Democrats & Liberals Archives

Book Review: The Tyranny of Bad Ideas, by Matt Miller

Here’s a book that will help you think straight about our American way of life, especially our economy. Miller’s major thesis is that our thinking is distorted by the ideas that have worked in the past. Inertia biases us against change. But we must change if we are to get out of the economic mess we are in today.

The current depression is hurting everyone: Wall Street and Main Street, labor and business, rich and poor, Americans and foreigners. Our economic system is not working. We are on the verge of world poverty. But Miller says:

The good news is that there are ways to avert this dark scenario and to flourish. The trouble is we're not doing what we need to because of the Tyranny of Dead Ideas. By this I mean the tacit assumptions and ingrained instincts broadly shared by business executives, professionals, policy makers, media observers, and other opinion leaders regarding the way a wealthy, advanced economy like the United States should work."

To improve our lot we must discard obsolete ideas and substitute new and better ideas. Here are the major bad ideas:

  • Our children will earn more than we do
  • Free trade is "good" no matter how many people it hurts
  • Employers should play a central role in the provision of health care
  • "Local control" of schools is essential
  • People tend to end up, in economic terms, where they deserve to
All of these bad ideas have been useful in the past. They have guided our actions well. But they are no longer effective. We must throw them out of our brains and substitute better ideas. Miller offers 7 "destined ideas":
  1. Only government can save business - This is already happening. The government has become the consumer of last resort
  2. Only business can save liberalism - Through trade business can bring jobs to the unfortunate in the Third World
  3. Only higher taxes can save the economy (and the planet) - We are so far in the hole we MUST increase taxes. As Miller says:
    Higher taxes are inevitable, though you'd never know it from both political parties' aversion to discussing this fact.

  4. Only the (Lower) Upper Class can save us from inequality - Though they are pretty rich themselves, the successful professionals are increasingly upset by the outrageous earnings of the super-rich, and they will lead the way to change
  5. Only better living can save sagging paychecks - We should reduce consumption, live within our means and enjoy non-material things, such as friends and relationships
  6. Only a dose of "nationalization" can save local schools - One set of standards will do away with all the red tape caused by the many and varied educational superintendents and school boards
  7. Only lessons from abroad can save American ideals - We must discard our condescending attitude and learn from what people in other countries have done well to achieve labor peace, good education and excellent healthcare
These are challenging ideas. I agree with most of them. But I have some trouble believing that business will save liberalism. Yes, it's true business provides jobs. But too often business stifles union activity and keeps wages as low as they can. They use their international activity in a race to reduce wages to a minimum all over the world.

I also have some doubts about the Lower Upper Class revolting and working for the type of equality that includes the Middle Class and the poor.

You may have reservations about some of these ideas, as well. But reading this book will give you an entirely new outlook on what's going on and on what is likely to happen in the future. You may arrive at your own "destined ideas."

This is an excellent book for those wanting to understand our economy and how to improve it. You must read it.

Posted by Paul Siegel at February 23, 2009 2:26 PM
Comments
Comment #276000

Paul,

Miller’s major thesis is that our thinking is distorted by the ideas that have worked in the past. Inertia biases us against change.
It’s a shame we can’t seem to learn to be biased against the ideas that have never worked. Sadly we’re still raising up Sauls to prove the king can’t lead us as well as wisdom distrbuted to, and exercised by, the masses does.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at February 23, 2009 2:45 PM
Comment #276009

Yep, Obama and Congress must insure that every tax dollar spent achieves at least two government spending objectives doubling our bang for the buck, and a balance between struck between taxation and spending which both insures the viability of the present and the future as well.

A very, very tall order. But, one which simply must be fulfilled if we are to survive into the future.

Upon emerging from this economic downward spiral, America will be shouldering a national debt of between 13 and 15 trillion dollars. Halving the deficit infinitely, NEVER halts deficit spending or pays down 1$ of debt.

Obama and Congress must focus on a point in the future when they can completely halt deficit additions to the national debt, and they must accomplish this before the entitlement deficits begin adding their own deficits to the mix. In other words, there is no dodging the entitlement reforms any longer - they must be part of the goal of ending deficit spending at some foreseeable point BEFORE their deficit additions become a reality and not just a threat to economy going forward.

Is there the political will for this heavy lifting? There damn well better be if America is to preserve its broad Middle Class standard of living.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 23, 2009 5:02 PM
Comment #276025

David,

Didn’t you say in 2005, when Bush wanted to tackle the SS problem, that there was no immediate problem? Now we must act and stop dodging?

Hmmmm

http://www.watchblog.com/republicans/archives/002023.html#42343

Posted by: Rhinehold at February 23, 2009 6:34 PM
Comment #276034

Rhinehold,

There is a huge difference between the Cheney/Bush challenge to SS and a serious approach to the problem. Cheney/Bush just wanted to destroy the program. Serious folks might be able to actually save it.

Posted by: Marysdude at February 23, 2009 7:31 PM
Comment #276040

bush wanted to allow younger contributers to be able to control a small potion of thier ss contributions, and invest them for a better return. i also recall there being limitations to the type of investments that could be made. i never remember any talk of complete privatization. that seems to be the lefts boggie man. whether it would have worked or not i cant say, but if you’re going to keep bringing it up at least tell the whole story. as i recall the portion was fairly small, i want to say around the 5% range, but i don’t recall exactly.

Posted by: dbs at February 23, 2009 9:06 PM
Comment #276052

Rhinehold, if anybody cared enough to take the trouble, they could simply copy and paste the words of the liberal posters here from before the Democrats were in control to respond with what they’re saying now. It would be fun to watch a lot of people from 2008 arguing with themselves in 2009.

Social security is one example. Renditions, the Patriot Act, wire-tapping, executive orders, etc., are other. All down the memory hole. All matters for great outrage when Republicans were behind them, they’re now just part of Obama’s Brave New World.

What’s disturbing about this is that it suggests that tribal politics (partisanship) trumps the interpretation of all facts, and that facts themselves are malleable if the guy in power generates the correct emotional response.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at February 23, 2009 11:08 PM
Comment #276059

Loyal Opposition,
Excellent remark! Nevertheless, you do point out to the problem IMHO of one allowing themselve to be one sided in their political opinion. For why fixing or privatizing SS is only adding a band-aid to the problems facing Americas’ Children of the 21st Century. I wonder how long before the Youth Movement in America figures out that the best way to save SS is to develop the system so it will eliminate the need for the average citizen qualifing for such assistance. And yes, that Idea can only be brought by one Individual in America.

Paul,
Again you show me that the Democratic Citizen and Leaders have learned from their mistakes of the 90’s. And why Protocol prevents me from expanding on that point of view, I see that Mr. Miller does not take his argument to the point of debating how to make America and Americans Self-Sufficient in the 21st Century through the sell and trade of Goods and Services.

Nevertheless, he does pose some interesting questions on how “We the People” need to question the ideas being put to Americas’ Elected Officials. For should all of the Status Quo be allowed to fall for the mistakes of a few? Or should Americans, both Young and Old, look at the Issues leftover from the last Global Societal Revolution in a new light that includes the Knowledge and Wisdom that Man can build a Sustainable Green Civilized Society in the 21st Century.

An interesting debate given the fact that President Obama, Members of Congress, and Civil Leaders gathered for a Fiscal Summit that by what I show on TV showed the Freewill of My Community Elders and Peers to take on many of the hard issues in an attempt to seek a Politically Unalienable Correct Solution to the growing debt and melting economy.

Posted by: Henry Schlatman at February 24, 2009 2:46 AM
Comment #276065

Rhinehold, Soc. Sec. is a pimple compared to the cancer of Medicare unfunded mandates.

My claim in 2005, as you well know if you are referring to my writing of that year, made this exact point, that Bush was attempting to address the pimple, not the cancer.

And worse, his addressing the pimple was to permit SS investor’s to stop contributing to the Soc. Sec. surplus and instead invest in the stock markets. Whoa!, What a mistake that would have been if passed in 2006, eh?

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 24, 2009 6:44 AM
Comment #276066

Henry, you are wasting your keystrokes on Loyal Opposition. His comments are pregnant with the intent to play political gothcha instead of solving the nations management problems and economic crises.

So many people forget that politics is a means to an end, not an end of itself as victory or defeat every 2 years like some NFL playoff spectator sport. That, or they never learned it in the first place.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 24, 2009 6:48 AM
Comment #276073

David,
I wish sometimes that I had the Expertise to show Citiens like Loyal Opposition the Politics of the Mid 1800’s and how some in the Whig Party were responsible for their failure to accept change. However, since they are for the Republicans to succeed I hope that their own Party History would show them that Generation Change can be helpful in achieving political gain. For I do believe the the “No-Nothing Party of the 21st Century could learn alot from the Know-Nothing Party of the Mid 1800’s that lead to the Debate between Our Ancestors that gave “We the People” the current Political System.

For I still question the Logic and Reason that has lead President Obama and Mr. Pickens to seek Energy Independence as an Anti-Authoritarian Child of the 70’s.

Posted by: Henry Schlatman at February 24, 2009 7:51 AM
Comment #276082

””“WASHINGTON – House Democrats unveiled a $410 billion spending bill on Monday to keep the government running through the end of the fiscal year, setting up the second political struggle over federal funds in less than a month with Republicans.

The measure includes thousands of earmarks, the pet projects favored by lawmakers but often criticized by the public in opinion polls. There was no official total of the bill’s earmarks, which accounted for at least $3.8 billion.

The legislation, which includes an increase of roughly 8 percent over spending in the last fiscal year, is expected to clear the House later in the week.

Democrats defended the spending increase”“”
No.1 President Obama asked the Congress to use fiscal restraint a few days ago and no.2 she was giving quite a lot of floor time in 2006 on well rehearsed speeches on the Couture of Corruption I’d like to see them practice what you preach and i’m sure the country or a good part of it does to.

Posted by: Rodney Brown at February 24, 2009 10:37 AM
Comment #276097

Rodney

don’t you just love it. they didn’t get everything on thier wish list last year when the new budget was passed, so now thier going to do it retro-actively. i bet if we look at the cuts they’re referring to, we’ll find they’re not actually cuts, but cuts in the increases. this is getting out of control. they are going to do the same thing they did to california. ca. had a budget deficit of @ 42 bil. just imagine what will hppen at the federal level.

Posted by: dbs at February 24, 2009 12:59 PM
Comment #276101

This kind of action will put President Obama to the test for many independent’s .

Posted by: Rodney Brown at February 24, 2009 1:48 PM
Comment #276104

Rodney

lets hope he can find his veto pen for this serving of pork.

Posted by: dbs at February 24, 2009 2:00 PM
Comment #276107

Rodney Brown said: “This kind of action will put President Obama to the test for many independent’s . ”

Absolutely right! It will. If Obama pares forces the Democrats to substantially pare back the Pork, WF&A, he keeps most Independent’s support who supported him in Nov. If on the other hand, he tokenizes the paring back under threat of veto or some other charade of persuasion, he will lose a great deal of Independent support.

He has remained largely true to his campaign declarations (retaining Bush’s executive privileges regarding alleged terrorists being a notable exception), and I think it is likely he will stand toe to toe with Democrats in keeping his many pledged to fight the pork, WF&A in the budgeting process.

DBS overlooks the fact that the House of Representatives is filled with folks representing their campaign donors back home, many of whom are business oriented special interests looking for their piece of the pie. Obama has far less power of persuasion in dealing with the House than he does in dealing with the Senate, and indirectly via the veto, the Conference Committees. It is there that Obama will use his powers of bully pulpit and veto, if he remains true to his pledges.

I have yet to see Obama squander power, which taking on the House with threats over wasteful spending would represent. Those threats are far more powerfully aimed at the Senate and Conference Committee.

We shall have to wait and see. As I have written before, one person’s need is another person’s pork spending, so elimination of all items deemed pork by someone, is a literal impossibility. But, assigning a bill a specific purpose and scope and then paring away most of what doesn’t meet that purpose and scope, is the artful exercise of executive power as Obama demonstrated with the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 24, 2009 2:15 PM
Comment #276109

Henry said: “For I do believe the the “No-Nothing Party of the 21st Century could learn alot from the Know-Nothing Party of the Mid 1800’s that lead to the Debate”

I love the play on words, No, Nothing and Know Nothing.

Energy costs last Summer sucked the consumer capacity to support the broader economy by consuming other products right out of their wallets. Oil is a diminishing resource which will be ever more costly to recover the remaining desposits. The economic future in America is indeed bleak if we remain dependent on Oil as an import energy source. Additionally, recirculating American energy dollars within our own economy, instead of exporting those dollars to Middle Eastern and S. American nations, will have several compounding benefits for our future economy.

Ours nation has transitioned from a human energy based economy in the 19th century to nearly everything but human energy sources for production and trade. That fact, combined with the fact that other nations shall remain human energy resourced for decades to come with enormous export potential to the U.S., means that the U.S. absolutely MUST take advantage of this opportunity to lower its overall cost of energy, recirculate those dollars in our own economy, and develop an export market of our own with advances in energy production and transportation, if we are not to relinquish all control over our trade deficits.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 24, 2009 2:28 PM
Comment #276190

David,
If you love my play on words check out my post at ItheConsumer.com about last night speeches. For why I know that I clearly stand on the line between Americas’ Democratic and Republican Civil, Political, and Religious Leaders. I just cannot help but ask My Peers and Their Children if they belong to the No-Nothing Party of the 21st Century or the Know Nothing Party of the 1800’s. For seeing that Americas’ Change now pivits on Becoming Energy Efficient and Independent in the 21st Century I look forward to the Debates of Tomorrow.

Posted by: Henry Schlatman at February 25, 2009 7:13 AM
Comment #278595

Talking about old ideas … what about the lies such as “Free Market”. Currently there is not such a thing, the bail outs are against the core “values” of that economic theory which should lead to people to understand that it does not work, but since people are ignorant of what they are sold these crocks can get away with it. Ignorant people deserve all they suffer, the problem is that few others that think have to pay as well.

Posted by: Hussein at March 25, 2009 1:11 PM
Comment #285054

The problem isn’t the free market, but government intervention. The government’s role in markets should be to prevent cheating the system, fraud, misrepresentation, and so on. It shouldn’t pick winners and losers, try to “control” the system (which is destined to failure and creates more problems), or punish the successful.

Higher government spending has never been, and will never be a sustainable or effective stimulus. The consequences are worse than the slight bump it may give in the short term. The only successful stimulus programs that have worked have been lower taxes. This spurs growth, and *increases* revenue. It works, and will never be a “bad, old, idea.”

Free trade doesn’t hurt people. Government intervention does. It’s obvious that freedom also means freedom to fail. It is much more effective and efficient economically for those who can succeed at an enterprise to be the ones that economically survive in business performing that enterprise. Those who cannot compete in one arena should find another where they can, or get better.

Sidenote: Bush and Cheney were absolutely NOT trying to “destroy” Social Security. They had a viable option that gave choice. The problem is that as it stands, Social Security will destroy ITSELF and take us with it, economically.

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