StanCollender'sCapitalGainsandGames Washington, Wall Street and Everything in Between

Sloppy Right Wing Research

08 Jun 2010
Posted by Bruce Bartlett

A common right wing technique is to trumpet the greater wisdom and understanding of the average person over pointy-headed liberal intellectual types. Nate Silver points to an example of this in today's Wall Street Journal, where Daniel Klein and Zeljka Buturovic argue that fifth graders have a deeper understanding of basic economics than liberal Democrats. Read the whole post on why the data Klein and Buturovic present are pretty much worthless and had to be manipulated rather severely to support their conclusions. At a minimum, the analysis was sloppy even for the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Whoa, let's back up to that

Whoa, let's back up to that first sentence. If, indeed, the average person cannot be trusted to have any true wisdom and understanding, then how can he or she be employed in any reasonable manner in which profit might accrue to said government? The more that gets done by the limited few, the less money in the aggregate there is for government overall.

Why are you surprised?

I am pretty much a centrist but a better argument would be that fifth graders have a deeper understanding of basic economics than "conservative" ("conservative" = radical) Republicans.

Perhaps the reason that

Perhaps the reason that "right-wingers trumpet the greater wisdom and understanding of the average person over pointy-head 'intellectual' types" is for the same reason that Hayek pointed out in The Use of Knowledge in Society --

The peculiar character of the problem of a rational economic order is determined precisely by the fact that the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess. The economic problem of society is thus not merely a problem of how to allocate "given" resources—if "given" is taken to mean given to a single mind which deliberately solves the problem set by these "data." It is rather a problem of how to secure the best use of resources known to any of the members of society, for ends whose relative importance only these individuals know. Or, to put it briefly, it is a problem of the utilization of knowledge which is not given to anyone in its totality.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, most pointy-heads are far more arrogant than they are "expert". They most emphatically DO believe that all the wisdom in the world IS given to them; that they are the "gatekeepers" to all wisdom; and that they thus DO have the right to screw around with and plan everyone else's life. That ain't my opinion. Again, it is Hayek -- from Intellectuals and Socialism

I do find some irony that the top google result for that latter Hayek text comes from a university in China -

Sadly however it doesn't surprise me since the pointy-headed intellectuals in American universities do their best to ignore Hayek and ensure that students/graduates who do read him are marginalized as right-wing nutjobs who revel in ignorance.

It's one thing

to argue that the aggregate wisdom of the people as expressed through price signals set by supply and demand is greater than the wisdom of government bureaucrats--Hayek was right about that--but it's quite another to assert, as people like Sarah Palin do, that the average person has the experience, intelligence or education to deal with complex policy issues. That's like saying that you would do better taking advice from random people in the street about some medical problem you are suffering from than asking your doctor.

I disagree. Sarah Palin et al

I disagree. Sarah Palin et al do not assert that a 5th grader should be in charge of running everyone else's economic life because of their "greater wisdom". That is a strawman.

Rather, she asserts that those-who-know-better DON'T in fact know better - and so their claim to running everything by virtue of some intellectual superiority in solving some "complex policy issue" is nonsense.

The ONLY reason the pricing system works is precisely because it is the only system that allows for decentralized decision-making resulting from individual freedom. NOT as aggregate wisdom ("aggregate" is by definition a term that is only meaningful to a macro-type central planner)-- but because the individual (even a 5th grader) is the ONLY person who CAN know what they themselves want. And the only way they can achieve what they want is to have the freedom to do so. THAT is what the pricing system can achieve that the voting system cannot achieve.

And your boiling of the problem down to "complex policy issues" (yet another term that by definition implies that nothing can occur without the pre-blessing of those-who-know-better central planners) indicates that you really don't understand what Hayek was saying.

DC is full of people who turn EVERYTHING into "complex policy issues". Not because the issues actually are complex -- but because the claim of "complex policy issues" is the necessary justification for DC to "do something big" rather than to just let individuals themselves decide what to do for themselves.

You have created a strawman re your assertions about "right-wingers" or "Tea Party" or "conservatives" or "Sarah Palin" or somesuch. The same strawman that liberals/leftists have used ever since Buckley said that he'd rather be governed by the first 300 names in the Cambridge phone book than by the Harvard faculty. Buckley wasn't asserting that he actually wanted to be governed by the Cambridge phone book. Rather, he wanted FREEDOM from the pointy-headed Harvard faculty types who were running the technocratic/bureaucratic/centralized/macro/government/czars bs that was then, and is more so now, restricting freedom via taxes/regulation/spending/plans/monopolies/etc. The "normal man is smarter" is a rhetorical device to try to prick the overweening arrogance of the pointy-heads.

I think most of what you say

I think most of what you say is valid and illuminating. I can only niggle on a single point.

You must be introduced to your double-standard. The Right has for years lambasted the "Elitist" left for believing that education prepares a person to deal with issues. But, I would suggest that there is no difference in qualifications and/or educational background found in the people who make up the governing class on each side of the idiological divide.

Put another way, there are equal amounts of pointy be-hatted policy wonks in red ties as there are with blue ties.

I would then assert that your argument is more about presentation than about anything of substance. Simply because those on the right will clear some brush, gut a moose and engage in all sorts of "Real American" activities in order to burnish the impression of "authenticity" because their supporters expect that from them does not negate or equalize their, in most cases, ivy-league bona fides.

I've always found this arguement one of the most vapid. Take the 2004 Presidential campaign for example. Bush and Kerry both went to Yale. Neither were competent enough to run the country. And today, Obama is skewered for being an elitist even though he was the product of a broken home, lived modestly most of his life and worked his ass off to acheive his success. Yet, W, the fuck-up son of a millionaire who had everything given to him somehow is more authentic simply because he puts on a cowboy hat and squints like Clint Eastwood. Give me a break. (For the record, I think W was/is a decent man who did the best he could. He was just the wrong person for the job for that moment in history.)

Finally, Jon Stewart recently kicked the bejeebus out of Obama for relying on the "It's complicated" cannard too much. The Right is not alone in having disdain for those who condescend. We just don't think a snotty attitude is an impeachable offense.

IMO, it is pretty obvious

IMO, it is pretty obvious that Tea Party people are quite aware of that double-standard within the Republican establishment. Which is why they are challenging establishment Republicans in primaries. The ousting of Bennett in Utah is particularly instructive. His vote for the 2008 bailout was absolutely an unforgivable crossing of the Rubicon. That bailout vote was the "alarm clock" for most Tea Party people. Indeed every Tea Party person I know is one of those who swamped the House in hostile emails and got them to reject it on the first vote. But that was transparently only a 4 day success --- undermined by a treasonous Senate that violated the Constitution (originating a spending bill in the Senate) and an armtwisted House (demonstrating how completely corrupt the whole town of DC is) later.

Asserting that the argument/conflict is merely about "presentation" rather than substance denies that those challenges to the Republican establishment are even occurring.

Asserting that it is somehow hypocritical or something because individuals may or may not have previously gone along with all the "lesser of two evils" conformity is silly. You want CHOICE in politics? Then don't marginalize the very very difficult uphill battle to create it. Because that merely provides aid and comfort to the power-oriented (vs principle-oriented) pointy heads who want to perpetuate "lesser of two evils" in the name of "moderation", "electability", "bipartisanship", "compromise" etc (all words related to POWER rather than principle). Have no doubt, the "lesser of two evils" tyranny is alive and well among Dems too (to wit - the vilification of Nader supporters). Only difference is that Dems are still going along with it -- and reelecting all their pro-bailout bigmoney incumbents -- while deluding voters about hopeychangey.

If the Tea Party Express took

If the Tea Party Express took to the road at any time during W's presidency I would concede every point that could be made about the movement's "sick of outta control spending" authenticity. But it seems pretty convenient to let the team you support run the country into the crapper then take to the streets to oppose the next guy who is trying to clean up the mess. Whatev. These points could be argued forever to no real progress.

Let me ask you this: Do you advocate an armed uprising in order to "take back America"??

The Nader thing is a great point. I was a huge supporter in '96 and '00. He offered radical change and spoke truth to power in a way that Tea Party Leaders could never acheive. I get that you've bought into the Tea Party and you believe in what you are doing. Bless you and give 'em hell. In my jadded pov, having lived through the mess of Bush v. Gore and the fallout of having eight years of President W, forgive me if I don't share your enthusiasm for radical change anymore. The reason most Nader supporters ran back to the Democratic party was because in 2000 we fully believed that there was no difference between the two parties. That a Gore presidency was just as bad as W. A Dem is just as bad as a Gooper.

It is not true. The differences are there. So go ahead and radicalize the GOP even further. Have fun with it.

Here is what I like about the Tea Party. I like that they are radical, vocal and have an eye for pageantry. For years liberal activists have had to withstand ridicule from sober conservatives. We've had to steady our chin against being called names and mocked and marginalized. With the Tea Party we get to finally give a name to the screechy, whiney, temper tantrum that has always been on the Right, but hid behind a measured personae. And you guys have such thin skin it is almost comical.

Another thing I like about the Tea Party is your earnestness. I really like that. No joke. I love Americans that give a squirt no matter which side they're on.

I also like that the Tea Party is primarily white Baby Boomers. Being a Gen X'er, I've learned to never underestimate the Baby Boom Generation's ability to completely screw everything up. Like a swarm of locusts that decimates every tasty crop in sight then has the gall to bitch about having nothing to eat, the Baby Boomer Express criss-crosses the nation undermining the promise of America in the 21st century in an effort to capture the magic of the 18th century. Good job!

A long dishonest season on the Right

They lied. Duh.

How about the long and continuous lie they are still telling, that decreasing the top tax rate results in economic upturn? Go graph the month by month change in GDP. Now color in the blocks with Bright Red for 75% and above top rates, Red for 50% to 75% rates, Orange for 40 to 50% rates and Green for 40% and below. No correlation at all. None whatsoever.

WSJ Op Ed Page

Being a finance type, I've read the WSJ since college. The Op Ed page has long been a source of humor for me. They will print any screed, no matter how silly, as long as it fits into Republican dogma.

Sad but true.

I only read the summaries of WSJ op-eds that I get in my RSS feeder. I can no longer bring myself to read the actual articles and have dropped my subscription to the newspaper. It seems like every other week there's a piece by Fred Barnes predicting enormous electoral gains by Republicans because of whatever happened the day before. The only value the page has these days is as leading indicator of Republican thought. That's about it.

That's why...

...I turn to the Financial Times and The Economist long before I turn to the WSJ.

the WSJ op-ed page

has been consistently wrong on just about every topic they've written about for the last 2 decades. I may be liberal personally, but I can tell when someone who disagrees with me has their facts straight and knows what they're talking about. It's part of the reason why I have respect for Hayek, even though I am a Keynesian. much of what Hayek described was accurate, and his objections to the Keynesian world-view were formidable, sophisticated, and well argued.

The contributors to the WSJ op-ed page, on the other hand, regularly draw terrible conclusions, commit logical fallacies, and engage in lies-by-omission.

The terrible quality of the Conservative Commentary crowd is half the reason i moved Left in my formative years. Their constant disdain for intellectualism seems to bear its own fruit in their obliviousness to their own inability to avoid intellectual dishonesty and make a civilly-argued case for their beliefs.

Recent comments


Order from Amazon


Creative Commons LicenseThe content of is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Need permissions beyond the scope of this license? Please submit a request here.