For the Weekend: Dante Alighieri and Guido da Montefeltro

The Damnation of the Professional Republican Policy Intellectuals


I have long known that the thoughtful and pulls-no-punches Amitabh Chandra has no tolerance for fuzzy thinking from Do-Gooder Democrats. He is one of those who holds that not even a simulacrum of utopia is open to us here, as we muck about in the Sewer of Romulus here in this Fallen Sublunary Sphere. ”There are always trade-offs“, he says. “Deal with it“, he says. But here he leans to the other side, and, well, snaps: Amitabh Chandra: "GOP thinktanks are the biggest milksops. From healthcare policy to environmental policy, from national security policy to fiscal policy, they have tacitly endorsed a mountain of anti-market + anti-growth + anti-America policies so as not to not upset their political masters...

...There was a time when I could go to a GOP thinktank and debate Peter Bach or Henry Aaron or Mark Pauly. We agreed on lots of things, and disagreed on many others. Now, it's completely fine to just shout socialism and markets, disparage expertise, and everyone claps. I don't consider myself a Democrat, but the quality of the conversation at CAP or Brookings is orders of magnitude richer, and more sophisticated, than what is happening at GOP thinktanks. And I say this is someone who often disagrees with both of them. You still can debate Henry Aaron or Mark Pauly perfectly pleasantly and productively. (I don't know Peter Bach.) We need to focus on the many intellectually honest folks along the political spectrum and try to ignore the fools. Honestly, my academic discussions haven't changed...

You could never have a fruitful discussion with people from Heritage. They were focused on (1) political effectiveness for their high politicians and (2) pleasing their funders. Nothing else mattered. And so nothing they said could be taken at its face intellectual value. And no evidence you could bring forward would change their minds—or, rather, would change what they said and wrote. Maybe it did change their minds. But how the hell could anyone ever know, since their words were completely determined by triangulating between their political masters and their funders?

I think Cato, AEI, the American Action Forum, and others have now entered the Heritage zone. Yes, they are happy to have your endorsement to make whatever they say as they triangulate between their funders and their political masters. No, they do not want to listen to any evidence. No, they do not care about policy effectiveness—or if they do still at some level care about policy effectiveness, it is the effectiveness of the policies they will be able to work for two decades in the future after sucking up to funders and political masters has gained them enough credibility that somebody will actually listen to them on the substance. And, no, they are not interested in marking their beliefs to market—because knowing and reflecting on how false their promises were would make them sad without any ability to do anything, because for at least 20 more years they will have no room to do anything other than utter the words that best triangulate between the demands of their funders and their political masters.

Anyone at Cato, AEI, that AAF, or any of the others that this does not describe? Damn few.

Case in point: last winter's tax cut bill. Professional Republican economist after Republican economist was falling over himself to get a 0.4% boost to annual economic growth in 2018 and 2019 from higher investment triggered by the tax bill. Do the arithmetic and that means an extra 800 billion dollars a year of investment in America. Six months later are we getting that extra investment? No. Are any of the professional Republican economists worried about why we are not getting that extra investment? No. By how much will the fact that we did not get that extra investment they projected change what they write in the future? Zero.