The Discourse Gap

Earlier this week, Paul Krugman wrote of a “wonk gap” between Republicans and “conservative ‘experts’” and their political and philosophical counterparts.

According to Krugman, “the G.O.P. [has a] near-complete lack of expertise on anything substantive.” Or, put in its elementary school playground formulation, he says, “You guys are just stupid.”

Of course, Krugman is wrong. Many conservative thinkers (and thinkers from other political viewpoints) have many substantive and important arguments for their views. Krugman and others who dismiss those ideas out-of-hand either don’t really understand them or else are trying to ignore them. Narrow minds, alas, are hard to penetrate.

It’s thus tempting to dismiss the column as just Krugman being Krugman. But the column does (unwittingly) illustrate a gap that is real, important, and truly worrisome: the gap in thoughtful discourse between different viewpoints in American politics. Discourse is vital both because it forces those viewpoints to sharpen their better arguments while discarding their weaker ones, and because it moves policymakers and the public toward better decisions. However, instead of seriously and thoughtfully engaging in such conversation, too many politicians and commentators give serious attention only to ideas and arguments in line with their own views.

Sadly, Krugman occupies one of the most echo-ey of those chambers, routinely misunderstanding (and then lampooning) viewpoints at odds with his own. For some examples, see this by Tyler Cowen, or these posts by Alan Reynolds.

Indeed, if Krugman followed thoughtful policy discourse, he wouldn’t have buttressed his “wonk gap” column with three highly dubious arguments:

Krugman, of course, isn’t the only commentator or politician to shelter in an echo chamber. It’s too easy to become a public-policy Stuart Smalley, believing, “My ideas are good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like them (and my opponents are just stupid).” But that deprives America of important political considerations and better public policies. And that truly is stupid.

C/P at MPPI Policy Blog