Posted by: CJ | May 6, 2009

Why do I link to Kling again?

I typically read Arnold Kling (and sometimes Bryan Caplan) at EconLog for the same reason I read Megan McArdle: they’re about as close as I can come to political conservatism without screaming about either prejudice or logical inconsistencies or misinformation or rank stupidity. However, the following two posts of Kling’s are making me question my judgement. They’re both very short, so I’ll post them in their entirety.

In the first, Kling argues that we should be rooting for rich people to keep their money.

There is a huge contest going on between politicians and rich people over who should get to spend their money. Most of us have no direct stake in the outcome–as neither politicians nor rich people, we will not have the choice.

But I think we really ought to be rooting for the rich people. That is, we should root for lower taxes and less government spending. Government is one of the worst charities in the world. It advertises that it is going to give money to worthy causes, but very little money goes to programs that are aimed at people in need, and not many of those programs hit their targets. All of the bleeding hearts who are thrilled by the idea of government closing tax loopholes and taking more money from rich people should do an empirical analysis of who benefits from government spending and who benefits from the spending of rich people.

(The above was written in response to something the economist Scott Sumner wrote. In the comment he noted Bill Gates spending on philanthropy in poor countries.)

Kling’s second post was written in response to a Wil Wilkinson post. Wilkinson wrote (in the course of a larger post),

People who finally gained equal political rights through a long democratic struggle cannot have been unreasonable to see democratic politics as a morally and politically progressive force,

and Kling added

Basically, what I read into this sentence is the notion that the right to vote is so precious we have no business questioning what people use that right for. If they elect a demagogue who proceeds to nationalize most of the U.S. economy, well, they earned that privilege “through a long democratic struggle.”

Romanticizing the right to vote is a bad move. The only good voting does is that it permits you to peacefully throw out the incumbents. However, once you romanticize voting, you undermine a lot of that value. The political class exploits your romantic feelings to expand its powers and take away your rights.

Libertarians face three choices relative to their postures on democratic voting.

1. Share the enchantment.

2. At least pretend to share the enchantment.

3. Express open disenchantment.

Will’s post (read the whole thing) seems to advocate something between 1 and 2. I’m going with 3.

I’m not entirely sure what to say about Kling’s posts. They express a certain coherent worldview, and are logical within that worldview. And he even makes some good points.

But the tone is…well..bad. It’s callous and emphasizes, in my mind, that it’s an older, over-educated white male bleating about letting the rich use their money for good in the world and that the right to vote is over-rated. He sounds less like the thoughtful economist acutely aware of the limitations of statistical analyses of macroeconomics that I enyjoed reading a few months ago, and much more like a grumpy hard-line libertarian ideologue. He seems to believe he already has the answer, if only people would listen to him. This is unfortunate.



  1. Rich people vs politicians? Who becomes politicians? You may argue that the Warren Buffets and Bill Gates of the world aren’t in Congress, but how many of the people in Congress are struggling to pay their medical bills or worried about the mortgage on a $70,000 house?

    And who gets face time with Congress–rich, prominent people or small town main street? Access comes with a price.

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