Kevin Williamson really, really dislikes Jon Stewart:
The Left has been losing the Big Idea debate for a generation or more, in no small part because its last Big Idea killed 100 million people, give or take, and not in Mr. Klein’s projecting-abstractly-from-a-CBO-study way but in the concentration-camps-and-hunger-terror way. Marxism was the Left’s Big Idea for the better part of a century, and its collapse — which was moral, economic, political, and complete — left a howling void in the Left’s intellectual universe. Nothing has quite managed to fill it: In the immediate wake of the collapse of Communism, the anticapitalists sought shelter in a variety of movements, few of which grew to be of any real consequence, with the exception of the environmentalist movement. But the lenten self-mortification implied by a consistent environmentalist ethic has limited that movement’s appeal as a governing philosophy and an individual ethic both, hence its fragmentation into a motley sprawl of mini-crusades. It is easy to be anti-fracking when that does not require you to give up anything, easy to oppose the expansion of the Keystone pipeline network when you can be confident that the gas pumps in your hometown will always be full, easy for well-off Whole Foods shoppers to abominate varieties of grain that are possessed by evil spirits or cooties or whatever it is this week.
I don't think the proposed replacement of the Left's failed Big Idea is only a series of mini-environmental crusades. I think it's an attempt to achieve redistribution and a command-and-control economy by force, without thinking through where the force will lead when free people resist.


Grim said...

Interesting to read this piece in concert with the Sowell interview. Kevin Williamson may hate John Stewart, but the market plainly favors Stewart. He's grown vastly rich, and Williamson has not.

Then we get to non-profits as the center of Big Ideas:

The Koch brothers are patrons of Big Ideas, interested in the institutions of a free society and what makes them work. Say what you like about the organizations they donate to — Cato, Mercatus, the Institute for Humane Studies (my employer for about a year) — they are oriented toward ideas. I do not expect any Mercatus scholar to host a highly rated cable comedy show in the near future, not even the telegenic Veronique de Rugy.

Apparently you can make a very good living in the market from laughing at these big ideas, but if you want to take them seriously, you need a patron who will support you though you generate no profits.

Dad29 said...

I don't think it will be a C-and-C economy.

Much more likely will be the demolition of "intermediaries" such as families, churches, and the several States.

THEN the C-and-C economy will be a cakewalk.

Texan99 said...

This idea that the free market tells us what things are inherently worth is a huge and confused mistake. The free market tells us what people will demand in exchange for giving up something else that they value. It keeps track of what everyone values, especially the relative value to them of different things, but it doesn't tell them what they should value. For that, they have to turn to their conscience, their religion, their sense of logic, their honesty, or whatever informs their beliefs about what's important.

That you can get rich promoting conservative ideas as well as progressive ones is demonstrated by the success of people like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly. It's not an index of the truth of their ideas. It has a great deal to do with whether they pitch their messages to a broad or narrow audience, and whether they're trying to inform or only to entertain. Not many people enjoy nonstop entertaining enough to keep it up gratis, but lots of people enjoy the battle of ideas enough to do it for free, or for no more money than it takes to keep body and soul together so they can devote practically all their time to it without starving, as if it were a hobby.

Grim said...

Well, it interests me in terms of the question Sowell dodges at the end of the interview. He's given a persuasive account of the value of markets in making wiser decisions than command systems can make. Then he gives an account of why nonprofits are not as good a model as for-profits for similar reasons. 'But,' the interviewer suggests, 'you work for a nonprofit! What about that?'

Here's Williamson making a similar point: John Stewart isn't smart enough to work for some of these conservative nonprofits, he's just smart enough to make fun of them if he carefully edits their arguments.

So the same objection is available: it sounds like Dr. Sowell is right that the nonprofit idea factory is going to get out-competed by the for-profit Daily Show idea factory. But the base argument is that markets make wiser decisions. And the brand of for-profit ideas the market is plainly endorsing (so much so that the ideas of Sowell etc. can't be supported in the market, but need a non-profit backer) are the very ideas that would hamper or cripple the market that is selecting for them.

That seems like a serious problem for the idea that markets are wiser decision makers. The knowledge problem that Williamson brings up is also supposed to demonstrate not just that markets make faster or more efficient decisions, but wiser ones that leverage much more human knowledge. Yet it seems as if the market's idea decisions are suicidal.

Texan99 said...

That Sowell works for a non-profit doesn't mean that it is likely to outperform a for-profit institution. If it goes broke, he'll have to work for someone else. Individual non-profits may do well for some time, if they happen to be run by sensible people with good luck. That doesn't mean that non-profits on the whole show a competitive advantage.

I'm not sure anyone thinks that markets are wise decision makers, only that, on the whole, they'll find more efficient ways of balancing resources than command-and-control economies will. Being somewhat less dumb than a C-and-C economy is no guarantee that everything a market results in will look like a genius move. All the market is doing, after all, is reflecting the relative values of a lot of people. The mass of people can still be dumb and ignorant, even if they're less dumb and ignorant than a bunch of apparatchiks in a centralized location.

We don't have available a system in which all the trade-offs are performed by preternaturally brilliant, omniscient, and virtuous angels.

E Hines said...

Along those lines, there's this comment by Sowell:

Too many intellectuals are too impressed with the fact that they know more than other people. Even if an intellectual knows more than anybody else, that is not the same as saying that he knows more than everybody else put together—which is what would be needed to justify substituting his judgment for that expressed by millions of others through the market or through the ballot box.

Eric Hines