Moral heuristics, public policy, and self-defeating tribalism

Both commenters and Brad DeLong respond wonderfully to my previous piece. DeLong didn’t quite get what I was trying to say, which is very much my fault and not his. His recent piece pushed my one neuron past its activation threshold, triggering an ejaculation of pent up griping and theorizing. Let me put a bit of order to things.

  1. I am not taking issue with DeLong’s position on, for example, the advisability of pulling government spending forward, despite conventional virtue that suggests a cash constrained family ought to “tighten its belt” in difficult times. On the contrary, DeLong and Krugman aroused my pique because I largely agree with them on the substantive issues.

  2. Basically, I am upset about the manner in which “my side” is making its arguments. Not because our approach is mean or uncivil (it’s not especially), but because it is ultimately self-defeating.

  3. My evaluation is based on a view of how human beings regulate social conduct. I think we do so primarily via moral heuristics. Those heuristics both shape and are shaped by reason. But our moral intuitions are more durable than reasoned conjectures, and more pervasive in guiding how we actually behave. Importantly, I think that moral heuristics are socially determined and malleable. I think we all become very different people when we immerse ourselves in different communities, and that individually and collectively our moral heuristics do change over time.

  4. I think that “my side” fetishizes certain modes of reasoned thought, and is (unconsciously) disdainful of moral heuristics. Ironically, but very humanly, our own behavior is overwhelmingly determined by moral heuristics that include tribalism and unexamined conventions about the bounds of legitimate choice.

  5. Our biases and blindspots lead us to reason and communicate with one another in a very specific way, and to ignore and ridicule those who cannot do so or who express ideas beyond our conventional limits. That’s bad for a few reasons. First, it can lead us substantively astray: we are subject to groupthink. Secondly, even when we arrive at good conclusions, we forget that converting those conclusions into durable policy requires that moral intuitions consistent with our views become widely distributed and socially reinforced.

  6. We are in competition with other groups who have their own biases and blindspots, and their own cherished modes of reasoning. Some of that reasoning may be inferior to our own in terms, for example, of describing and predicting empirical phenomena. However, some of our competitors do not disdain moral heuristics, but habitually devote themselves to promoting moral intuitions that become stable and self-reinforcing.

  7. “My side” consequentially errs by turning its particular mode of reasoning into an exclusionary totem of affiliation and ignoring the disconnect between its own conclusions and widely held intuitions of the polity. We win in our own estimation of course, and sometimes we win political battles. But our victories are unstable and must be endlessly refought when they are not reinforced by widely shared moral views. Sometimes winning itself reshapes the moral landscape. But sometimes it does not. And very often we cannot win at all, because we fail to communicate with those outside our tribe.

  8. We are not as smart as we think we are. Our disdain for moral intuition can lead us to behave in ways that are actively harmful, for example when we impose “reasoned” policy but fail to address moral concerns or reconcile moral intuitions. That gets experienced as a form of violence. Often our elaborate reasoning is cartoonishly simple compared to rich contingency of moral heuristics. Conversely, we frequently trumpet as reason what are really parochial moral ideas dressed in symbols. Outcomes are better when we allow moral intuition and reasoned argument to percolate together and influence policy.

  9. It would be possible for “my side” to successfully contest the sphere of widely held moral intuitions, especially when our ideas are actually good. Human beings are capable of moral ideas that are fine-grained and context dependent. Subtle and complex policy can be made morally intuitive, with some effort and attention.

  10. But often we don’t even try. We shoot ourselves in the foot by lampooning moral intuition and elevating reason, by reveling in cleverness and using our mastery of the counterintuitive as a status marker and badge of authority.

  11. We thus cede the realm of moral intuition to those we disparage as cretins and demagogues. And we whine about that, with self-righteous superiority. Our lamentations become another token of status and affiliation.

  12. I view this as counterproductive. I think we should behave differently.

I hope this helps to clarify my previous piece. Again, I want to emphasize that I like DeLong and Krugman and very often agree with them. To the degree that I went off on them personally, I apologize. But I hope readers will understand why, in light of the points above, I dislike phrases that signal affiliation with policy elites (“bipartisan technocrats of the center”, “reality-based community”) and arguments that disparage moral intuition while inviting the clever to delight in mastery of the counterintuitive. (p.s. I am sure I am a hypocrite, and have done all the things I claim to dislike. oh well!)

 
 

37 Responses to “Moral heuristics, public policy, and self-defeating tribalism”

  1. babar writes:

    i think it’s immoral that people en masse would hoard financial assets (as opposed to real assets) on a large scale. not only is it, as we see now, damaging to the economy as a whole, but in my mind it shows a high level of anti-social behavior and a high level of dependence on authority/government structures who are put in place to stand behind these “assets”. i believe that we have a responsibility to each other to put our capital — personal capital and intellectual capital — to good use for each other. not doing this is irresponsible.

  2. moebius writes:

    As near as I can tell these bipartisan technocrats of the center who ended up with real power over the economy would be Robert Rubin and Larry Summers. They are Democrats and members of Krugman’s (and Delong’s?) tribe. Rubin and Summers have effectively promoted the loosening of restraints on the pursuit of self interest as an societal organizing principal. In others words, they have let loose the “Greed is Good” outlook to run free.

    The people who run our country are not going to listen to arguments that their currently operating outlook is immoral. They are too busy fighting political battles to care about morality. We need stronger arguments.

    Greed is not good. Unrestrained roaming greed is cancer and cancer kills. Our financial system is currently unrestrained roaming greed.

    I agree with babar that the people en masse hoarding financial assets is immoral. Encouraging the top 10% of our society to do so as a way of securing their future is promoting a cancer that is currently raging through our society.

  3. JKH writes:

    This is a matter of problem solving in the right sequence. Which problem is more important to tackle immediately – the right technological response to the risk of impending depression, or the right moral resolution of the forces that created that risk in the first place? The solutions are sequentially separable, in my view. We don’t need to be tripping all over each other to resolve the moral dilemma as of yesterday. We do need to address the critical mass problem for the economy and employment. And to assert that these problems are not sequentially separable is to reject the possibility of any capacity for intelligent attention span. That’s pure stupidity turning inward and compounding on itself. That’s an exploding hand grenade of dumb.

    The overriding problem that distorts the sequence is the obsession with punishing bankers, at all costs, and as soon as possible. This post train started with Robert Rubin. Rubin was a bond trader/salesman, subsequently overestimated as a technocrat. His failings shouldn’t be taken seriously as a judgement on a technocratic calling. He’s a rich bond trader, turned rainmaker for Citigroup. He wasn’t in charge of risk or a cheerleader for risk at Citigroup. The system may be unfair for compensating a salesman the way it did, but failed responsibility as a technocratic risk manager is an unfair charge to level at him personally. Taken to the extreme, it suggests that any financial operator with questionable morals should be labelled as a failed technocrat. If you’re going to blame technocratic failure, find a more legitimate target than a salesman like Rubin. And here’s the salesman in operation, 20 years ago, in all his immaculate smoothness:

    http://expertaccess.cincom.com/2010/05/risk-rubin-leadership-and-goldman-sachs/

    It is truly wasteful to prioritize bitterness, vengeance, and moral resolution before tackling problems requiring a legitimate technocratic component in their solution. Krugman’s position proposes a technocratic solution in an effort to achieve the greatest collective good in the circumstances. He puts his energies there, rather than toward designing the right guillotine, right now. It’s an entirely moral position. He’s ranting against vengeful moralizers who block solutions to urgent problems, because they prioritize targeted punishment over collective improvement. He hasn’t ceded anything in terms of truthful morality. I think it’s crazy to accuse Krugman, the guy who wrote “The Dark Age of Macroeconomics” of technocratic tribalism. The internet has this grotesque fever of envy and hatred for Krugman – everybody from Austrians to Post Keynesians. Delong is not even in the same category as Krugman. It’s easy to assign Krugman’s position with moral justification. He’s putting forth what he strongly believes is the right technocratic solution to achieve the greatest collective good (employment). The morality of that solution is a direct function of what the fallacy of composition says about the expected economic result. Perhaps there is an associated fallacy of moral composition.

  4. Phil Koop writes:

    My sense is that your premise, that humans are essentially moral rather than rational actors, is not much disputed. And it’s not just humans: even chimpanzees will “go on strike” over fairness issues. What’s more, I think that the tendency to argue in rational rather than moral terms really is more common on the left than on the right. However, I think you have overlooked some important points and are just wrong on others.

    1. The tendency of those on the left to argue rationally and dispassionately is to a great extent a defensive reaction. Historically, leftists have been perceived as irrational moralizers: hearts in the right place, perhaps, but hopelessly impractical. There has been a kind of reversal whereby some conservatives are taking a kind of mirror image of your position. See, for instance: http://capitalgainsandgames.com/blog/bruce-bartlett/1592/ignorance-bliss-tea-party-crowd.

    2. Just because you frame an argument in moral terms is no guarantee that you will win.

    3. Sure, when I disagree with someone, it may well be the case that he is smarter than me and he is right. But we are both arguing from morality, and if I have failed to convince him, equally he has failed to convince me. So this observation cannot vitiate point 2.

    4. Specifically, when it comes to Krugman, your aim is faulty. Despite his self-description as “Spock with beard”, he is not a technocrat but rather an ex-technocrat. In my view, you have wrongly inferred from the conclusion – that Krugman fails to win over his detractors – the cause you identify.

  5. Russell L. Carter writes:

    These two posts have the odd distinction of engaging in the very same rhetorical device in order to convince rational skeptics that is itself under criticism in the posts. That is, they use reasoned argument about the actual non-rational behavior of human beings (moral behavior *is* behavior) to argue that more appreciation and deference for irrational *moral* behavior is warranted. So they end up not convincing rational skeptics.

    After all, isn’t this a sort of cultural relativism, where any values can be pushed into the moral domain and hence legitimized by a sort of “because I feel that way, and so does my tribe, end of story” argument?

    I don’t get the sense that the author (who I respect quite a lot) has spent much time in the company of religious fundamentalists. I suspect I’m not the only person who has, and thinks that the argument as presented in these two posts is impractical and naive.

  6. Sam Penrose writes:

    You might enjoy “The Meaning Maintenance Model”: http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~heine/docs/MMM.PDF

  7. vimothy writes:

    Steve,

    Problem is, if Brad were capable of understanding your complaint, he wouldn’t be such a good example of it in the first place. Best to take Wittgenstein’s advice and jog on, mate.

  8. vimothy writes:

    I think another problem with the uber-liberal technocratic approach, and I suppose there is no polite way to put this, is that American conservatives, as a class, seem a lot, well, a lot stupider than liberals.

  9. David A writes:

    This is brilliant, wise, and reasoned. We should treat others with respect, we should begin with some common frame of reference, we should try to clarify the moral judgments underlying our political views. But are other modes of reasoning, deriving from (shared?) moral intuitions, really any more likely to persuade the plurality of Americans on the other side? I cannot be the only one who has relatives whose views I have not deflected a whit, despite decades of respectful engagement. Perhaps, Randy, you can provide an example or two of how such arguments might be made on a specific issue–and how they might succeed in an environment populated by a few dominant voices who appear indifferent to either moral or truth claims.

  10. vlade writes:

    JKH: I beg to differ – the only response that can ever act as a credible deterrent is a disproportionate and irrational, when you will go out to punish even though it costs you more. Or rather knowing that this is a possible response (and again, for it to be credible it has to happen now and then).

    Of course, assuming a reasonable rational actors.

  11. Trebics writes:

    Lex orandi, lex credendi. The way we pray is the way we believe. In a secular context it means that the way we speak forms our character: what we hold important and how we live and also, in the context of this post, what acts we advocate. It is naïve to suggest that the message is not presented well but the “technocratic solution” is for the “greater good”. The definition of greater good is infused with moral judgment which comes through clear and loud in the referenced pieces. Krugman speaks that way precisely because he IS that way. His words sit in judgment over him.
    JKH advocates serially separating justice from economic action and that is just absurd. It is asking for the impossible. The economic actions are themselves perceived to be moral or immoral, and rightly so. Or is it an optical illusion to have seen the bankers who committed fraud upon the courts, fraud upon investors and fraud on the foreclosed debtors rewarded with 150 billions of bonuses for the “common good”? Are we to believe that after all these rewards they will be indicted and justice will be served to them? The technocrats “Common Good” is the elimination of the middle class, and the impoverishment of everybody except of the financial leadership.

  12. BJB writes:

    Can you say false dichotomy?

    What is the basis for the reason/morality distinction you draw here? What exactly are the grounds for ‘reason’-based judgements that are to be distinguished from ‘moral’ grounds? It seem as though you are just privileging certain values (i.e. the value of higher GDP or of stable GDP growth) over others, and calling those values ‘rational’. But then your arguments are just moral arguments in disguise.

    Your post could be translated into terms that would be unobjectionable from this point of view by stressing that what you are referring to is a distinction between kinds of moral or morally-based reasoning, perhaps along the lines of a Haidt-style analysis of ‘liberal’ vs. ‘conservative’ values. So the problem you are pointing out here (which is probably a genuine one) is that members of the technocracy tend to fail to engage in argumentation across a broad variety of forms, whereas their typical opponents can make all kinds of arguments. The Tea Partier can refer to religiously-based arguments (‘Academics are all anti-Christian paedophile-enablers’), arguments based on a conception of justice (‘None of the people on welfare deserve what they’re getting’), arguments based on a conception of harm (‘You want to impose Big Government on my kids so they can’t be self-sufficient’), arguments based on a conception of freedom (‘Don’t tread on me’) etc., AND arguments that involve economic, sociological (etc.) theses (‘QEII will lead to hyperinflation'; ‘Trade agreements will foster global citizenship, leading to world government’).

    Given that people possess normative concepts in all these areas, not just the ones that the technocrats (implicitly or explicitly) target, technocratic attempts are likely to be less effective. But that lack of effectiveness has nothing to do with some deep distinction between ‘rational’ and ‘non-rational (e.g. moral)’ argumentation; it has to do with (potentially) rational, but morally-based, contestation across a much wider variety of fronts.

    Good post nevertheless, though, in a long line of great posts.

  13. Tom Hickey writes:

    There is economics as a science and political economy, or economics as it relates to policy. The former is purely empirical and therefore amoral. The second is normative in addition to being empirical. “Norms” is a fancy way of saying “values,” and values underlie morality.

    There s a huge body of philosophical work on this extending millennia into the past, and it is now buttressed by research in the biological, cognitive and social sciences. Political economists that are unaware of this work are bound to fall into error due to their ignorance. For example, George Lakoff has written a great deal on this as it relates to US politics, showing how the political left has been shooting itself in the foot because it is unaware of how brains function.

    Many economists seem to be ignorant of this dimension and spin stuff out of their heads as if they actually knew what they are talking about. Studies show that of all social scientists, economists refer to work outside of their field markedly less than those working on other field. Economists need to get out more.

  14. lark writes:

    One problem is the influence of academia in the policy wonk part of the Democratic Party, where data is trusted and narrative is not.

    It is not simply the addition of ‘moral heuristics’ that is the trick – not at all.

    It is the narrative, as an instrument that Americans can apply to society and their lives. A narrative carries a pedagogy, it is a teaching vehicle.

    When Reagan said (over and over and over…) ‘Government is the problem,’ he was not using moral heuristics but narrative. People could understand their frustrations by applying that narrative as an instrument. It produces plot, characters – and insight, even if wrong.

    The Dems fail to understand this, I think they have faith in data and theory, not narrative. Obama’s message discipline isn’t poor, it’s farcical. His wobbly stories convey primarily that he lacks values and conviction, and end up undercutting everything he says.

  15. PJR writes:

    Excellent post. I believe, however, both technocratic argument and moral framing are necessary and insufficient, and both work best after the political ground has been prepared. (E.g., Reagan didn’t win in 1980 because America agreed with Friedman and Buckley; it’s much more the other way around.)

  16. Lennyh4747 writes:

    If the devil says 1+1=2 he is right. If the devil says the apple is good for you he maybe right or wrong. It seems to me spending future taxes today is wrong both reasonably and morally.

  17. ZeroInMyOnes writes:

    Yes, heuristics. When shopping for a car we may research the technical specs, but at the moment of closure, does the salesperson appeal to us with ‘reasoned conjectures’ or with ‘moral heuristics’? The salesperson knows which will be effective.

    If ‘our side’ were more evolved, we would have the capacity to muster vivid moral persuasions in congruence with our reasoned conjectures.

    But I see no flaw with those in our movement who are mounting our technical arguments. I am just wondering what is up with our marketing professionals.

  18. hhoran writes:

    Wonderful posts and comments. I’m seeing two main points–one “intra-tribal” one “extra-tribal”:
    1. Observers like Krugman and deLong are important members of “our” tribe, add huge insight and wisdom to the discussion, and in intra-tribal discussions, we’d be in agreement on most policy points. But within the tribe, the view that people like Rubin and Summers are wise, well-meaning technocrats isn’t acceptable. To the extent Krugman and deLong actually see Rubin and Summers as (to use the old 60s phrasing) “part of the solution” (a like-minded soul who just hasn’t thought through the new equilibrium equation, but would share our views once we point out the parts of the equation he’s missing) and don’t see Rubin as a central “part of the problem” (corrupt, arrogant, etc) suggests a serious flaw in their political/economic analysis, and we need inter-tribal debate to address this issue.
    2. Many members of the “our” tribe (Krugman and deLong serving as illustrations), when arguing political/economic issues outside the tribe, tend to overemphasize “technocratic” argumentative styles (seemingly “objective” as if solving a partial equilibrium problem) familiar to most within the tribe, and underutilize “moral” or “values” based argumentative styles, weakening the ability to build bridges to non-tribe members, and achieve needed political/economic changes.
    Second point is obviously true, myopic approaches are dumb, but as other commenters have noted, more sensitive styles/framing alone won’t drive any breakthroughs in the larger political battles. Better language is useless unless the battling tribes agree that a specific problem needs to be solved, and agree that the objective of the battle/debate is “problem solving”. If the other tribes are fixated on zero-sum power dynamics, or on strengthening cohesion within their own tribes, then no language or narrative will get them to cooperate with a “problem solving” approach. As PJR noted, for these tribes political power was first and foremost; the language and narratives just provided secondary support. Most people would give Obama credit for presenting a “moral” framework for his policies and not insulting Republicans by lecturing them as if they were junior faculty members that hadn’t considered all the variables in the equation. But Obama has failed to deal with an opposition fixated on power dynamics and tribal cohesion, and seems unable to grasp that that’s what his opponents are fixated on.
    The first point begs a more critical about the “tribal” alignments needed to make progress going forward. The “Rubin and Summers are part of the solution” view says that “our tribe” heavily overlaps with the legal/financial/Washington elite—at least that part of the elite with any general “liberal” or “Democratic” inclinations. The alternative “Rubin and Summers are corrupt and arrogant” is really a claim that “the legal/financial/Washington elite is fundamentally corrupt and arrogant.” While there is a huge amount of cold, technocratic evidence here, this is where a fundamentally “moral”/emotional/values-driven argumentation becomes critical. The “moral” distinction is between those pursuing artificial power (economic/political) and those generating value for society as a whole. That puts Rubin and Summers on the same side as the Koch Brothers and Grover Norquist. It (theoretically) opens up bridges to conservatives who care about responsibility and accountability and teaparty types offended by Washington corruption, and those libertarians who understand that concentrated power on Wall Street can be just as dangerous as concentrated power inside the Beltway.
    If I’ve followed the logic of these two points correctly, the language/framing/narrative issues are very important but don’t become relevant until you’ve seriously started the process of building a totally new coalition around these “moral”/values issues. The 1990s Clinton Democratic coalition between “liberals” and “Wall Street elites” is obsolete and needs to be destroyed. Obama has tried to follow this model, and he’s even used nice language and framing, but it ignored the realities of the Republican power games and has failed. Question one is critical—are Rubin and Summers part of the problem or part of the solution?

  19. Philo writes:

    You note: “we impose ‘reasoned’ policy but fail to address moral concerns or reconcile moral intuitions. That gets experienced as a form of violence.” Let me add: that is because it *is* a form of violence, or, at least, the threat of violence. Advocates of this or that government policy tend to ignore the fact that government policies are imposed by force–by threatening violence against non-conformers. Implementing the policy is not justified unless the end to be gained by it is not just good, but *good enough to outweigh the bad of threatening reluctant participants with violence*.

  20. Josh Stern writes:

    You suggest that Krugman would be a more persuasive advocate for his views if he would directly tackle moral arguments that are being made against them. There may be a grain of truth there, but I’d suggest that Krugman would be a more persuasive advocate for his views if he would simply make the best evidential case for them in terms an economic non-believer would find convincing. That involves pretending he is starting with data but no models, and then arguing why the type of model he favors is probably the most accurate one. Critics would still dispute the arguments, claiming some combination of – other models are better, the data is incomplete, and the data is too different from the current situation. But at least the exercise might get more people talking semi-coherently about the same thing.

    The analogy to household finance is better seen as a folk model rather than a moral doctrine. It can be better rebutted by examination of evidence showing it makes the wrong predictions.

  21. [...] Moral heuristics, public policy, and self-defeating tribalism and Tragedy of the technocrats Steve Randy Waldman [...]

  22. [...] Moral heuristics, public policy, and self-defeating tribalism – interfluidity [...]

  23. Dave Thomas writes:

    I’m astounded at Babar’s statement “i think it’s immoral that people en masse would hoard financial assets (as opposed to real assets) on a large scale. not only is it, as we see now, damaging to the economy as a whole, but in my mind it shows a high level of anti-social behavior and a high level of dependence on authority/government structures who are put in place to stand behind these “assets”. i believe that we have a responsibility to each other to put our capital — personal capital and intellectual capital — to good use for each other. not doing this is irresponsible.

    I would like to point out to Babar that he has no claim whatsoever on my financial assets regardless of whatever so-called moral code he conjures up out of thin air that flouts centuries of custom, common law, and legislative acts. He post sounds like an argument Lenin or Hitler made in the name of the state to seize assets of targeted groups. You read some pretty scary stuff in cyberspace there days.

  24. katbird writes:

    Steve Waldman’s frustration with the technocrat’s elevation of reason to the exclusion of moral argument is somewhat at the heart of the public’s dissatisfaction with Obama and his administration. Obama and those like him in the administration operate as if they are running a corporation. So what seems “pragmatic” in DC appears “corrupt” and “out of touch” to the electorate. And the moral ante has been raised these last three years: We are living in a time of financial fraud and lack of accountability of the powerful resulting in economic and political distortions that threaten our democracy. Some in Congress have seized on the moral framing of these issues, but they have been marginalized by a corporate mentality in the halls of power. To neglect the moral arguments in any political endeavor emboldens the rationalization of corruption and its destructive forces that periodically threaten our democracy.

  25. headfinger writes:

    Excellent post, but then, your original post was excellent as well.

    I really don’t see how DeLong managed to misread you so badly. The argument was clear as day and the truth of the argument is as well.

    As I tried to argue in comments on Yglesias’s blog yesterday, one of the major failings of the Left in this country has been a technocratic preference for “getting things done” rather than constructing & advancing a moral vision of the world we would like to see.

    Specific policy proposals are great for people with the power to accomplish them — and, on our side, it is great that policy proposals, being based in empirical reality, can be debated openly among members of the tribe.

    But as long as this debate over policy proposals dominates our side’s political discourse, and as long as our side disdains to make explicit moral arguments both attached to & detached from policy proposals, we will never be the people with the power to accomplish anything.

    Which is sad, really, because our vision is, in fact, a hell of a lot more moral than theirs.

  26. headfinger writes:

    @Josh Stern (#20) —

    “You suggest that Krugman would be a more persuasive advocate for his views if he would directly tackle moral arguments that are being made against them.”

    I think the suggestion is actually that Krugman (et al) would be a more persuasive advocate for his views if he would directly make moral arguments *for* them.

    Tackling the other side’s moral arguments is best done by advancing our own moral vision, not by defending our proposals against their moral arguments.

  27. marcel writes:

    “My side” consequentially errs by turning its particular mode of reasoning into an exclusionary totem of affiliation and ignoring the disconnect between its own conclusions and widely held intuitions of the polity. We win in our own estimation of course, and sometimes we win political battles. But our victories are unstable and must be endlessly refought when they are not reinforced by widely shared moral views. Sometimes winning itself reshapes the moral landscape. But sometimes it does not. And very often we cannot win at all, because we fail to communicate with those outside our tribe.

    Tom Lehrer not only said this before you, but more succinctly and more melodically:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yygMhtNQJ9M

    The whole statement is good, but the key line apropos the passage quoted immediately above is “They may have won all the battles, we had all the good songs.”

  28. ZeroInMyOnes writes:

    Frank Rich highlights a few strategies of vigorous persuasion with regard to an economic topic today…..

  29. Ted K writes:

    My biggest problem with Professor Delong is not his politics, but some comments he makes his ego comes across very large. One time he was comparing himself to some historical figures in “letters”. I just really wonder if he realizes how incredibly arrogant and narcissistic he comes across sometimes. I think he is basically a good guy (for example he gave me permission once to copy one of his posts I took a liking to on my blog). But the thing that really gripes my ass is how he defends Lawrence Summers for the last 2 years on all sorts of major failures by the man, and then turns right around and says he wishes President Obama and VP Biden would resign. It’s very contradictory, and on top of that, totally nonsensical.

  30. Steve Roth writes:

    Meaty and worth lengthy chewing as always. Don’t have time but just this:

    re: “p.s. I am sure I am a hypocrite, and have done all the things I claim to dislike. oh well!”

    My clever daughter was nice enough to point out to me (good humoredly), “Dad, just cause you admit that you’re a hypocrite doesn’t make you any less of a hypocrite.”

    Ouch! and ;-)

  31. Phil Koop writes:

    I notice that Krugman’s post today comparing Ireland and Texas (http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/16/irelands-big-mistake/) is precisely an attempt to recalibrate the moral context of debt. Now, you might say that Krugman is finally paying attention to you. I still think he was that way all along.

  32. dave writes:

    @ 31: my response to Krugmen

    Of course, many people went to jail over the S&L debacle, laws were passed, institutions were re-orged, and stakeholders shared enough pain the the government came out ahead in the game. That’s the price that must be paid by perpetrators in exchange for government assistance.

    In the current crisis none of that happened. Bailout costs will accrue exclusively to the taxpayer for the benefit of the prolifigate and frauds. Any wonder why people view these bailouts different from the ones before.

    People will not be taken hostage by dire economic predictions into passing immoral no strings bailout packages. If you truly believe the government should step in then your party should propose bailout plans with teeth that punish rather then reward bad actors and change incentives and structures going forward to prevent re-occurrence. Concepts of panic an time sensitivity no long hold sway two years after the crisis first occurred. A more likely explanation is that your party is tied to powerful financial interests and looks after their best interest over the public, so it comes as no surprise people reject such measures when clearly superior and morally consistent policy alternatives are available.

  33. Greg writes:

    Lark@14

    The proper answer to Reagans claim now is “Yes, you are right government is the problem, especially when its run by people who think its a problem. Govt is only as good as the people in it and will only stand for what the people in it stand for. If you think the problem is that our govt “seems” to be only taking care of those who have…. guess what thats because the people in the govt only think those who have are worth taking care of. Its quite simple”

    It is time to say Reagan is now right but then explore further why that is so.

    Govt, IN FACT, is being run like a corporation by the corporations. You can see what corporations do to themselves when left alone, they slash wages and bow to their shareholders. They are running govt the same way and THEY are the shareholders, not us.

  34. Ajay writes:

    You actually took the passion of the previous post (Tragedy of the Technocrats) away and created a mundane and “technocratic” post. Oh well, hope Delong understood this one better.

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  36. mattski writes:

    I hope this isn’t too daft: Krugman prefers empirical arguments because they’re subject to evidence, which makes them falsifiable, which makes them compelling. A moral argument, almost by definition, has only the weight of opinion.

    It’s not that morality isn’t important. It is supremely important. But it isn’t compelling to a person who holds a different moral opinion. A falsifiable argument, well considered, is very compelling. Krugman lets the morality form the background of his arguments, not the foreground. I think that is good because it recognizes and honors the difference between fact and opinion.

  37. ZeroInMyOnes writes:

    Maybe check out Aziz Rana column in CNN. Just a thought.

    Also…why does only one side use the ‘don’t tread on me’ flag although it is part of our joint history?