Answering the Charge

by Dave Schuler on April 6, 2012

You might want to take a look at Greg Mankiw’s way of addressing Jonathan Chait’s charge that Mankiw is a “social Darwinist”. I’d be very much interested in Mr. Chait’s definition of social Darwinism. I don’t plan to read the book to which he links and that seems like quite a bit of effort for so small a result.

My complaint about flinging charges of social Darwinism around are more practical. I think that taxing rich person A so technocrat B can redistribute the proceeds to rich person C on behalf of poor person D who may or may not actually benefit from the transaction is an odd sort of example of philanthropy, socialism, or whatever the opposite of social Darwinism might be. But that’s what our system does.

There are social Darwinists among conservatives and progressives alike. They just differ in who they think are “the fit”.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Verdon April 6, 2012 at 11:32 am

I’ve never understood why people think Chait is a smart guy or pay him much attention. I mean the guy comes off in the original article as a blithering idiot.

David Boaz:
[Plenty] of people call themselves socialists — not President Obama, to be sure, but estimable figures such as Tony Blair and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Members of the British Labour Party have been known to sing the socialist anthem “The Red Flag” on the floor of Parliament.

But no one calls himself a social Darwinist. Not now, not ever. Not Herbert Spencer. The term is always used to label one’s opponents. In that sense it’s clearly a more abusive term than “socialist,” a term that millions of people have proudly claimed.

Johnathan Chait:But isn’t Boaz actually making the case here that calling Republicans social Darwinist is not like calling Obama socialist?

Yes you dumbass, but he is also saying it is even worse. Many people get a bit peeved with somebody opposed to Obama calls him a socialist. Boaz is making the point that these same people should be even more upset when somebody is called a Social Darwinist. It is freaking obvious…so much so it makes me wonder…can Chait find his ass with both hands? Hell even one would be impressive for a dingbat that wrote the above.

The quote by Mankiw that Chait relies on could be read to imply Social Darwinism or of being in favor of progressive taxation. Here is how:

Even under a system of progressive taxation a person who contributes more would still get a higher income than those who contribute less. Progressive taxation does not imply identical incomes.

What Mankiw is noting is fairly uncontroversial result from micro-economic theory which just about every neo-classical economist accepts. All of them, even the Democrats like Larry Summers or Austin Goolsbee (who work or worked for Obama). The result is from the theory of the firm, where in a competitive market the factors of production are paid a wage that is proportional to their marginal productivity. The more productive a factor is, the more its wage is (wage is basically the price the firm pays for that factor of production–i.e. even capital has a “wage”).

Chait is a f*cking imbecile.

Mercer April 6, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Chait’s book on supply side economics was a pretty good polemic against the GOP’s current dogma. Why does Mankiw care about him? Perhaps he dislikes being classed as part of the Laffer crowd.

I think it would be better for Obama to refer to Ryan as a Randian since he is an admirer of her.

Steve Verdon April 6, 2012 at 4:21 pm

I think he dislikes being called a Social Darwinist which in its usually accepted form is a pretty awful social philosophy.

It is like the term chicken hawk that was deployed by the Left during the run-up to the Iraq war. Frankly, I think more Lefties needed a real time punch in the nose for that one.

Despite their protests the Left can be pretty despicable just like the Right.

Steve Verdon April 6, 2012 at 4:33 pm

By the way, if you read Chait and the Boaz quote carefully you’ll note that an interesting point went right over Chait’s head.

Hosstader’s book quite possibly distorted Spencer’s views. For example, Spencer actually thought that altruism was a good thing and that his views of competition were not the same as competition in biology. The latter can lead to death of other organisms even species. Whereas competition in the former leads to a better society, at least that was Spencer’s view. Spencer was probably guilty of having a too naive view of competitive economies, but he didn’t have the benefit of all the understanding we have acquired during the past 200 years or so.

Basically Chait read a book then goes out and maligns, in effect, most economists out there in a rather disgusting way. Strong work there.

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