Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Two things that make me feel like a fuddy-duddy (and I'm only 27!!!)...

...Scott Sumner and Occupy Wall Street.

Both of which, it so happens, are very popular right now.

And both of which as a practical matter I'm 100% behind.

I don't know how Scott Sumner manages to be so confident about cause and effect, so nonchalant about inflation, or so focused on a single metric that is allegedly the key to everything. But I do know that I agree that right now the Fed ought to be more expansionary, and I do know that I long for the day that inflation is what I'm worried about. So I have a hard time not cheering on the wave of NGDP level targeting euphoria that has swept the blogosphere recently. Kudos to Scott and everyone else (it's not like he did this alone). If policy, research, or both vindicate him on this and clarify some of the more looming reservations this man is serious Nobel material down the road. A prize for making the world safe for inflation again (it didn't used to be a dirty word, after all).

Anyway - at least I'll never be quite the fuddy-duddy that this guy is (I tease him only because I like him).

I am still triangulating my views on OWS. But again, like Scott, whatever differences with them I may have on the nitty-gritty issues, I still have to say "it sounds a hell of a lot better than what we're looking at now".


  1. OWS is at its heart anti-market. It is an interesting social phenomena (in the same way a charivari is for example) but it isn't better than what we're looking at right now.

    Unfortunately both of the major "reform" movements in the U.S. that have at least gotten lots of coverage (the TMP and the OWS) seem to be riven with the biases which Bryan Caplan so ably demonstrates in _Myth of the Rational Voter_ and there really is no Bastiat in the political mix to lead against that sort of thing. And no, Ron Paul is not a modern day Bastiat (his views on immigration alone speak for that IMO).

  2. I remember reading a bit of Caplan's book at a bookstore and being absolutely gobsmacked by it... it was an eyeopener for me w.r.t. how wooden the concept of "rationality" is for economists and how flat some of their assumptions about human decision-making are. That such a book had to be written or was a revelation to anyone was itself a revelation to me.

    On OWS, I think people are setting themselves up for misunderstanding if they try to pinpoint a message at the heart of the movements or specific goals that sum it up. There are impulses present such as income inequality or the collusion between corporations and government, but the occupy movements strike me as too broad to be liable to any particular accusation as to their purpose (which itself might make them liable to criticism, e.g., for their ambiguity and lack of a clear goal).

    One thing I've appreciated about the occupying movements is the experimental way in which they are just creating a counter-community on the streets. Whether it's the libraries that Daniel linked to the other day or the community decision making on various items of business, the occupying movements are interesting insofar as the are little societies camped out on the pavement and offering a rag-tag sort of alternative to the status quo. What will be effective in the movements at the end of the day, I think, is their ability to showcase what the 99% look like in explicitly contrasting themselves with the 1%. Whether or not the thing fizzles or any itemized demands are met, there is an ongoing space of rhetoric that is offering an alternative vision for how we see our national life.

    The idea that they're anti-market strikes me as dumb, though. I'm just not seeing it. I'm sure some of them are... as I said above, it's a diverse group with no unified message to speak of. But most of them seem supportive of labor, business, and employment. Their concerns have to do with what they perceive to be a dangerous concentration of power inside and outside of the market.

  3. Evan,

    Maybe next time you'll do more than browse the book. Anyway...

    What little polling has been shows the anti-market bias of folks at OWS; maybe future polling won't show that, maybe it will continue to show that.

    As for the 99% thing, I always find it interesting and rather arrogant when self-appointed people try to start speaking for me.

    "Their concerns have to do with what they perceive to be a dangerous concentration of power inside and outside of the market."

    You get concentrations of power from the sorts of policies that the OWS people in general like; indeed, the OWS people seem to want an even state to concentrate even more power in the hands of the people that they like (that never ends up well). There is nothing dispersed or terribly organic or federalist or anything like that in that way of thinking; it is an essentially Jacobin mindset.

  4. Evan,

    This may or may not be a different viewpoint from my own, but it is an interesting read:


    Most importantly it includes the survey I alluded to in an earlier post.

    #24 is a good example of what I am talking about. I would assume that it does not differ terribly from what you would find amongst the TP's general viewpoint on trade, etc.


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