Tag Archives: David Frum

A quick thought about an application of the Folk Theorem

Has anyone noticed that the Folk Theorem is a great conceptual paradigm with a lot of explanatory power for the incentive structures that exist in the Republican party right now? Here’s the excerpt from Wikipedia:

It is possible to apply this class of theorems to a diverse number of fields. An application in anthropology, for example, would be that in a community where all behavior is well known, and where members of the community know that they will continue to have to deal with each other, then any pattern of behavior (traditions, taboos, etc) may be sustained by social norms so long as the individuals of the community are better off remaining in the community than they would be leaving the community (the minimax condition).

This is why ‘epistemic closure‘ has made the Republican movement intellectually moribund. Republican social norms enforce an intellectual strait-jacket because its intellectual incoherence mandates a kind of suspension of rationality.The Republican movement is in the transitional state where the Folk theorem no longer applies at a growing intellectual margin. Consider very specifically David Frum’s untimely exit from the American Enterprise Institute after the publication of his essay ‘Waterloo‘ in March. And Gary Becker, the Economics Nobel Laureate in 1992, notes in an essay last may the ‘intellectual deterioration’ of the conservative movement, noting prominently:

My theme is the intellectual decline of conservatism, and it is notable that the policies of the new conservatism are powered largely by emotion and religion and have for the most part weak intellectual groundings. That the policies are weak in conception, have largely failed in execution, and are political flops is therefore unsurprising. The major blows to conservatism, culminating in the election and programs of Obama, have been fourfold: the failure of military force to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives; the inanity of trying to substitute will for intellect, as in the denial of global warming, the use of religious criteria in the selection of public officials, the neglect of management and expertise in government; a continued preoccupation with abortion; and fiscal incontinence in the form of massive budget deficits, the Medicare drug plan, excessive foreign borrowing, and asset-price inflation.

I would also add the conservative opposition to gay marriage is another fracture point in the Republican meta-narrative. This is because legally speaking, marriage is just a package of contracts for specific things. In this light the debate over gay marriage is literally a debate over contract rights and if we can restrict them on the basis that only two people of different sexes can make these contracts. This puts Democrats in the same tent as the Libertarians on an issue of property rights, inasmuch as we can think of the restriction of the right to contract as a restriction on the kinds of property, both real and virtual, that you can structure through a marriage.

In any case, I think that this country loses something when the Democrats cannot be challenged by real, intellectually rigorous arguments from the Republican umbrella and there is no viable third party, at least not yet.

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The closing of the conservative mind

I’m sure many are following the fallout from David Frum’s firing over at the American Enterprise Institute. Bruce Bartlett sympathizes:

As some readers of this blog may know, I was fired by a right wing think tank called the National Center for Policy Analysis in 2005 for writing a book critical of George W. Bush’s policies, especially his support for Medicare Part D. In the years since, I have lost a great many friends and been shunned by conservative society in Washington, DC.

Now the same thing has happened to David Frum, who has been fired by the American Enterprise Institute. I don’t know all the details, but I presume that his Waterloo post on Sunday condemning Republicans for failing to work with Democrats on healthcare reform was the final straw.

Since, he is no longer affiliated with AEI, I feel free to say publicly something he told me in private a few months ago. He asked if I had noticed any comments by AEI “scholars” on the subject of health care reform. I said no and he said that was because they had been ordered not to speak to the media because they agreed with too much of what Obama was trying to do.

It saddened me to hear this. I have always hoped that my experience was unique. But now I see that I was just the first to suffer from a closing of the conservative mind. Rigid conformity is being enforced, no dissent is allowed, and the conservative brain will slowly shrivel into dementia if it hasn’t already.

I’ve been arguing along this front for a while. As I wrote back in June:

My recommendation for GOP party strategists? Dump the social agenda. Because it allows the everyday failings of your leaders to undermine your message and cultivates an anti-intellectual environment, marginalizing key thinkers and discouraging diversity of thought. Those concepts are at the center of any effective political movement. I’m not the only person making these arguments; here is Nobel Laureate Gary Becker (U Chicago) making a more nuanced version of the argument.

We’re living in an America where the intellectual heft on any argument now almost exclusively comes from the left. Liberal scholars have a meaningful, respected place in discourse; conservative scholars have been excluded from the discussion by the GOP.

Edit: Patrick Ruffini has more. Key lines:

This may be oversimplified. There are certainly many very good conservative health care scholars whose work I should have been reading more closely these last few years. But politics is a battle of perceptions, and the perception — that became reality — was that Republicans brought a knife to a gun fight when it came a debate about the scope and reach of health care reform.

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