Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cause for hope

Arnold Kling has bothered me in the past for his wild ideas of what progressivism is, but there is cause for hope as well. For example, in this post he talks about reducing the payroll tax and replacing it with a carbon tax, making Social Security less regressive, and shining a spot light on tax expenditures as having a "whiff of liberaltarianism". These are ideas that I hear all the time in the circles I'm a part of in the Democratic-leaning policy analysis community. This stuff that Kling is apparently positive about is standard fare. It's encouraging to see a "whiff of center-left thinking" on such a prominent libertarian blog!

If a bill was introduced tomorrow to cut the payroll tax and replace it with a carbon tax, it would not be the left that would be standing in its way. If Congress got serious about really accounting for the money that gets funnelled out through tax expenditures, it would not be the left that would throw up roadblocks.


  1. The problem with this whole "What do progressives think?", "What do conservatives think?" et cetera et cetera is that there is no such as what progressives think or what conservatives think.

    There are probably 100 million regular voters with 100 million opinions.

    These pseudo-intellectual labels and TV talking head epithets help only in shedding a little light on what a person may believe, but no further.

    Orwell warned against empty epithets in debate, because they involve letting words do your thinking for you.

    Elaine Morgan, an evolutionary biologist, has an aquatic ape theory, even though she is quite close to every other evolutionary biologist in thought and quite willing to give up her theory any time. But no biologist calls her an aquaticarian, nor do we see Kling style articles on "What do aquaticarians believe?"

  2. Prateek - have you read what I've written about the "presumption of ideological orthogonality"? I think in many ways you're right - when we have labels we have a tendency to think of them as different poles of an issue, which often confuses our understanding of what other people are saying.

    That having been said, how could we communicate without labeling things and ideas? It's distortionary, but it's also clarifying. These labels are not assigned at random, after all. We just need to be careful about using them to avoid critical thinking.

  3. We have to make a radical change in all discourse and debate. We must eliminate broadly categorizing political labels altogether, because if a person decides to label you as a member of a particular group, he has already decided your arguments and his own counter-responses.

    That is troublesome and puts the burden of proof on you to defend yourself innocent of charges placed against you. Surely you do not enjoy that? Someone saying, "Daniel Kuehn is a big government lover who believes in broken window fallacy" is bound to make you groan, right?

    Yes, it will be difficult to change and we will have to make do with either clarifying positions fully or not at all. But it's no longer a matter of what we should or should not do. It's a matter of what we can or can not do. Discourse is impossible these days, with opponents painted with a broad brush. Krugman, for example, said that people who believe in some supposed Great Depression myths also probably believed in creationism.

  4. "If Congress got serious about really accounting for the money that gets funnelled out through tax expenditures, it would not be the left that would throw up roadblocks."

    Yeah they would, if by the left you mean the Democratic party. Same would be true of the carbon tax idea too (lots of Congress critters from auto, etc. states).

  5. Prateek,

    Krugman also stated that those who do not take his view on climate change are "traitors to the planet" or some such.


    You have some very wild ideas regarding libertarianism.


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