Scott Sumner argues that when it comes to policy, the key division is often not left-versus-right or Democrat-versus-Republican, but idealistic intellectuals versus corrupt politicians. He lists six great public policy failures, where idealistic intellectuals, regardless of ideology, largely agree that reform is urgent, while practicing politicians, regardless of ideology, largely defend the status quo:
- The huge rise in occupational licensing.
- The huge rise in people incarcerated in the war on drugs, and also the scandalous reluctance of doctors to prescribe adequate pain medication (also due to the war on drugs.)
- The need for more legal immigration.
- The need to replace taxes on capital with progressive consumption taxes.
- Local zoning rules that prevent dense development.
- Tax exemptions for mortgage interest and health insurance.
With the possible exception of the mortgage interest deduction (which I think effectively reduces the tax on capital and so might be desirable to keep per point (4)), I am certainly in what Scott sees as the “idealistic intellectual” camp on all of these issues. And I like to believe, as Scott does, that most idealists and intellectuals, regardless of ideology, are in that camp along with us.
One of Scott’s concerns is that issues like these get short shrift in the media precisely because it’s easier to report on divisions that are driven by ideology than divisions, like these, that are driven by values.
Or to say this more succinctly: Some issues divide us according to our ideologies; others according to our values. The first sort get all the media attention, but the second sort (as in the six examples above) are often more critical to our prosperity. (I hope this is an accurate summary of Scott’s position.)
Does this seem right to you?