May 22, 2008


?might not be that bad. According to the

, ?one of the things that distinguished Obama from Clinton was his skepticism about standard Keynesian prescriptions, such as relying on tax policy to stimulate investment and saving.?

And then there?s a ?Chicago connection,? this one not to the Rev. Wright or Rezco but to the U of C:

Should Obama win the nomination, political considerations may well force upon him a more interventionist position, but his first inclination is to seek a path between big government and laissez-faire, a trait that reflects his age?he was born in 1961?and the intellectual milieu he emerged from. Before entering the Illinois state Senate, he spent ten years teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago, where respect for the free market is a cherished tradition. His senior economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, is a former colleague of his at Chicago and an expert on the economics of high-tech industries. Goolsbee is not a member of the ?Chicago School? of Milton Friedman and Gary Becker, but he is not well known as a critic of American capitalism either.

Yes, Obama?s still a Nanny Stater, but his version would have a lighter touch, less about direct market interventions and more about ?nudging? the population into safe housing loans and 401(k)s and making organ donation the default setting when you a get a drivers license. 

The progenitor of this kind of ?behaviorist? approach is Cass Sunstein, a friend and former colleague of the Great Transcender, who?s co-authored a new book, Nudge, in which he lays out this approach: the state still knows best, but it won?t force you to do anything, well not exactly, just nudge you in the right direction. Sunstein actually calls is ?libertarian paternalism.?

(Anecdote: once while I was at the U of C, I had the gall to paternalistically open a door for Sunstein?s then-girlfriend Martha Nussbaum (Cass is now apparently linked to Samantha Power; geez, this guy can?t get enough of the human rights crusaders!). Anyway, Martha didn?t budge and then opened the adjacent door for me, and we stood in a post-feminist stand-off for at least 20 seconds, until I briskly went through my portal and brusquely shut the door behind me. Take a look at this gal (egads!).)

Anyway, writing at the Ludwig von Mises Institute website, David Gordon is right to remind us that ?libertarian paternalism? is still paternalism: 

Those who wish to preserve liberty must take people’s actions as they find them, not substitute for them “better” or more “rational” actions, based on an assessment of what people “really” want. To return to the transplant case, if the state says to people that their organs will be taken from them unless they explicitly direct otherwise, it is claiming to set forward the terms under which people can retain control of their own bodies. This is hardly libertarian. Instead, the state needs to step away entirely and allow people to dispose of their organs as they wish. Why not rely on a free market in organs, rather than concoct schemes to restrict liberty in the guise of preserving it?

This is certainly true. But then Nick Bradley over at LRC seems to get the balance right with regards to what all this means for the upcoming election:

According to the article, Obama and his economic team oppose outright bans and strict regulations, but instead prefer the “nudging” approach. After reading the article, I’ve came to the conclusion that Obama is to the right of Clinton on economic issues (opposed to the narrative that he’s to the left of her) and pretty close to McCain, with McCain possibly favoring more outright bans and restrictions on economic activity than Obama would?and I include the environment in that category; McCain favors capping total economic output (by capping industrial CO2 emissions), while Obama favors CO2 taxes that would allow CO2 emissions to grow, but at a higher cost to them. Neither are good options, but an Obama CO2 tax paired with a payroll tax cut is far preferable to McCain’s anti-growth plan that erects massive barriers to entry for new market participants (under his plan, emitters get credit for current emissions, while new producers have to pay for the carbon credits).

Combined with his opposition to the war and his support for civil liberties, Obama is far, far preferable to McCain, although I’ll still be casting my vote for Barr.?

Obamanomics seems to me tolerable: not strikingly worse then what we?ve got, perhaps marginally better. Obama would disappoint as a ?worse the better? candidate, I don?t think he?ll actually screw up the country in any major way, and with regards to foreign policy, it?s likely he?ll improve things considerably. 


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