The Corner

Speaking of Admitting Wrongness

Andy, very nice of you. Much appreciated.

Now, a couple readers have — despite my admission of offering a “fast and loose” — response earlier have objected to my fast and loose response. For example:

I get the main thrust of your point about government and I agree, but

there are critically important areas where the game isn’t zero-sum:

– contract law

– patent law (economists have non-monopoly solutions to this problem,

but that involve law and regulation all the same)

– property rights


The place where I would challenge you is:

“So, if you think the State should fix the lives of group A it will —

as a basic fact of economics — come at the expense of group B. Many

liberals acknowledge this. They just see no problem with taking my

money to do what they think God or some abstract conception of Good or

Progress requires them to do. In short, liberals think they have

sufficient knowledge and moral authority to either take from me things

I do not want to give or to tell me how I should live my life.”

And you write for NR vs Reason magazine because…?

That argument strongly distinguishes you from actual conservatives – I

mean (for example) in the Bush administration, Kurtz, possibly

Ponnuru, and pundits on AM radio and Fox News, and people who listen

to all that stuff. “Conservatives” in 2006 are more than happy to

enshrine in law (a corollary being judicial interpretation of it) how

you ought to live your life. Oh, maybe it doesn’t involve direct

money transfers – but is that the only aspect of life at issue?

Or as another reader put it:


I was suprised at the pizza pie theory of economics that you used to argue that any government aid to A comes at the expense of B. Certainly this can happen but I thought this economic theory was laid to rest long ago.Henry Ford realized it a century ago and and our government aid programs that rebuilt Europe after WWII created huge markets for our manufacturing enconomy. Taking something from A and giving it to B made A a rich nation.Did I read you incorectly?

Me: Touché to a point. I agree that not all government policies are zero sum and I was too glib in suggesting otherwise. Nor am I an outright libertarian. I spoke too fast in order to make a basic point. I agree with Hayek and other Whigs that the State can do more than the bare minimum (prisons, police, armies etc) and still be just. But what you need wherever possible are clear rules that apply to everyone equally. Even Hayek believed you could have laws like minimum wages, pensions etc. (whether he endorsed specific policies — and which ones — on empirical grounds is a different question and outside of my knowledge. Where is my Hayek guy?). And Charles Murray’s most recent book, for example, is a fascinating illustration of a (liberaltarian?) concession to the idea that the state can be bolder about improving society than the zero-summer might believe.

As for the idea that I differ from other conservatives about this stuff, I think there’s too much to contend with at the dinner hour. But I will say this: one advantage of traditional conservatives of the sort the first reader allegedly has in mind is that we know where their moral agenda comes from. Liberal moral dogma is hidden behind a lot of curtains while they proclaim they are merely being “pragmatic” and secular and commonsensical.

Oh, and I thought this was interesting, from a reader:


I read through the post that A. Sullivan linked to attacking you and, once you get past the gratuitous chickenhawk crap, it’s a better argument than Ramesh gave it credit for. The guy (“Dr. X”) is actually a coherent postmodernist, which is a rarity we Claremontsters appreciate. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve seen a pomo so readably explain pomo principles. He’s even almost persuasive at times.

The nifty bit is that Dr. X says nearly the exact same thing as A. Sullivan regarding certainty, and they both attack your motives (the primary tactic of postmodernism). The difference is that Dr. X calls himself a pomo while A. Sullivan calls himself a conservative. Perhaps they’re both right; or perhaps not.

Me: And now, I’m off to dinner. 

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, will be released on April 24.

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