Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Blinding Effect of Pragmatism

Replying to my comments about NJ Governor Chris Christie's re-election and the fate of the Tea Party, gyre said:
Actually, I mistrust the Tea Party for two reasons: 1- their continuing blind and all-consuming hatred of President Obama. It's not rational. 2- their willingness to lead American into a catastrophic debt default (and please don't tell me it wouldn't have been all that bad, because I'll just ask you, "You're sure, right? I can trust you guys on that theory?") No, zemack [my screen name], it has nothing to do with ideology. I'm a pragmatist and not burdened by faith-based views on the economy. My eyes are wide open and I don't like what I see when I look at Tea Partiers.

If economics "has nothing to do with ideology," then how can gyre conclude that a debt default would have been catastrophic? If he is truly a pragmatist, then how can he judge the Tea Party? I answered him this way: 

A pragmatist is a short-term oriented individual who is not burdened by principles and thus no means of learning from the past, projecting future consequences, or understanding unintended consequences of current actions, leaving nothing but faith and feelings as a guide. Pragmatism is self-imposed blindness. So you go right on being a pragmatist, and I'll go right on being a free market ideological purist, because free market economics is backed up not by faith but sound economic theory supported by real-world evidence, common sense, and morality. Socialist "economics" has no supporting economic theory, only the ethical principle "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" (not to say you're a socialist).

Your pragmatism is why you can't see that the current conflict in America is all about ideology—the role of government, the nature of society, and the individual's place in it—collectivism vs. individualism. If you took a principled rather than pragmatic view, you'd see that that conflict lies at the root of every major issue that divides us. 

And who said that defaulting on the national debt would not be catastrophic? You misread the issue. No one that I know of said that. The point is, an end to future bond borrowing is not synonymous with not servicing past bond borrowing, any more than not charging your next consumer purchase means not making your next mortgage payment. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling need not have been catastrophic. Obama could have easily serviced the debt, because current federal tax revenues are ten times the current debt service. Default would have only happened if the Obama Administration refused to service the debt in order to protect the bloated redistributionist welfare state. It was Obama who was threatening default, in order to blunt the GOP's heroic attempt to reign in federal borrowing and spending. 

Would a sudden shrinkage of the welfare state cause short-term economic adjustments? Sure. But all to the good, because every dollar that the government doesn't spend is one less dollar transferred from those who earned it to those who didn't. Of course, the rational approach would be an orderly, planned shrinkage of federal spending. But what Democrat is willing to compromise on wealth redistribution? (For that matter, what Republican is really against the welfare state?)

Related Reading:

The Tea Party: Is It Do-or-Die Time?

The Menace of Pragmatism—Tara Smith

The Republican Debacle and its Consequences for the Tea Party 

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