Thursday, June 09, 2016

Not just the toadies

There used to be political economy. Then they split into political science and economic science (official title of the Nobel in economics). Scientism is the problem. Economics without the political context sounds pointless, as does politics without the economic context. Ask any historian.

The U.S. presidency looks like a lose-lose deal. Both major party candidates, polls show, have unusually high "negatives". So why have the markets not panicked? The U.S. dollar and the stock market remain strong. The explanation I like best is that U.S. institutions are strong enough to withstand whatever politics throws at them.

But riddle me this. How do intellectuals keep the faith keep the faith in spite of evidence they have assembled and published? This is the topic that James L. Payne tackles brilliantly in "Government Fails, Long Live Government!: The Rise of 'Failurism'" in the current Independent Review. This is gated for a few months but do get it, even buy the app.(!)

The evidence against the efficacy of government policies and programs has been piling up for some years. Payne cites the writings of E.J. Dionne, Philip K. Howard, Jonathan Rauch, Steven M. Gillon, Derek Bok, Thomas E. Mann, Norma J. Ornstein, Richard A. Clark, Paul C. Light, Lawrence Lessig, John J. DiIullio, Peter H. Schuck. All of them report government failures -- and go on embracing the idea that government can and will "solve" problems. Payne notes that, "[t]hese works of censure are remarkable in one odd respect, however: the authors remain steadfastly loyal to big government and suggest no significant reduction in its scope."

That old-time religion. Yes, the evidence has been piling up as never before but we still get Clinton-Sanders-Trump. It is not just the cheering toadies seen on the evening news but also some of our best and brightest.