More Tea and Sympathy
By Arnold Kling
Again, off mission so below the fold.Not only is this off the mission of economic education, but it violates another rule–when you’re in a hole, stop digging.
Readers have commented on my ambiguity, elitism, and the vagueness of “both sides will lose.”
The ambiguity is genuine. I don’t want to go to the faculty picnic. I am extremely uncomfortable in settings that include nothing but academics. I have written in the past of my inability to fit in with what I call the sherry-sipping, repartee-trading types.
I can get along much better with heartland-America types. A crowd of them is much better than a crowd of intellectuals. (People have noted that the demonstration on Saturday left much less trash behind than a typical left-wing demonstration. Of course. Heartland America does not take it for granted that other people will clean up for you.) On the other hand, heartland America is not going to suggest interesting books for me to read or say something at lunch that gives me something to ponder for a couple of days.
As to elitism, I believe that I belong to an elite class of individuals who is capable of handling very difficult academic subjects. I would not go farther than that. In particularly, I would not say that this class of individuals ought to have lots of political power. On the contrary, I see mostly harm in the way that educated elites have exercised power, from The Best and the Brightest in Vietnam through the current economic crisis.
One of my running disagreements with David Brooks is over the fitness of the academic elite to govern. This essay, written eight years ago, stiill resonates in many ways.
I think that the best solution to the elitist/populist dilemma is an elite with humility. Don’t let the mob rule, but at the same time don’t let the elite get too sure of itself. As I’ve often written, I favor strong civil society, not strong government.
Why will both sides lose? The Tea Party-ers hate the Progressives, and vice-versa. It may not be possible for the same government to earn legitimacy in the eyes of both of these large, politically committed groups. That suggests an eventual break-up of some sort. Such a break-up could end up as a lose-lose.