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Thornton Hall

The Revolution Will Be Kuhnian.

Where False Beliefs Meet Ideology

Reaganism, I have argued, is a series of empirical claims about how the world works that, as it turns out, are false.

Pundits and political scientists spread confusion by calling this dogma of wrongness "conservative ideology". Ideology is a system of ideas that shapes how we view the world, like Nationalism or Fascism. The word itself was an outgrowth of the French Revolution and since that time it has rarely been the kind of thing adopted by political parties. By and large, ideologies rarely differ between citizens of any particular country. Everyone in the UK and the US possesses the same ideological commitment to individualistic liberal democracy. Nazism or fascism quickly became national views.

Inside countries, politics is the fights between interests and identities. Rural whites want different stuff from urban multi-racial folks. Neither group has a system of ideas where, eg, "small town values like God and family" are systematically coherent with "govt shouldn't provide health care to poor black people."

Nonetheless, some Reaganist claims sound ideological and confuse many observers. From an article examining the "reform conservative" plan to give tax refunds to parents (but only the ones rich enough to owe income taxes) at Demos here:

The argument is that the government distorts incentives to have children by intervening in the economy via creating Social Security and Medicare. And so this plan to give money to every parent except the poor ones will correct that. ... But the more interesting point here is this notion of "without government intervention." I love this idea. It's the greatest bit of empty rhetoric that flows from the right-wing, a sheer delusion that doesn't actually refer to anything concrete, but operates as a shield that allows them to avoid making full-throated justifications for their preferred institutions.

What is this baseline world "without government intervention" and how many kids would people have in it? Well we know, as a basic matter, that people have less kids in societies that are richer and more stable. The developmental economists tell us that becoming richer and more stable is a function of government institutions, in particular things like inventing property institutions, contract institutions, corporations, and so on.

Stein seems to want to hold all else equal in society, but then tick SS and Medicare off and guess as to how many more kids that ticking off would result in. But that does not tell us how many children there would be without government intervention. We should hold all else equal in society and then tick off property law, contract law, securities law, corporate law, commercial law, patent law, copyright law, and every single government economic institution. I'd guess that ticking off all of those institutions, and thereby bringing us to the world "without government intervention" in the economy (aka as the Grab What You Can World), would cause national income to plummet and birth rates to massively spike, maybe to seven children per woman.

The belief in a "baseline world" where government doesn't intervene sounds ideological. But as the description above makes clear, it simply misunderstand how the world works and how government institutions necessarily create society.

An even trickier case is the Reaganist notion that market outcomes are natural and in some important way, morally right. In practice, though, this is not actually what Reaganists believe. When you scratch the surface, you find a much stronger commitment to the same Christian/Western morality that liberals follow. The difference is that Reaganists believe, incorrectly, that market outcomes tend to be Christian outcomes. The dissonance between this view and reality is resolved by the notion that government somehow "gets in the way" of private charity.

Such pathetic hand waving, however, doesn't cut it with our Jesuit Pope, here:

It should come as no surprise that Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga's recent comments on American libertarianism have stirred a bit of a furor in free-market circles. On American zeal for preserving laissez-faire economic systems, the Honduran Cardinal had the following to say at speech on June 3 in Washington, D.C.:

The elimination of the structural causes for poverty is a matter of urgency that can no longer be postponed... The hungry or sick child of the poor cannot wait… Many of these libertarianists do not read the social doctrine of the church. [Religious News Service]

Measuring "The Economy"

Tenure Doesn't Cause The Problem, But It Prevents The Solution