December 11, 2004

Letter to the Paper XXXVI

David Sucher relays a Matthew Yglesias diss of David Brooks' recent column on Social Security reform. They're both all wet and Brooks is right but I find it interesting that both critics seem to have misunderstood what "trusting the market" really is about. That phrase is simply about what sort of heuristic do you have when you have imperfect information and you need to decide between a market solution or a government solution to a problem and it seems both writers missed it. As a bonus, David Sucher tries to make the case that if you're an intellectual, you can't really understand markets and only those who are business investors/owners are in a position to really do so.

Anyway, here's my comment on David Sucher's blog:

I think I'll frame this article as a prime example of anti-intellectualism on the left. Really, if you haven't invested in a business but have acted as an intellectual (whether "sort of" or the real kind) your positions are not as worthy as somebody who has fought in the trenches. That's almost a textbook case of soft anti-intellectual bias. It's like dissing Machiavelli because he never, you know, actually ran a country.

Moving along, I think that both you and Yglesias are misinterpreting Brooks and every other free marketeer out there who talks about trusting the market. Given perfect information, those who trust the market v those who distrust it will always pick the most optimal solution between two candidate solutions, one being market oriented, the other government oriented.

Given imperfect information, where you really can't guarantee how things are going to turn out, those who "trust the market" will have a higher propensity to guess that the market solution will be superior to the government solution than those who distrust the market.

You can say that it all reduces down to some sort of trite truism that those who trust, will trust. That doesn't make it "bullshit" nor do I think it particularly galling at this stage of the game when there is so little actual information out there that the only people seriously peeved or revved about Social Security reform are gathering to tribal banners, not really expressing anything about policy.

Having read the Brooks article, it seems to me that he's making a sociological observation about the Democrat tribe qua tribe. The old head shaman has retired and some of the new ones are dabbling in dark magic, preparing the tribe for a dirty fight. Some other shamans are looking to bring the tribe forward to a different path.

At a certain point, the reform proposals will come out and we'll get to the point of hashing out policy. That's going to be way after we've finished with our tribal posturing. That tribal posturing really is going to determine the battlefield. Are we going to have a new "no child left behind" bill which merely sets the stage for further reform as the measurement data comes in? Are those on the right going to go for the brass ring straight off? It all depends on the tribal alignments and who trusts what. That's what Brooks seems to be talking about and I find it interesting.

Posted by TMLutas at December 11, 2004 09:39 PM