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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Comment on Drum commenting on Warren

Drum has a good skeptical post on Warren

Elizabeth Warren and the Slow Boring of Hard Boards

which includes "The story provides a pretty good look at Warren’s distinctive combination of tenaciousness, policy chops, and grassroots support, but it’s not clear to me how well her style would translate into being a good president."

"That leaves tenaciousness, which I have no argument about."

and

"For the time being, the best theory of change is the good old slow boring of hard boards."

It seems to me very clear to Drum how well her style would translate into being a good President.

My comment

Yes "theory of change" is a buzz phrase. Also just after writing that you aren't taken with obsessing over a candidate's theory of change, you show you are, in fact, so taken. The candidate isn't Warren, it is Sanders. You reject Sanders's theory of change, advocating for the alternative (previously known as Clinton's theory of change).

One very key issue. Drum theory of change

You want a real theory of change? Here it is: build up enough public support for your cause that you can win the presidency along with a 300+ majority in the House and a comfortable filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. That’s pretty much it. Tedious outrage about “incipient fascism” aside, the United States is still a democracy.

Which two words don't fit well together ? Democracy does not imply filibuster. The USA is the only Democracy in which filibusters are important. Another theory of change is presidency, 235+ in the house and 51 votes in the Senate to eliminate the filibuster. That is Warren's theory of change. It's a lot more plausible than 60 votes in the Senate. Also the 300+ in the House is just nonsense. The House made no trouble for Obama, Clinton or, even Jimmy Carter himself. The current majority is plenty. The problems are getting 1 more President, 4 more senators and convincing Democratic Senators to eliminate the filibuster. That requires a candidate determined to fight to eliminate the filibuster. We have one such candidate. One is enough.

Eliminating the filibuster is a necessary part of any change, theory of change, and practice of change. Anyone who says otherwise (see Sanders & Biden) is bullshitting.

Oddly you phrase your post as Warren skepticism (contrarian much ? I suppose there has to be at least one Warren skeptical liberal wonk -- a dirty rotten job but no one else seems willing to do it). But your point is that tenacity is required, and, lo and behold, you agree she's got it.

OK so the other two topics. I'd agree that Presidents should rely on experts. The real menaces are those who think they know more than the experts, or that knowledge doesn't matter (see Trump, Donald; Bush George W; & Reagan, Ronald). However, note that all Presidents who have actually been able to make use of experts are almost incredibly knowledgeable. At least that's the way things have been since I turned 18 (in 1978).

The problem is that one has to know a lot, and be very smart, in order to tell which of the people who claim to be experts really are useful experts. Note I snuck in "useful". Linus Pauling was very expert on physics, chemistry, and biology, but he wasn't a useful expert, because he was crazy. You want rock solid proof that HIV causes AIDS then you want to use PCR, but Casey Mullin, who developed PCS, declared that HIV didn't cause AIDS because he hadn't kept up with the literature and didn't know what he didn't know. I think one needs extraordinary knowledge and brain power in order to follow and judge debates between experts.

Let me try to name a President who did a good job without being absurdly knowledgeable and smart.

Trump: Total disaster

Obama: absurdly knowledgeable and smart

Bush Jr: totaler disaster

Clinton: Absolutely amazingly absurdly knowledgeable and smart. Has fallen for fake experts (Ira Magaziner, Dick Morris, Mark Penn)

Bush Sr: Not super smart, had huge foreign policy experience. Candidate exception. not re-elected

Reagan; I guess he is commonly presented as an example of a great President who know almost nothing, but he not, I trust, here. Laffer is the number one case of a fake expert and Laffer, Reagan, Kemp, Roth is the number one example of how dumb ignorant policymakers can make a mess of things.

Carter: very smart ultra nerd. Fell for a fake expert (Patrick Caldwell). Not reelected

Ford: Fine if you want to ally with South Africa (Kissinger policy on Angola)

Nixon: very smart, knowledgeable and evil (an extremely un-useful expert)

Johnson: Ver smart knowledgeable and overdosed on testosterone. An extremely violent expert.

Kennedy: trusted the best and the brightest. How did that work out ?

Eisenhower: Candidate for not super smart (top honors at West Point but so ?) and good at the job. Need to overlook repeated severe recessions and assault on Democracy in Iran and Guatemala but it's not as if anything has gone wrong in either country since then

Truman another candidate excellent non expert president

FDR BINGO 2nd rate intellect 1st class character and confirms your theory of change.

I'd say the lesson of the past decades is that only wonks can protect themselves against fake experts and they only have a 50 50 chance.

16 comments:

JimV said...

Even in a good engineering organization, there are fake experts, and in my experience they will shout down everyone until they get their own way. They are super-confident, and management can see that when they can't tell who is making sense and who isn't.

As I think Daniel Davies said, the solution is to audit them. Keep track of how well their predictions pan out. Unfortunately that takes time and the half-life of managers (before moving up or out) is rather short.

From what I can tell of previous accomplishments, Elizabeth Warren laps the field. I've experienced fake experts and I don't think she is one, or will be fooled by one for long.

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