Manzi Responds — and So do I
Jim Manzi, with impressive speed and more civility than I displayed in my original post, writes to object to my treatment of some of his remarks in his latest blog flurry.
In the comment thread to that post, he says:
Thanks for your detailed read of my article.
You say that:
“It sure is easy to make your case if you feel no compulsion to actually, you know, make it.”
The case I was trying to make in the article was (as you have included in your quote) that accepting that freer markets can drive faster growth “does not lead to the conclusion that we can or should continue on the deregulation-oriented path on which we find ourselves without considering the balancing consideration of social cohesion.”
You say that:
“The GOP approach to public life has not changed in a generation: lower taxes, less regulation. That’s it.”
(As an aside, I don’t speak for the GOP), but if this is meant to apply to my article, I think you ought to confront that 2 of the 4 recommendations I make are for: (1) re-regulating financial services along a moderninzed version of New Deal concepts, and (2) trying to pursue parent empowerment though competion within regulated public schools rather than trying to privatize them through vouchers.
Given his politesse, I thought it proper to respond here, rather than in a thread that readers might or might not see.
He notes, correctly, that in the second of the excerpts I took from his post, his parenthetical remark — “I…accept the advantages…” refers to proposals in the original essay that sparked this whole food for two types of changes to our current regulatory regime — re-regulation of financial services and deregulation public education (in the context of his rejection of the alternative of private vouchers.
In that context, Mr Manzi objects that I criticize him inappropriately for his uncritical use of axioms instead of evidence, because despite that dependency he argues for a particular policy position seemingly antagonistic to his assumptions.
To be fair, there is something in that. It shows that his beliefs are not wholly simplistic and doctrinaire: he at least admits the possiblity that there might be competing goods whose claims need to be balanced with his articles of faith, which is more sophisticated than a lot of the market fundamentalism out there — and I apologize for failing to note this aspect of his larger argument.
At the same time this misses my core point: that while you can accept the notion that the world retains some complexity, as long as you retain your commitment to ideas as revelation, it becomes GIGO time: garbage in produces garbage out.
So even if I agree with Mr. Manzi on the usefulness of an updated New Deal approach to financial regulation (and I might, though the devil is in details his original article does not address), and disagree with his characterization of the educational problem we face (though face one we certainly do), as long as this style of argument is accepted as serious policy thought, any position can and will be justified.
Not near good enough, at least not in the relentless fact-centered world I inhabit in my perch at a pretty good engineering school.
As to Mr. Manzi’s second complaint that he does not speak for the GOP — of course, that’s true. But I never said he did.
Rather, I’ve picked him out for my screed below because I think he offers an interesting case study of the damage to be done by the intellectual sleight of hand used over and over again by those who more directly seek to advance the fortunes of the most failure-ridden American political organization of my lifetime.
That is: I take him as the high-culture version of the kind of argument that asserts that any government action — lending with conditions to financial firms, say — is by definition socialism. And as socialism is by definition bad….well you know how that goes.
Arguing from assumptions not in evidence is an old debater’s trick. It can win a point or two. It is not a substitute for serious thought, nor for actual engagement with the ground of reality needed to test ideas, nor in aid of the construction of policy that has a chance of actually doing some good on the ground. It is in fact mere mental masturbation.
And while I have no problems with what adults do in the privacy of their own mental spaces — this is no way to propose to run a country.
Onward. Back to the day job.
Image: Js. Gilray, “Uncorking Old Sherry” 1805