of no fixed subtitle
June 01, 2005
The Ten Most Harmful Books
of the 19th and 20th Centuries, according to the conservative weekly
Human Events Online.
Blatantly lifted from the
17 years ago
Wow, Keynes is the kicker, the ideas that dragged the US out of the depression termed one of the most harmful, in the same list as Mein Kampf. Crackpots.
Why only the 19th and 20th Centuries? Because otherwise they would almost have to include the Bible? Pretty silly, but it will draw plenty of attention, as these lists always do. Personally, the most harmful book that I have ever read was definitely A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe. During my most recent move, the damn thing fell off the shelf I thought I was safely sliding across the floor and landed on my shoulder. No medical attention was required, but it did get me with the corner.
I got a nasty paper cut reading
magazine as a lad, but I don't think a book's ever harmed me.
See the very acerbic and erudite commentary on this absurd list in
the comments of Brad DeLong's post
on it. I think the list is profoundly ignorant (troubling, given that there are a few academics at good schools in the panel). However, I disagree with those who say that the idea of a list of "harmful books" is itself absurd. Personally, I don't worry much about harm from books and am very, very liberal in this respect; but it seems to me to be a simple logical necessity that if one beleives that books can do good (and I do believe this), then it must be the case that books can do bad. But I don't even have a problem with de Sade's
120 Days of Sodom
, which is saying something (it's far more depraved than you probably expect).
This is satire, right?
Kewl. My reading list was getting pretty thin, but not anymore.
not satire... nil But also not surprising... a skewed list from a skewed list of judges.. Another right wing circle jerk.. and...don't forget "Books don't hurt the world, People hurt the world"... or guns, or some such crapola.. :-\
. I would add "Why I am not a Christian" by Bertrand Russell. Because I am throwing it at them.
Do words corrupt? I think The Magic Christian dissolved this myth.
On further reflection, hearing strangers witter on about the Da Vinci Code has also spoiled my mood on a number of occasions, so maybe there is some mileage in this kind of exercise.
I like how the Feminine Mystique is bad because um, she's a pinko, so you shouldn't read it and it doesn't matter what's in it. And she founded the National Organization of Woman. For shame! Not to troll, but, haven't certain popular religous books caused widespread pain and suffering and been more harmful, and shouldn't those rate higher? I can't remember anyone killing each other over a copy of "Democracy and Education."
What about the Emancipation Proclamation, or is it left out because it was never published in book form?
Let us not forget how The Bridges of Madison County set us back culturally. It took years to recover.
, that wasn't pain and suffering, that was moral cleansing and righteous justification. Just like
was for the mild disciplining of your child. Why do you hate... etc. (puke)
ha! mandyman, i swear i was just thinking that exact same thing. hee hee. whenever i see the phrase, "The 10 Most..." my hackles go up. then to see the next word, Harmful," oh lordy. i had a feeling this would be, um, icky. and i was right. and my hackles are now all pointy and sharp! whatever hackles are.
I love the "it's about communism or socialism so OF COURSE it is evil!" line of reasoning that is going on there. Don't think that putting the Communist Manifesto right next to Mein Kamf is a coincidence.
What surprises me about that list was... no Amazon Affiliate links. I mean, just imagine the income stream they could've gotten from people wanting to buy those books!
This is the most pathetically predictable list imaginable. I knew what six or seven of them would be before I even clicked the link. The only shock was that Darwin's
Origin of the Species
only ranked as a runner-up. What a bunch of intellectually bankrupt twaddle.
Weren't Reganomics basically Keynesian economics? I found the presence of Keynes on the list most surprising. I think maybe
- the warning to the world that the world ignored - may be the stupidest inclusion. Hitler wasn't a menace because he wrote a famous book; the book became famous because it was written by Hitler, the menace. As the list preparers admit, "The book was originally ignored." How then was it "harmful?" I took this one as the most obvious evidence that most of the voters on the panel weren't taking this project very seriously. As someone said over on MetaFilter, they should have included
The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion
The saddest one is
, though. That really bums me out; I was fostering this little dreamworld fantasy in which Republicans & Democrats could kind of band together as they noticed the environment crumbling around them. Oh well. Should have known - the eminences grises who compiled the list are no doubt still mourning their plummeting DDT sales from 1967 or so.
Funny, their "harmful" books list looks a lot like my "important" books list. You may not agree with what these books say, but there's no denying that they had a great impact on how we view the world. While I suppose that one may view that impact as being 'harmful', that approach only serves as a self-imposed limit to your understanding of the world. You may not agree with Das Kapital or Beyond Good and Evil, but that's not to say that you can't still learn something from them. To include Kinsey on a list of 'harmful' books shows a profound wilful blindness. Faulted as he was, he showed only what was out there, what the reality of American sexuality was. To say that that awareness of simple reality is somehow 'harmful' is downright silly. And Comte? They have a problem with COMTE? How is that POSSIBLE? Sure, he had wonky ideas about rewriting the calendar and such, but c'mon. If he hadn't (largely) established Sociology, these clowns wouldn't even have a job. Mental masturbation, all of it. And the thing about masturbation is, you tend to prefer your own.
"10. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money... a recipe for ever-expanding government... FDR adopted the idea as U.S. policy, and the U.S. government now has a $2.6-trillion annual budget and an $8-trillion dollar debt."
From DeLong's blog comments...but bears repeating. Stop the country, I want to get off.
The only shock was that Darwin's Origin of the Species only ranked as a runner-up.
Just noticed that -
? Hm, I wonder which species that book would be about? With so many scholars involved in the list project, you'd suppose they could at least get the
The books are only effigies for what the reactionary mind really dreads: critical thought.
I can't believe none of you can be bothered to seriously consider the threat posed by these books. This is easily one of the ten most harmful websites I've ever visited.
conservatives = nutty.
Wow; I don't know where to start. Random thoughts: It speaks more to the consevative mindset than to the quality of the books included that anyone would even consider such a list. They included the 19th century just so Marx would be included; Nietzsche and Darwin were just bonuses. If any books deserve to be on such a list, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and The Turner Diaries have certainly inspired more than enough assholes to be included. Don't these nimrods know that you always count down a list like this? If you start right out with #1, where's the suspense.
The Bible should have been top of the list.
I have been trying to make a Summer reading list and with the exception of a few (e.g. Mein Kampf) this looks like a pretty good one. Maybe they should have added Fahrenheit 451, but I guess they don't want to tip people off to the next part of their plan.
Too old, sadly. Otherwise, I agree.
That was for Chy, obviously.
Yes a very "pathetically predictable list". However looking at it, my irony meter pegged for a moment. They provided nice amazon links so we can buy these "dangerous books", do they get a commision?(i cant decode the links). Bash books, link, profit! Follow the money.....
monkeyfilter: a bunch of intellectually bankrupt twaddle
Yeah, I was kind of surprised by the Keynes book too, a lot of his ideas are popular with the Bush/Reagan regimes, it seems. At least the part about running up deficits.
It's good to see another thoughtful parody website skewering the far right. Imagine if they actually really thought this way?
Great post, by the way.
I'm waiting for the whacko rightwinger followup "Top 10 Most Dangerous Foliage"!
#4: Venus Fly Trap (both plant and DJ)
#5: GIANT Venus Fly Trap! (like they hand on Land Of The Lost)
not satire... nil
Why yes, it is decent satire, isn't it? LA LA LA *plugs fingers in ears*
In high school I actually tried to read
for a research paper on Nazi medical experiments and atrocities. Couldn't do it. Not because it was harmful, but because it was boring. Of course, maybe I just have a problem with political autobiography. Clinton's made me snooze, even though I loves me some Slick Willy. Wait a minute, that didn't come out right... :o
#6: Big tree on skip slope (Sonny, we'll never forget!)
Man, do I suck at speling
The Kinsey Report
is only beat out by Nazis and Commies, and not all of them. And dig those honorable (?) mentions: Origin of Species Descent of Man Unsafe at Any Speed (?) Silent Spring I wonder if Al Franken got any votes? Nah, probably too soon.
Most dangerous movies ever: 1. China Syndrome 2. Erin Brockovich 3. That movie where Russell Crowe is the tobacco executive 4. Wall Street 5. Bambi
OK, people, I think we've given the wingnuts far more attention than they deserve.
Most dangerous everyday objects and the injuries they inflicted on me: 1)Baby gate (collapsed lung) 2)Volvo rear driver-side door (broken thumb) 3)Headboard (split eyebrow) 4)Zipper (simultaneously injured both penis and pride) 5)Razor (filleted nostril)
#7: brussel sprouts (because they suck)
#8: Chigger-infested bush (That's right! I said "bush"!)
#9: Out of control 'landing strip'
I can't remember anyone killing each other over a copy of "Democracy and Education."
I would kill someone for a copy of "Democracy and Education". Dewey is cool. And incidentally, was a liberal influence in China -
was one of his students. And then there's that kickass Decimal library catelogue - much easier to use than the Library of Congress. (Don't know if it handles large numbers of titles as well though.)
#10: Those Ent things from that movie (they whupped hell on that Saruman, didn't they?)
Rounding out the 10, since I started, inexplicably, at #4... #1: Zuchini (the vegetable world's tribble) #2: "pricker-bush" #3: Dead tree near water with old tire swing attached (invariably haunted)
You left out that tree from "The Guardian." That thing ATE BABIES, dude.
Also, the corn, of which the children are.
After poking around on the Human Events Online website, I've come to the conclusion that these are no simple run-of-the-mill conservatives here (of the ilk of John McCain or Rudy Giuliani). These are the extreme right-wing nutbars. This is a website run by a bunch of Ann Coulters. Just read
about Carlos Santana to see what I mean.
I stand by my 10. Especially #9.
"These are the extreme right-wing nutbars."
Jesus christ, what would we do without you to tell us these things? Chewie, take the professor in the back and plug him into the hyperdrive.
Hackles are the hairs on your neck. (This has been a public service...) I can see the argument for some of these. No manifesto=no communism? No Stalin? Of course, this sort of speculation is silly, because it may only have led to Hitler's victory. Who knows. The most telling thing about this list is that Darwin gets not one, but two honorable mentions. Truly a triumph of blind ideology.
Nice to see some of my old college textbooks getting the recognition they deserve! I always had a gut feeling that my professors were harming my intellect. Especially that silly waif of a philosophy professor, he corrupted my mind beyond repair - the bastard!
mid, how the hell did you collapse your lung on a baby gate for chrissakes? and fes now you have me all skeeerdy-catted.
Dangerous foliage transcends mere party bickery.
Tripped over it and slammed into a wall really hard. I'm a skinny white guy, which (for some reason doctors haven't figured out) puts me in the high-risk category (it happens to high school runners and basketball players a lot, evidently), and on top of that I was going through seven packs of cigarettes and a quarter-bag of dope every week. Eventually a blister formed on the wall of my right lung, I tripped, and kerflooey. Spent a week in the hospital, got out the day my brother got married.
The funny thing is if Hitler had written Mein Kampf and then promptly dropped dead, no one would give a shit about it. So they seem to be rating it solely on what he did afterward, suggesting a sort of moral equivalence between Hitler and Dewey and Keynes. /Godwin's head explodes
monkeyfilter: Eventually a blister formed on the wall of my right lung
I've tripped over a baby gate, as well. Lung's fine tho
is a runner up? Have these people read the first
And the thing about masturbation is, you tend to prefer your own.
No way dude. I just settle for my own.
I spackle for my own.
When Books Burn: Lists of Banned Books, 1932-1939
is a sexy, sexy man.
Most harmful book: the telephone directory. People can actually find you with it.
Infinite Jest. If you dropped it on somebody, it would really smart.
Since they seem to be equally against communism, democracy and free thought, I have to wonder what they would actually endorse. Klepto-theocracy? Alien pope dictatorships?
And the thing about masturbation is, you tend to prefer your own.
No, no. The things about masturbation is that if it's not your own, it's not masturbation.
thing, no s.
Preview, preview. *hits head with Hammer*
I think Rush was actually talking about Alien Pope Dictatorships today. He was for it.
I've read The Communist Manifesto, Capital, Origin of the Species and, uh, that's it. I'm not much of a threat to the 21st Century, am I?
The Nazis loved Nietzsche.
OMG TEH GODWIN!!11
Also I would like to say that books don't kill people. Please excuse me for the appropriately knee-jerk snark above.
The entire Bible isn't bad. Yes, there are some really disturbing things in some of the more far-right translations. But the parts about being kind and forgiving and generous are quite beneficial, when people don't distort them. If were going to make a list of harmful books, I'd like to nominate the Malleus Maleficarum. It's old, but it did result in the deaths of a great number of people.
One thing about this list is that you ought to distinguish between "harmful" as purely descriptive or as predictive. I might agree with those who want the Bible on the list if the qualification is the former; not as much if it's the latter. Really, people's urge to immediately say that the Bible belongs on such a list is in my opinion exactly equivalent to the very biased, ideological and probably ignorant point of view that this stupid list displays. I'm an atheist and have studied the Bible from a purely secular standpoint, even translated a couple of NT books (which isn't that hard in relative terms), and overall, in the predictive sense, I wouldn't say it's not any more harmful than any other book(s) that it could be compared with. To repeat, because I think this is an important point, there ought to be a distinction between descriptive and predictive qualifications. These right-wingers mix the two together, conveniently, because their ultimate aim is to claim that their judgments is
true--that is, these books are inherently harmful. There's something deeply dishonest about doing this because it is the "method" which most easily accomodates ideological bias. If you had to stick with quantifying either purely descriptive harm (that is, harm that we can agree on has resulted and could measure) or predictive (harm that we can agree must necessarily result), then their options for what books to include become much more limited--requiring that some books they find ideologically friendly need be included and some to which they are hostile, excluded.
Surely some Baudrillard, Lyotard or another French philosopher could have been placed on there? Better yet some psychoanalytic film studies texts. Plenty of brain explosions have been caused by such writing. As for Das Kapital, which volume? There aren't many people who have read all of it.
The reason the Bible and other religious texts belong on the list is because of the bloodshed they excuse and hatred they breed. Every murdered abortion doctor, every successful suicide bomber, every crime commited in the name of some god makes those books more damaging than any on that riduculous list. Jesus may have taught love, but his followers deal in hate.
What dammitjim said. I'm a Christian, and I think it belongs. More people have died because of the Bible and the Koran than probably any other two books in existence. It doesn't follow that they should be banned, because it's abuse and not use that caused most of these deaths, but by definition anything that can be so abused is dangerous. Like a knife -- if used safely and properly, nobody gets hurt. If abused, people die.
Well, get rid of all the knives and people will bash others over the head with clubs. I'm not sure it's the books so much as the people.
Okay - this list is totally messed. I mean - they forgot
The Agrarian History of England and Wales: Volume VI (1750-1850)
- That thing is a monster! 1215 pages of hardbound well-researched agricultural history, including tables and graphs. If you don't succeed in killing someone by hitting them over the head with it, you could always make them lose their will to live by making them read it.
are by far the most dangerous plant.
Not that anyone cares to read this far into the thread, but, speaking as a reformed "Conservative", I think this list is an exercise in dick swinging. There might be a point about calling
Origin of Species
* "harmful", but such a point requires precise argumentation-- starting with which of the billion shades of meaning the word "harmful" is used in. Lacking precision, their claim that these books are the "most harmful" has no content. This may be off-topic, but I think it is instructive to think of an analogy, say, gay marriage, another topic dear to a conservative's heart (or bile-duct). One reason to call gay marriage "harmful" to marriage, despite the obvious counterpoint that gay people marrying has no bearing on straight people marrying, is that an important part of the meaning of "marriage" comes from its exclusion of the "unmarried". To be married is to mark yourself in a well-defined (to many) role as a member of a basic social molecule---the family---where one is expected to create, nurture, and direct the future of the society. Allowing gay people to marry removes the exclusivity of the married, therefore dulls the precision of the word, therefore causes "harm". Now, this is a weak argument for calling gay marriage harmful, but it is still an argument. Nothing similar has been offered about the elements of this list of harm-causing books. I'm tempted to speculate that the creators of this list simply wanted some attention, however negative. They might even enjoy the negativity, as they revel in (to their point of view) the oppression that the godless masses inflict upon them. It is a simple pathological persecution complex, for which I am sure we have good cures in these enlightened times.
* The correct title is
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle of Life
. It fascinates me how the latter half of the title is ignored as a matter of course, though Darwin argues in favor of Human superiority!
Any book, when thrown with sufficient force, can be deadly. I'm looking at your crazy gangsta ass, Judy Blume.
Well, get rid of all the knives and people will bash others over the head with clubs.
We'll find out in England soon enough, I believe...
1. Eve's 2. Helen of Troy's 3. Cleopatra's 4. Margaret Thatcher's 5. Sean Hannity 6. Patrick Swayze ...wait, you mean this isn't the place for 10-most-harmful-
"...because of the bloodshed they excuse and hatred they breed. Every murdered abortion doctor, every successful suicide bomber, every crime commited in the name of some god makes those books more damaging than any on that riduculous list."
Well, again, your first sentence is making the predictive accusation. The second is more descriptive in character. The first assertion needs some sort of supporting argument. The second (not the conclusion but about the damage that's occured) needs quantification. And that quantification would need to be placed in context--that is, is this more or less damage than other kinds of books? On the first, the predictive accusation, I'm pretty skeptical. On the second, the descriptive accusation, I can't deny its truth in isolation but I'm very skeptical of that assumption that this damage is exceptionally large. For example, I think the particular thing you're describing is really just a form of violent tribalism--and I think there are far more cultural manifestations of this than just the religious variety. Also, this sort of rationalization of violence that you're condemning can be found in many philosophical works, as well. Finally, I've come to a place in my deeply considered atheism (which spans my entire adult life and then some--which is more than twenty years) where I will not disregard the possibility that, ultimately, there is great utility in religious belief. Pointing to a war as an example of negative utility is easy. The examples of positive utility are more subtle and elusive, I think. I'm not prepared to say that I know they don't outweigh--even greatly outweigh--the negative acts.
The thing that just makes me tired is the obvious ignorance of what is actually inside these books. The fact that
gets a mention makes me very angry, even if it is a bunch of right-wing nutjobs.
Grover: a Giant Venus Fly Trap would eat a triffid for breakfast. If the chiggers didn't get it first!
Audrey II would take it down in short order. As would the tree from The Guardian, which only a
would choose to leave off, since we all know that those trees are a Republican conspiracy!
I agree about chiggers, though. Them damn things is itchy.
MonkeyFilter: I think this list is an exercise in dick swinging
, after some thinking, I think
must have got the nod for the references to "the most intolerant of churches" and the pleas for separation of church and state because, really, I have no idea why else they would have included it.
I spent an hour last night trying to come up with a 10 most harmful books list from a left-wingnut perspective, and couldn't even come up with one book . Not even the Bible, though there are arguments to be made--I leave it off because the things that cause harm seem to be mostly taken out of context by the readers. Maybe that's the difference between the makers of this list and me--I worry about context. Or maybe I'm not as well read. Either way. Seriously though, can you imagine a lib'rul list like this?
Do conservos even read books?
Ayn Rand would make such a list, if I wanted to come up with one from a "left-wingnut perspective." Amateurish philosophy it may be, but she's influential.
The Turner Diaries
? I think there's a good number of books that are causatively harmful and descriptively harmful. TTD is a good example.
Oh, yeah, I agree somewhat with you, Smo, about Rand. I don't think her books are comparable to my previous example, but I do think they've caused harm.
See, I think potential for misuse has to count as a kind of danger. I worry about context too, and I think intent of the author counts for something, but to me anything which could even be misused to cause harm is in a meaningful sense dangerous.
Take the beer I'm drinking right now. The way I use it, no one gets hurt. They find out what's wrong with them, 'cause I tell 'em, but no one gets physically hurt. The asshole who rammed my best friend at 60mph after a day-long bender, he was misusing his booze. But I think you have to say that alcohol is therefore a potentially dangerous substance.
Every time I look in the sidebar, I see "Ten Most Harmful
." Sorry for the derail, but I just had to get that off my chest, so to speak.
heh. That's what i get for not reading the comments. So far this evening: Two egregious misspellings and now this. I suck at teh MonkeyFilter.
No, bone, your posting greatness shines through a dark and cloudy sky:
MonkuyFliter: Two egregious misspellings and now this.
It was really more a "great minds think alike" comment, the_bone.
Actually, mct, he was using his booze the right way. He was misusing his CAR. So I don't think the books get misused. I think the brains do. They're the drivers after all. And while I find Rand's ideas repulsive, I don't think one of her books actually did harm--rather what people did with them. Maybe that's putting too fine a point on it. Maybe I said "context" when I meant something else. Maybe I need to drink some of MCT's beers. Scratch that last one. Replace with "definitely."
And to paraphrase the Bard, "Use each book according to its possible misuse, and which of us will 'scape whipping?" I mean, you could potentially misuse Dr. Seuss, for that matter--running trains off half-complete bridges into water in pursuit of questionably-colored egg and meat dishes, letting strange animals into your house to destroy the place, chopping down all the Truffula trees and driving the Swamee-Swans to the brink of extinction...WHERE DOES IT END?
How very strange...we're talking about Ayn Rand a little here, and then there's
this FPP post
about strange true coincidences, which makes me wonder if
this Salon.com article
about comic pioneer Steve Ditko and his latter day infatuation with Rand might be God telling me to STFU about left-wing harmful books already. You need to watch an ad to get into Salon, of course, unless
you can find a way around it.
Weren't Reganomics basically Keynesian economics?
Not really. Reaganomics was supply-side: tax cuts for business result in higher employment and blah de blah. Keynesian thought runs more along the lines of, in a recession, the government has to spend money (even money it doesn't have) to get things moving again. Not coincidentally, Jimmy Carter was a Keynesian, which probably had more to do with his successor's rejection of Keynes than anything else.
Yeah, Reagan wouldn't even leave the solar panels Carter installed in the White House alone. For some reason, that's a minor thing that always sticks in my craw. Along with the rest of it...
Reaganomics, in the end, effectively endorsed Keynesian theory because the huge deficit and debt didn't absolutely destroy the economy. Keynes saw deficit spending (within reason) as a stimulus. His enemies saw that as heresy. So the Reagan folks never said they were going to run up a huge debt, just like the Bush folks haven't said that. Traditionally, it's been the conservatives who've worried about deficits and debts. It's just the case that, conveniently, under Reagan and now under Bush, they decide that it's not that important. Anyway, in the long run (heh) Keynes has been proven right. But so has Friedman. The dominant view in the US today is a sort of blend of Keynesian and monetarist theory. One consequence of this is that the answer to whether or not deficit spending and debt is bad is..."it depends". This is causing no end of trouble in the public discursive sphere with regard to economic policy. People, and reporters, want simple answers.
I'm really confused. Reagan rejected Keynes (wasn't Keynes also vilified somewhat?), and so does the current adminstration, but both spent heavily on deficit/debt? It hurts my brain (which wasn't doing too well to start with).
Why these folks seem so willing to deficit spend and run up the debt is more than a bit of a mystery. One theory (and it's not so much a theory as it is what some actual conservatives have proposed) is the "starve the beast" theory. It says that the risk of destroying the economy by runaway debt is an acceptable risk, with the hoped-for gain to be that when the government really and truly goes broke, it'll have to cut all sorts of programs that no one has been willing to cut otherwise. I don't think these folks are that Machiavellian. No, the simple reality is that if you take the big entitlement programs--social security and medicare--and include military spending, you've got more than 85% of the budget right there. But these conservatives run on the platform that we're paying way too high taxes and that taxes should be reduced. They say that they want to cut spending proportionally, claiming that there's so much bad stuff (EPA, Food Stamps, foreign aid, whatever) that if they reduce taxes by 20%, they can reduce spending by 20%. The problem is, that's a lie, unless they want to actually cut social security and medicare. Which, by the way, they do and haven't really tried before now. Not that they're making headway. So, they lower taxes quite a bit but in the end don't reduce spending proportionally. So the deficit gets a lot bigger and that means the debt gets bigger and bigger. They don't really do too much about it because, as I said, there's not as much fat to cut as they claim. You can check these numbers of mine easily, by the way. Then, of course, they claim as necessary that cutting spending isn't entirely necessary because tax revenues will actually increase as taxes are lowered. This counter-intuitive proposition is obviously true in a limited sense: imagine if someone wanted you to make forty loaves of bread each day so that you could have a sandwich. You'd probably be resentful and slack off. If they let you have more of the fruits of your labor, you'll be more productive and your greater productivity might, in the end, mean you make enough more loaves of bread to cover all those they were letting you have before...and more. This is a real effect, no economist denies it. However, it's obviously also true that if you get 39 loaves of bread and are only asked to make a sandwich, giving you back one slice of the two is not going to get you all excited. The curve on a graph that represents this effect is the "Laffer curve". Contemporary US conservatives claim that tax rates are high enough in the US that the situation is enough like the "you make 40 loaves of bread and get only a sandwich" than it it the opposite. So that's how they can claim that if they reduce taxes, in the long run the budget will balance itself because the overall revenues will rise as people are more productive because they're keeping more of the fruit of their labors. The thing is, almost...
...no economists think that the US tax rates are on "that side" of the Laffer curve. One reason is that US tax rates are already very low relative to other advanced economies--and if it were true for us, it'd be far more true for them. The implication being that their economies would be so choked that they would shrink. For those other economies in general, this hasn't happened. It arguably
happen with a few--the scandinavian "welfare economies" of the 70s era. Anyway, putting that evidence aside for the moment, you also have the fact that the US has already had one big experiment of this effect: Reaganomics. And did the economy grow so fast after the tax cuts that, eight years later, all the lost tax revenue by lowering the rates was regained by more activity? Nope, not by a long shot. At the end of Reagan's term, the budget was still in deficit and the debt had grown quite large. Ironically, Bush had to raise taxes, Clinton did a little (as the conservatives always point out) and yet it was
that the economy took off. The conservatives claim that this really was the effect of Reaganomics, it just took about 14 years instead of, say, eight. A problem with that assertion, though, relative to the current situation, is that the Bush admin, when they claim that the economy will grow enough to make this problem go away, are assuming that it will happen well before 14 years. All their budgets keep assuming this effect...which, putting all the evidence together, there's pretty much no reason to think we'll see. Are they lying? I don't know. They could just be delusional. So, in the end, Bush's big tax reduction (which is only "big" for those in the highest tax brackets and those who have predominantly investment income) has just caused a huge surge in the budget deficit and accumulated debt. It hasn't helped that Bush's proposed spending (and what has actually passed Congress) have all been
in spending, overall. They'll cut programs here and there; but with military spending and Iraq, and pet programs here and there, and a big one--the prescription benefits championed by Bush--the overall budget has grown, not shrunk. That's not just what Congress has actually passed, it's also what Bush has proposed. And, to go back to the original point, the irony is that some of this has had the odd effect of validating Keynes. The anti-Keynesians opposed deficit spending and debt on, I think, moral grounds and assumed that necessarily it must have bad economic effects. That's why those of that mindset, sometimes called "fiscal conservatives", have traditionally strongly opposed deficit spending and debt. Meanwhile, back in the days when the Democrats were unabashedly trying to build a welfare state, and of course, during FDR's New Deal which was an orgy of deficit spending, they argued that not only was this not bad, it was
because increased spending and debt is a stimulus to the economy, causing more economic...
...activity and in the end, self-repairing. Sound familiar? Well Keynes was right: taken in isolation, deficit spending is a powerful stimulus. He was proven right that deficit spending, within certain constraints, can be a good thing. You can see how because of this there was a sort of marriage of those who were social/economic conservatives opposed to government programs and fiscal conservatives who were opposed to deficit spending. And so the claim became that Keynes was so incredibly wrong, and his influence so great (which it has been, undeniably) that, for example, he makes this stupid list. They're claiming, essentially, that he's wrong and that even though all economists believe that, within constraints, he was right, well...they're wrong. Wrong, dammit. :) If Keynes was
wrong, all that deficit spending and debt during Reagan's years and now Bush's years would have not only been bad (and it was and is, I think) but would have been so bad, and so immediately bad, that the economy should have collapsed. Of course it didn't. So in a roundabout way, Reaganomics is a validation of Keynes. See? By the way, Milton Friedman is seen by many conservatives as the answer to Keynes. Friedman's approach in some ways contradicted Keynes. Was he right? Yes, he was right. The Federal Reserve Boards policies from Volker through Greenspan reflect strongly the ideas of Friedman's "monetarism". Odd, though, that many conservatives complain when the Fed raises interest rates. But it all starts to make much more sense if you de-politicize and de-ideologize macroeconomics. Most of the politician's and pundits version of macroeconomics falls apart when confronted by reality. And, in fact, contemporary American economists, at least, have all sort of reached a consensus of something that is part Keynes, part Friedman. That's the so-called "neoliberal economics". There's something in neoliberal economics that upsets both conservatives and liberals because it contradicts their ideological assumptions about how economies work. So...the big question you may still have is why, then, do I and others claim that sustained deficit spending and very high debt is economically bad? Well, there's a variety of reasons. Some of them are the simple ones that the fiscal conservatives always supposed. Others have to do with the money supply and bonds and whatnot. Pretty much every American economist is freaking out about where the US economy is
with regard to the deficit and debt
, and where it is heading. The short answer about deficit spending is that it's good to use as a stimulus when the economy needs it, it's good when used for relatively short lengths of time and is controlled. When it's uncontrolled and a decade-long fact of the economy...not so good.
(I smell a redux of
. Where were you then, kmellis?)
That makes a lot of sense, thanks kmellis.