Friday, September 10, 2010

Time Horizons

A commenter named Thomas writes:
One of your examples of conservative time horizons was the invasion of Iraq. It seems to me that example is problematic.

Burkean conservatives take a dim view of humanity's ability to predict the course of events. Grand five and ten year plans are anathema to them. So George Bush's grand plan to re-make the middle East through regime change was rejected as absurd by philosophical conservatives.

Your example of Iraq demonstrates to me that your time horizons theory is false with respect to any coherent conservative philosophy. It may reflect the self image of American Republicans, but it is not conservative. I would argue that it instead shows an ideology in conflict with reality.

David Brooks had a funny op-ed like a year ago that addressed this:
If you asked [David Hume] to take on global warming, he’d pile up reports on the problem. But if you walked into his office after a few days, you’d find papers strewn in great piles on the floor and him at his desk with his head in his hands.

“I don’t know the best way to generate clean energy,” he’d whine, “and I don’t know how technology will advance in the next 20 years. Why don’t we just raise the price on carbon and let everybody else figure out how to innovate our way toward a solution? Or at worst, why don’t we just set up a simple cap-and-trade system — with no special-interest favorites — and let entrepreneurs figure out how to bring down emissions?”

On health care, he’d be much the same. He’d spend a few days reading reports. Then one day you’d find him in the fetal position, weeping. He’d confess that he doesn’t know enough to reorganize a fifth of the economy. He can’t figure out which health care delivery system is the most efficient. “Why don’t we just set up insurance exchanges with, say, 12 different competing policies? We’ll let everybody choose a policy, and we’ll let people keep any money they save. That way they can set off a decentralized cascade of reform, instead of putting all the responsibility on us here.” And then Mr. Hume would beg you to leave him alone.

But Thomas's critique misses my point.

I'll try to explain in two ways. First, you can come to the conclusion to be a realist in two ways. 1) You are actually a pacifist in disguise who doesn't want to fight any war and consequently argue that each and every conflict isn't in the national interest.. 2) You are concerned about conserving resources for the future, which as Thomas suggests, is uncertain. So, it's not about the conclusion reached per se, but the mode of analysis.

On the case of Iraq, the basic neoconservative theory was a Hail Mary to tilt the MidEast toward democracy. This was based on a long time horizon analysis. That doesn't make it right, but it is a long run thing. Other conservatives were against the war. What makes it conservative is that the analysis and case for it are primarily based on the long-term.

Liberals, on the other hand, talked in shorter run and more narrower terms.

1 comment:

The Ancient said...

You make everything so complicated.

Isn't it just this: Liberals have taken Keynes's (semi-serious) "In the long run, we are all dead" and used it to justify doing almost anything in the short-run? Regardless of the consequences for a "long-run" in which they themselves will not participate?

(Personally, I don't take long-run advice from gay men who marry ballerinas. Nor from economists with cats. OTOH, both can be wise and practical about short-run problems. And not merely problems with cats and ballerinas.)

 
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