17 March 2011

Symbolism is immoral

Agreement is hard

Especially when people disagree over the evidence before they start disagreeing over the eventual value sets they are deploying. I'd note that this is a common problem for libertarians both with left and right leaning persons; that they are more interested in complex signaling games rather than the actual effect and efficient methods of their purported policy preferences. So we get minimum wage laws and rent controls, even though these are actually empirically harmful to poor people from the left, and we get anti-drug criminalization, SWAT raids, and ever more proposed invasions for "regime changes" from the right.

There are however two differences
1) The right is more diligent in defending its "evidence", to the point of denying reality in order to advance claims of success. (ie, deposing Saddam caused the Egyptian revolt against Mubarak several years later... ). Liberals/lefties seem to accept more readily when they are wrong about most things empirical (economic data).
2) The right is less diligent in defending its value set. It's emotionally harder to argue against something like "But I want to do something to help poor people", even if what they are proposing to do has nothing to do with helping poor people. It's a lot harder to argue for something like "we should repress non-white poor people around the globe to provide more comfort and security for white middle class people". But these do appear to be the symbolism involved for meaningless and ineffectual policies. Maybe there's some better conception for right-wingers to be made, but I'd be extremely skeptical that it holds up.

Another similar vein
to recommend.

Some of these are particularly interesting claims.
1) "Suggesting money matters in politics more than empirical evidence indicates" - This comes up all the time, as we then see things like the evil Koch empire as the orchestrated villain opposing everything on the left. Nevermind what they actually do with their money, or that there are left organs doing the same things, or opposing them, and thus canceling each other out. Or that having more money available doesn't avail candidates of easy political victories.
2) Evaluating political programmes on a case by case basis rather than as part of the whole budget. This one does seem like a problem of not prioritizing trade-offs. Government cannot do everything.
3) Reluctance to use public choice theories - this comes up a lot with regulatory capture.
4) "Sins of omission". I love this one. Back during the banking crisis, there was this refrain of "we need more regulation". The correct refrain was we need "better regulation", and probably less. Given what I've learned about the extent and inanity of regulation on the local or state level, I'm confident we need LESS. Much less regulation. Not more.
5) Labor unions as awesome sauce. Not so much historically.
6) Fiscal>Monetary. Not so much. We'd have been a lot better off if most of these Keynesians had reversed this equation.
11) I've seen the same problem from right-wing non economists (ie, keep your hands off my medicare!), and I'd say part of the reason this debate isn't had is that right-wing media makes hay of "death panels" whenever the idea comes up. Even though ANY reasonably affordable medical and health system results in decisions that will lead to some people dying who could be saved with proper medical care. Asking why insurance company bureaucrats are inherently better than government ones doesn't get you anywhere either.
13) I'm not sure that right-wing non-economists are willing to face up to the success of Denmark or Sweden (Europe is socialists!, never mind that those two actually have much less economic regulation, and thus more economic freedom, than we do), but there are certainly issues with left-wing non-economists facing up to Chile and Singapore. If there's a similar disconnect at the academic level, that's a problem.
1b) That whole inflation fear is really, really infectious and dangerous. It more or less caused the second depression in 1937, and it's not helping us very much right now either. If you really want austerity from governments, one way to get there is to let monetary policy run the ball instead of fiscal. Part of this is a nationalistic insistence on "strong currency". Even though this results in trade imbalances.
3b) The tax debate is really annoying. I shouldn't have to keep pointing at Laffer curves and ask what major economic harms are caused or avoided by keeping marginal tax rates down 3%.
5b) If we really want those HSAs, you're still going to have to have mandates to make it work. I'm okay with that as long as taxpayers have more control than governments because there does seem to be a modest public goods case for access to appropriate health care. And HSAs are at least less expensive and look more like actual insurance than the American conception of "health insurance"
6b) Attacking the ACA is a blood sport for right-wing economists, and it's certain that some of these cost controls are toothless. Some are not.
9b) Market failures are overlooked. Government failures (such as regulatory capture) are easy to find too, but actual market behavior which fails under these regulatory regimes is still a problem.
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