Be still my beating heart. I hope this op-ed by Lawrence Summers in the Washington Post will be taken to heart:
Economists like me see the world through the prism of models, fit to statistical data and tested against market realities. Economic models provide powerful perspective: I have used them to argue that, had the economy been left to itself and policymakers not heeded the lessons of history and theory, the 2008 financial crisis might have led to another depression.
But there are other ways of gaining understanding about an economy and its workers. This was brought home to me last month when I accompanied my wife on a trip different from any I had ever taken. We drove for two weeks on two-lane roads from Chicago to Portland, Ore., across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. The larger cities we passed through included Dubuque, Iowa; Cody, Wyo.; and Bozeman, Mont.
Driving across America, as opposed to looking down from a plane, makes clear how much of this vast country is uninhabited. Again and again, we encountered signs warning us to check our gas because it would be 50 miles to the next station. I’m sure there were moments when we were 250 miles from any place where I could have purchased an iPhone charger. Often there was no cellphone service to be had, either.
Read the whole thing. I can only hope that these experiences are reflected in Dr. Summers’s policy thought.
I’ve written before of trips of that sort. I think they should be compulsory for those seeking higher office or appointments of the sort that Dr. Summers has held. I also think they would be useful foreign policy tools, more useful than treating foreign dignitaries to tours of the fleshpots of New York and Washington, DC. If we’re going to continue to host the United Nations, why not move the location of its meeting place to Topeka?
I also hope that we’re seeing a resurgence of federalism. The United States is an extremely large, extremely diverse country. Policies that make sense in California or New York may not make any sense in Lexington, Kentucky or Tulsa, Oklahoma and simply dismissing those places as unimportant or, worse, deplorable is just an argument for devolution.