Tuesday, October 8, 2013

This Is Your Brain on Economism

Paul Krugman is back today with his regular column:
--in which he offers his analysis of the government shutdown and ensuing stalemate in the Capitol. (For an alternative view see the end of this post.)
Krugman describes a Republican Party that is being run by incompetents, who took it for granted that they could win a major victory by threatening to shut down the government and not raise the debt ceiling, assuming that that wuss Obama would cave immediately and give them whatever they asked for. Now that Obama is standing up to them, they have no Plan B.
How did the GOP arrive at this state of incompetence? Krugman offers the view that they got there by becoming a party which threw out, long ago, the basic distinction between faith and fact. They got used to the idea that they could make climate change, evolution, and whatever they did not like simply go away by refusing to believe it. That eventually led them to where they are now, where they believe whatever they want to believe and have no notion of what relationship their beliefs have to reality. They have become so incompetent they no longer recognize their own incompetence.
I have argued since I began this inquiry that economism has this effect—it claims to be scientific economics and the truth about the world and everything in it, but it actually is formed by an ideology that is religious or at least quasi-religious in nature. Economism at its core contains this self-contradiction, and proceeding to think in a way that conforms with the ideology of economism requires steadfastly ignoring that contradiction. As the White Queen told Alice, economism depends on how many impossible things you can believe before breakfast.
(I promised at the end to offer a contrary point of view—just so I don’t fall into the Republican trap of only believing what I want to believe. Yesterday, NPR broadcast an analysis of a recent Pew Research poll:
(According to this poll, it’s deceptive to characterize the impasse in Congress as caused by a minority having hijacked the process. The Pew opinion poll shows that those who believe that it’s the Democrats that are causing all the trouble by refusing to negotiate, and that it’s just fine and dandy to shut down the government over Obamacare, is indeed a minority, but it’s only a minority by single figures. The US populace seems largely split down the middle on this issue and so if indeed Congress was representing the will of the people, the Armageddon that we are getting on the Hill is just what we would expect.
(That analysis does not contradict the larger point that Krugman makes. It just would mean that it’s not only the core Republican strategists who live in the echo chamber of Fox News and right-wing talk radio; they have persuaded a goodly portion of the party faithful to live there with them, and to become persuaded that up is down and black is white and Obamacare is socialism. But it would cast doubt on the idea that a small contingent has somehow taken over the rest of the GOP, without the rest of the GOP being willing to go along.)


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