Monday, January 16, 2012

Ideological Pap or Substance

In an article in the New York Times yesterday titled "What the Right Gets Right" Thomas Edsall responded to an earlier question about what conservatives understand.   He asks in the second paragraph "What insights, principles and analyses does this movement have to offer that liberals and Democrats might want to take into account?"   It is a good question.  Unfortunately, Mr. Edsall seems predisposed to ignore the answers.

He began the article with his interest in an "intriguing and unexpected debate" about the dangers of what Joseph Schumpeter called "creative destruction."  I do not believe that the nattering in the GOP primary about Governor Romney's role at Bain Capital is actually a substantive debate.   It is an example of increasingly desperate candidates like Gingrich trying to bring back the limelight to themselves.  There may be a reason to discuss the long term implications of the changing face of the economy (indeed two recent short E-books do just that - The Great Stagnation (Tyler Cowen) and Race Against the Machine (Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee) - both can be purchased for less than $8.)

Even if the discussions about Bain Capital are indeed substantive, Edsall ignores some very good information.   He had posed the question to conservative think tanks like Heritage - how would conservatives deal with issues like unemployment, government benefits or "losers" in the new economy.  Heritage was diligent enough to send him a set of policy papers which he said "evaded the question and in my view amounted to ideological pap."   Well Mr. Edsall what then would you describe as substance?

Take one issue - unemployment - which you listed first.   The first paper from Heritage was in my opinion, a good discussion of why extending unemployment benefits actually exacerbates the problem of unemployment.   If he had bothered to read the paper instead of reacting to it, he would discover that the heritage people actually argue that the extension of unemployment benefits to 99 weeks increases unemployment by .5-1.5% and actually increases the duration of unemployment by five to eleven weeks.  The paper even quotes one of President Obama's economists in support of their research.   Had the conservative approach been followed unemployment might actually have been lower today.

Edsall's solution to his problem is to consult with a bunch of intellectuals from the left.  They came up with some characterizations that were interesting but were opinions not " insights, principles and analyses .. that liberals and Democrats might want to take into account?"   Ultimately, the divisions in the American political system would be improved a bit if both sides bothered to read what the other lays down as analysis.  

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