Friday, March 25, 2011
After watching the sudden and impressively well-organized wave of legislation being introduced into state legislatures that all seem to be pursuing parallel goals only tangentially related to current fiscal challenges–ending collective bargaining rights for public employees, requiring photo IDs at the ballot box, rolling back environmental protections, privileging property rights over civil rights, and so on–I’ve found myself wondering where all of this legislation is coming from.And ALEC staring back.
Here’s the headline: the Wisconsin Republican Party has issued an Open Records Law request for access to my emails since January 1 in response to a blog entry I posted on March 15 concerning the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in influencing recent legislation in this state and across the country. I find this a disturbing development, and hope readers will bear with me as I explain the strange circumstances in which I find myself as a result.Via Josh Marshall at TPM. Personally, I think ALEC could do with some attention from the police, or at least Anonymous and Wikileaks.
The interview was conducted by Jay Ackroyd of Virtually Speaking, you can listen to it here (audio at link) or download it from iTunes as a podcast, and I hope you will do one or the other--in my opinion it is the best discussion I've heard of the personalities and politics involved in the recent and on-going economic meltdown.
My understanding of part of what was said was that Prof Delong and the other saltwater economists for a long time believed that they were engaged in an intellectual dispute with the moderate conservatives. The freshwater economists, however, believed that they had The Truth, and that Keynsianism would fall as surely as the Soviet Union did; that analogy may even have figured in their thinking. They believed that they were wise adults willing to face hard truths, the saltwater economists were foolish, weak children, and events would prove them right. Delong's description of what what Prof. Robert Lucas thought of Prof. Christine Romer's support of the stimulus was chilling in its contempt for Romer: by Delong's account Lucas believed Romer was lying when she supported the stimulus.
I wonder if the thought processes of the freshwater school were not an elevated version of those the hardcore tea partiers: a threatened sense of privilege and contempt for the weakness of their opponents. It is hard for me not to see this as fitting into a pattern of threatened male privilege, though in some cases sexism was not the core of the belief.
The freshwater economists are now faced with incontrovertible proof that they were wrong and the saltwater school was right. Their reactions, it seems to me, are no different than what anyone wedded to an inflated idea of their self-worth. Not only were they wrong, they have lost the argument to people they feel are their intellectual inferiors and to women. They are angry and denying, denying, denying.
The saltwater school, on the other hand, is having to reevaluate a great many of their ideas, not the least about collegiality and scientific epistemology. The recognition of the contempt in which their colleagues held them has to be a shock to many; I think I detect traces of it in Delong's writing, and in Prof. Krugman's. Likewise, the recognition that many freshwater economists were not thinking scientifically at all, but rather bound by prejudice and intellectual rigidity seems to have come as a shock. It is very much to Prof. Delong's credit that he is willing to consider these realities.
There is also a practical problem, if economics as a discipline is to survive. There is a huge amount of junk in the peer-reviewed economics literature--the reviewing process is no protection when the reviewers themselves are prejudiced. A comparison that comes to mind is the collapse of "scientific" eugenics. There were vast amounts of that written, and now it is only read as an object example of the capture of a social science by prejudice and authoritarianism. For economists, meantime, there is a huge task ahead: the garbage must be taken out; removed from the field's teaching, textbooks, and policy advice. It will be a generation at least before this is set right, if indeed it can be set right at all.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Friday, March 18, 2011
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
There is much talk about sustainable energy production, and there have been some substantial successes in those technologies, but you are not ready to convert your whole economy to sustainable energy production. Partly, this is because sustainable energy has to be gathered, whereas fossil fuel and nuclear fuel contain energy which need only be released: without a "carbon tax" or some similar regulation, sustainable energy sources will always be more expensive. Partly, though, the conservatives in Congress have been successful in preventing the research necessary to widespread deployment of sustainable energy production. Your economic models do not, yet, embrace sustainability.
So you are faced with hard choices. To stop using coal, oil, or nuclear power immediately would mean great hardship. Without international agreements to prevent further development of such systems, action in an single country might in any event be futile except perhaps as an example. And yet if human civilization is to survive, this must be undertaken in the long term.
One thing that could be done in the short term in the United States would be to abandon the tax subsidies for resource extraction. They started as World War I production subsidies, and ever since, conservatives have been defending them. This might be an excellent time to attack these. They could be attacked on libertarian grounds as government subsidies. It might just work.