Non-Leftist Reality Versus Leftist Fantasy

Reason Hit & Run has a good post defending Milton Friedman against leftists’ charges that his ideas contributed to the current financial crisis. I made the following comment:

Leftist always claim that the economic crisis du jour indicates the failure of the free market. Embedded in the assertion is the unstated premise that if leftist ran everything, we would never have economic crises. This in turn reveals the leftist’s wildly exaggerated sense of their own understanding of the economy and everything else. 
The left’s critique of Friedman in this context is especially silly because I’m pretty sure setting up giant government sponsored enterprises to buy up half the residential mortgages in the country and thereby distorting the markets assessment of risk, isn’t a plan that Friedman would have come up with. 
The left doesn’t actually have an developed system of thought regarding the economy. They can’t actually explain why the real world political process will systematically make better decisions than the free-market. Instead, they simply point to any reversals in the real economy, regardless of cause, and then assert that in their imaginations, leftist politicians could have done better. 
It’s hard to argue against people’s imagination. You end up with a discussion much like two D&D geeks arguing over whether a dwarf with a +10 axe could take an Elf with a vorpal sword.

Leftists are fantasy driven. They create elaborate fantasies and then force everyone else to argue for reality against the fantasies. The real-world system always comes out the worse in the comparison for the same reason that the people we have sex with in our fantasies are usually better looking than the people we have sex with in real life. 

The leftist fantasy argument that annoys me most is the fantasy of “alternative energy.” To hear leftists spin the tale, alternative energy is better than a fantasy paramour. It has no tradeoffs whatsoever. It’s cheap, plentiful, creates no pollution of any kind and can produce all the electricity we will ever need!  Heck, even the herculean task of reengineering the entire power grid will produce jobs and stimulate the economy! There is just no downside! Anyone who says there is a downside is either an idiot or greedily invested in non-alternative energy sources. 

Non-alternative energy sources can never compete with that kind of marketing fantasy. Real-world energy sources have real-world tradeoffs. Coal and natural gas release CO2 and other forms of pollution. Nuclear has proliferation and waste issues (although not as great as popularly assumed). We know exactly how much it costs financially to build them.

By contrast, the very fact that we don’t have decades of experience with alternative-energy sources means that their proponents can simply pull stats out of thin air to make alternative energy look better in comparison. You can’t effectively make an argument against these claims because you also don’t have any hard data to go on. 

Even more annoying, alternative-energy advocates feel entitled to paper over any obvious shortcomings of their favored technology by evoking future technological breakthroughs, but they won’t let you postulate future technological breakthroughs that would make non-alternative energy even more attractive. For example, if you point out that the dependence of wind and solar power on the vagaries of the weather make them unreliable to the point of near uselessness, proponents will breezily respond that future technological breakthroughs in power storage or distribution will overcome the reliability problem. However, if you point out that nuclear technology currently in development could create nuclear power systems that would completely recycle their waste, they will respond that we shouldn’t make any plans for nuclear power unless we have absolutely proven that the technology works. (Oh, and let’s cut funding for the research that would prove it works.)

Leftists don’t fantasize just about economics or technology. Leftists default to fantasy in every area. (Time precludes listing them all so I leave it as an exercise for the reader.) Meanwhile, non-leftists have to defend realistic systems with all their tradeoffs.  

I’m tired of it. The next time a leftist start spinning a fantasy about alternative energy, I’m going to compare weather-dependent energy to my suitcase-sized nuke that weighs 200 pounds, is fueled with recycled nuclear weapons, emits no radiation, produces no waste, generates electricity with no moving parts, cost $5,000 and cranks out enough electricity to power a full-sized freight train. 

Two can play this game. My dwarf can take their elf any day. 

40 thoughts on “Non-Leftist Reality Versus Leftist Fantasy”

  1. Excellent description of the alternate thinking methods. As a nuclear engineer, I’ve spent far too much time arguing about someone else’s fantasies.

    As to the cost of nuclear, we have a much better idea of projected costs (barring more government interference) but still can’t promise a final price since that means we know the price of concrete and construction labor 10 years from now.

    I’ve always doubted the claims that energy storage was the salvation of alternative energy. I finally sat down and worked out the basic, first order equation for the cost of electricity storage and posted it here:

    The conclusion is that more and better electric storage INCREASES the advantages of coal and nuclear over wind and solar. It makes them even WORSE deals!

  2. Bravo, great food for thought. It seems to me that there is an implied social ordering the alternative energy enthusiasts have where they, the superior, have superior fantasies that are worthy of consideration but you, their inferior, are not to be granted the same rights. That’s generally not considered acceptable in socially egalitarian america. We’re not supposed to have betters and highlighting that this is what they are doing would seem to me to be a good way to spike their guns.

  3. Robert Kennedy did the best job of illustrating the left’s fantasies. he said, “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not? ” Before you get to why not, you might try to understand why.

  4. That’s why leftists think America should emulate Europe. They go there on vacation and have a great time riding the trams, going to the museums, coffee shops, clubs, spas, etc. Everything works perfectly for the two weeks time they spend there and they come home and get let down from their high due hassles with the airport, traffic, seeing a homeless guy and, of course, bills to pay. If only America was like Europe, it would be just like that vacation they just spent. They didn’t actually spend the time living in Europe, trying to land a job, find a decent home, pay taxes, run day-to-day errands. They just had the fantasy life of that vacation. Now if America would only be like Disney World…

  5. Jonah Goldberg has a nice post up at NRO making a point similar to this regarding the inevitable use of any economic downturn as an excuse to condemn capitalism.

    His point, in shorthand, is that the collectivist talks about the problems of capitalism as if other statist systems don’t have them. In the fantasy universe, there are no recessions, unemployed, bankruptcies, etc.

    When I was younger, I used to wonder why collectivists always found so many catastrophic problems with the West, and esp. the US, but never acknowledged the horrendus living conditions in the pre-industrial world, nor noticed the grotesque internal and external behaviors of their favorite collectivist states.

    After a few arguments in which any and all of my objections to the collectivist utopias around the world were dismissed as paranoia or “cultural imperialism”, I finally caught on—there was no point in debating the collectivist mentality as if it was a rational, coherent viewpoint of life on this planet.

    One either believed in the fantasy universe wholeheartedly, and therefore could blank out any disagreeable facts and problems, or one was the victim of a “false consciousness” and needed to be re-educated.

    The collectivist mentality is basically religious. It is a faith based, gnostic heresy of judeo-christian traditions, emphasizing the vision of a paradise here on earth.

    Even though the 19th century developers of most of the modern variations of collectivist theology claimed to be rational and scientific, these claims are now, after a century of calamitous experimentation, totally refuted by all empirical evidence.

    Rationality, and the scientific approach of valuing evidence dispassionately, must be abandoned by collectivists out of desperation. To maintain a committment to either would require a complete reappraisal of the ideology to which they have invested their entire identity.

    Just as the various apocalytic cults seem to be able to rationalize their way past the repeated failures of the end of the world predictions by their leaders, so too do the cultists of collective belief renew their faith in the correctness of their theology in the face of the repeated collapses and catastrophes these beliefs visit upon any population unfortunate enough to live under them.

  6. After Obama’s March presser I wrote about his Apirational presidency

    Obama hasn’t shown a hint that he thinks any policy he likes includes tradeoffs: His three planks are Energy, Healthcare, and Education. He promises that producing all our energy from wind/solar will save us money in the long term, create jobs, and generally be teh awesome. Ditto on healthcare, we can save money, create jobs, and everyone will live longer (since when is spending less and more jobs compatible?). Education is also a freebie – just by subsidizing more of it we can magic the population into being more productive

    The unspoken assumption in spending trillions more to focus on these things is that the public has been doing it wrong. They spend their money on the wrong things. Silly proles.

  7. You guys are forgetting something important.

    Messiahs, true or false, need not be empiric.

    Empiricism is something that grubby, little white men are concerned with, whereas messiahs rise far above such mundane details.

    In short, to all of Obama’s many groupies, you guys are nothing but a pack of plebians trying to bring down the sainted one.

    Have you no shame?

  8. Shannon, I think the difference runs deeper. This is a conflict of axioms.

    Leftists fundamentally believe in teleology, which in essence eschews mundane cause-and-effect. Within a teleological world view, elegance and truth are one and the same. An idea which is pleasing is true because it is pleasing.

    The universe is inherently harmonious and well ordered, and thus if you come up with an idea which is esthetically attractive, clean, straight forward, that means it will work.

    In other words, their ideas will work simply because it would be so wonderful if they did.
    When I put it that way, it sounds satirical but that’s really what it means. Teleology is a priori for most of them, and they don’t even realize they’re doing it. If you ask them, they’ll say of COURSE they believe in cause-and-effect, but still they are convinced that alternate forms of energy can be plentiful and cheap just because, well, it really ought to be that way. Of COURSE socialism is better than capitalism, because it’s nicer (theoretically) and more fair. Never mind that every time it’s been tried, no matter what the form, it’s always failed spectacularly. That doesn’t matter.

    They literally live in the same world you and I do.

    And now we have a teleologist as our President, and he is trying to implement their policies. Of COURSE we can have health care for everyone without hiking taxes on anyone except “the rich”. Of COURSE huge amounts of stimulus spending in two years will cause the economy to rise now. Because it just really ought to be that way, and so there’s really no point in trying to explain the grubby details of how you get from A to B. Those things don’t matter.

  9. Steven Den Beste,

    Leftists fundamentally believe in teleology, which in essence eschews mundane cause-and-effect.

    I agree. I think that leftist think teleologically is that in the world of the articulate-intellectual, success is based on the popularity of one’s articulated ideas instead of their objective functionality. By comparison, scientist, engineers and even business people have to create ideas that function in the real world. The ideas can be wildly unpopular in the beginning but they can prove themselves by actual working in the physical world.

    No such test exist in the world of the articulate-intellectual. Instead, they succeed as individuals based purely on how many other articulate-intellectuals agree with them. Intellectual fads and fashions become the definition of truth. This causes articulate-intellectuals and their wannabes to develop and unconscious intuition that intellectual popularity equals truth.

    The intellectual history of Marxism provides a good example of this phenomena in action. Marx created an elaborate theory that explained the totality of human existence including the whole of history as well as the inevitable future evolution of all human societies to a communist utopia. Marx’s ideas have no empirical underpinnings. Indeed, since the validity of Marx’s ideas could only be validated by the future evolution of entire societies, no empirical test of the ideas could never be made in the present day. Worse, Marxism was constructed in such a way that any failures of the partial implementation of the ideas could be explained away by claiming the failure was caused by the lack of complete communism. Anyone who questioned Marxism was dismissed as having a false consciousness programmed into them by the effects of the capitalist economy. In the end, Marxism was considered absolutely true because a lot of Marxist believed in it.

    A Marxist intellectual had a personally successful career only if other Marxist intellectuals liked his writings. No real-world event could ever prove him right or wrong. We see the same pattern in less politically extreme intellectuals. The career of John Kenneth Galbraith comes immediately to mind.

    In the end, you develop and entire subculture that can no longer intuitively distinguish popularity within the subculture from objective truth.

  10. but of course lefties this and lefties that. But the “free market” has been in effect for many many years. and we have a major recession. Now “lefties” may be deranged and know nothings, but those Miltonities seem to have been in charge all these years and we have one huge mess.

  11. Anonymous,

    … but those Miltonities seem to have been in charge all these years and we have one huge mess.

    The left’s critique of Friedman in this context is especially silly because I’m pretty sure setting up giant government sponsored enterprises to buy up half the residential mortgages in the country and thereby distorting the markets assessment of risk, isn’t a plan that Friedman would have come up with.

    Thank you for proving my point. You actually have fantasy in which it is possible to have an economic system which never has recessions. You find the real-world economic system wanting because in comparison to your fantasy economic system it looks pretty ugly.

    Thank as well for making the stereotypical leftist assertion that any financial reversal proves the failure of the free-market even in case, as with the residential mortgage market, there was massive government intervention designed expressly to distort the markets assessment of risk. In the current crisis there is a direct correlation between the degree of government intervention in a financial sector and degree of collapse in that sector. None of this matters, in fact, I would be willing to bet you have absolutely no detailed knowledge about the financial system at all. You simply have an automatic response to every economic problem that says that the problem occurred because politicians didn’t have enough power to interfere in the economy.

    Face it. Martians could have vaporized every bank in the country and you would still blame the resulting collapse on the failure of the free-market to anticipant and fend of the Martian attack.

    Honestly, read the post again. You have exactly the kind of mindset I am critiquing.

  12. Marx’s ideas could only be validated by the future evolution of entire societies, no empirical test of the ideas could never be made in the present day. Worse, Marxism was constructed in such a way that any failures of the partial implementation of the ideas could be explained away by claiming the failure was caused by the lack of complete communism.

    This, of course, is also true of Freud and it is no coincidence that Freudians tend to be leftists. They have largely faded away in medicine and science because we finally did develop testable hypotheses with the anti-psychotic drugs and now neurobiology. They did leave us with the homeless problem, however, so they are not completely gone.

  13. “…CO2 and other forms of pollution.” – Whoa there, since when, using real, validated, science, has CO2 been proven to be a form of pollution.

  14. Richard Posner – a Chicago Boy – makes a pretty convincing argument in “A Failure of Capitalism” that there was a convergence of fault lines in the free market which led to the crisis. Government policy, guarantees and monetary policy was certainly part of it. But the banks (or “financial intermediaries” of one stripe or another) were driven by the spirit of an unregulated age to securitize all this bad stuff, and then they securitized the securities, and then they sent it all flying to the far corners of the globe.

    None of these geniuses thought property values would ever decline. The lazy rating agencies didn’t have a clue about the actual risks and were just guessing when they dished out triple-A marks. Everyone was locked into groupthink. And nobody was ever going to be around when the chickens came home to roost.

    I read the book with real interest, and assented to its analysis, on the basis of the cogency of the argument, little as I know on any of these subjects. But in the end I sort of yawned. It’s the old story. “Man was born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward”, a pre-Capitalist once said. If the legislators and regulators were as smart as Posner, maybe they’d figure out a regime that would reverse the ancient maxim. But they ain’t that smart, and even if they were, sparks would still fly upward, as they did in the days of Sophocles.

  15. Even the NYT article notes that simplistic efficient-markets models beloved as straw men by anti-market cranks like Fred have long since been surpassed at the U of C as elsewhere. (Not that Shannon has any responsibility to support arguments made by U of C people, or indeed any arguments besides his own.)

    Why is it that leftists who point triumphantly at research showing irrational behavior by market participants never consider that the political hacks and bureaucrats they would put in charge are subject to the same human foibles as financial traders but are much less accountable?

  16. Just BTW;

    Capitalism is, so far, the best economic system because it generally forces one to serve others in order to serve one’s own interests. Productivity and innovation are increased.

    Capitalism, unchained, can be manipulated and become economically unfair and oppressive. It needs some governmental regulation only to the extent that the situation in the earlier comment is maintained.

    In socialistic schemes one’s interests are served be being or becoming the member of certain groups. Serving others is only marginally beneficial to one’s well being. Productivity and innovation are stifled.

  17. K. J. Webb,

    Richard Posner – a Chicago Boy – makes a pretty convincing argument in “A Failure of Capitalism” that there was a convergence of fault lines in the free market which led to the crisis.

    I probably wouldn’t disagree with Posner save in the degree of the effect. In any case, it wouldn’t materially undermine the libertarian argument. Remember, in the free-market view, recessions and sudden financial reversals are part of the corrective nature of the system as a whole. They’re features, not bugs. The economy has to have reversals in the same way that people have to lose jobs and companies have to fail and disappear in order for the economy to grow long-term.

    The Dot-Com bubble and bust, for example, had no major government involvement but instead it resulted from people experimenting with a major new technology. Without that investing frenzy we wouldn’t have the internet technology we have today. Most financial bubbles result from the over use of novel new financial instruments but how to we find the limits of such instruments without experimenting?

    Using history as our guide we can say with confidence that the novel us securitization would have led to a significant reversal at some point. However, we can also say that it would have been of a much, much lower magnitude than the current crisis because (1) the security market in residential mortgages was created by the government, (2) most of the toxic securities were issued by government sponsored enterprises, (3) the GSE laundered risky forms of securities into government backed ones (4) the GSE funneled far, far more money into the residential market than the free-market would have done on their own. (After all, this was the entire point of creating them in the first place.)

    As I’ve pointed out before their is a direct correlation between government involvement in a financial sector and the degree of collapse. The commercial real estate market, which had no government involvement, did not see such a big boom and bust and most of what it did see came as a side effect of the real estate market. Imagine how big the Dot-Com bust would have been if the government had spent years creating policies that pumped far more money into the technology sector than the free-market would have.

    The economic reversals on the micro and macro scale do not represent failures of the free-market but are instead part of it’s normal and beneficial operation. Short episodes of economic pain are the price we pay for a growing, innovative, adapting economy. It’s just like you can’t be healthy without exercising and getting sore muscles. Leftist try to sell the idea that they can prevent all economic pain. They like to sell the idea of policies that have no tradeoffs.

    That is the fantasy.

  18. If conservatives are so much clearer thinking, why are they failing on so many fronts: from academia, to the media to, of late, politics?

  19. Poor Shannon–can not write one piece without badmouthing “the Left.” In fact the Chicago school just tooik a drubbing by–the Chicago school!

    Jeremy Grantham isn’t from the Chicago school as near as I can tell. He wasn’t educated there and as been a critic of the free-market ideas for decades. Where do you get the idea he is a free-market advocate.

    From the article:

    These days, you would be hard-pressed to find anybody, even on the University of Chicago campus, who would claim that the market is perfectly efficient.

    And you could just stop reading there because obviously the article is a strawman hit piece. No advocate of the free-market agues that the market is “perfectly” efficient. Indeed, one of the founding concepts of the Chicago school and free-market thought going back to Adam Smith is that no two human beings can agree on what “perfect” means in terms of the allocation of resources.

    But let’s turn this around. Are you and Grantham arguing that political oversight of the economy is “perfect”. Do you argue that if we just had the right wise and beneficent politicians making enough economic decisions that they would always make the “perfect” choice. I doubt you would make such an argument. Instead, you would just argue that in the real world, politicians coercing people leads to better economic outcomes on the whole than letting people make voluntary exchanges free from the threat of violence. You would argue that a politicized economy is the optimum economy we can hope for, not that it is “perfect” in any meaningful sense.

    Advocates of the free-market make the same argument in the opposite direction. Over time, the free-market systematically makes better decisions than politicians do. It’s an optimum system, not a perfect one. Even it’s optimum functioning isn’t pain free.

    I would like to thank you for providing a sterling example of the type of intellectual fantasizing I am talking about. Notice in the article they don’t talk about the actual mechanisms by which the political system would make it’s superior decisions. Neither do they address at all the role of the government in the current crisis. Instead, they adopt the Marxist approach and savage a strawman version of free-market theory and just imply that ANY intervention by politicians would have prevented the problem.

    Grantham doesn’t bother to explain how the real-world political system in dozens of countries would have acted to prevent the problem. His goal is merely to condition people to reject the free-market so that they will by default have to accept any politician managed alternative. It is a perfect example of leftist fantasizing.

  20. Henry,

    If conservatives are so much clearer thinking, why are they failing on so many fronts: from academia, to the media to, of late, politics?

    Leftism is the political expression of the subculture of articulate-intellectuals. Fields dominated by articulate-intellectuals tilt strongly left. This is especially true in fields in which no empirical test for ideas exist.

    The humanities departments of colleges are worst offenders where you find people far out on the leftist extremes. In a recent survey, 17.4% of U.S. humanities professors considered themselves Marxist. In other words, the humanities cannot filter out people so stupid they fall for a conclusively refuted 19th century pseudo-science.

    The same effect occurs in the media, law and the arts. These are all people who’s livelihood depends on their ability to emotionally manipulate people into accepting their ideas. These ideas seldom if ever face a objective, empirical test. Instead, the ideas, and the individuals who promote them, succeed or fail solely based on the idea’s popularity.

    Leftist succeed in politics because fantasy sells better than harsh reality. It’s easier to get votes by telling people you will give them lots and lots of stuff than it is to get votes by telling people it’s better in the long run if they take care of themselves.

    Heck, look at how much time I have to spend constructing detailed arguments about how real world decision making works in both the private and public realms. I have to explain to people why they have to lose their businesses, their jobs and even their homes so that the economy as a whole can provide for everybody better in the future. Leftist argue, not by defending their own system of decision-making but by doing nothing but attacking the real-world free-market decision-making. I can’t even criticize the Leftist plans because they don’t actually present any! Leftists simply say, “Don’t worry, you don’t have to sacrifice anything. We’ll take care of everything and make sure nothing bad every happens.”

    Which message would you pick?

  21. Regarding the RFK quote referenced above, it is not original with Bobby. He stole it from G. B. Shaw’s satirical work, “Back to Methuselah” and Shaw was wise enough to know that it was a false vision. In the play the words are spoken by the serpent in the garden of eden as he tempts Eve to sin.

  22. Shannon: The problem with your theory is that it assumes conservatives aren’t capable of seeing through liberals in the media, academia and law.
    What you’re theory really says isn’t that liberals are dumb — in fact you credit them as articulate achievers in their chosen fields — but that American students, media consumers and participants in the legal system are dumb.
    Your bottom line is: “fantasy sells better than harsh reality.” Presumably, voters don’t deliberately buy into fantasy, so your obvious presumption is that you are able to see the “reality” that the average voter isn’t. I happen to take a much higher assessment of America and Americans than that.
    Liberals only succeed in the media to the extent that more Americans want to read and hear and watch what they say than want to read, hear and watch what conservatives have to say. They only succeed in law to the extent that more clients hire them and hire conservatives. Likewise for academia. There are plenty of conservative universities around, I went to one of them — a place that never stopped congratulating itself for being “pro-free-enterprise” and pro-Christian.
    The success of my university and the many others like it is limited only by the ability of its faculty and administration to attract students and donors. To the extent that it underperforms bigger mainstream schools in terms of undergrads going on to PhDs or other forms of greater glory, is no one’s fault but its own.
    Unless and until you can identify a conspiracy or subterfuge of some kind that prevents the American university or media or law from being a free market, you really can’t expect people to believe that the failures of conservatives aren’t owing to the weakness of their ideas.

  23. And for the record: I don’t think conservatives are failing at media, academia and law. I think they have plenty of successes to point to in all those fields.

    Shannon’s only data point is that a survey showed 17 percent of humanities professors were Marxist. It’s telling that somehow this tiny minority is seen as somehow oppressing conservatives.

    Conservatives may be a minority in some of these areas, but if and when they are, they have no one to blame but themselves and their own ideas.

  24. Henry,

    What you’re theory really says isn’t that liberals are dumb — in fact you credit them as articulate achievers in their chosen fields — but that American students, media consumers and participants in the legal system are dumb.

    I think you vastly overate the ability of the market to correct in areas were the market can’t really operate. Several factors keep the market and individuals from choosing as freely as they might otherwise.

    (1) Many jobs simply require articulate-intellectuals. If you want a good novel written, you find an articulate-intellectual, not a construction worker. This in turn means that many professions become dominated by articulate-intellectuals by default. This in turn imposes a certain mindset and particular set of unstated assumptions on the outlook of the entire field. You can see the same effect in fields like engineering. The education, experiences and specific mental challenges stamps engineers with a distinct mindset that bleeds over into non-engineering task.

    I think this effect is so strong that if you magically replaced all the current articulate-intellectuals with people with far right ideas and came back in a hundred years, the political outlook of the professions would look pretty much like it does now.

    (2) In fields such as the academia, the law and media, the presumption is that the laity has no say in selecting membership in the field. This is especially strong in academia where the current crop of academics train and choose their replacements. They form a self-promoting priest class. This effect is perversely stronger in government supported schools than in private because the academics are tax supported but they are also protected from government oversight.

    (3) Government support. A lot of articulate-intellectuals use state power to create a strangle hold. Most Americans are educated in politically managed schools which in turn are relatively easy to hijack ideologically. Your average local school board in America today controls less than 60% of its budget. Articulate-intellectuals control the entire process resorting to lawsuits when democracy fails them. Left-of-center articulate-intellectuals completely control most people’s entire education. They can’t actually program people but they can strongly influence them.

    (4) Deference to experts. People will defer to individuals that are socially recognized as experts. For example, we have for generations now been listening to education “experts” even though in retrospect they are often simply tossing out random ideas just so they can have something new to peddle. Most ordinary people don’t have time to become familiar with each particular field so they defer. This works well in a free-market where people can rapidly switch from failures but it’s dangerous in a government monopoly like education where people can’t easily switch.

    (5) Articulate-intellectuals control societies narrative. They are our story tellers. They frame every historical event from their own perspective and the rest of see that perspective by default. Many of us unconsciously absorb the the bias of articulate-intellectuals. For example, most people today believe it is more noble to be a failed artist than it is to be a successful business person who creates a lot of jobs and needed products and services. We believe that because articulate-intellectuals have told us all our lives just how wonderful it is for an articulate-intellectual artist to pursue their vision at all cost to the society and the people around but just how awful it is when business people do the same thing.

    Even given these and other problems, I think the dominance of the articulate-intellectual is beginning to fade. I think it peaked in the 70’s and has been in decline every since. Several factors are causing this. As the general population becomes better educated, there is less of a gap between the average articulate-intellectual and everyone else. More and more people work as decision-makers. Science is expanding into areas once reserved for philosophers.

    The biggest factor, however, is post-modernism. Prior to the 1960’s articulate-intellectuals, especially academics, had an implicit contract with the rest of society in which society would grant articulate-intellectuals broad freedoms to explore ideas in return for them collectively exploring ALL ideas. In the 1960’s however, articulate-intellectuals feel prey to the fascist/communist inspired idea of post-modernism which held that the primary duty of articulate-intellectuals was to use the power of their minds and their positions within institutions to advance the goals of leftist ideology.

    You can see the devastating effect this had in the media. Most people now assume that journalist push an agenda instead of reporting information.

    This is a big subject but I think I covered the high points. People aren’t stupid, at least nobody is stupid about everything, but individuals also have limited information and time to make decisions. This forces them to use default assumptions in many cases.

    Shannon’s only data point is that a survey showed 17 percent of humanities professors were Marxist. It’s telling that somehow this tiny minority is seen as somehow oppressing conservatives.

    You missed the point. Marxism isn’t intellectually defensible now in the 21st century. The fact that so many current humanities professors self-describe as Marxist tells us that academics in the humanities can’t process information and can’t tell the difference between idiots and thinkers. Imagine if you found a science department wherein 17% of the tenured professors thought there was firm scientific evidence that the earth was divinely created 6,000 years ago. You would immediately know that something was wrong with the institution.

    My point with the 17% of Marxist in the humanities wasn’t that they were prosecuting non-leftist but rather that (1) academics in the humanities have no methodology for separating reality from fantasy and that (2) they pay no professional price for living in a fantasy. You can believe anything as long as it is popular in your field.

    Worse, they select self-aggrandizing fantasies. Articulate-intellectuals like Marxism because it envisions a world in which only intellectuals will have status and have influence.

    Nothing in the work-life of the articulate-intellectual forces them to deal with cold, objective reality. They can be just as successful selling nonsense as they can selling truth. (Indeed, looking back at history, most of what even the greatest articulate-intellectuals sold was garbage.) Contrast with the lives of everyone else. Most of us have to produce something concretely connected to objective reality. Scientist have experiments, engineers must make things that work, business people must make and sell useful products, technicians must fix things and so on. Articulate-intellectuals seldom face concrete test and even if they do they pay little cost for being proven absolutely wrong.

  25. Shannon,

    Articulate-Intellectuals do produce tangible things: the soviet union was, for example, a complete byproduct of many articulate-individuals. It was all there, their hate for private enterprise and economic freedom, their rejection of the most fundamental economic laws of competition and rewards, their dogmatism at work throughout the whole educational and academic system, teaching millions for generations about the beauties of state controlled economies. Articulate-individuals finally got their ultimate dream of controlling humans, directing them, telling them what to eat, how to dress, what not to read. Their utopia at work for decades. And we all know the results of these very articulate-intellectuals.

  26. I think the appeal of all forms of socialism is very simple: it appeals to control freaks. Rationality be damned, they simply want to fix everything.

  27. For a history of what Mr. Love calls “articulate intellectuals”, let me recommend the book “Intellectuals” by Paul Johnson.

    It is an extensive list of the patently dumb ideas 20th century intellectuals tried to foist on society.

    As to thinking that voters are dumb in voting for Obama and other liberals, let’s remember Lincoln’s words “You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

    The times are a changing. The 2010 Congressional elections should turn out many incumbents.

  28. What always strikes me as odd when reading many Republican sites these days is the remarkable lack of self-introspection.

    The right has suffered a cataclysm reminiscent in many ways of the ascent of Reagan in 1980. The conservative “movement” has degraded into mass-market populism, dumbed-down standards and blanket attacks on “leftists”, libruls and their evil ilk. Yet many conservatives continue to cling to a conception of the world that ideologically, emotionally, and – most important – factually remains stuck in the late 1970s. The world has changed and they have not.

    Perhaps this isn’t surprising. The Democrats took years to regroup; it’s always hard to admit defeat, and the failures of ones ideas. Yet no rebuilding can take place without it. At any rate, clinging to one’s conceptions in the face of all the evidence may show a certain strength of character, to put a charitable interpretation on it, but is very good news for the other side.

    As an American, I think it makes the country weaker to have a neutered right. Even if I disagree with libertarian/right ideas, the exercise of having to second-guess and double-check one’s assumptions in instructive.

    But as a democrat, I’m all like yeah, let’s have another conversation about Obama’s birth certificate! And perhaps we *should* devote more time to discussing his communist bona fides and his usual left-wing fantasy land view of the world. And let’s not forget his inability to speak without a teleprompter – the man is clearly an inarticulate, affirmative action moron.

    The lack of any credible opposition is, from a partisan point of view, delightful.

  29. SeanF,

    Which “conservative” and “libertarian” principles and policy prescriptions have, in your opinion, failed, and why do you think they failed? Which “liberal” principles and policy prescriptions do you think succeeded, and why?

  30. We have not had a truly free market since before FDR. What do you call subsidies to this and that industries? Free Market? In fact, conservatives continue to believe in “free market” and as they did during the depression denounce the govt attempt to do anything, suggesting that only business could dave the nation. Tax cuts now when so many are out of work? Tried it. Did not work. Even Greenspan admits the failure.

  31. Fred Lapidies,

    We have not had a truly free market since before FDR

    So you concede that the financial collapse was not the result of the free-market because the market wasn’t free? You concede it was a political failure?

    A completely free-market has never existed. Governments always impose their will on people by violence. Instead, we seek to reduce the amount of government involvement and to make sure that what government involvement that does exist won’t distort the market as they did with the residential housing marketing.

    It was precisely the kind of thinking that if a little government is good then a lot of government would be great that got us into our current mess.

    Politicians are the great and good and wise people you think they are.

  32. -The fact that market have never been completely free is a red herring. The important point is that markets work better the freer they are. And, of course, freedom is a good in itself — more freedom is better.

    -Contra your assertion, cutting taxes as a remedy for economic recession works as a rule, and has worked as recently as 2003. When did it not work? Please be specific.

  33. Jonathan,

    Specifically, the idea that economic growth is best achieved through the absence of regulation; that market imperfections don’t exist; and that efficient capital markets had tamed the business cycle.

    At any rate, I think your question assumes a zero-sum game. I’m not sure I buy that assumption; the fact that conservatives have made a giant mess, exposing their weaknesses for all to see, is not a victory for liberalism.

    I’m not aware of any liberal ideas that have succeeded, other than the rather vanilla assertion that being intelligent, prudent, and measured is probably a better strategy than being some choleric, ranting ideologue. Even outside of domestic and foreign policy, and even if you’re not a politician. If you can call that liberal – and the fact that I can, is only because the current GOP would make Burke and Kirk do somersaults in their graves.

    I’m actually somewhat concerned about the economy. The last time we had such an adventure, we got, as part of the New Deal the basic market regulation mechanisms that provided a modicum of stability for 65 years at least with respect to the causes of the Great Depression: deposit insurance, the SEC, 10-Ks and all the other security filing / disclosure mechanisms, Glass-Steagal.

    This time, we’ve had no attempt to come to grips, at least so far, with the real causes of the crisis.
    Obama appears to be content with putting bandages on the very serious incentive problems that still exist. It the economy continues to have structural issues, all the yes-we-can spirit in the world isn’t going to have too much effect in the long run. And running car companies has not usually been a traditional or exclusive function of government. Probably for good reason.

  34. At any rate, I think your question assumes a zero-sum game. I’m not sure I buy that assumption; the fact that conservatives have made a giant mess, exposing their weaknesses for all to see, is not a victory for liberalism.

    -I don’t assume a zero-sum game. I observe that freer economies have consistently outperformed less-free economies over long periods. I also think more freedom is good in itself and thus is preferable over less freedom, other things equal.

    -I don’t accept your assertion that “conservatives have made a giant mess”. It seems to me that the root of our current problems is ill-conceived interference with markets by govts following policies that conservatives mainly did not advocate. Some of the problems were caused by market participants acting on their own, but I suspect that these problems would not have been as severe as they became, absent misguided govt action (including eventually govt attempts to remedy the problems). In particular, decades of govt policies at local and national levels that 1) artificially raised home prices in many areas, 2) subsidized home ownership and 3) pressured banks to lend to high-risk mortgage borrowers were the main causes of the housing bubble.

  35. SeanF,

    Specifically, the idea that economic growth is best achieved through the absence of regulation; that market imperfections don’t exist; and that efficient capital markets had tamed the business cycle.

    I don’t think that any serious (or the vast majority of non-serious) free-market advocates ever advance claims that market imperfections do not exist. For example, all free-market advocates will point out that the free-market cannot easily handle free-rider problems. Remember, non-leftist don’t believe in perfection.

    However, just because the free-market has trouble with an area it doesn’t automatically mean that the real-world political system can manage it better. This is usually the argument that free-market opponents make. They fail to predict failures but then claim in hindsight that they were obvious and that government could have easily corrected the problem.

    In many cases, the government cannot properly regulate an industry because often the interest of politicians and the interest of the industry coincide. This was clearly the case in current financial crisis. At both the state and federal level, politicians had the same interest as the residential mortgage lending industry. About 1/3 of budget of the state of New York came from the financial industry. In California, rising property values and new homes sales increased property tax revenues significantly. At the federal level, no politicians wanted to be put in position of telling people the government wouldn’t help them buy a home. Even Bush’s modest attempt to reform Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae following their scandals was defeated based on the argument that doing so would cause fewer people to be able to own homes.

    In many cases, the idea that government can actually regulate is just a fantasy. By comparison the free-market has an impressive ability to autoregulate.

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