Thursday, May 27, 2010


David Brooks writes a good column every couple weeks. He writes a lot more bad columns than good ones. But Tuesday we got treated to a great one.

Brooks is trying to defend his position on health care. For most of the past year he wrote a columns with the same thesis, but less articulate and directed solely at shaping views on health care reform. It's worth noting that on other topics, Brooks writes as an ally of the technocrats. He's, as far as I can tell, in favor of sweeping changes to teacher tenure, stomping out union power, and pushing technocratic value-added models to measure progress.

I am too. If I had to take sides, I'm more with Paine than Burke. But I've tempered a lot of on my sentiments over the years. I don't have strong views on foreign policy because foreign policy scholars are charlatans. Macroeconomists are much the same, aside from their black magic setting interest rates. I guess that is natural--anyone who has spent time reading econometric studies is going to walk away feeling social scientists know a lot less than everyone thinks. We don't understand the social organism--Brooks was right.

But there's a catch.

Neither did our predecessors. Some institutions evolved for reasons no one understood, but many were arbitrary, or based on the prejudices of the past. A lot of people use the argument "this is how it's always been" as an argument for intolerance and not having to think. People oppose gay marriage because it's different. They oppose legalizing some drugs (but not alcohol) because of tradition. Some want to teach everyone Latin or a liberal arts curriculum because thats what they did 50 years ago. Brooks is implicitly making a case for legitimizing the "this is how it's always been" argument in public discourse, when we really need to stomp it out. Lazy thinking is a bigger threat than the technocrat menace.

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