Home / Politics as punting on fourth and one

Politics as punting on fourth and one


One explanation for why people who advocate transparently idiotic policies that result in national disasters (the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our current health care system, our drug laws, our prisons, our current financial crisis) generally don’t lose their pundit credentials is that what gets you fired isn’t being wrong: it’s being perceived to be wrong while bucking the conventional wisdom. Indeed being wrong while repeating the conventional wisdom is generally more profitable than being right while resisting it.

That’s why football coaches punt on fourth and one. It’s idiotic and loses lots of games, but what gets them fired is doing something unconventional that doesn’t work 100% of the time. And since nothing works 100% of the time they generally prefer to “manage by the book” as the baseball expression goes.

In American politics today, managing by the book means always being “strong on defense,” which in turn means spending insane sums of money on wars and the weapons to fight them, and “tough on crime,” which means throwing millions of people in prison at immense cost, often for behavior which in a more rational society wouldn’t even be illegal, let alone grounds for incarceration. It also means doing nothing that would upset the economic status quo; hence bankers must receive immense bonuses 15 minutes after their firms were saved from extinction by the timely transfer of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. (This is known as “letting the market reward success.”).

The conventional wisdom is the conventional wisdom because the establishment deems it to be simply the truth, and therefore not subject to question by serious people, such as themselves. This is why failed football coaches and baseball managers keep getting re-hired; this is why Bill Kristol now writes a column for the Washington Post, and Iraq war advocates aren’t immediately laughed out of the room when they give their opinions on what “we” should do next in Afghanistan.

Of course eventually things get too ridiculous, and the Red Sox hire Bill James. I don’t think Obama is Bill James. At best he might be Brian Cashman. Lets hope he doesn’t end up working with a hard salary cap. (What brings this whole post together, which to less discerning eyes might appear to consist of a disjointed ramble of mixed metaphors, is that Christina Romer is David Romer’s wife.)

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