Paul Krugman

The Wonkocracy: Why Can't People Be Reasonable and Do What We Say?


An inspiring rant from James Poulos at Forbes (inspired itself by a very uninspiring current round of chatter about Josh Barro, but you don't need the boring context) about the mentality of the American wonkocracy.

Choice excerpts:

The logic of the neoliberal wonkocrat dictates that "government" is this accumulation of authority, this attribution of legitimacy, and the entitlement to implement policy that flows from it. That's what governing means. Oppose that, and you oppose not just "an ideology" or "your partisan opponents" — you oppose governance itself. It's a simple model, really: Be Krugtron the Invincible, follow Krugtron the Invincible, or get out of the way.

These are the sorts of claims that expose themselves to critical appraisal whether there are 5000 or 50 or 5 or zero intransigent Republican lunkheads standing athwart wonkocratism. "The point is not that I have an uncanny ability to be right," Krugman stunningly says; "it's that the other guys have an intense desire to be wrong." That is exactly the point, which would be laid scandalously bare if only those dumbass conservatives wised up long enough to go on political strike. Those obdurate dingbats are a wonkocrat's best friend — they make it possible for people to believe that wonkocrats want to recommend, not command.

Krugman and any other wonkocrats are just lying when they insist that the foundational issue is political bad faith of an "ideological" kind. No matter how real or important that issue is, it will never transcend the really fundamental claim animating and self-justifying the wonkocracy: that, whatever else is the case, they deserve the power to see their policies implemented.

…..the best way to prove a wonkocrat wrong is to let them have their way. Stand clear of the path of progress, and watch how quickly it narrows. Over time, that narrow path will encounter a mountain too high, a sea too deep, or a cliff too sheer to navigate. We cannot all stand clear of the path of progress, alas. Sadly, as we already know all too well, when it fails us, we will always be around to blame.

Read the whole thing.

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  1. The cover art on that book is creepy. What is that Team Blue arrow forcing that Team Red arrow to do, and why am I sure that impression was the intent?

    1. Behold the blue craton of progress subducting the lowly and dense floor of conservatism beneath it!

  2. Alt-text: No thanks.

  3. “Wonks” would be Stalinists if not for the fact that Joseph Stalin would drop a Joe-1 on you if he ever caught you referring to him as something called a “wonk.”

  4. What’s all of this about Wonka? I thought he had retired.

    1. Oompa Loompa doompadee doo
      I’ve got another Nobel prize for you…

      1. Shut the hell up!

      2. +1 Ugly Kid Joe

  5. “It just so happens I DO know what’s best for you. So shut up, and keep rowing.”

  6. “Krugman and any other wonkocrats are just lying when they insist that the foundational issue is political bad faith…”

    He should have titled his book : “I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing.”

  7. That is awesome. Men like Krugman would burn down the realm with his policies if he could be king of the ashes.

    1. Well, he’d burn down your realm if he could be the kind of your ashes. Because he’d be in charge of the reconstruction, too.

      It’s about the powah!

  8. I think wank-ocracy is more appropriate. Especially applied to Ezra Klein and Krugabe.

    1. +3 inches.

      Internet inches.

    2. The wonks all seem to enjoy wanking each other off.

  9. Jonah Goldberg has a section of his weekly email that hits on this kind of bullshit. Basically, to the Left and to those on the right who buy into big government, everything must either conform to government or be destroyed. The idea is right out of fascism. He says

    The Nazis had a word for this process: Gleichschaltung. A political word borrowed — like so many others — from the realm of engineering, it meant “coordination.” The idea was simple: all institutions needed to work together as if they were part of the same machine. Those that did so willingly were given wide latitude by the state. “Islands of separateness” — be they businesses, churches, or people — were worn down over time. There could be no rocks in the river of progress. In effect, the entire society agreed to the fascist bargain, in which they bought economic, moral, and political security in exchange for absolute loyalty to the ideals of the Reich. Of course, this was a false security; the fascist bargain is a Faustian bargain. But that is what people thought they were getting.

    1. He goes on

      liberals are the aggressors in the culture war. This Lois Lerner woman, it seems increasingly clear, is a perfect example of a midlevel enforcer of O’Sullivan’s Law, a water-carrier for the Gleichschaltung, a junior officer in Matthews’s “war.” But it’s important to recognize that Matthews’s “war” isn’t about freedom qua freedom or rights qua rights, it’s a war over how freedom is defined. And in the minds of progressives you are free to live anyway you want so long as it’s progressive. You have the right to have me pay for things you want, solely because you want them and progressives say you need them.

      Any institution that agrees with progressivism is free to stay clear of the State if it wants to (but, being “progressive,” few such institutions want to be free of the State). Any institution that desires to go a different way must be ground down and forced to conform. It is this act of resistance and not any explicit ideological commitment that renders dissident institutions “right wing.” Indeed “right wing” is often just a liberal word for “non-compliant.”

    2. Jonah Goldberg takes his thesis too far, but it is absolutely true that lefists have reverted to something quite similar to the radical centrism of the European interwar period.

      When you don’t have new ideas, just redouble on your sense of outrage and insistence that your synthesis of capitalism and horribly big government is the One True Way and all others are heretics to be tried.

      What could go wrong?

    3. Lemme boil that down:

      “There oughta be a law.”

      This is the attitude people have – if they don’t like it, it should be ILLEGAL. The idea that you should tolerate harmless or minimally harmful things other people do that you don’t like is contrary to people’s attitude. If I don’t like it, not only should it not exist in my life, but it should be eradicated from yours.

      1. Or even more succinctly, many people are busy bodies. And the worst ones end up in government.

  10. “”…..the best way to prove a wonkocrat wrong is to let them have their way.””


    We’ve done that for 30+ years, and they still think the problem isn’t their *shitty ideas*, but rather, *not enough money to fund them*!


    Progs will rant themselves blue in the face about Social Security and Medicare…. and I’ll just say, “They’re just *shitty* insurance policies! Why wouldn’t you want actual “safety nets” that WORK??”

    They are not terribly ‘results-driven’. To put it mildly.

    1. Yeah I caught that. They never learn. And they never pay any price for being wrong and causing harm no matter how enormous.

      1. And they never pay any price for being wrong

        I am afraid that nothing short of their own blood being spilled will teach them. That is not a good thing.

    2. It’s all about intentions. They’ve figured out that voters are too stupid or easily distracted to care about the results of a program they want to fund or create.

      1. Its not even about intentions, its about the appearance. If krugman actually had the conscience of a liberal, hed shut up and go help poor people individually. Same goes for any wonk. Krugman et al has spent more time justifying frauds than exposing them.

    3. If I thought the system would collapse utterly and with no other option but to attribute the collapse to interventionist policy in general, I would gladly hand the interventionists the reins. But it won’t. It will falter and suffer calamity after calamity but we’d muddle through, pulled along by the sheer force of will of the sort fit for Galt’s Gulch and the people they can inspire. After each crisis the interventionists would declare that they need more authority until there is no more to give them, and then they will find scapegoats to blame until there are no more they can reasonably purge.

      And by then the masses will have been beaten down for generations, our traditions and institutions mere shells of what they were (where allowed to exist at all). If we make it that far without being overrun we will go through another dark age for at least a generation (and I’m only that optimistic because of the new ways to spread information easily).

  11. The problem with the rant in the OP is that the “wonkocrats” have no interest in actual policy beyond what is needed to bash opponents and keep their brand of politics in center square. Krugman doesn’t support ObamaCare because it’s the best of all possible medical reforms; he’s said as much. He supports it because Republicans are nihilists and because it keeps government in healthcare. That’s it.

    There are very few actual technocrats on the left; those have mostly migrated to the Republican party (to our great detriment — Romney is such a politician, IMO).

    1. Yeah. Liberals don’t even try to make government work anymore. Liberals should be horrified by the failings of Obamacare. But they are not because they exist for the single purpose of sticking it to the other side.

      1. No, PBP assures us that we’ve not yet seen the full light of reason in which Obamacare will bathe our benighted shores. Not until 2014, in any case, and until then employers and insurers act in a vacuum without regard for the coming policy changes.

  12. Have some more “top men” apology

    There is zero correlation between the political ideology called liberalism and the cascading scandals of the Obama administration. If anything, it’s the opposite: it’s the undeniably illiberal actions of people within the government that has created these crises. To suggest that any of this happened because the government is too big, or even that the aim of liberalism is to make government bigger, is a gross distortion. . . .
    Liberalism is a noble tradition and worldview that is perennially in search of a leader–and these days even followers–worthy of its name. If in any of these situations even one person of influence had adhered to the basic tenets of liberalism–a respect for dissent, free speech, government transparency and liberty–all of these scandals could have been avoided.…..n/2347251/

    1. If only Trotsky had been in charge.

      1. If only Trotsky had been in charge existed.

    2. If in any of these situations even one person of influence had adhered to the basic tenets of liberalism–a respect for dissent, free speech, government transparency and liberty–all of these scandals could have been avoided.

      Oh look, she threw a bone to dogs of “good government.” See? She means well, for reals!

      The rest of it is as sincere, and based in objective reality, as Obama’s haunted speech.

      1. Ah. yes. She’s playing the classic “True Scotsman” card.

        It’s a powerful one.

        +4 Blindness to all of your allies
        +1 Confusion to one enemy.

    3. WRECKERS!!

  13. …..the best way to prove a wonkocrat wrong is to let them have their way. Stand clear of the path of progress, and watch how quickly it narrows. Over time, that narrow path will encounter a mountain too high, a sea too deep, or a cliff too sheer to navigate

    Yes, let them have their way with you, repeatedly, and when the tragic consequences are pointed to, their response is always the same:


  14. I like two or three. But I’m not really sure about one of them.

    Heh, heh. I don’t think the system works.

    We need a system where the politicians sit down and discuss the problem, agree what’s in the best interest of all the people, and then do it.

    Well, then, they should be made to.

    I don’t know. Someone.

    Of course not me.

    *nods* Someone wise.

    Who said it, Krugman, Himler, or Darth Vader?

    1. All of them are Krugman, aren’t they?

      1. Nope, that is Darth Vader (well earlier in his life).

        Amazing how the words of one of the most iconic movie villains of all time sound like they could come from the mouth of our esteemed lefty policy wonks though isn’t it?

        “We just need to decide what is right for people and make them do it”, they don’t get a choice and their wants and desires are not relivant.

        Really this is how all utopian tyrannies start. A bunch of idealistic people who think they know what is best for their fellow man and then convinced of their righteousness giving themselves moral authority to commit any atrocity in advancing those lofty goals.

        1. I found the wiki page for those idealists who know no bounds.

        2. Darth Vader had no former life other than being Darth Vader. He starts life in Episode IV, and ends it in Episode VI. AND NOTHING ELSE HAPPENED.

        3. Funny thing is that Lucas clearly thought he was cribbing from Dubya with the “if they’re not with me, they’re against me” line.

        4. Nope, that is Darth Vader (well earlier in his life).

          So not Darth Vader then?

          Most of those quotes sound like a garden variety young idealist frustrated by reality.

        5. But, very few collections of stubborn idealists morph into tyranny… that’s akin to conflating waiting tables with Hollywood stardom because so many actors used to wait tables.

  15. Sadly, as we already know all too well, when it fails us, we will always be around to blame.

    And once again California leads the nation where the Republicans are utterly irrelevant politically but are still the whipping boy for Progressive failures.

  16. “As the Republican Party’s range of acceptable policies has narrowed,” Ezra chisels upon the tablets of wonkocratic law, “the Democratic Party’s range has expanded.”

    Quite so! Into indefinite detention, preemptive war, presidential execution orders, rewriting bankruptcy laws, regulating inactivity as commerce, etc.

    1. And elimination of the now obsolete and so therefore unnecessary protections in the Constitution

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