Friday, November 16, 2012

Kuhnian Conservatism

Why don't the American people get it?  That's what conservatives ask themselves deep down.  Why don't the American people understand that the welfare state is doomed and that the only question is just when it goes over the cliff.

It helps to realize that nobody has the inside track on reality.  We are all, following Kant, looking at appearances.  Nobody gets to look behind the curtain at the really real, at the thing-in-itself.

If indeed there is such a thing as a thing in itself.

The guy that popularized this approach is Thomas S. Kuhn of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  He argued that most of the time scientists do "normal science;" they trog along taking their current "paradigm" of how-the-world-works for granted and solve the latest problems.  When they get a result that doesn't compute the ignore it as "anomalous."  But eventually the anomalous results start to pile up and the paradigm breaks down, at least to the satisfaction of the young-uns.  A period of revolution ensues with all its chaos and disappointment.  Eventually the old generation dies out and the new generation takes over doing normal science using the new paradigm.

For conservatives, the old paradigm of the administrative welfare state has broken down.  There are anomalous results as far as the eye can see.  Obviously, we argue, the Crash of 2008 was caused by decades of mortgage subsidies and liberal bullying of bankers.  Liberals, of course, don't agree; they think that the Crash was caused by greedy bankers and an out-of-control Wall Street.  If only the rich would pay a little more then everything would return to normal.  Taxes and regulation, that's the ticket.

The American people, of course, are stuck in the middle.  They are inclined to believe liberals that tell them that they deserve their entitlements and very likely free contraception.  But they sense that something is amiss.  But, like Scarlett, they will worry about that tomorrow.  But the main thing about the American people is that they don't really have a theory of how the world works.  Unlike conservatives, they don't passionately believe in the Invisible Hand and the power of the market to provide universal prosperity.  They are employees and their experience of hands is more the Visible Hand of the boss or the layoff notice.  But unlike liberals they don't have a deep and abiding faith in the power of large-minded liberals in rational programs to organize health, education, and welfare for other people.  To them, liberals are just another kind of boss.

Liberals got into trouble a generation ago when their economics and politics got the US into the Carter malaise with 10 percent inflation and 10 percent unemployment.  The result was that a conservative with radical ideas about cutting spending and tax rates could get elected president.

Now we are in another era where liberal ideas are failing miserably.  But they aren't yet failing miserably enough.

But obviously, the Kuhn approach speaks volumes to us.  In our era "normal politics" is the liberal approach of tax and spend and regulate.  But liberal politics ends up in inflation and debt default then people will experience that the old ways have broken down; it will be time for a new approach.

That is why I write about the era of the Welfare State Smashup.  People don't look for new ideas just for the fun of it.  They look for new ideas when the old ones don't seem to work any more.

The only way for conservative ideas to get a real tryout is for liberal ideas to demonstrably fail.

No comments:

Post a Comment