Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Let's Talk Policy. Not Motives. Not Virtue. Just Policy.

What passes for "political" commentary these days usually has nothing whatsoever to do with policy. If anyone is actually interested in discussing policy, I'm here and I'm listening. 

My great disappointment about this election (aside from the obvious) is that almost none of the discussion has been about policy. There has been very little discussion of the exact proposals of Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton and the relative costs, merits, or economics of such proposals. It’s mostly been rabid denunciations. It’s been about who is or isn’t a “bad person.” It’s been about political tribalism, signaling of cultural identities, and signaling one’s opposition to someone else’s cultural identity. Not that this is *always* uncalled for. Sometimes there is evil in plain sight and it's hard to resist calling a spade a spade. The problem is that this tactic of denunciation is a non-starter if your goal is persuasion. A sweet zinger or a harshly worded rhetorical flourish will get you a hive-five from your ideological buddies, but it’s not going to win the hearts and minds of your ideological opposites. On the other hand, it's possible to have a reasonable discussion of the relative merits of different policy proposals.

I’ll probably be talking a great deal about Mr. Trump’s policy proposals. When he is grossly mistaken, as he is with immigration and trade policy, I will explain why it’s a bad policy and why the effects will be harmful. Where he picks a *good* policy, as he might if he’s serious about cleaning up regulatory morass and ending taxation on capital, I’ll explain why it’s a good policy and say, “Well, good on Trump for this one thing.” I expect any readers to *not* interpret these one-offs as a general endorsement of Trump. When I am being critical, I will not lead with “Trump is a horrible person.” But I won’t hesitate to point out that he’s picked an awful, harmful, possibly deadly policy position. Sometimes it suffices to say, “This is what Mr. Trump wants to do to us. These are the likely consequences. Draw your own conclusions about his personal character.” I don’t necessarily care what kinds of sinister motives or misguided feelings Mr. Trump harbors in his heart. I don’t care whether Mr. Trump’s anti-trade position is motivated by enmity toward the Chinese or amity toward American factory workers. I care about the actual harm he is proposing to do, not his motive for causing that harm.

I have tried to discuss policy here on my page. I occasionally post something about policy analysis on my Facebook page with a few words or a few paragraphs of my own commentary. The response is typically underwhelming. When I post something crassly partisan (which I do rarely), I get a bunch of thumbs-ups or angry comments. This differential in response rates discourages me. I also get the occasional, “LOL, I never know what you’re talking about!” I’m talking about all the same shit that everyone else is talking about, it’s just that I’m trying to get the details right. I’ll keep it up, because I know that there are five or six people out there who are interested in this mode of discussion. I suspect there are many more who read but never comment or respond but who nevertheless mull over the new ideas presented here. If you’re in that group, keep it up! You’re awesome! We need way more of you!

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