Column on Dogmatism on the Left

Dogmatism on the Left

Tibor R. Machan

As
a loyal reader of books, articles and columns by members of the
American intellectual left, I marvel often at just how blind these folks
can be to their own dogmatism.  Folks like these routinely charge those
whose politics and economics they dislike with this sin, as if all
those who reject Keynesian economics suffered from mindlessness instead
of seriously disagreed with them.  The likes of Paul Krugman do not
deign to argue with their adversaries only to denounce them and label
them something distasteful, such as “market fundamentalists”. (This
clearly suggests that those who are convinced of the merits of free
market capitalist economics couldn’t possibly have come by their view
through study and reasoning but simply signed up to their “dogmas” from
blind faith!)

But
Krugman and others, like Mark Lilla–both of whom write regularly for
The New York Review of Books, which has what its editors and
contributors evidently believe the ultimately smart take on anything
political and economic–are quite dogmatic themselves.  This comes out
when one reads them frequently and notices that they often simply assert
their highly disputed positions without acknowledging that these
require support, argument, evidence, etc.  

Take
as an example Mark Lilla’s recent contribution to a forum in TNYR where
several of the favorite writers offer up their ruminations about the
recent midterm elections.  As a casual aside in his commentary Lilla
makes this point: “The Tea Party remains a real problem for the GOP, and
it will grow between now and 2012, as the party must deliver on what it
promised, and knows it can’t: without serious cuts in the
fastest-growing items in the federal budget–Social Security, Medicate,
and defense–about which there is no social consensus, the deficit will
continue to grow in the near term if taxes are not raised, another
taboo.”  

That
bit about how "the deficit will continue to grow in the near term if
taxes are not raised” is, for Lilla & Co., a simple article of
faith, in no need of argument.  Never mind that there are quite a lot of
serious and bright economists who disagree that raising taxes is the
answer.  I am no expert but even I can think of at least one reason to
doubt that wisdom of raising taxes, never mind about its morality (isn’t
extortion a moral problem for these people?).  Haven’t the likes of
Lilla ever heard of
Frédéric Bastiat’s
point about what is seen versus what is not seen?  Or of Arthur
Laffer’s point about how you can tax people only so far after which they
stop producing and start spending their assets or simply abandon the
market places but for the most essential, minimal involvement?  Ok,
maybe these points can be refuted–which I very much doubt–but surely
serious commentators owe it to their readers to at least suggest how
they would handle them.

Bastiat’s
position suggested that often when governments take money out of
people’s pockets and spend it on so called public works, they overlook
the fact that they have also robbed the economy of honest versus
artificial spending (spending that does not represent the genuine
intentions of those whose wealth is being spent).  Sure, officials of
the government can easily point to the results of their public
spending–all those shovel ready jobs Mr. Obama once liked to mention
(but later admitted didn’t really exist); but hidden behind these are
the losses of jobs from the fact that income and credit are depleted and
in consequence productivity–jobs–are not much needed.  The taxes have
deprived people of their opportunity to spend their own wealth in favor
of politicians and bureaucrats stepping in, as if the latter and not
the former had superior knowledge of what sort of spending needs to be
done.

In
any case, my limited point here is that people like Lilla are dogmatic
about their views, seeing no need to justify them, just as they accuse
people in the Tea Party of being the same.  Sure, being university
faculty these folks are probably more articulate and erudite about
rendering their positions, invoking their version of history and calling
upon their famous experts in various disciplines.  But in the end that
is not what makes one knowledgeable about political economy.  It is what
Ayn Rand liked to call “argument by intimidation.”  My bunch has
fancier intuitions than yours!  End of argument.

This
way of going about the business of commenting on current affairs
betrays lack of real interest in solving problems. Instead it suggests
that such folks see it sufficient to rely on appearance as opposed to
substance when they confront their opponents.

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