A number of critics, including Free Exchange, have praised Herbert Gintis’s quirky and insightful review of Paul Krugman’s The Conscience of a Liberal. Brad DeLong, in contrast, expresses mild skepticism.
One final comment. Herb “conservatives… are politically sophisticated and hold clear visions of what they want… too bad that what they want does not include caring about the poor and the otherwise afflicted, or dealing with our natural environment… conservative pigs… are smart but only care about what’s in their trough” claims that he is non-partisan?
I think he is. Below I’ll offer some thoughts on Gintis and on partisanship.
Gintis is clearly on the left, and some have described him as a left-libertarian. (I think of him as a left-“Shklarian”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Shklar, as suggested in his talk of Homo reciprocans. I think of myself as Shklarian too.) Lately that term has been used to describe anti-war libertarians who embrace left-wing cultural politics, but it is best used to describe thinkers like Philippe Van Parijs and Michael Otsuka who, to put it crudely and simplistically, accept a libertarian understanding of “self-ownership” and an egalitarian understanding of “world-ownership.” It should be obvious that these thinkers have views that are often at odds with those of mainstream political parties. One can be a leftist without being a Democrat.
Paul Krugman and many other smart thinkers on the left and center-left have decided to put aside their differences with the Democratic party, which they see as the most effective instrument for blunting the advance of dangerous right-wing extremism. And so Krugman and others have become more partisan. There’s nothing wrong with that. Moreover, there’s nothing particularly admirable or heroic about being non-partisan. But some of us still see value in maintaining some critical distance from the mainstream political parties.
My views on the welfare state closely parallel Gintis’s views as outlined in his review, and I actually think his framework also works pretty well for the nations of Parag Khanna’s second world. I think the key problem a stable society faces is access capitalism, and the solution is, as Gintis puts it, “efficiency-enhancing egalitarian redistribution.” As a Shklarian and as a believer in conditional reciprocity, I think this should take the form of work-based income supports. But this isn’t really the terrain of our politics at the moment. John Edwards cares about some of the right issues, but he’s embraced a zero-sum view of wealth creation. Social conservatives are rightly concerned with family breakdown, but they’ve neglected important aspects of social policy. Rawlsekian libertarians get most things right, but their allergy to all forms of public paternalism, and even social authority, strikes me as misguided. And of course I care a lot about foreign policy and science policy and a host of other issues where my gut instincts run in different directions.
So I feel most comfortable standing at a slight remove. I think it’s entirely possible that the mainstream parties will converge around some more attractive consensus in the years to come, at which point I might be even less inclined to believe that one party has a monopoly on virtue.