Home > Economics - General > Posner dumps (on) Repubs

Posner dumps (on) Repubs

July 7th, 2012

The intellectual trend away from the political right in the US[1] has been going on for some time, reversing the trend in the opposite direction that dominated the 1970s and 1980s[2]. But this NPR interview with Richard Posner who says

there’s been a real deterioration in conservative thinking. And that has to lead people to re-examine and modify their thinking

is probably the most notable single example so far, for several reasons.

First, in intellectual terms, he’s a really significant figure.  After Ronald Coase, he’s the most important figure in the field of “Law and Economics” which played a crucial role in the resurgence of conservative/free-market legal thinking. Moreover, while Coase wrote some brilliant papers in his long and influential career[3], he wasn’t an intellectual movement builder as Posner  has been.

Posner is one of a small minority on the intellectual right who have responded to the economic crisis by changing their view of the world, rather than by finding more and more absurd defenses of the indefensible. There must be quite a few others who realise they have backed the wrong  horse, but have chosen to remain quiet rather than making an open break.

Second, the terms of his attack on the US Republican party are scathing by any standards, but particularly for a professor and Federal judge, talking about his own erstwhile allies. His discussion is peppered with terms like “goofy”, “crackpot” and “lunatic”. That’s a pretty fair description of the US right these days, but it’s still not commonly heard on NPR.

Finally, it’s interesting to see him suggest that Chief Justice Roberts might follow the same path, in response to the campaign of leaks against him. I’m not sure I buy this, but even the suggestion should produce some interesting responses on the right.

fn1.  The criticisms made by Posner and other ex-Repubs are equally applicable to much of the Australian rightwing commentariat, which takes its cue from the US

fn1.  In the US context, the shift started, I think, with Kevin Phillips and Michael Lind in the 1990s, but didn’t really get going until the Bush Administration.

fn.2 He’s still alive at 101, but obviously hasn’t written much lately. His reputation rests primarily on two papers, one from 1937 and the other from 1960.

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  1. Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy
    July 7th, 2012 at 14:49 | #1

    I teach Coase’s (1960) theorem in a couple of my courses, taking due care to explain why this wonderfully elegant theoretical construct is almost never encountered in the real world.

  2. Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy
    July 7th, 2012 at 15:01 | #2

    Posner is not the first person to note that one of the signs of the degeneration of the US (and Australian) right is the vindictive groupthink which leads them to pile calumny on erstwhile friends and allies who break with this or that smelly orthodoxy, often initially on grounds which have a sound conservative pedigree. It’s a form of intellectual bullying which has its parallels in the behaviour of some Communist Party leaders in the days of High Stalinism.

  3. July 7th, 2012 at 15:48 | #3

    “The intellectual trend away from the political right has been going on for some time, reversing the trend in the opposite direction that dominated the 1970s and 1980s”

    gee, really?

    I see it as exactly the other way – that more and more people are moving towards selfishness and self-ness and away from group-ness

    and at a scale that has never existed in the past

    that a few “intellectuals” might chose to see it otherwise is part of the problem

    i think it’s one of those “availability biases” that is discussed in both economics and psychology circles

    people are NOT moving towards togetherness and you kid yourself to think otherwise

    but go ahead

    see it any way you like John

    pop

  4. Jim Rose
    July 7th, 2012 at 16:16 | #4

    First, on Roberts, a sore-loser response to court decisions is common across the spectrum.

    Prior to the obamacare opinion, a number on the left started going on how the court was very political so as to set themselves up to denounce a 5:4 vote against them.

    Obama’s comment about how the court should not overturn a law passed by a strong majority of congress was one of many such attempts to get their retaliation in first.

    at this good old link http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/2009/05/is-the-conservative-movement-losing-steam-posner.html where Posner notes that

    “The end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the surge of prosperity worldwide that marked the global triumph of capitalism, the essentially conservative policies, especially in economics, of the Clinton administration, and finally the election and early years of the Bush Administration, marked the apogee of the conservative movement.”

    politics on the left and on right has gone down-hill because the pressure to win the daily news cycle—to control the news—has overwhelmed more reflective, statesmanlike aspects of winning and retaining public office.

    As for the rest – scoreboard: Clinton was the consolidator of the Reagan Revolution.

    Politicians that depart from the template of Clinton, Blair and Hawke of camping firmly over the middle ground struggle to be re-elected.

    p.s. Posner gave a brilliant summary of the soundness of the Obamacare decision: regulatory taxes—a tax on pollutants, for example—are common. Their aim is not to generate revenue but to discourage undesirable practices. This extends to tariffs, which are often intended to discourage imports rather than to raise revenue.

  5. Sam
    July 7th, 2012 at 16:37 | #5

    It’s interesting to hear Counterpoint (on the ABC) interviewing US conservatives about Obamacare. AFAIK, Michael Duffy doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with socialized medicine in this country, but he enthusiastically embraces the american shibboleth that it’s the end of democracy anyway. Very strange.

  6. Katz
    July 7th, 2012 at 16:47 | #6

    Depends on what is meant by The Right.

    Once upon a time the GOP was a coalition of Wall Street and Main Street business interests.

    Nixon’s Southern Strategy in 1968 opened the GOP door to a Star Wars bar scene of obscurantists, chiliasts, gun fondlers, racists, cross huggers, and paranoids.

    There are sufficient individuals in the US electorate who identify themselves with one or more of the above categories of enthusiasms to cobble together a loose political coalition. The problem becomes serious when voters contemplate the horrible possibility of a representative of these atavisms polishing his trousers seat on an Oval Office chair.

    The remaining sane Republicans got a taste of this appalling state of affairs during the Bush II era. Once bitten, twice shy.

  7. Freelander
    July 7th, 2012 at 16:54 | #7

    Posner turning on the Republicans. A bit like the pig and the drunk lying in the gutter!

  8. July 7th, 2012 at 17:12 | #8

    @Freelander

    oh i love that poem!

    p

  9. July 7th, 2012 at 18:44 | #9

    “I’ve become less conservative since the Coalition Parties started becoming goofy,” I said.

    Yes with reasonable modesty I can put myself in Posner’s shoes here in Australia. It isn’t completely logical but you do come to scrutinise your priors.

    But on ““The intellectual trend away from the political right has been going on for some time, reversing the trend in the opposite direction that dominated the 1970s and 1980s”.

    The key word here is “intellectual” and that can be unfavourably interpreted as reflecting the views of those you are sympathetic with. Is the IPA “Intellectual”? Is Andrew Bolt?

    I feel frustrated that so many Australians would either answer “yes” to these last two questions or see these entities as being practical alternatives to the pointy “heads”.

    We have an affluent mass democracy where the masses rule. It isn’t working but there is no alternative. The press is half bound up by those promoting barbarism with the other half (Fairfax) seeming to face a similar inevitable fate. Its a grim picture where the ill-informed are fed garbage by the ill-intentioned and this determines policy.

  10. Freelander
    July 7th, 2012 at 21:11 | #10

    Seems sensible to examine one’s priors when one sees who one is lying with. At least the pig thought so.

  11. Freelander
    July 7th, 2012 at 21:20 | #11

    Judged by the company one keeps

    http://littlecalamity.tripod.com/Poetry/Drink.html

  12. Ikonoclast
    July 7th, 2012 at 21:33 | #12

    Well the right is still dominating economics, politics and public discourse despite the falsehood of all its positions on empirically testable matters. The USA has 2 dominant right wing parties and so does Australia. Neoliberalism reigns supreme across the board. If the odd right winger realises the right wing is removed from reality that doesn’t really matter. He or she will be ignored and shunned. The right still dominates politics, business and all the levers of power. This will persist until the gap between ideology and empirical reality becomes a chasm and the system collapses. It’s anyone’s guess what will happen after that.

  13. Jim Rose
    July 8th, 2012 at 16:51 | #13

    Right-wing parties are changing because voter demographics are changing. Resort to the swings and roundabouts in mental dullness is a crutch that people fall back on to avoid hard analysis

    The ageing of the population is changing the identity of the swinging voter.

    The big parties must cosy up to swinging voters as they age if they wish to win elections.

    These voters are busy with work, families and other distractions so political messaging must be short and to the point.

    Those that do not match the growing conservatism of the swinging voter are condemned to the opposition benches for a long time so who cares what these parties think.

    p.s. Nixon was not the author of the southern strategy.

    The south signaled it was up for grabs in 1948 when the Dixicrats won 39 electoral votes. Had Dewey won two more close states, the Dixicrats would have succeeded in forcing the election into the House.

    In 1952, Eisenhower took three Southern states that the Republicans had won only once since Reconstruction: Virginia, Florida, and Texas. He made further incursions in 1956 when he carried Louisiana for the Republicans for the first time since 1876.

    JFK put LBJ on his ticket to win back Texas and hold the south in what was widely expected to be a very close 1960 election. LBJ might have been dropped in 1964 because the democrats were giving-up on the south in presidential races. The democrats had a northern strategy.

  14. Katz
    July 8th, 2012 at 21:52 | #14

    p.s. Nixon was not the author of the southern strategy.
    The south signaled it was up for grabs in 1948 when the Dixicrats won 39 electoral votes. Had Dewey won two more close states, the Dixicrats would have succeeded in forcing the election into the House.
    In 1952, Eisenhower took three Southern states that the Republicans had won only once since Reconstruction: Virginia, Florida, and Texas. He made further incursions in 1956 when he carried Louisiana for the Republicans for the first time since 1876.

    Nonsense. Republican victories in a couple of southern states doesn’t equate to a “southern strategy”. The term actually “southern strategy” refers to dog whistle politics of racism. Eisenhower and other Republican aspirants to the presidency never stooped to pandering to white racism. Nixon did. Before Nixon, most enfranchised southern Blacks voted GOP. Even though LBJ’s civil rights acts vastly increased the size of the Afro American electorate, they deserted the GOP en masse, recognising correctly that the mantle of white racism had been wrested away by the Republican Party from the Democrats. Simultaneously, white Southern racists deserted the Democrats and voted for the GOP or for George Wallace.

  15. Pyrmonter
    July 8th, 2012 at 22:48 | #15

    Coase is indeed still with us, happily both physically and mentally. Below is a link to a good (albeit, given the long pauses encountered in a discussion with a 101-year old, poorly edited) EconTalk: http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2012/05/coase_on_extern.html

    Birdy: isn’t the real point of Coase’s “theorem” to (a) emphasis the importance of clear proprietary rights and (b) the significance of transaction costs? I’d have thought both were fairly robust, non-ideological points.

  16. Jim Rose
    July 10th, 2012 at 20:38 | #16

    Coase also published a book at the age of 100. ‘How china became capitalist’

    The first chapter is online at the publisher. Beautifully written and and contrarian through the use of primary sources.

  17. July 12th, 2012 at 09:39 | #17

    You should add a third Coase paper from 1959 – much loved by all in the radiocommunications community that extolled the wonders of price based allocation of spectrum. It really was the specific instance from which the generalisation of 1960 flowed.

    Interesting fact that the self-same dude who identified the importance of transaction costs in industry structure in 1937 then abstacted them completely away in the 1960 paper. Actually a pretty good metaphor for the whole edifice of orthodox economics.

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