Economist Arnold Kling reframes an ideological metaphor :

Think of three points on an ideological triangle:

1. Point L, where you believe that markets are effective at processing information and solving problems. This position is to take a radically pro-market view, and to let markets fix their own failures.

2. Point C, where you believe that tradition incorporates the evolved use of information to solve problems. This position is to be very cautious about overthrowing existing institutional arrangements.

3. Point P, where you believe that expert technocrats should be in charge. You are comfortable with throwing out tradition and markets in order to cede power to experts.

I’ll apply this framework to some people and to some issues.

[ . . . ]

[T]he entire mainstream economics profession is built around point P. When you write a paper, if you don’t include a section on “policy implications” (i.e, how a benevolent technocrat would use the findings in your paper), the paper is considered incomplete.

Take the issue of health care. The left is sure that markets fail and that technocratic government is the solution. Thus, we have the proposal for IMAC, an independent set of technocrats to run the health care system.

Kling’s structure isn’t new, of course, but as far as geometric metaphors go, an ideological triangle is much more useful than the tired old left-right line. The inter-relation between markets, tradition, and technocracy also helps in understanding why we have such trouble pinning down political labels. For example, progressives aren’t necessarily for “big government” if their own technocrats aren’t in charge. And many people who consider themselves conservatives are inclined to put the unrestrained markets existing institutional arrangements.

But while this applies to economic and domestic politics, how does foreign policy fit into the triad? And how do we form political alliances shift from issues to issue along the political plane? How does thinking of three points along a spectrum rather than two sides change the way we think about politics?

Articles by Joe Carter


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