism seems to be extremely well hidden?

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34 ChrisA December 28, 2017 at 3:32 am

Is it really true that all public intellectuals advocate state response to solving problems? I can think of at least some like Milton Friedman that didn’t. What qualities does an intellectual have anyway.? Are we talking about cable TV talking heads, or people that write editorials.

My simpler explanation is that most newspaper columnists are simply trying to fill their word allocation and generally speaking arguments for letting the free market sort it out are simply not popular.

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35 Art Deco December 28, 2017 at 9:59 am

The economics department with which I’m most familiar employed ca. 2006 two identified Republicans (out of 18 faculty members). One got denied tenure. The other was (and, I’ll wager, still is) an open-borders libertarian whose published work was devoted to demonstrating that mass immigration would enhance the incomes of low-skilled natives.

Number of identified Republicans in the Political Science Department at that institution: 5 (out of 18 faculty members). That sounds pretty generous. Then you realize that the youngest of those 5 was born in 1950 and that all of them were hired prior to 1990.

Number of identified Republicans in the Departments of History, Social Relations, and Geography: 0 (out of about 30 positions).

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36 Al December 28, 2017 at 10:47 am

This is the root of the political leanings of the millennials. The question is how to address it.

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37 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ December 28, 2017 at 11:07 am

Run away and hide, obviously. Then complain that your forfeit was counted as a loss.

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38 Mulp December 28, 2017 at 1:17 pm

“I can think of at least some like Milton Friedman that didn’t.”

Friedman actually advocated government solutions contrary to conservative orthodoxy.

On the other hand, he advocated getting government out of things conservatives demand and when they can involve massive government solutions, which fail at extremely high rates. E.g., all the lock em up for using an ever expanding list of “drugs” as conssrvatives took power in States and Federal government. Oddly he never seemed to protest his name being invoked by those imposing government solutions on millions of people which prevents them simply earning a decent living if they havent been stuck in a private prison by government.

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39 Christoph Maurer December 28, 2017 at 4:00 am

Hayek’s essay on intellectuals and socialism is also interesting in this context. Hayek, however, considers self-interest of intellectuals to be the driving force, no abstract desire to use ones abilities to improve the well-being of society

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40 Diogenes von Neumann December 28, 2017 at 4:33 am

The hypothetical donor described here matches almost exactly what the Effective Altruism movement describes as “earning to give”, although they tend to work in technology rather than finance or law.

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41 rayward December 28, 2017 at 6:39 am

“Let us do what is evil so that good may come.” Cowen the contrarian should appreciate that admonition. Paul (in Romans) alleges slander by those who attribute the admonition to Paul. Paul doth protest too much. “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Why is it that evil begets the good? Or conversely, why is it that the good begets evil?

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42 Dan in philly December 28, 2017 at 6:51 am

“Do you know what good comes out of?…Out of bad. That’s what good comes out of. Because you can’t make it out of anything else.” –Willie Stark, All the Kings Men.

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43 bop December 28, 2017 at 11:19 pm

One day Augustine, who was somewhere in East Africa, was able to say to Christ: ‘Light of my heart, do not let my darkness speak to me.’ He realized the Risen Christ was the light in the midst of his darkness. – david eggers

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44 Dots December 28, 2017 at 7:28 am

Also lots of intellectuals note that life is better in Europe and Australia, and that tech is better in E. Asia, and they see those societies as having more direct, simpler gov interventions in important parts of society and individual lives

There is also something about the easy lives conducive to written production that can convince the people who live them that industrial society can pay for and pull off every wonder. If the machines have dragged me so smoothly thru life without my help, they must b ready to pull yet more weight

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45 Transnational Pants Machine December 28, 2017 at 9:05 am

I read the title, and knew instantly you would print the wrong answer. So here ya go:

If you cannot get a real job, you are left with naught to do that insist to the world that real jobs stupid anyway, and that people who have them (aka “the rich”) should be taxed heavily to provide for people without them. People like you.

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46 Borjigid December 28, 2017 at 9:11 am

I don’t follow his reasoning.

Whether problems are best solved by government or private action, they have not been solved yet. For them to be solved, something needs to change. Either the government needs to do something, or more people need to privately decide to do something about them. Persuading people to make different decisions, either through voting or direct action, is the job description for a wordsmith intellectual.

So, doing the work of wordsmith intellectual would seem to be an essential contribution to solving societal problems, regardless of how those problems are best addressed.

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47 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ December 28, 2017 at 9:20 am

Of course, but once you climb down from the straw man of a hypothetical academic Marxist, what have you got?

If say “liberals” or “progressives” only want government solutions 30 or 40 percent of the time, they are already showing great discretion.

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48 blah December 28, 2017 at 9:38 am

I find the assumption that intellectuals have skin in the game troubling…

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49 Art Deco December 28, 2017 at 9:46 am

Why do so many intellectuals favor governmental solutions?

1. They don’t. The chatterati (bar a small sliver of renegades) favor solutions which enhance job opportunities for aspirants wishing to work in the education apparat, the social work apparat, the mental-health trade, or the legal profession. They support tax policy and expenditure programs which redistribute income from generic Americans to members of these apparati and their clientele. They support laws and regulations which transfer discretion from parents to schools and social workers. from landlords and businessmen to lawyers, and, within enterprises, from general employees to compliance people.

2. They’re not enamored of ‘government solutions’ if those solutions incorporate employment of the police or the military. They tend to have a qualified and ambivalent reaction to programs which merely redistribute income for their clients to use at their discretion, very seldom advocating that existing sectoral subsidies be replaced by such programs.

3. Private sector employment is satisfactory as far as the chatterati is concerned, provided it has a reliable pipeline of funding (which commonly requires appropriations from public treasuries, hence building relationships with politicians). To transcend the discipline of the market is the name of the game, not the corporate status of the agency doing the transcending. If market demand is insensitive to the depredations of the chatterati, commercial enterprise does just as well as state agencies or philanthropic concerns (hence the ruin of metropolitan newspapers during the Newseum era).

4. They’re not interested in generic public employees unless they can be mobilized through the unions to generate funds and volunteer labor for politicians drawn from the chatterati or doing their bidding.

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50 Bill December 28, 2017 at 10:10 am

This is a litmus test for stupidity.

Why do so many intellectuals favor governmental solutions?

Because they are smarter than you are.

Joke aside, this is an example of a question framed in such a way as to elicit emotion and not thought.

Take the question apart for a moment.

What is the term “government solutions” for example. Is a tax cut to “Make America Great” a “government solution” and is Donald Trump the intellectual? Or, how about the “government solution” of putting a no passing strip in the middle of the highway a “government solution”. Or is saying your kid should have a measles mumps and rubella vaccine shot before going to school a government solution, or is food inspection a government solution, etc.

Then, ask the next question: what does the word “so many” mean. Mean with respect to what problem, and what government solution.

Finally, ask what does the word “Intellectual” mean.

To me, an intellectual is someone who asks questions about stupid questions. And, doesn’t follow the cookie crumbs laid out by those who really aren’t interested in discussion about a particular issue, but are only interested in exciting peoples emotions with empty words.

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51 Art Deco December 28, 2017 at 10:16 am

To me, an intellectual is someone who asks questions about stupid questions.

Yeah, but that’s a stupid definition.

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52 Bill December 28, 2017 at 10:22 am

Asking is how you learn.

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53 dearieme December 28, 2017 at 10:16 am

“Why do so many intellectuals favor governmental solutions?” Because …. Jobs for the Boys.

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54 AL December 28, 2017 at 10:19 am

Maybe relevant choice not government interference vs no govt interference, but better govt policy vs worse?

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55 Al December 28, 2017 at 10:48 am

Lol, no.

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56 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ December 28, 2017 at 11:01 am

Funny you should say that, because my first reaction was that AL > Al.

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57 C December 28, 2017 at 11:21 am

That’s a depressing view of things. I’m coming around to it though – I’ve especially considered it with regard to the latest round of tax reform. There’s an ideal that tax policy should be used to raise revenue not affect policy. I used to think that wasn’t attainable but tax law could be either closer or further from that goal. I’m starting to have doubts about that position. It seems like if you want to raise X amount in tax the amount of affect on policy is only determined by the size of X.

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58 Anon7 December 28, 2017 at 2:22 pm

That’s the tactic of intellectuals who want to ignore the issue of government interference. They will sometimes call it being Pragmatic (Dewey’s left-wing theory dressed up as anti-theory).

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59 wd40 December 28, 2017 at 11:27 am

Why do so many intellectuals favor governmental solutions?

If you will permit me to focus more on professors, from elite universities, let me ask some parallel questions. Why in contrast to the general public, are these intellectuals more likely to believe in evolution, more likely to know that Brazilians speak Portuguese, and be aware that there is climate change and that it is caused by human activity? The obvious answer is that these intellectuals are more knowledgeable. So the most direct and obvious answer to the question posed by Tyler is that the intellectuals are collectively more knowledgeable than Sanchez and Sowell, But that answer is not very satisfying to most readers of this blog.

By the way, I am not in favor of many government solutions.

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60 Art Deco December 28, 2017 at 12:55 pm

The obvious answer is that these intellectuals are more knowledgeable.

The faculty member I know who actually made that argument is a philosopher who never finished his dissertation and talks rot much of the time.

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61 Viking December 28, 2017 at 6:56 pm

By the definitions of intellectual in article, (Thomas) Sowell is an intellectual, as he writes books and shape public opinion.

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62 CG December 28, 2017 at 11:30 am

Disagree with a lot of interpretations of this, e.g. intellectuals like the idea of designing solutions as a way of advancing society or are hubristic, believing themselves to have specialized knowledge that qualifies them to make policy. These explanations tend to portray people as being more nefarious than they actually are. Probably has a lot more to do with culture and signaling. Most intellectuals come from comfortable upper middle class backgrounds because it’s easier to become an intellectual when you have this type of background. Growing up they are exposed to more liberal, cosmopolitan views, and tend to reflect this broader culture. However, they’re aware enough to know that there a lot of people who aren’t as fortunate as they are, so they go to great lengths to show that they empathize and care about the less fortunate. They are very skeptical of proposed solutions to social ills that place the responsibility on the individual rather than the government. They see themselves as having advanced either in academia or journalism without having faced such obstacles. There’s a strong sense of guilt in blaming the less fortunate for their own situations in life, whether it’s true or not, especially when most of these intellectuals did not have to deal with these same types of problems.

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63 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ December 28, 2017 at 12:03 pm

If you wanted to normalize this question fairly, you would ask something like “what fraction of US labor and investment should be owned or directed by the government?”

You could help people by spitballing a current level, say 40%.

If they say it should look more like 35 or 45, they are pretty moderate. If they want 90 or 10, not so much.

But you know, if an academic writes on a policy, it may not tell you that much about the total change he seeks.

(I think current levels are about right, but I would seriously reallocate resources. Swap farm subsidies for homeless shelters, straight up.)

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64 Mark December 28, 2017 at 12:40 pm

I generally agree with this although I’m not sure the thesis is precisely aligned with the question, why do intellectuals favor government solutions. The answer to that, I think, is to a large extent arrogance but in some respects efficiency. The arrogance is obvious, what Hayek labeled scientism. When you’ve been told your while life you’re smart, why treat people who aren’t as smart as having an equal claim to a solution? And arrogance also shows up in a holier than thouness.

By efficiency I just mean it’s easier to convince a few hundred people with similar backgrounds to spend other people’s money than to go into the market in a nation this large and demographically diverse and convince people to spend their own.

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65 Sandia December 28, 2017 at 1:47 pm

No matter how much of a libertarian you are there are realistically a large quantity of things that going forward will be done by government, so having some high quality people interested in those careers is good for everyone.

That said there is a large difference between a career civil servant and a wordsmith intellectual. One operates within the system, hoping to optimize it in same way, the other attempts to short circuit the system by shouting “Should!” and “Must!” about some issue or other.

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66 byomtov December 28, 2017 at 2:12 pm

Why do so many intellectuals favor governmental solutions?

Maybe intellectuals have had a lot of experience with solving problems successfully themselves, and so believe that applying individual intelligence is often a good way to solve problems.

If the best solutions are generally private, then this is true to a far lesser extent: The most important ways of doing one’s civic duty, in this case, are more likely to encompass more direct forms of participation, like donating money, volunteering, working on technological or medical innovations that improve quality of life, and various kinds of socially conscious entrepreneurial activity.

It seems to me that a persuasive “wordsmith intellectual” could encourage private action as well as public. Presumably such a person is not an engineer or the like, and will not be working on the kinds of technical problems mentioned.

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67 Art Deco December 28, 2017 at 4:25 pm

Maybe intellectuals have had a lot of experience with solving problems successfully themselves, and so believe that applying individual intelligence is often a good way to solve problems.

Yeah. That’s why colleges and universities are America’s most adaptable, efficient, and respectable institutions.

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68 Bill December 28, 2017 at 5:52 pm

OK, Art, following up on the “anti-intellectual meme” of this post

Which aims at eliciting or supporting an unthoughtful, non-specific response,

And, in the same spirit, but without endorsement,

Let me ask:

Why are Right Wing movements

Anti-Intellectual.

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69 byomtov December 29, 2017 at 9:32 am

Actually, America’s colleges and universities are a major success story. They make a massively positive contribution, a few idiots notwithsatnding. Do they suffer from the problems of bureaucracy? Yes, but they are hardly alone among complex organizations in that respect. Ever work for a large corporation? Few are models of adaptability and efficiency, and some are seriously not respectable.

Besides which, my reference was to problems faced by individuals, both personal and in their research areas.

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70 li December 28, 2017 at 7:10 pm

put some lipstick and a pushup bra on it and “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” seems a comprehensive answer.

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71 Chip December 28, 2017 at 8:46 pm

Perhaps it’s the way you define intellectual. Smart people with big ideas who apply those ideas in the private sector aren’t called intellectuals.

Smart people with big ideas who remain in academia are called intellectuals.

Same people with big ideas but only those who choose stable employment in large and hierarchical organizations are defined as intellectuals, So it’s no surprise that intellectuals as they are defined seem to prefer governance by large hierarchical organizations.

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72 Bill December 28, 2017 at 9:31 pm

So, if you are an employed inventor in a Fortune 500 company like Google or Apple,

Which are hierarchical, my son,

You are….

Oh, I’m sorry, you can’t be an intellectual unless you are employed by a government

Even if you are an inventor at a university.

Everyone seems to fail to define terms. And, only applies them to institutions, which are often very similar if you have ever worked for both.

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