A benevolent weed wacker for the government garden
A benevolent weed wacker for the government garden
By ERIC CLUE and NICK HACKER
Since the days of Jesse Jackson (the elder, not the younger), we have become political prisoners of the alliterations we use, even when they are mightily misleading. Consider how our political powers talk about the economy. Last month President Obama praised immigrants as an “economic engine.” Mitt Romney says that tax cuts will “forever fuel” a recovery. Others like Joe Biden, the Administration’s leading intellectual, fear a “super scary stop” in job growth unless the nation keeps doing what it’s been doing.
But our many alliterations ignore the need for a benevolent weed wacker in “the marketplace.” We too often tend to think of markets as extremely efficient, of humans as routinely rational, of incentives as commonly clear, and of outcomes as approximately appropriate. From this a series of market-based total truths follows: regulation and taxes are rotten and terrible because they impede the market’s implicit weed wacking works. Government stimulus is wimpy, wasteful, and wishful.
Together, these compose the great gospel of the market mavens. However, according to the alliterations and mega-metaphors we’ve developed—along with our proprietary algorithms—there is simply no evidence for it. We say trickle-down economics has fatally failed. What has worked? The President’s great leveling efforts (often derisively called trickle-up poverty) which have made everything free for so many Americans: college, disability payments, health care, housing, transportation, food stamps, cable television and high speed internet, and unlimited unemployment.
The 2008 crash and the Great Recession prove irrefutably how inefficient and irrational markets really are. And there is absolutely no evidence in the heart of any properly indoctrinated liberal economist that government interference could have possibly contributed to such happenings. None.
What we require now is a friendlier framework for thoughtfully thinking and tactfully talking about a new economy, grounded in modern understandings of how we want things to work. Economies (as social scientists and even liberal arts majors understand) aren’t super simple, largely linear and perfectly predictable, but complex, nonlinear and ecosystemic. An economy isn’t a machine; it’s a garden as shown by the mixed metaphors and subtle settled science of the documentary film Being There. The economy can be fruitful if well tended, but it will be overrun by obnoxious weeds if not.
So what is needed? A new framework, which we call Gardenbrain. With Gardenbrain, markets can become both efficient and effective if managed by government gardeners armed with benevolent weed wacking policies. Where Marketbrain—the idea that the marketplace actually works—posits that individual effort and initiative should be honored, Gardenbrain recognizes that we’re all better off when none of us are better off. Where Marketbrain treats inequality as the predictable result of unequally distributed talent and work ethic, Gardenbrain reveals that sophomoric subsidies and crony capitalism can instead help create a self-licking ice cream cone.
Gardenbrain challenges any non-liberal policy. And gardens are lovely and delicious while markets are ugly and malicious.
Consider regulation. Under the prevailing Marketbrain assumption, regulation is an invasive interruption of wealth creation in a largely self-correcting economic system. But the Gardenbrain metaphor, backed by our insightful ideology, allows us to instead assert an economy cannot self-correct any more than a garden can self-tend. And regulation — the creation of government standards to raise the government-determined quality of life — is God’s work.
Is it possible to garden clumsily and ineffectively? In a word, no (excluding mismanaged economies like East Germany and the former Soviet Union). Wise regulation is how humbly humanistic societies turn a dangerous jungle of “freedom” into a prosperous government garden. According to our algorithms, this explains why wherever one finds a highly-regulated economy one also finds a large and powerful government Leviathan. And where regulation is lessened, we find widespread freedom which can be a precursor to anarchy.
Or take taxes. Under the efficient-market hypothesis, taxes are an extraction of resources from the market. Taxes are not just separate from economic activity, but holistically hostile to it. Yet if this was an accurate reflection of our self-selected reality, then given our low and lax tax rates we should be wallowing in work. (Full disclosure: our algorithms have filtered outliers that don’t confirm our hypothesis, such as the current European economic situation.)
Gardenbrain, in contrast, says taxes are the foundational fertilizer which allows us to sustain the government garden. A well-designed tax system — in which the rich (those households making anything close to $200K/year) contribute and the poor (those much-needed special interest groups and voting blocs) benefit — ensures that wealth is properly “spread around” in order to foster fairness and satisfy standards. Reducing taxes on so-called “job creators” is fantastical folly. Jobs, we now know, are the consequence of a feedback loop between government, the people, and demand—as best managed by a government controlled economy—which truly creates jobs. Good growth doesn’t trickle down; it emerges organically from the government out.
Lastly, consider spending. The word spending means literally “to use up or extinguish value,” and most Americans believe that’s exactly what government does with their tax dollars. But government spending is not a simple single-step transaction that destroys dollars as an engine burns evil and dangerous fossil fuels; instead it’s an investment that circulates the government’s money. To invest tax dollars on education, green energy, the children, clean air and water, undocumented workers, free healthcare, and the likes is to carefully circulate natural nutrients through the grand garden of government.
Humans, we existentialists say, emerged from the primordial ooze and know there is no enduring truth. Perhaps that is why we have long had a poor understanding of the relative truth needed to grow government gardens. We need to elect the right gardeners (our benevolent weed wacking and redistributional elites), have them secure the soil (through, for example, the whenever-required application of eminent domain), and then depend on their goodness and wisdom (to properly cast the seeds of investment). Of course, they’ll also fertilize, water and wack the weeds for us. Lastly, our good government gardeners must also input algorithm changes, add useful alliterations, allegories, and metaphors, and when needed, re-define language in order to create the ideological story the people should hear. When the marketplace of ideas is finally eliminated by our elites, the fine and fruitful government garden will grow greatly.
(Note: if you must, read the original here.)
Posted on July 12, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged Economist Fail, Liberal Worldview, New York Times, Nick Hanauer, Parody, Professor Mockumental, The Machine and the Garden. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.