Saturday, January 08, 2011

More thoughts on Taylor

Update from Denver!

Insightful research -- good ideas on teaching -- a variety of interesting perspectives on how to do economics...our interviews of candidates are going extremely well. We've been meeting with an extremely sharp bunch of people. It's fun. It also brings home how important human capital is -- I've never really bought the "education as signalling" idea. Knowledge really does enhance one's ability to create value -- Adam Smith was right on this. I've certainly learned some useful stuff from speaking with our interviewees.

I've been thinking a bit more about Taylor's talk. He made another point I should have noted, because it's related to something I've contended for some time. IMO, commonly accepted descriptions of the political landscape tend to be all wrong. The common practice is to take whatever is the current received model -- e.g. in the American context progressive vs. conservative -- and force anything being considered into that mold. It amounts to defining a couple of categories -- not exhaustive and probably not exclusive -- and arbitrarily sorting things between them, whether they fit or not. E.g. Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush 41, and Bush 43 are conservatives, and Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, and Obama are all liberals.

Bah! I've argued for quite some time that Reagan-Bush (for example) makes less sense than Carter-Reagan. Both Carter and Reagan were deregulators, both opposed the Soviet bloc (in ways Bush 41 refused to), both tended to reduce Federal power. Similarly, Bush 41-Clinton have important commonalities, and more importantly, Obama is in many important respects a continuation of Bush 43 (ugh)... all largely on their practices (as opposed to rhetoric) on economic regulation, foreign policy, and civil liberties.

Taylor made a very similar sort of argument in his address yesterday, but focused on macroeconomic policy. He divided the recent presidencies as follows. Kennedy through Carter: discretionary and activist. Reagan through Clinton: rules based, non-activist. Bush 43-Obama: discretionary activist.

There's great deal of sense in this sort of analysis. It amounts to looking at the details of something and trying to figure what the heck is really going on. Admittedly it's not as much fun as stuffing complex phenomena into preconceived pigeonholes, but it does offer the slim hope one might actually learn something.

Tomorrow -- more interviews, plus the start of a very promising continuing ed course in macro policy.

Wow! There really is a chance I'll be learning something!

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