The subject of economics has the misfortune of being co-opted by political ideology. Much like climatology, if a person is very politically minded enough, he or she could talk expertly on these subjects and it wouldn’t be the case if it weren’t for the availability of a government that assumes it could pull policy levers to command the functions of these subjects.
We can’t have a utopia unless there is control. No sense allowing people to do what they want if the results aren’t to the likings of the utopia makers. This is the crux of ideology. The ideologue knows what’s best for all of us and freedom becomes a necessary casualty.
Naturally, being a conservative column, the next thing to say is “except us guys, everyone else is an ideologue and the liberals are the worst offenders.” But I won’t fall into that trap mostly because the definition of the word “ideology” has a morphing property that makes it difficult disavow. This is the Hartford Conservative article because conservatism is the ideology to which all subjects are filtered.
Ideology, when used in that sense, has a softer more generic definition. If anything conservatism is a countervailing force that seeks to dismantle utopian schemes that make us less free. It is the ideology of anti-ideology. Conservatism is an ideology by default.
Richard Grossman, professor of economics at Wesleyan University, writing in the Hartford Courant; takes ideologues to task for invading into his field of study with an article titled “Following Blind Ideology Right of Cliff”. He starts off well enough. Being a professor of economics he has the authority to position himself outside political bickering:
We have gone over the fiscal cliff. The politicians jury-rigged a last-minute, temporary deal, but let's face it — we went over.
The chattering classes are discussing the next big fiscal deadline in February, which is when the government hits the debt ceiling and the politicians again walk us up to the edge of a cliff — and maybe over it into a government shutdown or default.
But before focusing on the next act of this needlessly costly exercise, we should figure out how we got into this mess.
Democrats and Republicans will blame each other, but the answer is more subtle than the usual partisan sniping. The answer is ideology.
Mr. Grossman will have none of that. Of his profession he says:
Let's be clear. Economics does not prescribe an optimal tax structure, nor does it posit a perfect set of tax rates.
Sure, there are economists who believe that taxes ought to be lower — and the government correspondingly smaller — while others would be content with higher taxes and a larger government.
To Grossman the subject of economics does not prescribe tax rates while economists themselves do from time to time. It’s difficult to imagine that economics would be so indifferent to the question since taxes are an integral part of an economy. But let’s take him at his word.
Now that he has established an agnostic indifference to tax rates and is derisive towards ideology, he then continues to violate his premise to show who the bad guys are:
…But there is no economic theory or empirical result that says that the top tax rate of 35 percent established under George W. Bush is inherently better for the economy than the 39.6 percent top rate under Bill Clinton.
With no compelling economic evidence for leaving the top marginal rate at 35 percent, why did the Republicans invest so much energy in fighting tax increases for those making over $250,000? Or over $400,000? Or over $1 million? And why did 236 out of 242 Republican House members and 40 out of 47 Republican senators in the just completed 112th Congress sign Norquist's no new taxes pledge?
This ideologically driven intransigence makes no sense.
But where is the “empirical results” that say a 39.5 tax rate is better than 35? And to what do we attribute Democrats insisting that tax rates go up if not for ideology? Democrats themselves don’t make an economic case for high taxes because it is good for the economy; their only consideration is “fairness” which is wildly subjective with no economic utility whatsoever. You don’t get to that point if not for ideology.
Grossman asserts economics makes no claim on tax rates. But Republicans are guilty of “ideology” for wanting tax rates to remain unchanged while it is the Democrats who want to raise the rates. Grossman not only comes down on the side of Democrats he also doesn't bother to explain why it is the correct position much less non-ideological.
If anything conservatives do make an economic case and it is a simple common sense argument to which if government takes money out of the economy there is less of it for wealth creation. Democrats will argue that money isn’t taken out of the economy, per se, because it is spent elsewhere. Good enough, but it also prevents the economy from growing since there is no growth in redistribution and without growth there is no job creation. Do we really need to wait for “empirical results” which by the way, if we must, does show lower rates grows economies?
To Grossman wanting higher rates of taxes is not ideological, just when you want them lower. He doesn’t spell out why because there is no “empirical data” either way. Just like political people will assume they have knowledge into other fields when they really don’t, Grossman uses his field of study to assume a greater knowledge into politics. In so doing he can’t help contradicting his own arguments and showing he’s just another hack like the rest of us.