Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Winning the Debate

Back in the day, conservatives used to console themselves that they were "winning the debate" over this issue or that. That is, even if we hadn't yet changed the laws to our liking, nobody with an intellectual credibility was willing to defend the liberal status quo with respect to rent control, Communism, or welfare. I remember being occasionally being frustrated upon hearing this, especially in the middle-to-late 90s, where I thought we'd done enough to be winning more than debates.

Now of course, conservative influence is at a low tide, so we should be grateful for small favors. So I guess we ought to be happy that even though in Realpolitik terms we've lost everything that matters, we are in fact winning the debate, for the first time in quite a while I might add.

Most of it has to do with the stimulus package. Recently Matthew Ygesias criticized Harvard economist Greg Mankiw for not being sufficiently condemnatory of Sen Jim DeMint's alternative to the Obama stimulus. From here, he conclude that Mankiw is not merely a reputable economist but also something of a Republican hack. In Jon Chait's mind, this is a "devastating critique."

At one level at least this is plainly ridiculous. Frankly I'd be interested to know what Mankiw thinks about DeMint's plan, but the zeroth order reason why Mankiw hasn't written anything about it is because the DeMint plan had no chance of becoming law and nobody took it that way. And Yglesias surely knows this because a couple of links earlier he criticizes Mankiw's own ideas as being politically implausible.

What's impressed me most about the recent debates is that the Right, largely but not completely represented by libertarian economists, has not only argued their corner well but also demonstrated much more emotional balance about the whole thing. Somehow liberals can't shake off their pissed-off malcontent personas even after they've won.

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