Good Stuff at EconLog today.
A new paper that is a worthy foreward to "Myth of the Rational Voter by Bryan Caplan" says his co-blogger Arnold Kling.
He talks about a paper emailed to him by its author, Jeremy Muller, an historian of economic thought, which is appearing in this month's issue of Daedalus. The paper's title is "The democratic threat to capitalism"
Kling cites some interesting quotes:
One role of the intellectual in politics, for Burke, was to advise legislators to stand up to short-term political and moral pressures when they threaten long-term national economic interests.
...The government’s task was to protect middlemen, such as the “factor, jobber, salesman, or speculator, in the markets of grain,” from the ignorance and envy of farmers and consumers.
...In Considerations on Representative Government (1861), John Stuart Mill voiced the recurrent fear of nineteenth-century liberals that the political power of the non-property-owning majority in a democracy might have disastrous economic consequences.
The problems of a well-meaning self-sabotage are nothing new. Historians of the biblical era have also written about such policy struggles.
Bryan Caplan, who's been quite abnormally political these last few days, bemoans the aversion to relevant hypotheticals among some candidates who refuse to give revealing answers to apt questions....Hillary and Mitt in particular.
After citing, run around non-answers to critical questions on Iran and Iraq, he says:
I don't know what's more pathetic: The answers themselves, or the fact that answers like these actually help win elections.
I'd say the latter....though it's close.
Finally, keeping in the spirit of the previous link, we have Caplan again on Dumb and Dumber in the debates.
The nature of most of the stuff our aspiring leaders say during debates is "simplistic" to varying degrees, says Caplan.
Citing a Richardson quote on Darfur, Caplan says:
It's still simplistic, but at least Richardson thinks about U.S. strategy, other countries' response to the U.S. strategy, and the U.S. response to their response. When they talk foreign policy, candidates in both parties often rise to this level.
I agree, though I don't find Richardson's answer to be anywhere the near the worst I've seen. And considering Caplan's views on foreign policy, I think he'd agree (see Iraq, Iran, GWOT etc.).
But on Domestic (usually economic...Caplan's area of expertise) policy, Caplan sees "dumb" taken to dizzying heights all the time.
He makes a very apt and good comment about political rhetoric on many domestic policies:
candidates usually describe their intentions, propose a policy, and "infer" that the policy will achieve those intentions. The only strategic issue: Will our opponents spend money to prevent the policy from happening? They virtually never ask: How will people actually respond to our policy, if implemented? Take Obama on health care:
My belief is that most families want health care but they can't afford it. And so my emphasis is on driving down the costs, taking on the insurance companies, making sure that they are limited in the ability to extract profits and deny coverage; that we make sure the drug companies have to do what's right by their patients instead of simply hording their profits. If we do those things, then I believe that we can drive down the costs for families.
Gee, is it possible that insurance companies and drug companies might change their behavior if you limit their ability to "extract profits and deny coverage" and "make sure" they "do what's right by their patients instead of simply hoarding their profits"? That kind of question isn't on the agenda of either party.
I agree with his sentiment but think an easier way of putting it is:
Do you think that just passing a simple law will get your result? Do politicians ever consider new unforeseen realities that spring from such action?
He says pols at least consider strategy with foreign policy since they're talking about influencing players outside their jurisdiction. But with domestic policy, ideas are treated as static, in a vacuum and FINAL since the players and actors are subordinate to their laws.
It's quite normal to realize foreign policy action isn't a guaranteed way to a desired result but it's silly to simply assume domestic policy is.
An extremely simple and crude analogy:
An aspiring mayor could claim that simply blocking some traffic from a crowded and dangerous motorway will reduce accidents. In such a case, I doubt people are naive enough to not consider the averse effects it will have on other roads that blockers drivers will use instead. It's really no different when discussing complex economic policy. In the "traffic blocking" example, voters would demand to know his full view on the matter and ask questions about side effects. Why isn't economic policy treated the same way?
Even the truly naive realize that if the U.S. passes a law saying that Iranians can't do something, it might blow up in our face. But if the U.S. passes a law saying that American drug companies can't do something, the truly naive think they've solved their problem.
And of course, if you're trying to win votes in a presidential primary, the truly naive are your target audience.