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Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Did Progressives Need Contrarians ?

Wow it seems Ed Kilgore doesn't place a limit on the length of comments.  After my latest screed (copied below) I bet he will.  He's back to talking about the old new Democrat Old Democrat debates.  He is trying to argue that the DLC no longer exists, because they convinced the party (I didn't rejoin the party the party rejoined me).  He asserts this in various ways and presents no evidence.  Go read his post (I won't read it again to excerpt )

Here is my overlong rant of a comment.

Let's grind old axes (you re-starting it). I actually agree with Welch about liberal contrarians such as those who populated the DLC.   You have changed.

I do not believe that your relationship with other liberals has changed because you convinced us. I didn't manage to quite finish the post before starting this comment I lost it at "One important reason the tone of liberal “heresy” has changed is that the “contrarians” won a lot of battles, from the “reinventing government” movement"

OK I know something about that movement cause I visited Brad DeLong at Treasury once.  He said that Larry Katz couldn't see me because he was reinventing government -- this shows Katz would have some insight into what the reinventing government movement.  Katz later told me it basically consisted of replacing social programs with vouchers.  In 2000 He denounced Al Gore as a flip flopper for heading the effort to reinvent government and then denouncing school vouchers.  So someone who is definitely expert on the topic identified school vouchers as typical of reinventing government.

I think the debate within the Democratic party is over because you were totally wrong and the evidence has convinced all reasonable people.  In the 90s liberal heretics (including by the way Albert Shanker) supported the use of private profit making contractors to achieve liberal goals.  The idea was that the private sector is more efficient.  The data show that this approach costs more (a key test case is Medicare Advantage which was imposed by Republicans and which was not the idea of a liberal heretic).  The debate is largely over, because most Democrats are reasonable and the data are clear.  But the resolution is the opposite of the one you asserted.  The party is united, because people generally aligned with you (I don't know about you personally) lost it.

There was also a big debate about financial regulation. Clinton signed bills deregulating finance.  This was highly praised by many liberals (including Brad DeLong see above).  The debate was won by the reformers who supported deregulation.  That debate too is resolved, because I and people with whom I associate (DeLong and my other PhD supervisor Larry Summers) admit that we were wrong.

The new Democrats don't argue with the paleo liberals on many old topics because the data have proven that the new Democrats were wrong.

OK I managed a few more lines and got to "modernizing their means in order to make them more effective in meeting their stated purposes and in maintaining political support for them. "  I am not a knee jerk conservative, but I object to the identification of "modernizing" with "making ... more effective".  In fact modernized social programs are less efficient.

But mostly I object to the "and".  What happens if swing voters are wrong about what works ?  The new Democrat approach is to assume that you and the moderate middle agree and you are right.  The problem is that the new approaches are less efficient than the old ones (this is accounting and you accept it for the ACA elimination of the Medicare Advantage excess payments and transition from outsourced to in house servicing of student loans).

I think it is clear that the DLC and the Washington Monthly broke up when it became clear that hard headed reality based data driven analysis was inconsistent with saying what one had to say to win the votes of a significant majority of white southerners.  I'm glad you stayed with the reality based community when you had to chose between respect for data and for the DLC.

But I get irritated when you rewrite history.  I got especially irritated when you rewrite history and accuse Jason DeParle of grinding old axes when he reported current events here

You want to bury the hatchet ? Fine.  You don't have to admit that the data prove you were wrong.  But stop claiming that we admit that you were right.  We can put the past behind us.  I even managed for months.  But you keep digging it up.

OK I've made it to the end of the post and only lost it one more time.  It was at "Maybe those are the people Welch misses. But they were never the dominant personalities at WaMo, the DLC, or even TNR (all institutions I’ve been identified with, BTW)."  Note above on how I congratulate you on the huge shift from the DLC to the WaMo.  I think one of those three things is not like the others.  TNR published articles describing the DLC as effectively working as professional contrarians.  The author did not claim to read minds and nor did I, but he noted, and quoted a DLC staffer noting, that the only role the DLC played in the public debate was as a place to find Democrats criticizing the Democratic mainstream.  I am sure that this was not the aim of people at the DLC that you cared about it that you hated this fact. But it was just the way things were.  This was agreed.  Note again the DLC staffer.  I don't think the article is on the web.

So a challenge.  Ask your new colleagues at WaMo if they would like to appear on a list of WaMo employed supporters of the DLC.  Then post it.  I guess that your identification of the DLC and the Washington Monthly as generally similar in orientation and part of the same intra party movement is inconsistent with the data which are available to you (but not to me).

Finally why are you posting about the DLC and not about ACORN ?

end of comment

Even more here.  My answer to the question in my title is "yes of course but not those contrarians".  Criticism is good in general, but some criticism is incorrect.  It is important to avoid ideology, by which I mean it is important to accept cognitive dissonance.  In particular I am thinking of the ideology which identifies the way to develop effective policy and the way to win elections.  This ideology (once I think deeply felt by Kilgore) is populist in the original meaning of the word (now it is used to mean rude and loud).  It is based on the idea that ordinary people have common sense and are probably right when most disagree with self declared experts.  One can be sincerely convinced of this if and only if one thinks that foreign aid is more than 10% of the US Federal Budget.  In the real world, the self declared experts know some relevant facts which most people don't know*.  So one often has to decide between doing what is mosty likely to work and doing what is politically popular.

The Pundit's fallacy is to assume that makng some choice which they think is sound is the way to win elections.  I think the DLC fallacy was to think that the things one had to say to win a majority of white votes in the South made sense.  This means they thought that ordinary people of other regions and ethnicities weren't uh ordinary enough or something.  I just checked.  Will Marshall is from south of the Mason Dixon line (so am I).  I am shocked to find he is from Virginia.  I would have guessed further South.

Look Kilgore was part of the new Southern white wing of the Democratic party (new as in definitely not the old segregationist wing).  This is now a tiny fringe -- the far left fringe of Southern whites and the far right fringe of the Democratic Party.  Since the Democrats gained the ability to win Presidential elections without the votes of Southern whites, it has become irrelevant.   Kilgore did not allow regional loyalty to convince him to go down with the ship.  That's an excellent thing since he is a excellent journalist thinker and writer.

But I really wish he would stop declaring victory after a defeat.

*(an aside as a professional economist I must admit that I believe when the view of the typical economist is different from that of the typical man in the street,  the man in the street is more likely to be right.  The typical views of economists include counter intuitive results analysis of simple models.  If the simple models were reality, the stuff you here on the street would not make sense.  Wait a few decades and economists will find a model which fits the ordinary guy conventional wisdom.  The analysis of models can't teach us about the world -- it can only yield hypotheses which must be tested.  In many many cases the average economist disagrees with the average guy because the average economist has made assumptions for tractability which imply silly results which don't hold in a more sophisticated model.  But we are the exception.  OK also expert astrologers).

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