Friday, April 11, 2014

Krugman: Politics Makes Conservatives Stupider

Paul Krugman goes there so I don't have to:
Ezra Klein’s new venture Vox is up, and so far, so OK — some fairly interesting pieces, and nothing like Nate Silver’s lamentable decision to make a professional concern troll his chief writer on climate. I am troubled by Ezra’s big inauguratory think piece, but that’s because I think the piece raises a genuine intellectual puzzle.
What Ezra does is cite research showing that people understand the world in ways that suit their tribal identities: in controlled experiments both conservatives and liberals systematically misread facts in a way that confirms their biases. And more information doesn’t help: people screen out or discount facts that don’t fit their worldview. Politics, as he says, makes us stupid.
But here’s the thing: the lived experience is that this effect is not, in fact, symmetric between liberals and conservatives. Yes, liberals are sometimes subject to bouts of wishful thinking. But can anyone point to a liberal equivalent of conservative denial of climate change, or the “unskewing” mania late in the 2012 campaign, or the frantic efforts to deny that Obamacare is in fact covering a lot of previously uninsured Americans? I don’t mean liberals taking positions you personally disagree with — I mean examples of overwhelming rejection of something that shouldn’t even be in dispute.
Krugman is right, in my experience, and there are firm reasons why:
  • A key component of the conservative tribe is its Christian cohort -- conservatives are uniformly religious -- and the reliance on the Bible as the Word of God boxes them in. Orthodoxy boxes them in, on issues such as climate change, evolution, fossil records, in fact a lot of what sciences does. If examining, as science does, the fossil record leads to strong proof of evolution, which runs counter to Genesis, then not only is evolution out, but so is the fossil record, and thus the Scientific Method. Evidence becomes meaningless, and conservatives are left with nowhere to go except back to their religion. Obama tried, gently, to make that point once -- and a fair point it was -- and got his head handed to him.
  • Conservative constituencies are far from diverse, so there's no need to build coalitions that rely on an agreed set of compromises. So compromise no longer needs to be an available tool. Even the libertarian branch of the conservatives exact a price that conservatives are forced to pay, as in the belief in efficient markets -- which doesn't require much of a stretch for conservatives to adhere to. But it does require them to ignore the "fossil record" of failed markets here, there, and everywhere. And thus a failed macroeconomics is also adhered to, which make the academic conservatives look pretty silly, to which Paul Krugman would gladly attest.
  • Liberals have never achieved what might be called "purity parity." Liberals come in many stripes, from the rabid left to the barely Democratic -- think Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson, Joe Manchin -- and their journalistic team mirrors that. The liberal crew can run from Paul Krugman to Ruth Marcus to Richard Cohen, for Pete's sake. If a conservative politician or columnist ventures off the farm, they're, well, they never do anymore!
  • The liberal echo chamber is smaller, or more likely, a collection of echo chambers, which represents the advantages of the big tent. The right echo chamber vibrates at the same pitch and a fevered one at that. Good luck having a different voice on the right: It's likely to be so dissident they'll throw you out of the choir but quick, and your only choice is a quick mea culpa or a long stint in the wilderness.
So I agree with Krugman that Ezra Klein's "both sides do it" falls into the group of tired clichés that don't ring true anymore, if they ever did. Liberalism is reality-based, conservatism not so much. And though I'm sure there are plenty of religious liberals, religion is the linchpin: Liberalism is relatively free of biblical restraint, and conservatism is cornered by it. And so there you go.

It's hard to tackle income inequality if this is your literal world view.

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