Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Conversations" and "root causes"

When you hear talk of "root causes," guard your wallet.  The current White House summit re terrorism is looking for its root causes.  In fact, the WSJ's Dan Henninger quotes Susan Rice: “Before I go through the elements of this strategy, I want to note how our approach may differ from what others may recommend. We believe in the importance of economic growth, but we insist upon investing in the foundations of American power: education and health care; clean energy and basic research.”

To "invest" is Washington-speak for funding cronies. I wish the White House summit good luck but applying what sound like ever more "War on Poverty" programs to any old problem is not promising.  Bernard Lewis and Timur Kuran have worked hard to understand why so many of today's Muslim societies have a problem with modernity.

Over 50 years ago, Daniel Moynihan suggested that cultural trends cannot be ignored when explaining poverty, especially inner city black poverty.  He was ignored in favor of a barrage of "programs". What do we have after all these years and programs? Steady hand-wringing over "increasing inequality."  Doubling down on all this, as the WH conference and Susan Rice's remarks suggest, is not at all promising.  Quite the opposite.

We cannot easily prompt cultural awakenings but economic growth is a good place to start -- for its own sake as well as for the ancillary benefits.  Perhaps the WH conferees can look at U.S. trade and agricultural policies and how they hurt poor farmers abroad.  (Briefly touched on by Russ Roberts and Daniel Sumner.) Policy wonks who love "conversations" can work on this one.


Here is Arnold Kling on the WH summit.  He does not know whether to laugh or cry.