OK, for a while now I've been toying with the idea of a "what in the world is Arnold Kling thinking?" sort of post, but I never went ahead with it. Arnold presents a very interesting case. His posts on macroeconomics are often fascinating. He takes Minsky seriously, which is more than can be said for a lot of libertarians - and he integrates it with some innovative work on the macroeconomics of labor by Garett Jones. This stuff is always great to read.
But quite regularly, Kling writes up posts where he speculates on "liberals" or "the left" or some other formulation of mainstream, non-libertarian, non-conservatives that are nothing short of bizarre.
Here, Kling asks how people who think the state should solve market failures should in some way be evaluated on the basis of the fate of the Soviet Union. He describes the Soviet Union as an experiment that tests this "market failure" position, an experiment which inevitably liberals ignore. The problems with this framing of the question should be obvious to anyone that knows even a small amount of economics. Since when is state control of retail trade (the issue he specifically cites) an attempt at addressing a market failure? People who set out parameters for when markets succeed and when markets fail would have predicted the total failure of the Soviet excursion into retail trade, not to mention the Soviet experiment in general. Kling asks how we can cope with such damning empirical evidence. The logic is barely comprehensible.
If the "market failure" school of thought were to describe their ideal society, what kind of society would they describe? One like the United States, Western Europe, Japan, Canada, etc. - that's what. If you take market failure seriously you think these societies get it right and the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, etc. get it wrong. The problem isn't a lack of examples of societies that address market failures - the problem is a lack of a libertarian counter-factual to compare it to!
This is just one example of Arnold's odd take on liberals. There are many others that consistently lead me to ask "is this the same Arnold Kling that just wrote such an enlightening post about Minsky and Jones?"
- Liberals don't like markets and think markets are unfair
- Liberals don't like school choice, think that "technocrats" and social scientists have "mystical" powers, and don't understand "the knowledge problem" (i.e. - Hayek's point)
- Liberals "tend to affiliate themselves with Harvard types, and Harvard types believe that they are smarter than markets" (keep reading that quote... it gets even crazier and more conspiratorial)
- Liberals (1.) don't see inconsistency between legalizing marijuana while banning trans fats, (2.) want to ban trans fats, and (3.) don't want to legalize marijuana because they believe in limited government (they want to legalize marijuana because they don't think it's a problem)
- Liberals "are confident that they are smarter and better educated than conservatives"
What's weird is how insightful Kling can be in certain posts, and how completely disconnected from reality he can be whenever the topic of "what liberals think" comes up. Usually I'm not convinced by psychoanalytic interpretations, but I'm seriously tempted to think that there is some deeply-rooted, unresolved issue in Kling's past that leads to posting like this.
Anyway - very strange. I go back and forth between personally identifying as a "liberal", but I'm certainly left of center and I do think the ideas behind "market failures" are very important for understanding how a wide variety of social institutions work (or do not work). So apparently I identify with "Harvard-types", think I'm smarter than everyone else, and should have my ideas evaluated on the basis of the performance of the Soviet Union.
I labeled this "part 1" because from now on I'm not going to refrain from reposting the craziness here. It's just too weird not to share. If anyone else has any particularly egregious examples please feel free to share.
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