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July 27, 2006

"The Conservative Nanny State"

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I just finished Dean Baker's new book, "The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer," and recommend it enthusiastically. It's full of well-informed analyses of dubious government programs and policies and well-presented challenges to them. (My only quarrel is with Dean's use of the word "conservative" when what he's really talking about is a certain class of fat-cat Republicans. Hey, world: There's nothing conservative about a lot of Republicans.) Whether you're of a right-ish or a left-ish persuasion, you'll find plenty in the book to work up a good head of indignant steam about.

Generously, Dean makes the book available as a free download. Let's see more of that kind of publishing.



posted by Michael at July 27, 2006


I read this book, and thought some of the arguments were kind of weak, but he gets the 'big picture' the Wall Street Journal and others talk about 'free trade' but they really mean policies that just benefit them - it gets a bit more complicated than he indicates - for example partner type lawyers/investment bankers are willing to outsource lower level lawyer work - so they increase profits for themselves - but at the end of the day have protectionist policies in place for themselves.

Posted by: a reader on July 28, 2006 9:55 AM

Wasn't pure unfettered laissez-faire rugged individualism always a bit of a myth?

Posted by: ricpic on July 28, 2006 10:53 AM

I dunno, the endorsement by Thomas Frank is quite a turnoff.

Posted by: Dennis Mangan on July 28, 2006 1:15 PM

Dean mentions libertarians only twice in the whole book. (The text is searchable because it's available on-line. Cool.) He thus seems to be setting up a false dichotomy between nanny-staters on the left and nanny-staters on the right. There *is* another choice -- opposing a nanny state of any kind.

Posted by: jp on July 28, 2006 4:04 PM

Michael – A thousand thank you’s for this reference. I have downloaded Dean Baker’s book and now have to figure out when I’ll have time to read the thing. Even ebooks add to the pile of interesting stuff that I want to digest.

I did take a look at his policy recommendations (also available as a download), and although I find much of what he proposes just plain wrong, I appreciated his attempts to take a fresh look at economic issues and their impact on the country.

A quick example, he writes “Conservatives understand that income for one person is cost for another…” Conservatives may “understand” this, but this overly simplistic zero-sum view is just flat-out wrong.

His section on Trade and Immigration demonstrates that he has a poor grasp of global markets and the implications of outsourcing when he suggests that accountants and other professionals around the world should be trained to meet US standards, since, for example, Indian Chartered Accountants already meet or exceed US standards (which is why a substantial portion of US income tax preparation, bookkeeping and audit work is easily done in India even as the profits flow to America).

Later, there is a huge non sequitur in his argument that government subsidized software development would lead to lower priced computers.

Still, some interesting ideas.

By the way, I recommend a good, non-technical (no equations, graphs or strenuous statistics) introduction to economics, “naked economics: Undressing the Dismal Science,” published by W.W. Norton, and written by Charles Wheelan, a correspondent for The Economist. It has a few flaws as well, but is solid overall and has few obvious ideological axes to grind. Sadly, it is not available as a free download.

Posted by: Alec on July 29, 2006 7:04 AM

Reader -- I thought he did a great job of pulling apart that whole speaking-up-for-free- enterprise-while-gaming-the-system phenom too. Good to see someone not-too-shrill doing it!

Ricpic -- Yeah, but what I take Dean to be doing is using it as a strategy: "They're talking laissez-faire? Then let's see how laissez-faire they're being themselves!" Kind of a fun let-them-hang-themselves approach to political and economic arguing, or at least so I found it.

Dennis -- Granted!

JP -- I agree, and I think Dean's being 'way too simplistic in tacking the behavior entirely on "Republicans." I don't know why but midway through the book it stopped bugging me. Maybe because it seemed to me that his real subject was people who abuse government more generally. Or maybe I just took it to be that. Anyway, he didn't seem finally to have a big partisan ax to grind, despite the whole "Republican" thing.

Alec -- Let me know how you react, once you get 'round to it. Not a major work, or the final word on anything, but a helpful, fun, civilized and productive contribution, it seemed to me. I don't really know what Dean's own positive program is, or whether I'd even be sympathetic to it. But as a critique I was with it all the way. (My prob: I agree with 90% of the critiques that get made, from whichever side, but only about 1% of the positive programs that get proposed ... Hmm, maybe I just don't like using government for positive programs much ... ) And ain't it great that he puts it out there for free?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 29, 2006 11:57 AM

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