Will’s lament

Poor George Will— a pseudo-intellectual stuck in a political party that now tolerates no intellectuals, pseudo or otherwise.   In his latest column he laments conservative opposition to the American Community Survey (ACS) a treasure trove of information in the census:

These Enlightenment figures — rational, empirical, inquisitive — believed in the possibility of evidence-based improvements. And they mandated the “enumeration” of the population every 10 years. James Madison soon proposed expanding the census beyond mere enumeration to recording Americans’ occupations. And compliance with the survey was compulsory…

Information improves the efficiency of markets — and of governments, too. There are systemic reasons why democratic governments frequently behave foolishly: Politicians’ constant incentive is to confer current benefits on targeted beneficiaries and to defer costs (by running deficits). Hence there are weak incentives to formulate government policies with the quaint characteristic of measurably ameliorating broad social problems. The ACS cannot cure systemic problems, but abolishing it would require government to be unnecessarily ignorant…

Clearly, conservatives should favor the nation applying to itself the injunction “Know thyself.” Besides, if conservatives do not think information about society — the more the merrier — strengthens their case, why are they conservatives?

Seriously?  Has Will not been paying attention that past decade or so?  “Rational, empirical, inquisitive”?!  Can you honestly apply any of these words to how the contemporary Republican Party approaches public policy.  If only.  Why are they conservative?  Ummm, because they hate Obama, know he’s a socialist, and he’s going to ruin the country by giving away all their hard-earned tax dollars to people that don’t look like them.  That was easy.

And, on a side not, this paragraph of Will’s really killed me:

In the absence of data, politicians pluck factoids from the ether, as Barack Obama did in this year’s State of the Union address: “Every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood education can save more than seven dollars later on, by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.” Such facially implausible and utterly unsubstantiated claims flourish when there is indifference to information.

Good God– could Will at least familiarize himself with google?!  This figure only comes from the research of Nobel laureate economist, James Heckman.  Not exactly out of thin air.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

2 Responses to Will’s lament

  1. John F. says:

    When you don’t know what an intellectual looks like any guy wearing a bow tie will do. Will is just a fancier dressed version of all that’s wrong with his party; completely intellectually bankrupt and solely existing on emotionally fed non-controversies that tap into all that is primal & tribal within human nature.

    And the research Heckman bases his conclusion on are about 50 years old and are backed up by hundreds of other studies.

  2. Alex says:

    Steve, you forgot another tenet of conservatism: Any research/data/statistics you don’t agree with are by definition plucked from the ether (or, if you’re in the tea party, developed by a conspiracy) and thus worthless.

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