Taking Stock

Thanks to the kind folks at interfluidity and the comment threads at Crooked Timber, we might see a few new faces around the blog this week. It might be helpful, then, to summarize a few of the conclusions that I've reached thanks to blogging.


Understanding American politics using an ideology based model is like understanding the solar system with a Ptolemeic model: sometimes you reach correct conclusions, but the increasing number of epicycles and retrograde motion are strong hints that reality is very different from the model. See, hereherehere, and here.

An "ideology" is a system of ideas that informs our choices but is not subject to empirical falsification. Most Americans, left, right and center, share the same ideology: liberal democratic capitalism. Their approach to domestic issues is a pragmatic search for policies that work to advance their interests and sustain their identity. See, here, here and here.

Southern whites don't oppose "ObamaCare" because they believe the Federal Government has no business in the health care market. Instead, Southern whites believe that ObamaCare will tax their "hard work" and spend the money helping "lazy black people." See, here.

Because Americans are non-ideological, it makes no sense to slap an ideological label like "conservative" on the Tea Party faction. What many call "conservative" is much better understood as "Reaganism." See, here.

Reaganism is a series of empirical claims about how the world works that turn out to be false. Tea Party members don't believe false things because they are "ideological", they believe false things because they are wrong about how the world works. See, here and here.

The structure of American government is such that there is no way for the Republican Party to become less beholden to the Tea Party. Thanks to Citizens United, there will always be a giant pile of money available for insane primary challenges to incumbent Republicans. In the reddest of areas, demographics and voting patterns increasingly make it impossible for a non-crazy Republican to survive a Republican Primary. At the same time, broader demographic changes mean that, in places like Georgia and North Carolina, the kind of candidate who can win a Republican Primary will at the same time be the kind of candidate who cannot possibly win a state-wide election. See, here, here.

Republicans who argue for more "electable" candidates will be powerless in the face of the PAC money always available to the craziest candidate. Thus, the Republican Party faces structural forces that make it inevitable that the party will go the way of the Whigs. When the replacement party arrives to fill in the gap, only then will we return to a functioning two party democracy. See, here.


The vast majority of academic economics is intellectually empty. See, herehere, here, and here.

Economic theory is an exercise in determining the deductive consequences of a set of arbitrary assumptions that are ostensibly about human behavior. As an intellectual pursuit it is identical to newspaper chess problems. See, here, here, and here.

Economic policy advice falls into two categories: moral philosophy as practiced by mathematicians and applied economic history (See, here, here, and here). Economic theory is molded to fit the conclusions.

Valuable academic economics work is applied economics history, empirical observation of how humans behave in markets, or applied complexity theory working to understand and predict markets. See, here.


The post-war model of "objective professional journalism" is totally anomalous in the 500 year history of mass media. The objective professional school teaches that every story has two sides and "good journalism" consists of balanced reporting of both versions. This is problematic because if one side is the truth the other side can only be lies or confusion, and because it is easily hacked by malignant actors. See, here, here and here.

The problems with objective professional media were evident from the beginning thanks to Senator Joe McCarthy. The press dutifully reported his lies along with quotations from "the other side" (i.e., the truth), giving McCarthy the platform he needed to ruin lives and undermine democracy. He was stopped only when the Army refused to be bullied. It was then, after the Army had put McCarthy into retreat, that the media in the form of Edward R. Murrow opportunistically started attacking McCarthy as he went down.

It is no accident that the birth of objective professional journalism was shortly followed by the birth of "movement conservatism" (what I call "Reaganism") in the form of William F. Buckley's whining about the lack of God at Yale. In the face of truths like "black people should be treated like full citizens", Buckley was there to provide "the other side of the story" that all good journalists needed to impress the professors at Columbia. Soon, "the other side of the story" had a newly minted backstory, complete with a fictional tale about how Edmund Burke had always played a crucial role in American political thought (you know, all the Founders were totally into the divine right of kings and aristocrats).


Poverty is a problem characterized by a lack of money. The solution is to give money to poor people. See, here, here, and here.

Reaganists love to claim that charity can solve poverty. But the free-market fundamentalists should realized that charity is just central planning with good intentions.


The result:

Journalists say that there is "a debate about the legitimate scope of the federal government" despite the utter lack of such debate among anyone other than Reaganist Judges and journalists themselves.

Political scientists tell us all about the "conservative voters" who approve of Medicare, Social Security, Glass Steagall, and every other program of the New Deal and Great Society that remains in place today.

Politicians are chastised for failing to follow the "third way" or "middle ground", a nonexistent average between truth and lies.

Economists claim that the .01% have the riches of robber barons because they work so hard and their fellow economists have no principled way to explain that they are wrong.