Loose conservatism

In 1980, singer/guitarist/songwriter Neil Young released an album called Hawks and Doves that critics and fans alike bashed for being utterly Reaganian. It is true that Young had ashamedly shown support for Reagan’s campaign, though he’s never been able to vote in the US, due to his Canadian citizenship. But ultimately, what was Reaganian in that album was the emphasis on patriotism, on national symbols (e.g. his very sarcastic song about unions), as well as the fact it was musically conservative, revolving around Young’s acoustic guitar in a surprisingly conventional way. All in all, it was Reaganian, not much in a political, but in a stylistic way. Accordingly, in France, people tend to call “Pompidolien” (as a reference to former French president Georges Pompidou) any piece of art that is not very creative and seems to be flavored with subservience to authority in some way.

Do you think that something similar could be said about a scientific theory ? Can we identify an economic theory (or paper) that would be Reaganian, not because of its implications in terms of economic policy, but because of its style or analytical angle ?

4 thoughts on “Loose conservatism

  1. I’m not sure how to disentangle the style or analytical angle from the implications in terms of economic policy when people try to identify a theory or a paper as “Reaganian” or “New Dealer” or something else. I believe that more as a consequence of its implications, the so-called “supply-side economics” is identified as “Reaganian” in several macro textbooks.
    Something tangent to this is Jim Tobin’s passage in his 1974 book “The New Economics One Decade Older”: “[t]he economics brought to Washington by the Kennedy Council of Economic Advisers and other academic economists close to the new President was not new to economic literature and classrooms. It was not new in the practice of governments in Scandinavia, Holland, and Britain. Much of it was not new to official doctrine in this country, having been set forth by the first Councils of Economic Advisers, chaired by Edwin Nourse and Leon Keyserling for President Truman, and, in lesser degree, by the Eisenhower Councils as well. … But it was new to Washington nonetheless.” Is this the case also because of its style?

  2. Thinking of communities of reference, for an arts crowd the Reagan moment may have seemed a clear step back, I gather the same for Pompidou. But would Reagan be a token of retreat for economists? Maybe Reagan will look more modern and adventurous in policy making than Clinton or Bush. McCain a few months back, insisted ad nauseam on his association with the “Reagan revolution”, and how it transformed America. Picking a thread in Pedro’s comment, if you listen to Bloomberg of WSJ types their old fashioned dustin of history style is the “New Deal”. Is it style, is it politics?

  3. There are two different aspects. One the idea that his album was musically conservative. Two, the idea that he advocated patriotism etc. So the latter aspect deals with policy implications.
    But I think we can find economic theories that would be “theoretically conservative”, neglecting some methodological advancements. I think of Chicago’s emphasis on partial equilibrium for instance.

  4. That is a very difficult question! Maybe the appropriate rejoinder is that a fool can ask more questions than a learned (or wise) man can answer (a useful reply to have up your sleever for viva examinations).

    Anyway I will nominate a paper on Austrian economics and the “metaphysical research program” that sustains it. The analogy is with Star Wars, the Reagan initiative that blasted the Soviets out of the arms by race taking the contest to another level of technology and expenditure that they could not match.

    The point of the analogy is that the recourse to metaphysics takes the contest between economic theories to the higher level (the metaphysical stars), beyond the positivist trenches of data mining and even the the inter-paradigm verbal ballistics of Latatosian programs and Kuhnian theory.

    This is the paper which was delivered from notes at the 2002 Popper Centenary Conference in Vienna but was not accepted for publication in the proceedings.

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