Puzzlement

David Brooks describes his ideal Presidential candidate: a national-greatness
Hamiltonian, eager to reverse the country’s economic decline and the threats to
the well-being of the middle class by being “pro-market, in its place, and pro-government, in its place.” Remind you of anyone?

Does David Brooks really not see that one of the candidates for President in 2012 is a national-greatness Hamiltonian, eager to reverse the country’s economic decline and the threats to the well-being of the middle class by being “pro-market, in its place, and pro-government, in its place”?

Barack Obama has certainly earned some (not all) of the hostility directed at him by movement progressives. But he’s entitled to feel badly let down by the centrists.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

19 thoughts on “Puzzlement”

  1. Or centrists are entitled to feel badly let down by Obama… the problem may be that his idea of the “place” for the market appears to be “way over there where I don’t have to see it.”

  2. I’m with Dan. Even knowing the antecedent for “his” would help (Obama, or Brooks?), but it’s after that that I become completely unable to graps the intended meaning.

  3. There’s this crazy myth out there, perpetuated by people like FuzzyFace, that Obama is anti-market. What? He’s about as anti-market as Reagan was, and that guy’s on conservative t-shirts across this land, lauded as a great hero of capitalism. My only conclusion to this misrepresentation of Obama is the following:

    1) we’ve grown far more conservative as a nation, such that even Reagan today would be driven out of the Republican party as a leftist, and

    2) the right doesn’t care how pro-market Obama really is. It serves their negative messaging to call him a socialist. Doesn’t matter if it’s true (it’s not) nor does it matter what socialist actually means. It’s a stand-in term for “he represents everything you hate.”

  4. Matt: “Doesn’t matter if it’s true.” Bingo.

    I maintain, as always, that the president is really a very nice man who happens to be a traditional northeast Republican. No point getting mad at him. He’s not going to change. And that’s one of the things I like about him. Strong sense of self.

  5. I actually think Brooks’ article is powerful and makes some interesting, inspiring, and also depressing points. While I agree that Obama’s perspective is Hamiltonian, he exists in a much different political milieu than Hamilton did. The onus is therefore on him to re-inspire a weary, cynical, disinterested country. This is a Herculean task, and it’s one in which he hasn’t succeeded. Sure, in the campaign he managed to momentarily excite us. But over time, the cynicism seems to have worn him down.

    To Obama’s credit (or rather to our dismay) it may be that no one could succeed at this task of re-inspiring our country. Not Reagan, not Kennedy, not Roosevelt, not even Jefferson, of he were to be president now. The rancor is too severe, too caustic. As a nation, we’ve calcified, hardened into our positions on both the left and right. It turns out that the hardest job of the president is to somehow cool the rancor so that bold and visionary policies can be offered and accepted. Those of us on the left hoped that Obama’s cool demeanor meant that he’d be able to calm everyone down. But his caution, his coolness appear detached, as if he’s watching from the sidelines.

    What we need is the world’s greatest unifier: someone who dives right into the scrum not to fight, but to pull us together and get us to look toward a common future.

  6. Do I really need to explain? I keep hearing that liberals are really bad at understanding how conservatives (and apparently, centrists) think, but I keep getting amazed.

    Let me explain why I see people judging Obama as anti-market:

    1) The automaker bailout. The “pro-market” approach would have been to let GM and Chrysler go to bankruptcy court, which would have allowed them to reorganize under direction of a judge; deals would have been made with creditors. What Obama did was to impose a government solution and dispossess many creditors, jumping the unions ahead of them. That’s a “pro-government” approach.

    2) Health care. The “pro-market” approach would have been to remove a lot of the barriers currently preventing competition, allowing insurers to offer a wider range of services, and employers to offer a wider range of benefits. What Obama did was to impose a government solution, restricting what policies may be offered and offering government subsidies. That is very definitely a “pro-government” solution.

    3) The stimulus package. The “pro-market” approach would have been to remove as many regulations as possible that are not absolutely needed, and to provide employers with certainty about the regulatory environment. What Obama did was to give a lot of money to the states, much of it going to keep state governments from needing to downsize. That’s a “pro-government” position.

    Now you may prefer the pro-government position, but that doesn’t make Obama pro-market it any way. Obama’s approach has been to try to force a better environment through fiat and reducing competition. The pro-market approach seeks to increase competition. Keynes is much more pro-government than Hayek, for example.

  7. FuzzyFace, which words in “pro-market, in its place, and pro-government, in its place” do you not understand?

  8. In the current political climate, being “pro-market” always seems to mean being absolutely laissez-faire, hands-off, Ayn Randian libertarian. But in an earlier era, one could be pro-market and still believe that some regulations and interventions were actually helpful (I’d argue that keeping our food healthy is good, for instance. And keeping cars safe. And many other things.) Reagan himself, surprisingly, wasn’t the fiscal libertarian argonaut he’s often portrayed as. Do you know that he actually…gasp…increased taxes? Eleven times?

    Obama is pro-market. He’s just not a Ayn Randian philosophy-of-selfishness ideologue like so many on the professional right these days. One can be pro-market but also believe that government can play a helpful role. Such nuance, however, is lost on those who paint everyone to the left of Atilla the Hun as socialist.

  9. Pro Market CO2 reduction is Cap and Trade or Carbon Tax.
    Stimulus, Pro Market or not, has to actually involve immediate stimulus. Without actual money flowing, there is no stimulus. Avoiding counter cyclical firing by states is a great way to provide that. Fires still burn during recessions, kids still go to classes, crimes still need to be solved.
    Pro Govt would have been WPA / CCC style projects.

  10. FuzzyFace,
    your statement:

    his idea of the “place” for the market appears to be “way over there where I don’t have to see it.”

    is incomprehensible and does not convey any of the sentiments you impute to Obama in your later comments. Indeed, if anything it suggests a lassiez faire approach, not the interventionist approach you accuse him of. Leaving all of that aside:

    1) The automaker bailout. The “pro-market” approach would have been to let GM and Chrysler go to bankruptcy court, which would have allowed them to reorganize under direction of a judge; deals would have been made with creditors. What Obama did was to impose a government solution and dispossess many creditors, jumping the unions ahead of them. That’s a “pro-government” approach.

    Really? The auto bailout, a “pro-government approach”? A pro-worker approach, maybe, or a pro-union approach – though the new hires’ wages remain low, and the pensions remain unfunded. And all of the commentary at the time predicted that the companies could not survive bankruptcy, that the disruption would ensure their destruction.

    2) Health care. The “pro-market” approach would have been to remove a lot of the barriers currently preventing competition, allowing insurers to offer a wider range of services, and employers to offer a wider range of benefits. What Obama did was to impose a government solution, restricting what policies may be offered and offering government subsidies. That is very definitely a “pro-government” solution.

    This is nonsense on stilts. I suggest you go back and read two years of Ezra Klein’s blog, because I don’t really have the patience to try to educate you, nor is this the proper forum. The problem of inadequate health care is not solved by a race to the bottom in health plans, and the problem of abusive insurers requires regulation, regulation that can only work if it is accompanied with subsidies. There is no non-governmental solution to health care, other than “watch them die”. Everything the Republicans proposed was moot (malpractice tort changes, sell insurance across state lines) or magical thinking (give seniors less money each year to buy non-existent private policies, and they’ll find a way).

    3) The stimulus package. The “pro-market” approach would have been to remove as many regulations as possible that are not absolutely needed, and to provide employers with certainty about the regulatory environment. What Obama did was to give a lot of money to the states, much of it going to keep state governments from needing to downsize. That’s a “pro-government” position.

    Have you ever met an economist? Yes: as a counter-cyclical spending plan, state jobs were (often temporarily) saved, so these (often moderate-income) people would not swell the ranks of the unemployed and would keep spending. In any case, you seem to think that the regulations exist with the aim of preventing enterprise. Prepubescent libertarians agree with this position; most other people realize that the regulations have other aims, aims worth pursuing on their own merits. In any case, the notion that if only we unleashed the creative destruction of capitalism from the vicious bonds of minimum wage legislation, workplace safety, and the clean air act is an interesting one, but mostly for what it ways about you.

  11. Fuzzyface is a virgin, at least where bankruptcy is concerned. The reason Uncle Sam had to take over the Chrysler/GM bailout is that there was no private financing in late 2008, because the financial markets were spooked. The only available financing was Uncle Sam. There were no practical deals that could be made with creditors unless some kind of on-going financing were available. Uncle was the only game in town. That one class of creditors came out ahead of others–happens all the time in bankruptcy, within limits. And the court happened to think that this deal was within the ordinary limits of bankruptcy law. I’m sure that ole Fuzzy wouldn’t have cared much if the unions were the screwees–happens all the time.

    But that’s the thing about wingnuts. They don’t know a damn thing about the mechanics of capitalism, and instead wank to some Platonic ideal of the real thing. Like I said, a bunch of virgins, who are trying to teach us all about sex ed.

  12. Really? The auto bailout, a “pro-government approach”? A pro-worker approach, maybe, or a pro-union approach

    Yes, a “pro-government” approach because it insists that it is the government which should decide who wins rather than the markets. I do see the ambiguity in language, though. Perhaps I should have used the terms “market-centric” vs “government-centric.”

    The problem of inadequate health care is not solved by a race to the bottom in health plans, and the problem of abusive insurers requires regulation, regulation that can only work if it is accompanied with subsidies. There is no non-governmental solution to health care, other than “watch them die”.

    Justifying a government-centric solution with the claim that it is the only possible solution doesn’t make it any less government-centric, which was the discussion we were having (“why do people see Obama as biased towards government-centric solutions?”) As you say, this is not the place to debate whether a market-centric solution is workable or better, although that is a useful argument to be had elsewhere.

    In any case, you seem to think that the regulations exist with the aim of preventing enterprise.

    Um, no. My point was to explain why Obama is rightly perceived as constantly using government as the solution, not to argue whether it was the right solution. What I believe about regulations, though, is that they are an attempt to use governmental power to force solutions. I also believe that they have the result of inhibiting enterprise; but that is certainly not their intent.

    Overall, you have chosen to attack me by ignoring my argument and assuming that I was making a different one.

  13. Warren, great comments. Spot on. As I read through your rebuttals to the nonsense by Fuzzyface, I realize just how terrifying it is to have an electorate that doesn’t understand an increasingly complex world (not that I do fully either, but I try.) The Republican agenda for health care literally terrifies me: we may face a future where we have to grow old and die of fully treatable conditions, because a few misguided and selfish individuals decided that a cocktail of Ayn Rand, Hayek, and Von Mises was somehow correct. “Take your hand off the markets. Do nothing. Back away,” they say.

    Rand herself described her views as a “philosophy of selfishness.” This ideology, crossed with a bizarrely selfish and short-sighted reading of Christianity, has become the mantra of the Republican party. Ideologically, what the Right despises in all of these social programs is not that they’re fiscally irresponsible (they may be, but then refusing to raise the debt ceiling is the most fiscally irresponsible thing you could do.) No, what they despise is that these programs acknowledge that society is built around a commons. That we have to tend to that commons and help each other. And that helping each other makes us all stronger, better, more enlightened. Our nation became great largely because we strove for equality as a means of achieving freedom.

  14. Matt: What makes you think that the Right wouldn’t have characterized Attila the Hun as a communist?

  15. Matt, the scenario you paint (die of fully treatable conditions) is much more liely under PPACA, since, as with other government – centric systems, there will be long waiting times for diagnosis/treatment as providers become too scarce.

    Hang in there, Fuzzy, your analysis of Obama was spot-on. A rare clear-eyed post here on the Unreality Network.

    By the way, the major beef with the auto bankruptcies is that senior debt holders lost their place in line so that Obama could pay off his union buddies for helping him get elected. A horrible precedent, that will add XX basis points to the needed interest payments when GM next goes to the debt market.

  16. Mark: “Barack Obama has certainly earned some (not all) of the hostility directed at him by movement progressives. But he’s entitled to feel badly let down by the centrists.”

    Brooks isn’t a centrist; he’s the bland-appearing BS artist who comes up with bland reasons for why we should move right and why anybody who doesn’t agree with whatever the right proposes is not respectable.

  17. Shorter Redwwave (and a bunch of other “market-oriented” commenters on health care): the waiting times of people who don’t get treatment for their illness because they’re too poor and/or without insurance are impossible to measure directly, so they shall be assigned a value of zero. I’m highlighting this because it’s a habit for “market-oriented” types in a lot of other areas, especially environmental economics. When they run across a quantity (e.g. the value of undisturbed old-growth forest) that’s difficult to assign a number to, they tend to assign the only number absolutely known to be wrong, namely zero.

  18. Also, I think part of the problem here is that “centrist” has become a debased term. All the “centrists” in congress, for example, should properly be called “not quite as far right as the completely crazy ones”.

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