The Reinhart-Rogoff Two-Step

by Henry on April 26, 2013

Paul Krugman on the latest Reinhart-Rogoff self-defense

OK, Reinhart and Rogoff have said their piece. I’d say that they’re still trying to have it both ways, on two fronts. They deny asserting that the debt-growth relationship is causal, but keep making statements that insinuate that it is. And they deny having been strong austerity advocates – but they were happy to bask in the celebrity that came with their adoption as austerian mascots, and never to my knowledge spoke out to condemn all the “eek! 90 percent!” rhetoric that was used to justify sharp austerity right now.

Maybe worth noting that this is a variant of John Holbo’s Two-Step of Terrific Triviality

To put it another way, Goldberg is making a standard rhetorical move which has no accepted name, but which really needs one. I call it ‘the two-step of terrific triviality’. Say something that is ambiguous between something so strong it is absurd and so weak that it would be absurd even to mention it. When attacked, hop from foot to foot as necessary, keeping a serious expression on your face. With luck, you will be able to generate the mistaken impression that you haven’t been knocked flat, by rights. As a result, the thing that you said which was absurdly strong will appear to have some obscure grain of truth in it. Even though you have provided no reason to think so.

{ 72 comments }

1

P O'Neill 04.26.13 at 2:32 pm

I like Wolfgang Munchau’s line on the row —

The Harvard economists’ tragedy is not the misuse of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet but the misuse of Microsoft PowerPoint.

2

downing street memo 04.26.13 at 3:56 pm

This two-step is essentially Yglesias’ approach to his bit of sociopathy on Bangladesh.

3

Hidari 04.26.13 at 5:09 pm

It cannot be said often enough that Steven Pinker’s entire career is based on variations of the Two-Step of Terrific Triviality. Sam Harris’s career, on the other hand, is based on the One Step of Being a Complete Fucking Nutjob, so it just goes to show.

4

Armando 04.26.13 at 5:15 pm

That’s more than a little unfair to Pinker – I’m thinking of The Language Instinct here – especially if the comparison is to Jonah Goldberg.

Its bang on the money with respect to Reinhart-Rogoff however.

5

Barry 04.26.13 at 5:41 pm

IMHO R&R are going to be like people who got a slap on the wrist for ‘drunkenly shooting up the woods’ when they were actually aiming at somebody and hoping to commit murder. Their excel error is really trivial; it looks like they quite deliberately trimmed data to fit their hypothesis (from http://www.nextnewdeal.net/rortybomb/researchers-finally-replicated-reinhart-rogoff-and-there-are-serious-problems):

“Selective Exclusions. Reinhart-Rogoff use 1946-2009 as their period, with the main difference among countries being their starting year. In their data set, there are 110 years of data available for countries that have a debt/GDP over 90 percent, but they only use 96 of those years. The paper didn’t disclose which years they excluded or why.

Herndon-Ash-Pollin find that they exclude Australia (1946-1950), New Zealand (1946-1949), and Canada (1946-1950). This has consequences, as these countries have high-debt and solid growth. Canada had debt-to-GDP over 90 percent during this period and 3 percent growth. New Zealand had a debt/GDP over 90 percent from 1946-1951. If you use the average growth rate across all those years it is 2.58 percent. If you only use the last year, as Reinhart-Rogoff does, it has a growth rate of -7.6 percent. That’s a big difference, especially considering how they weigh the countries.”

The article goes on to discuss weighting, where (for example) 19 years of England’s behavior contrary to their hypothesis averages with one year of New Zealand’s behavior in accordance with their hypothesis to yield an ‘average’ which was in favor of their hypothesis. Without, of course, disclosing that they were weighting or how they were weighting.

IMHO, R&R should at this point be on trial for academic misconduct and fraud.
(To be honest, in their defense they could plead ‘service to the elites’, ‘macroeconomics’, and ‘Harvard’, so their defense would be pretty solid)

6

Herman 04.26.13 at 6:42 pm

Nice name.
But in fact Krugman is being too kind. There is more than the Two-Step of Terrific Triviality involved here.
Krugman:
“… they deny having been strong austerity advocates”

If this is what R-R actually said, then it is an outright lie.

In fact R-R say:
“Our consistent advice has been to avoid withdrawing fiscal stimulus too quickly”

This is indeed a lie.

Testimony to Senators:

Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia and always a gentleman, stood up to ask his question: “Do we need to act this year? Is it better to act quickly?”

“Absolutely,” Rogoff said. “Not acting moves the risk closer,”

7

Barry 04.26.13 at 6:45 pm

Which is a strong causal statement.

I’d like to point out that they are now lying in their explanation (I’m too lazy to chase this down, but I’ve seen links to additional times where they claimed causality).

I don’t want to disrupt the thread, but this is what I mean a few posts ago when I said that Harvard ‘has no floor’ – they have world-level elites, but also peddlers of pure BS.

8

Harold 04.26.13 at 7:06 pm

Harvard has right-wing think tanks labeled the “Program on Education Policy at the Kennedy School of Government”, “The Graduate School of Education”, and the Department of “Economics” that turn out press releases labeled working “research papers” pushing policies favored by the right-wing ideologues that fund them. Some of the leaders of these think tanks are also associated with Stanford’s Hoover Institution, which is funded by the same characters.

9

MapMaker 04.26.13 at 7:44 pm

Both Krugman and R&R support austerity.

Krugman wants to do it “later”, addressing the entitlement and demographic changes that lead a structural imbalance in SS & Medicare and after spending more stimulus today to support the current economy. R&R have not agreed with the latter part of that.

A big fight considering their differences aren’t too big … and I think Krugman is full of it that the US will address structural issues later … “kicking the can” is how governments work, in the US and Europe. It keeps them winning elections.

10

subdoxastic 04.26.13 at 8:34 pm

@Harold:

What a coincidence! Just ran into a situation at work regarding Harvard’s PEP@KSG. A Brookings Institution blog was forwarded to me by my higher ups. Blog was written by Thomas J Kane (of H.’s grad school of education and Centre for Educational Policy research) touting benefits of student evals of teachers at primary/secondary levels. Referenced results from Bill &Melinda’s foundation work with Measuring Effective Teach(ers/ing). Claim based on research done for MET by Cambridge education (have not googled their principals yet)using their “Tripod” survey. Tripod developed by Ronald Ferguson (of H.’s Grad scool of Education, & KSG).

Problem was the list of publications on Ferguson’s bio page at HKS doesn’t show any publications by him in this area prior to the release of the MET/Cambridge Ed. results. Did Kane confuse one Harvard man for another? A database search (ERC and ERIC) turned up bupkiss for Tripod and nothing Tripod ‘related’ for Ferguson. I couldn’t find any publications on the background (constructs etc)/methodology or results peer reviewed or otherwise– except for the MET’s final report. MET disappoints in it’s description of methodology etc. I’d love to see a true, top notch stats guyt look over it.

If anyone on the site knows about Tripod I’d reaaly appreciate any insight they could provide.

Re: the the Hoover Institute– the list of fellows doesn’t inspire confidence, but I know that Eric Hanushek gets a lot of traction. Haven’t had the time to give his work (and any attendant criticism) a thorough going over. I know some of the stuff he’s put out there is highly contested (rigtly or wrongly).

11

Martin Bento 04.26.13 at 8:41 pm

Look, is this not fraud? They didn’t just make a spreadsheet error, as Barry points out, they cooked the data. We need to state this as bluntly and ubiquitously as possible. We should refer to their results, not as “Reinhart-Rogoff”, nor as the “Reinhart-Rogoff thesis”, “Reinhart-Rogoff paper”, “Reinhart-Rogoff hypothesis”, nor even “Reinhart-Rogoff two-step”, save as an auxiliary offense. It is the “Reinhart-Rogoff Fraud”. Call it that, let others dispute it, and then bring up, not spreadsheet errors that the youth can write off as the technological ineptitude of gramma and grampa, but the cooking of data. Tattoo the word “Fraud” to their foreheads. Let sophomores point them out to Freshmen in the quad, going “yeah, that’s the Fraud guy. Isn’t it amazing that he still teaches here?”

I asked in the other thread on this if there were consequences in academia for this sort of thing. Kind of a rhetorical question, but Bruce gave me an elaborate and informed no. So if the only consequences are reputational, at least let those count. These clowns are still being protected by academic gentility. No need for inflammatory or hostile rhetoric, but the charge of fraud seems to me sustainable as a matter of fact. Does anyone think it is not?

I think this also applies to those who rush to the popular press with politically inflammatory claims supported by private data that has been neither peer-reviewed nor made public. Yes, I’m looking at you, Malhotra.

12

AcademicLurker 04.26.13 at 9:19 pm

“I asked in the other thread on this if there were consequences in academia economics for this sort of thing. Kind of a rhetorical question, but Bruce gave me an elaborate and informed no.”

Economic /= all of academia (thank goodness).

13

AcademicLurker 04.26.13 at 9:20 pm

That should read Economics /= all of academia.

14

john c. halasz 04.26.13 at 9:23 pm

Stephen Colbert got it right: call them Rogaine and Bravehart from now on.

15

Martin Bento 04.26.13 at 9:31 pm

Well, the article by Malhotra and Margalit I referenced wasn’t economics. They had purported to establish that Democrats were more antisemitic than Republicans. Here’s their article, and the discussion on it from this site. Figure there’s going to be any consequences for them? It does seem that their claims are being dismissed by the likes of the ADL, so that’s something.

16

Martin Bento 04.26.13 at 9:35 pm

Link error. Here is the discussion from this site.

17

John Quiggin 04.26.13 at 10:07 pm

“Both Krugman and R&R support austerity. ”

As, of course, did Keynes “The boom, not the slump is the time for austerity”.

On Pinker, I made the two-step point avant le nom in this review of The Blank Slate

Even more common in the [nature-nurture] debate is the tendency to put forward a strong version of a theory but, when it comes under attack, to retreat to a version so moderate and reasonable in its claims that no one can seriously object to it. In the case of the nature-nurture debate, the ‘strength’ of a position can be crudely assessed in terms of the percentage weights allocated to nature and nurture. In various defensive passages, Pinker appears to imply that his criticism is directed solely at ‘100 per cent’ nurturists like the behaviorists Watson and Skinner and the most extreme proponents of postmodernism. But it is clear from reading the book as a whole, that Pinker wants to claim a dominant role for genes, at least in relation to issues of real social concern.

18

Timothy Scriven 04.26.13 at 11:20 pm

From memory G.E. Moore talks about this as a standard trope in philosophy, moving quickly between claims that are trivial and claims that are absurd, and I’ve definitely heard similar stuff elsewhere. People have been complaining about the two-step for a long time, but it doesn’t seem to have developed an accepted name.

19

Frank de Libero 04.26.13 at 11:24 pm

Henry,
I believe what you (and Holbo) describe is referred to as the fallacy of equivocation (http://www.lsat-center.com/lsatc4s3a.htm).

Thank you for the Aeon article. Also, after reading it I ordered Crouch’s 2005 book.

Ciao..Frank

20

john c. halasz 04.26.13 at 11:59 pm

@18:
But G.E. Moore was both trivial and absurd. Wittgenstein was reported to have remarked about him that he was simply amazing: he shows how far a man can get in an academic career without possessing any intelligence whatsoever.

21

Harold 04.27.13 at 12:04 am

subdoxastic @ 10 It’s an incredible echo chamber and hall of mirrors.
Thomas J. Kane’s curriculum vitae shows that he was a fellow of the Hoover Institution and a Deputy Director, U.S. Education 11/2008-5/2012 at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He has a BA from Notre Dame and an MA in Economics from U Mich. He started out as a teaching fellow at the Kennedy School of Government in 1986 and has a PhD in Public Policy from the Kennedy School:

http://www.nber.org/vitae/vita294.pdf
Employment:
Professor of Education and Economics 7/2005-Present
Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard University
Faculty Director of Harvard Center for Education Policy Research [at the Kennedy School of Government] 7/2005-Present
Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard University
Deputy Director, U.S. Education 11/2008-5/2012
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Professor of Policy Studies and Economics 7/2001-6/2005
University of California- Los Angeles
Vice Chair of the Department of Policy Studies 7/2002-6/2004
University of California- Los Angeles
Non-Resident Senior Fellow 6/2001-6/2003
Brookings Institution
National Fellow 9/2000-7/2001
Hoover Institution, Stanford University
Associate Professor of Public Policy 7/1997-6/2001
Kennedy School of Government, Harvard UniversityAssistant Professor of Public Policy 7/1991-6/1997
Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Senior Economist for Labor, Education and Welfare 8/1995-6/1996
Council of Economic Advisers, Executive Office of the President of the United States
Visiting Fellow 9/1994-7/1995, 6/1996-8/1996
Brookings Institution
Faculty Research Fellow 1/1992-Present
National Bureau of Economic Research
Research Assistant, Research Fellow and Teaching Fellow 1986-1991
Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

22

Harold 04.27.13 at 12:11 am

See also http://www.educationsector.org/publications/market-forces-professor-paul-petersons-influential-protégés

About Paul Peterson, who believes in the “creative destruction” – his term — by “market forces” of the US public school system.

Note: I believe Michelle Rhee may be one of his protégés. She holds an MA in public policy from the Kennedy School. (I’d like to see her MA thesis).

23

Tim Wilkinson 04.27.13 at 12:35 am

The Excel ‘error’ (not really that easy an error to make, under any plausible scenario of how the spreadsheet was constructed) did perform a clear function – it dropped ‘average’ growth to below zero in the debt>90%GDP column. This clearly provides – and would be expected to provide – the basis for spawning eye-catching and rhetorically effective propaganda factoids.

So in that respect it was not entirely trivial, and I don’t think in the circs one can presume it to have been a cock-up either, in which case it obviously becomes non-trivial from an ethical standpoint.

The fact that the country names are sorted in reverse alpha order may have been part of an attempt to try and make the error look more plausibly accidental, excluded figures being at the bottom might be thought somehow more likely to be done by mistake – I think psychologically it looks less glaring, but also the formulae are less obviously disparate, so might be thought more likely to have been missed when these simple calculations were double and triple checked.

This last point does not necessarily increase the probability that R&R made the error deliberately – if the hypothesis is accepted (as on balance and in the circs I think it should be) it only establishes a post-hoc coverup, since there’s no reason as far as I know to suppose that the spreadsheet that was eventually released to show R&R’s working was not prepared for the purpose.

Though incidentally this engages a further point, which is that when they did release the spreadsheet, being on notice that it was going to be scrutinised to find out why no-one else could replicate the findings, they would surely have looked closely at it at that point – supposing that they did not already know about the supposed error – and yet they supposedly didn’t spot it even then, or if they did they didn’t come clean about it and admit that they’d discovered it. There are three reason why they might have chosen not to mention it – 1. they hoped it would go undiscovered (this seems implausible). 2. they thought that even though it would be discovered, it would be better from a headline-management/information dynamics point of view not to put an open admission on the record to be quoted, 3. allowing someone else to find it helps – in a nebulous way – to make it look accidental and might also be taken to suggest that it was difficult to spot. In eth circumstances, my own opinion, at maybe around 80% confidence, would be that it was a combination of 2 and 3, and that the initial ‘error’ wasn’t done by mistake, but for the reason suggested above.

Still, it is perhaps better to focus on the other aspects of the fraud, which perhaps can’t so easily be passed off as cock-up or coverup. (Though they can of course pretend that they chose their bizarre methodology arbitrarily, without regard to the results that it generated. That may even be true, in a sense; who knows how many other times they might have had a little fiddle around with a spreadsheet but not encountered an ‘interesting’ result that they ‘needed to get out there’ (cf. Malhotra & Margalit).

In general, when studies and their methodologies, null hypotheses etc. aren’t required to be pre-registered before being conducted, this meta level of selection bias – sumbission bias, by analogy with publication bias – is likely to be happening all the time, and since the academic profession seems incapable of regulating itself by detecting and ejecting its bent practioners, the outlook is not good. I’m reminded of the rather endearingfly but still worryingly ingenuous report by Mark Thoma in his comments about the very R&R hoax currently under discussion:

when I was a new assistant professor Milton Friedman presented some work at a conference that impressed me quite a bit. He resurrected a theoretical paper he had written 25 years earlier (it was his plucking model of aggregate fluctuations), and tested it against the data that had accumulated in the time since he had published his work.

24

Tim Wilkinson 04.27.13 at 12:59 am

JQ: that Keynes quote seems a bit strained as a citation of support for austerity as the term is generally used: he’s talking – isn’t he? – about running a budget surplus in boom times, whereas austerity generally means belt-tightening and some degree of hardship. If that’s right, then ‘austerity’ would seem only to be applicable in lean times, and also to imply some sort of cuts to consumption, rather than, say, increased taxation.

On the two-step – I think it’s certainly right to generalise JH’s formulation to take in any strategic vaccillation between stronger and weaker theses, and not to limit it to trivial/absurd pairs. Another example might be the tendency of neoliberal economists to keep a stock of caveats in the bottom drawer, and to make piecemeal but non-cumulative concessions to reality, while still sticking to the degenerate model of efficient markets, general equilibrium under perfect competition, etc.

The closest of the classical rhetorical devices would be metanioa, a.k.a. correctio – in which typically the stronger proposition is put forward for effect, while the weaker is included to fend off criticism.

It’s a way of disrupting the normal process of interpretative charity by incorporating self-contradiction (something that deconstructionist types, in that extravagantly oversimplifying way that is typical of ‘Theory’ in general, tend to devalue by supposing it’s present everywhere). The stronger thesis is clearly the take-home message, so it tends to get taken home, while on the other hand the weaker thesis is clearly the one that’s aiming at accuracy, so only that gets scrutinised closely. Of course this doesn’t really make consistent sense, but that’s the nature of the beast.

25

Tim Wilkinson 04.27.13 at 1:00 am

vacillation, I mean

26

GiT 04.27.13 at 1:26 am

A commenter noted this somewhere else on this kerfuffle. I think it rather recommends the tar and feather the Harvard frauds tack:

“NBER – not refereed.

AER Paper and Proceedings – not refereed.

Journal of Economic Perspectives – not refereed.

Book – not refereed.”

27

lupita 04.27.13 at 3:38 am

R&R should not be judged on their interpretation of past data but on their ability to make data move in the future. The game works this way: given R&R’s prestige and credentials, quants incorporate their 90% debt/GDP ratio into their algorithms and, when a country hits it, speculators sell, repatriate capital, lose confidence, call in loans, all at the same time, and the country crashes.

So wait. They can still claim victory.

28

Mario 04.27.13 at 5:12 am

To follow up GiT @#26, it seems that the “fraud” story is leaving out a rather large structural component: namely, that much of economics has largely moved off peer review. The “good stuff,” as a colleague put it to me, is in working papers. Peer-review apparently serves to validate post-hoc.

So it shouldn’t be that surprising, all in all, that once the single academic mechanism for signaling quality information has been undermined, fraud should occur…which one would think that economics might have had some prediction about…

(Can I double scare-quote “good” above?)

29

Harold 04.27.13 at 6:03 am

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Geryon.jpg

Fraud: the monster with the face of an honest man.

30

Tim Worstall 04.27.13 at 9:28 am

There’s a political problem with entirely casting R&R from the temple over this.

This paper was derived from their research into sovereign defaults over the centuries. The database that went into “This Time is Different”.

Yes, this paper was wrong. But throwing out the earlier work as well cuts off an entirely different political option, one that (IMHO) is vital in the euro discussions. Because what TTID shows is that sovereign default is often the best of a bad set of options. At 120% of GDP, 150%, whatever, defaulting and starting again causes a great deal less human grief and suffering than the austerity required to try and get the ratio down again.

Flat out default, inflationary default, currency default: they’re better options than the internal devaluations that are the current EU/ECB impositions of “austerity”.

Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus (and presumably, soon enough, the Netherlands, Italy and Belgium) would be better served by keeping that evidence alive, default as a political option, than by throwing all of R&R’s work out the window.

31

John Quiggin 04.27.13 at 9:55 am

@Tim Wilkinson: Until the recent crisis, the term “austerity” was mostly used in relation to Britain in the years after 1945, which was, at least in macroeconomic terms, a boom period, and saw among other things the introduction of the NHS.

As regards this thread, MapMaker asserted that Krugman was in favor of austerity, but this assertion relies on the Keynesian idea of fiscal contraction/austerity as the appropriate policy in boom periods.

32

Metatone 04.27.13 at 11:05 am

@Tim Worstall – no good preserving TTID if the database is flawed. It should be put under review… that’s what we do with medical researchers who turn out to have fiddled figures in one paper – all their other important papers/datasets are put into limbo while they are verified.

And at the same time, researchers in all sorts of fields who engage in the kind of methodological irregularities that R&R engaged in (beyond the Excel, they dropped inconvenient data points without explanation or justification and used odd averaging techniques too) – researchers who do that lose a lot of reputation. It seems very odd to me how many economists have circled the wagons on this to try and avoid R&R being held to account. Most of them use a variation of your opinion… but it’s weak, it’s almost always the case that bad apples did some good work, that’s how they got into the position to defraud the academic discipline in the first place…

33

Tim Worstall 04.27.13 at 12:21 pm

” no good preserving TTID if the database is flawed.”

Not sure the TTID one is. It was certainly mismanipulated in this paper, yes. But that’s conclusions being drawn from the data, not the data itself.

“which was, at least in macroeconomic terms, a boom period, and saw among other things the introduction of the NHS. “

And that’s a conjunction I’ve not understood. Yes, I agree with both points, it was a boom (to the point that they ran budget surpluses) and they did indeed introduce the NHS. But the NHS was simply the nationalisation of the extant health care system. This isn’t a macroeconomic event in any manner.

First new NHS hospital wasn’t until 1963.

This is nothing to do with whether the NHS was a good or bad idea: it’s just an observation that the introduction of it wasn’t something that depended on government investment.

34

Sasha Clarkson 04.27.13 at 12:31 pm

To paraphrase Humbert Wolfe:

“You cannot hope to bribe or twist,
the “serious” economist.

But, seeing what the type will do
unbribed, there’s no occasion to.”

As with journalism, overt bribery isn’t necessary when acclaim and reward go automatically to those who dance to the right tune.

35

Chris Bertram 04.27.13 at 1:41 pm

Timothy Scriven: maybe you’re thinking about J.L. Austin, “There’s the bit where you say it and the bit where you take it back.”? Sense and Sensibilia.

36

subdoxastic 04.27.13 at 2:23 pm

@Harold

Thanks for extra info and links.

37

Anarcissie 04.27.13 at 2:36 pm

I’m not understanding why Reinhart and Rogoff would damage their reputations by fudging politically hot work in such a way that the fraud was fairly likely to be exposed, unless cheesy fraud is explicitly approved by their leaders or paymasters. I would think a higher quality of lying would be demanded of people at their level of the food chain.

38

Roger Nowosielski 04.27.13 at 2:53 pm

@ 20

Was that W’s account of G. E. Moore? I don’t think Malcolm would agree.

Trying to recollect the context on that Austin quote, CB. Can you help?

39

Roger Nowosielski 04.27.13 at 3:47 pm

@37, Anarcissie

Just read the R&R defense in the NYT piece. The way I’d call it, it’s just a plain case of fudging, as you said.

Their closing statement caught my attention:

“Resolving these debt burdens usually involves a transfer, often painful, from savers to borrowers. This time is no different, and the latest academic kerfuffle should not divert our attention from that fact.”

How do you read it?

On a side note, I’m not quite so certain that “their leaders or paymasters” care enough whether the fraud is cheesy or not. Such a nonchalant attitude is very much in character with those who are in the position of power.

40

Bruce Wilder 04.27.13 at 3:57 pm

lupita @ 27: “R&R should not be judged on their interpretation of past data but on their ability to make data move in the future. . . .”

I think lupita nails it.

Their use of history pretends to be clinical, but is crafted to be useful propaganda. They aim to change the world, not to understand it.

In the history of economic ideas, their work is the latest, ironic counterpoint from the Right, of Abba Lerner’s earnest idealism and naïve confidence of 50 years ago. Post-WWII Keynesians thought that liberal and social democratic government could manage the macroeconomy, ameliorating or eliminating the business cycle, lifting all boats kumbaya. Friedman challenged their naïveté as arrogance, alternatively, denying wholesale that the economy needed to be managed at all (a fairly obvious lie), and suggesting that attempts to manage it were likely to cause bigger problems than they solved (a slightly more subtle lie). Conservative macroeconomics (e.g. the New Classicals) elaborated on the first lie; Public Choice elaborated the second lie, into a rhetorical framework in which the state, captive to private interests, is the root of all evil.

The response from the Left in the U.S. and Western Europe to the rise of these conservative critiques has been a steady retreat into neoliberalism. Fiscal policy too clumsy; monetary policy can do it all (and make millionaires into billionaires, which is surely pareto-improving, no?). The regulatory state too “burdensome” for the Right and too “captured” for the Left? Deregulate! What could go wrong?

So, now, here we are, in the wreckage of the post-GFC economy, wrought by neoliberal policy. Wondering about the academic “ethics” of Rogoff and Reinhart. Those two know who holds the butter knife, and they are getting their bread buttered. Anyone, who thinks any slander or libel of their methods or motives, however well-justified, is going to touch them, has no theory of economics or politics.

The idiocy, here, is on the Left, or on that part of the Left, which still insists that “austerity” is a “bad idea”, a mistake (as if R & R did not know how to code a spreadsheet), and the struggle of politics over policy is a war of ideas, about what policy “idea” would best further the common good.

The parlous state of the post-Democratic centre-left of liberals and erstwhile social democrats is the end result of 50 years of losing battles in this war of ideas, because they could not face the reality of the Right’s narrow ambition, to promote the good of the few and the rich and the already powerful at the expense of the many. Behind the front of this war of ideas, behind the pretense of a debate over means to pursue the common good, is the reality of a rising and selfish class, determined to make the world safe for domination. To rule and ruin, as complementary strategic objectives.

If the centre-Left, the moderates of good will, have few ideas and fewer options in our Post-Democracy, it is because they cannot seem to face the reality of a politics of class war, of a reality, where the typical business leader is a vicious, selfish, out-of-control thug, and the purpose of winning elections is to get control of the state, so you or he can use the power of the state.

There is much hand-wringing among the chattering classes on the Left about the “problem” of Inequality, as if the unequalness of income distribution is the problem, and not that so much of the economy is founded on active and aggressive parasitism and predation.

The problems of climate change, overpopulation, and peak oil loom over everything, and the Left thinks the Right is in denial. Oh, yes, the Left pridefully declares its own consciousness superior, but argues pointlessly with climate change deniers and propagandists for fracking as salvation. As if Mr. Halliburton, Dick Cheney, might have been in denial or misinformed about the implications of Peak Oil, fifteen years ago. The Titanic has hit the iceberg, and those in first class have broken into the safe and are loading the gold and jewels into their lifeboats, while the liberals and social democrats debate whether there’s any acceptable policy options for passing scraps of day-old bread to those trapped in steerage and about to drown.

Until those on the centre-Left can accept the premise that their opponents on the Right do not share an interest in the common good, there will never be any clarity in our political struggles or debates.

(And, yes I know this isn’t the Post-Democracy thread, but these ideas came together for me, here, prompted by lupita’s insight.)

41

Roger Nowosielski 04.27.13 at 4:18 pm

“Until those on the centre-Left can accept the premise that their opponents on the Right do not share an interest in the common good, there will never be any clarity in our political struggles or debates.”

Who could possibly labor under such an illusion, do tell?

In all other respects, I think your analysis is spot-on.

42

Ben Jozefowicz 04.27.13 at 4:38 pm

Bruce, for what it’s worth (and in the interest of full disclosure, probably not much), I think your points are pretty much right on.

43

Ben Jozefowicz 04.27.13 at 4:55 pm

Roger, I’m pretty sure W. said that about Moore. But it is possible it is an urban legend that took on a life of its’ own.

44

Tim Wilkinson 04.27.13 at 5:06 pm

JQ – Well, the 45-50-ish period of ‘austerity’ was a case of restricted consumption – most prominently rationing, but also cheap, low-quality goods like furniture, and this was notably not a consequence of a policy of fiscal ‘contraction’ – indeed net govt borrowing was positive through the period, as the nation and economy were rebuilt and ‘exogenous'(?) austerity thus seen off. That’s my understanding, anyway.

I suppose the cause/effect relationship between gdp growth and govt net borrowing would be important here (as it is in the case of R&R’s ‘analysis’ – on top of all their other abuses, they seem to have simply imposed their preferred causal thesis on the correlations they contrived to ‘find’).

I assume Keynes (like Tim Worstall, it seems) saw surpluses/debt paydowns as something enabled by – a response to – established booms; presumably the Keynesian idea would be (or could be) that variable spending on e.g. unemployment benefits and ‘stimulus’ spending could fall, and taxation revenues could rise, once a boom is under way. Regardless of Keynes’s vocab in that quote, I don’t think that counts as ‘austerity’ in the current sense of painful spending cuts (still less – of course – in the sense of what is also going on in the UK at present, i.e. an opportunistic attack aimed at permanently ‘rolling back’ the state.)

All this is of course still consistent with – actually, more or less necessary for – defending Krugman by pointing out that his support for so-called austerity is actually support for Keynesian surpluses rather than for some myth about ‘expansionary austerity’ or confidence fairies, still less prioritising deficit reduction over recovery, and even less for the Con’s actual project as adumbrated above.

45

Barry 04.27.13 at 5:21 pm

Seconding Roger – if there’s one lesson to be learned from the past decade or so, it’s that lies told on behalf of the elites don’t need to be good. Think of propaganda – a message is repeated a lot, and delivered in a variety of formats. Mid-level people know which messages are to be supported, which are to be mocked, and which aren’t even allowed to be mentioned.

Anarcissie 04.27.13 at 2:36 pm

” I’m not understanding why Reinhart and Rogoff would damage their reputations by fudging politically hot work in such a way that the fraud was fairly likely to be exposed, unless cheesy fraud is explicitly approved by their leaders or paymasters. I would think a higher quality of lying would be demanded of people at their level of the food chain.”

A comment I had about Congress years ago after a bribery scandal: ‘I understand that they are wh*res, but it’s amazing what cheap wh*res they are’.

If R&R’s careers are harmed in any way, shape or form by this, I’d be surprised. They’ll be able to walk into any economic conference, with their heads held high, and only a few will dare to say anything against them.

46

Anarcissie 04.28.13 at 12:45 am

@40 , @41: So, is the Center-Left going to give up on capitalism?

47

J. Michael Neal 04.28.13 at 1:14 am

Regardless of Keynes’s vocab in that quote, I don’t think that counts as ‘austerity’ in the current sense of painful spending cuts (still less – of course – in the sense of what is also going on in the UK at present, i.e. an opportunistic attack aimed at permanently ‘rolling back’ the state.)

The reason for austerity during a boom period is precisely because it isn’t painful, from a policy position, at least; whether it is painful for politicians to advocate it depends upon elements outside the realm of policy analysis) to do it then. As you point out, certain forms of spending go down automatically and tax receipts go up. Austerity right now isn’t painful because of anything inherent in austerity; it’s because all of the non-painful ways to do it are unavailable.

48

roger nowosielski 04.28.13 at 1:23 am

@ 46

Are you saying: then and only then we shall see “any clarity in our political struggles or debates”?

Just asking . . .

49

Collin Street 04.28.13 at 2:07 am

I remember reading an analysis of your typical nigerian/advance fee scams that basically boiled down to “if your email story is too convincing it’ll trick clever people too, and you don’t want that.”

Because keeping clever people tricked is chancy at the best of times and too much work regardless [and they might ask questions your other marks might hear]. Better to spin an obvious bullshit yarn that’ll only attract the most grotesquely gullible.

[also, the two most valuable demographics to advertisers are “gullible people with a lot of money” and “gullible people with easy access to credit”].

50

peter 04.28.13 at 7:23 am

Ben #43:

Wittgenstein was certainly disparaging of Moore’s lack of understanding of his work. He said this openly to Moore during his (W’s) PhD viva, where his two examiners were Russell and Moore. Apparently, Moore agreed there that he did not understand W’s work, so the viva was short.

51

Tim Worstall 04.28.13 at 9:57 am

“I assume Keynes (like Tim Worstall, it seems) saw surpluses/debt paydowns as something enabled by – a response to – established booms;”

We might assume it’s easier. Automatic stabilisers and all that. But the political pressure rather runs the other way. Look! Look! There’s all this money that wondrous things can be done with! Reading The Guardian from 2000 to 2007 (or even just Polly Toynbee’s columns in that time) gives a good list of what people came up with to spend the money on.

Keynes was (as usual) rather more subtle. Just as you should boost demand when it is deficient, you should reduce it when it’s booming. Running a budget surplus in a boom is the flip side of a deficit in a slump: it’s all demand management. Similar to the point that (I’ve forgotten who made it) a central banker’s job is to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going but referring to fiscal policy not monetary.

52

Barry 04.28.13 at 11:22 am

“We might assume it’s easier. Automatic stabilisers and all that. But the political pressure rather runs the other way. Look! Look! There’s all this money that wondrous things can be done with! Reading The Guardian from 2000 to 2007 (or even just Polly Toynbee’s columns in that time) gives a good list of what people came up with to spend the money on.”

In the USA, at least, it was a quite deliberate repeat of the Reagan era, with the added belief that the GOP could count on Democrats to deal with their mess.

53

William Timberman 04.28.13 at 2:36 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 40

I do wonder how many times and in how many different ways this has to be said. For my own part, I’m tired of saying it. I’ve never expected the message to have any effect on my enemies — they have no earthly reason to pay my concerns any attention whatsoever — but it does depress me to see my friends putting their fingers in their ears. I think I know why they do; the end of our shared pretensions often looks like the end of the world even when it’s not, and it’s human nature to be cowardly when disabused of our fundamental notions. Still, if we really are headed to the end of whatever we’re headed to the end of, it bothers me to think that anyone would prefer to meet that end like a stunned ox.

To put it yet another way, Paul Krugman is a likeable guy, but for me, at least, he’s not the herald of any plausible salvation.

54

Ben Jozefowicz 04.28.13 at 3:20 pm

Peter #50.
W. clearly liked Moore, so I don’t think he said it to be mean. But don’t you think W. was pretty much disparaging of anyone else’s depth and quality of thinking? And no one really understood him. He thought of Russell that way too. And Popper. And … well you name ’em.

55

Salient 04.28.13 at 3:38 pm

There is much hand-wringing among the chattering classes on the Left about the “problem” of Inequality, as if the unequalness of income distribution is the problem, and not that so much of the economy is founded on active and aggressive parasitism and predation.

True, though it’s dangerous to assume that these chatterers have a genuine interest in fixing inequality. Personally I think it’s more likely their priorities are different, the Center-Left being nearly identical to the “white moderate” classes Dr. MLK called out; nowadays they’re just using different language to express the same unease, distance, and privileged condescension. These are people who, had they been born 55-75 years ago, would be expressing concern that it’s “not the right time” for drastic reform.

They’re not primarily interested in solving the problem of suffering, they’re interested in solving the problem of tension between antagonists. And pretty much anyone interested in solving that problem is more interested in suppressing it, by offering to adjudicate it: “here’s where you’re right, something ought to be done. Here’s where you’re asking too much of your antagonists. Ok, glad that’s resolved! You can thank me later.” Conflict resolution by distanced adjudication only makes sense if you presume all antagonists are equally capable of representing themselves and equally deserving of representation.

You’re not going to win such a person over to one side of partisan antagonism, even if that’s what their expressed convictions should impel them to do. Their convictions are sincere to the extent that they would feel hurt and offended if you were to question them, but they hold and maintain priorities that constrain their ability to act on their convictions — mainly, the priority that standing above a conflict between parties is morally superior to contributing to it — and they reject any proposed adjustment to their priorities as extremist. Provided that I’m inferring correctly, and not just unduly cynical, it’s us on the Left Left that are better said to be wearing blinders, etc, for seeing these folks as our potential allies, as people to be won over. You can’t hope to pull someone’s head out of the clouds if they deeply value their superior cranial height.

56

Ben Jozefowicz 04.28.13 at 3:50 pm

Williamk #53

I agree with you about trying to convert the choir. Ain’t gonna work. So what do we do? Focus our energies elsewhere. 1. Talk more to people who are already somewhat sympathetic so they have a better understanding of what is going on. 2. Get them to act not just bitch. 3. Focus on young people (for me, anyone under 40), their future looks bleaker than mine. I worry about my kids and my grandchildren. 4. Look for ways to diminish the power of the enemy. Destroy or weaken their ability have an impact on policies and the economy.

57

roger nowosielski 04.28.13 at 4:08 pm

@54

That is quite correct.

58

lupita 04.28.13 at 5:18 pm

Convincing people to be leftists or elect leftists is only the beginning. Once this is achieved, other problems ensue as the Latin American experience shows. Governments can be kept in check through coup attempts, embargoes, downgrading of credit ratings, hedge fund attacks, and the existence of tax havens for the corrupt. Then there are the issues of terrorism and nuclear weapons. Any country can be suspected of harboring them with immediate effects that are worse than neoliberalism itself. Any democratically elected leader can be called a tyrant, like Chávez. Even suggesting a referendum, like Greece, can bring down its government. Cristina Fernández could not even fly into Rome for Pope Francis’ inauguration mass because vulture funds have threatened to embargo the presidential plane.

Once sufficient leftist governments are elected around the world, a lot of coordination, planning, sleight of hand, and luck will still be needed to pull this ox out of the ravine.

59

Bruce Wilder 04.28.13 at 5:36 pm

William Timberman: Paul Krugman is a likeable guy, but for me, at least, he’s not the herald of any plausible salvation.

Indeed. Because he has a certain nostalgia for the 1950s and 1960s America he grew up in (something I’ve been accused of, as well), and because he has considerable integrity, people often seem to miss the fact that he’s pretty much a conventional neoliberal. (That Nobel makes it difficult to credibly point out that he’s not much of an economist, but he’s not.) Roger Nowosielski needs to look no further, if he wants an answer to his question, “Who could possibly labor under such an illusion, do tell?”

The liberal / social democratic state of the 1950s and 1960s, was designed by a generation, which had experienced life under the “malefactors of great wealth”, who had stolen for themselves the product of the Second Industrial Revolution, creating the Gilded Age in America and the Proud Towers of European Empires. And, they were able to do it, because the massive failures of the Great Depression and two World Wars had made political solidarity a dominant fact of political life, imposing egalitarian values and the potential for mass political participation that made social welfare a purpose of government.

Quiggin’s memorial to WWI gave rise to a thread, which demonstrated how little people fathom the “social tension” (as one insightful commenter put it), which existed between proprietary government by hereditary, feudal aristocracy, and the rising forces of mass political solidarity in the form of nationalism.

I suppose, as philosophies, liberalism and social democracy have always had an ambiguous relationship with nationalism and political solidarity, embracing it in some circumstances, where the drama was appealing, and rejecting it in others, when the stink of the unwashed body politic rose up in racist sentiments or populist authoritarianism. A deep ambivalence, and reluctance to take responsibility for logical consequences, figured in some of the greatest tragedies of the 19th and 20th centuries. Reconstituting the Turks into a liberal democratic secular national state was going to require getting rid of a lot of Greeks and Armenians, and that was not going to be pretty. Manifest Destiny wasn’t going to be pleasant for the American Indian.

The secular decline in felt needs for social affiliation in the U.S. has reached a remarkable extreme. As the title of a book on the subject put it, we are bowling alone. That trend has opened up the possibility of realizing liberal ideals of tolerance and an embrace of diversity as a virtue, which I, personally, find admirable and hopeful. But, it makes it difficult to know how to organize a mass response, to elite depredations. What are our common bonds? What does it mean to merge identities into a mass group, and act in concert? To join a team, a club, let alone to join a union?

It is psychologically difficult, and painful, to admit that the great and powerful are out to get you, that you are not safe in society, that the police work for The Man, and the The Man is not nice or fair. It is a natural legacy of childhood, to deny the incompetence of parents, by extension, authority figures. And, yet, here we are, in 2013, and the elite are openly building a police state, and eating the economy alive from the bottom-up. In the last recession, 5% of the labor force was simply thrown away, and in the recovery — well the recovery only happened for the 1% (strictly speaking, it seems to have extended down to include about 7%, but I’m being poetical), everyone else is experiencing an erosion of wages. For the bottom 50%, nutrition and life expectancy are declining. The social contract has become very much like the “contract” that accompanies a Bank’s credit card — something entirely made up, and changed at will and without notice, by the Bank, to benefit the Bank, but who is willing to take up negotiating from the other side of the table, to insist that there be another side to the table, that there be a table and a negotiation?

Saying it isn’t enough, because there’s no there, there, . . . yet. No political solidarity upon which to found an organization for concerted action. It certainly isn’t going to occur in the twitterverse or on Facebook, those fishbowls designed for the police state to monitor.

60

Bruce Wilder 04.28.13 at 6:19 pm

The array of viewpoints on what might be termed, the decline of civilization, which is the product of the stasis imposed along with oppression and the net loss of total product associated with moving away from mutually beneficial social contracts, is, inevitably, going to be jarringly broad and diverse. One of the more annoying conceits (to me) of people leaning left is the presumption that we are all going to be able to reason ourselves toward a unified consensus. American liberals cannot accept that they cannot have political power, without making a durable alliance with people, for whom populist appeals make sense — their natural allies are the Fox News audience! Lots of people on the left are committed to local-ism, which might be a start on recovering community and commons, or a distraction — thinking you can solve the problems of the world by home gardening. One of the more jarring things I read yesterday was an article in the Wall Street Journal about the retirement of the bloodthirsty reactionary, Donald Kagan — definitely worth reading as a challenge to one’s sense of reality.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323789704578446614144636002.html

61

William Timberman 04.28.13 at 6:57 pm

American liberals cannot accept that they cannot have political power, without making a durable alliance with people, for whom populist appeals make sense — their natural allies are the Fox News audience!

True enough, but step one, before we even think about doing anything together, is finding — or rather founding — a shared discourse. When I say the colloquial equivalent of oligarchy, and my Fox News interlocutor says nigger in the White House — and I had almost exactly this conversation with a guy sitting on a park bench with his dog the other day in my little AZ town, including his whipping the N word on me right from the get-go — I figure talking AT them might be easier on my nerves than talking TO them. Which means, I suspect, that we need to do whatever media we can get our hands on, keeping the temptation to engage these disgruntled folks’ egos and grievances is at least once removed from an ugly personal confrontation.

62

William C 04.28.13 at 9:35 pm

To Tim Worstall @ 51

‘Similar to the point that (I’ve forgotten who made it) a central banker’s job is to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going but referring to fiscal policy not monetary.’

William McChesney Martin, I believe.

63

M Gubb 04.29.13 at 12:28 am

What hasn’t been said enough is that the single data point of New Zealand that drove the conclusions should be the one year that is excluded from any statistical analysis. For nearly half the year there was a massive waterfront strike. To include only that, and weigh it the same as the UK’s high debt economy isn’t an “error”, it’s bordering on unethical.

64

J. Goard 04.29.13 at 4:03 am

Isn’t that essentially what Daniel Dennett has termed a “deepity”?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKPhy03zNsU

He illustrates it with examples like “Love is just a word”, but the key use he makes of the concept in that talk is to call out the use-mention error in those supposed non-atheists who claim to “believe in God” because “God is a concept in people’s minds” or some such. It’s trivially true that the concept of God exists, of course (millions of them), but as Dennett points out, “the concept of a cup of coffee is not a cup of coffee.”

65

Trader Joe 04.29.13 at 12:10 pm

Salient @ 55

Well said. Those words could apply to countless social tensions not just the discussion at hand.

66

Tim Wilkinson 04.29.13 at 1:01 pm

Tim Worstall @51 – all of which supports my point. (Well, leaving aside the usual complaint about the hegemony of Polly Toynbee – and the unsurprising fact that an Adam Smith Institute type thinks some unspecified comments of hers recommend excessive government spending – which is irrelevant to Keynes’s thought. I note though that you do not seem concerned about equally fiscally irresponsible ‘political pressure’ to keep tax rates down).

Re: demand management aimed at trying to prevent the capitalist economy from going haywire. I took it as obvious that this is only ever a response to an existing boom. I also mentioned the methods whereby this could, if it were necessary, be achieved consistently with a Keynesian fiscal policy. 1. Stopping stimulus spending (i.e. spending which is discretionary, or whose timing is anyway), 2. reducing some welfare spending (assuming that this was previously at equitable levels) as permitted by increased incomes/employment, and 3. increasing the tax take – I think it should be clear enough I did not only mean keeping rates unchanged and allowing growth to increase revenues. ‘stimulus spending can fall’; ‘tax revenues can rise’ – the former describes an active policy choice; so does the latter.

It is quite important to be clear about why I only mentioned cutting ‘stimulus’ spending – taking the foot off the accelerator – and did not suggest generic ‘spending cuts’, as though the level of spending is just some abstract quantity. Other spending commitments are in place, let’s just suppose, for good reasons. Those reasons don’t disappear just because of the invisible hand’s latest lurch from recession to overheating. Cutting such non-discretionary spending – using cuts as a brake – is vandalism: closing libraries or youth clubs is not only a very bad thing in itself, often with lasting and irreversible impact on real people’s lives, but is wasteful because actual ongoing projects can’t just be costlessly be switched on and off every ten years when the ‘business cycle’ demands it.

Exactly how far Keynes would be committed to all this, I’m not exactly certain. The point is that I didn’t miss the ‘more subtle’ idea of damping demand; and as far as I know, it’s entirely in line with K’s theory to suppose that this would – and should – be achieved only by the means I described, rather than by cutting back core spending as if all that’s at stake is some vanity project of Polly Toynbee’s.

@47 – my point is that reducing govt spending in boom times is not appropriately called ‘austerity’; still less is running a budget surplus, which doesn’t even entail spending cuts but can be done by raising taxes. Austerity is austere – it’s Spartan, frugal, self-denying. (Part of its rhetorical appeal, certainly in the UK, is that it implies belt-tightening, Blitz spirit, and by implication, some kind of emergency.) I don’t know what the context of the Keynes quote is, but I wonder if he wasn’t being witty or a touch ironic in his use of the term. The fact that there’s no painless way to do austerity is a very good reason not to do it, both from a capitalism-wrangling viewpoint and from the viewpoint of not smashing up government services and supports.

Barry @45, Collin Street @49. There’s also the ‘Big Lie’ phenomenon – to be exaggeratedly respectful of Godwin’s law, I could cite ‘Intelligence and the Problem of Strategic Surprise’ by Michael I Handel: The greater the risk, the less likely it seems to be, and the less risky it becomes. Anarcissie’s difficulty in believing that what pretty clearly did happen could have happened is at least half way to being bluffed in this way: if they did it, the signs that they did it would be apparent, so we would conclude they did it. They would have known this, so they wouldn’t do it. Therefore even though the signs that they did it are apparent, we conclude that they didn’t do it.

Also – a con that with hindsight reveals the mark to have been embarassingly gullible engages their pride and desire to protect their (self-)image. When the deception comes to light, this phenomenon can function to ‘put the fix in’ i.e. prevent the mark from reporting the scam to the police or rather, in this case, from publicly acknowledging the deception. This sort of ego-protection can even shade into ‘true believer syndrome’, in which the mark refuses to believe they’ve been scammed.

67

Tim Wilkinson 04.29.13 at 1:16 pm

Bruce, William, Salient – yep. This is one reason I’m always banging on about abuses of ‘conspiracy theory’, ‘paranoid style’ etc. (As well as trying in my own small way to push the limits of acceptable discourse about actual conspiracy theories). This is an area in which bien pensant lefties not only could easily manage to relax their fastidiousness about the company they keep, but in my own opinion should do so anyway because there is a strong element of VSPism at work among the educated classes on this kind of topic which distorts a proper understanding of the world. I won’t try to reprise the whole repertoire here, but – a trifle ruefully – would single out Salient’s comment above simply because it is conveniently at hand and exemplifies a kind of too-nice approach that undermines a properly robust attitude to the serious;lyu nasty bastards we are up against:

Provided that I’m inferring correctly, and not just unduly cynical, it’s us on the Left that are better said to be wearing blinders, etc, for seeing these folks as our potential allies, as people to be won over.

The comment is otherwise a perfectly good one in my not-unduly-humble opinion, but as an exhortation to leftists to finally stop kidding themselves, take the plunge and accept that a certain kind of centre-‘left’ist is on the hypocritical-dishonest spectrum and not to be pandered to, it suffers from the sudden impingement of self-doubt expressed in the the emphasised clause, which robs Salient’s message of its force.

Another constituency that could be engaged with and accommodated in good conscience is the religious, specifically Christian, lot. This is largely a US-specific issue, so I’m not sure of my ground here. Certainly even from what I do know there are prima facie problems. Unfortunately a lot of Western/Northern Catholics, e.g. are horribly ‘conservative’ in their attitudes to socialism and so on – the infernal Ian Duncan Smith is a left-footer, for instance, not to mention Blair’s weird – but I don’t think many UK RCs would have vote for them on that basis – certainly not Blair, who I believe is rightly considered by rank and file RCs to be a touch on the sacrilegious side. And the Church hierarchy is not much interested in alleviating poverty, indeed rather likes it (cf Hitchens on Mother Theresa) and all the opportunities it gives people to concentrate on the afterlife and the Holy Spirit – as well as swelling the deeply corrupt coffers with their tiny but multitudinous contributions. Likewise, alleviating ignorance. And as for the unholy influence of Opus Dei, don’t get me started.

Oh dear I’m not doing too well at this rapprochement business, am I – but, point is, there are Hectors around (though I’m not quite sure where Hector in particular is actually coming from since on the topic of Chavism he pretty much functions as good cop to Latro/Jesus’s bad cop, enthusiastically endorsing all of Latro’s contumely, but with reversed valence) – and, notably, Michael Moore, who featured some priests in one if his anti-capitalism films. The only real definite sticking point – for the RCs and various evangelical types, not all Xians I don’t think – is abortion. Plenty of RCs ignore the recent ban on ‘artifical’ contraception, and anyway don’t try that much to stop others getting hold of it. Creationism doesn’t matter much, and I doubt Young Earth idiocy, taken literally, is anywhere near as widespread as a few very vocal and promient advocates would like us to believe – certainly RCs don’t have to believe in it. But the thing about it is that it only has the prominence it does because it’s a wedge issue and a shibboleth of Culture War – and if anyone is going to try to de-escalate that, it is surely the rational, sensitive, decent folk of the left. Soimething very similar might even apply to abortion – if what is essentially a matter of persional conscience could be de-politicised, an accomodation is not impossible – think of that film asking protestors what punishment women who have abortions should get – then subtract the aggressive sarcasm. How much good has actually been done by railing against those who would like to see abortion rights reduced? How much has the Republican party done for that cause that keeps them voting for it? I genuinely don’t know the answer to these questions, but they are certainly relevant to breaking the Right’s grip on the religous constituency. I dunno, tricky.

Another thing: the left really needs to stop pandering to this Market stuff which is a classic two-step, with the front-foot posture being ‘nothing succeeds as planned (by public institutions)’, the back foot stance really not amounting to much more than ‘we won the Cold War’, with a lot of Hayekian rhetoric and a studiedly know-nothing economics strewn around to give the appearance of cogency. Leftists need to be quite clear about this – for all Cosma Shalizi’s (and Daniel Davies’s) Very Serious stuff on the markets v planning issue, there is actually very little to it and it needs to be rejected properly and wholesale. Politically, no doubt there’s a need to be circumspect – this stuff is well-entrenched and people need to be persuaded – but there’s no need to internalise this stuff. The counterarguments (and not just from me) are dotted around all over CT, but the desire not to be extremist and to go with the flow of markets (inc oligopolistic ones) seems very strong nonetheless. Admittedly, 50+ years of politicised academic economics is a big disadvantage, but no-one needs me to point out the difficulty of the task.

68

lupita 04.29.13 at 2:45 pm

Another outcome is that the West can simply be left behind in the darkness while the rest of the world explores the possibilities. That would be a nice change.

69

roger nowosielski 04.30.13 at 3:20 pm

That is what’s already happening, Lupita.

70

roger nowosielski 04.30.13 at 4:46 pm

@ 40, 43, 59, 60, 61

Excellent exchange, Bruce and William T.

Bruce, just reread your #59 in light of your earlier #40.

Of course you’re right. I took my eye off the ball for a split second, forgetting all the while that our Left is itself clueless as to what constitutes the common good (or at least acts as if it were so); and yes, Paul Krugman is a fair representative.

Anarcissie’s #46 and my “query” in #48 (which she wisely decided to ignore) are much more to the point; so yes, I apologize for having temporarily derailed the discussion.

71

Salient 05.01.13 at 1:10 am

The comment is otherwise a perfectly good one in my not-unduly-humble opinion, but as an exhortation to leftists to finally stop kidding themselves, take the plunge and accept that a certain kind of centre-’left’ist is on the hypocritical-dishonest spectrum and not to be pandered to, it suffers from the sudden impingement of self-doubt expressed in the the emphasised clause, which robs Salient’s message of its force.

‘sudden impingement of self-doubt’ is so spot-on. Sucks to know I robbed myself. But the last sentence was probably doomed anyway, because there’s also the problem that I’ve kinda given up on the ‘a whole category of people have blinders on’ motif. It feels more and more like most of us — meaning ‘us’ in the broadest sense of politically active ppl — have at least a somewhat good handle on which groups of people are motivated to do what, at least good enough that ‘blinders’ is unproductively condescending unless applied really narrowly. That’s because a lot of claims on support are really aspirational statements. Taking them literally, it looks like the ‘blindered’ person is being naive, but really, they’re expressing a hope in a way that makes it feel emotionally compelling.

Another potentially dooming problem: I am very pro-pandering, or at least very very pro-finessing, whenever it gets good things done without abandoning whole swathes of people. But that’s irrelevant here. My argument against pandering much to the ‘chattering classes’ of the OP remains in force (whatever force wasn’t robbed) and is twofold. One, pandering is not an effective way to sway those folks; they personify inertia and at best chase after momentums already generated elsewhere. Two, pandering to them in effect requires abandoning whole swathes of people. It’s the price they demand you pay for entrance to their judicial chamber, in the name of seeming reasonable and non-extreme. So, ok, delete my force-robbing last sentence and stick in this diatribe instead:

Fuck the chattering classes. We shouldn’t let them convince us of the sincerity of their concern, even if they’ve convinced themselves. Let’s work elsewhere where we can, and let them sweep up in our wake, just inertly following the prevailing trajectory while claiming to have come in their individual adjudicating mind to some supremely well-contemplated decision to lend their support — just as they are claiming now with regard to gay marriage! I don’t know if we can rely on them never, but we sure as hell can’t rely on them now.

And fuck sudden impingements of self-doubt, too. Because.

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Eli Rabett 05.01.13 at 10:59 pm

“Britain in the years after 1945, which was, at least in macroeconomic terms, a boom period, “

With currency controls

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