What John Roberts and Ben Bernanke Really Have in Common
By Bryan Caplan
Their “simps” think they should have done better. In their own,
unconstrained models of the world, they each wish they could be doing
better. They each have refused to “do better” out of an understanding
of limited institutional and moral capital. They each are given
relatively little epistemic deference by their critics on this point of
The critics ignore the “constraints” on Roberts and Bernanke for good reason: They are extraordinarily unconstrained. This is clear-cut for Roberts. The man has a job for life – and no chance for promotion. There’s virtually zero chance that his rulings will lead to his impeachment or court-packing.
Bernanke’s status isn’t quite as impervious. But it’s close. As a Governor of the Fed, he has a 14-year term – and cannot be removed. As Chairman of the Fed, he has a four-year term. In practice, however, Presidents are very reluctant not to renew; even after the disaster of 2008, Bernanke breezed right by.
What Roberts and Bernanke have in common is not any kind of “understanding” of their flimsy “constraints.” What they have in common is that both passed through a similarly series of selection filters. People don’t get to the top by having the courage of their convictions. Few elected politicians want to appoint someone who doesn’t have a reputation for “going along to get along.” People who make it to the top have to pander. Laurence Ball has powerfully (though politely) argued this very story for Bernanke, and shocking leaks about Roberts’ “switch in time to save nine” confirm it for him as well.
They are each very smart men who were appointed by Republican Presidents.
Indeed. But do their admittedly high IQs entitle them to “deference” on matters of truth or morality? Hardly. They used their IQs to win a series of elite popularity contests. If they thought truth or morality were far more important than getting along with their fellow elites, they never would have won.