Friday, September 15, 2006

Thomas PM Barnett

Tommy Barnett came up with an interesting analogy yesterday:
I just remain amazed at how little people in America understand about how much China has changed in just two generations since the Cultural Revolution. I mean, it’s a stunning distance traveled, akin to the road America traversed from 1865 to 1905.
He was arguing that the current mess of corruption and class division in China is a natural step in the industrial evolution of a society, and will pass eventually. It gave me pause, and for a short moment, hope.

Then I remembered that it took two world wars and a depression to make this phase of American history pass. In addition, America got off easy in this transition from agrarianism to industrialism, Germany, Austria-Hungry, and Russia did not.

But still, a very interesting and stimulating read. And he seems to write more interesting original content (as opposed to just linking everything they read like some people) before nine AM then I do all week. Why haven’t I linked him on my blogroll?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Conflict Between Centrists and Ideologues

Brad Delong made a recent comment:

I am, as I said above, a reality-based center-left technocrat. I am pragmatically interested in government policies that work: that are good for America and for the world. My natural home is in the bipartisan center, arguing with center-right reality-based technocrats about whether it is center-left or center-right policies that have the best odds of moving us toward goals that we all share--world peace, world prosperity, equality of opportunity, safety nets, long and happy lifespans, rapid scientific and technological progress, and personal safety. The aim of governance, I think, is to achieve a rough consensus among the reality-based technocrats and then to frame the issues in a way that attracts the ideologues on one (or, ideally, both) wings in order to create an effective governing coalition.
So who are the Centrist Technocrats and who are the Ideologue Populists? Stirling Newberry wonders:

It is the talk of blogistan left, the controversial argument that he is a technocrat, and that being a technocrat is better than being populist.

To which I have to ask - is there really a conflict?
And after a discussion with Max Sawicky I think I have an answer: yes.

Populists on both sides want to spend the post-Cold War surplus, some want to spend it on tax cuts and corporate welfare, others want to spend it on new social programs. Populists also tend to oppose international trade and immigration.

Centrists want to save the post-Cold War surplus. Left Centrists want to preserve existing social programs and reduce deficits by increasing taxes, right centrists want to eliminate social programs to pay for existing tax reductions.

On both sides, the populists attempt to convince their respective centrists that irresponsible spending is necessary because if they don’t spend irresponsibly, the opposition’s populists will offer to do so and win elections. Currently it seems that the Republican Populists have had more success, but I maintain hope that right centrists will come to their senses after prescription drugs, Iraq, the Farm Bill, and the social security debacle.

If the populists are indeed correct, and it would be impossible to exercise fiscal restraint, I … I don’t know if I can finish that sentence. Suffices to say that war with China would be a real possibility.

An easy solution to the fiscal crisis we face is to create a new technocratic position similar to a Supreme Court Justice or Federal Reserve Chair who would be responsible for setting an allowable federal budget deficit.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Oops, I forgot...

So I just made a comment over on Delong’s blog in which I discussed the positional aspect of the human utility function and referenced this paper. I closed with this thought:

The important liberal implication of positional utility is that we can redistribute wealth to a point of equality and still get large and significant motivation of effort by allowing tiny increases in inequality, gaining huge motivation by offering a change in social position without harming the least well off very much (and indeed not at all after making a Rawlsian accounting of incentives).
Unfortunately I did not make clear that this only applies in the case that the positional component of utility is a function of the relative ordinal wealth of the individual, not if it is a function of the magnitude of inequality; in other words, it only works if people care only about their order of wealth (as would be the case where they are concerned about which mate they are paired with), not in the case where they care more if differences are larger (as would be the case in the hypothesis suggested by Delong that rich people attempt to generate envy in others, more disparity could make more envy).