|The Tyranny of Dead Ideas
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A leading political and business thinker identifies the greatest threat to our economic future: the things we think we know-but don-t America is at a crossroads. In the face of global competition and rapid technological change, our economy is about to face its most severe test in nearly a century-one that will make the recent turmoil in the financial system look like a modest setback by comparison. Yet our leaders have failed to prepare us for what lies ahead because they are in the grip of a set of "dead ideas" about how a modern economy should work. They wrongly believe that - Our kids will earn more than we do - Free trade is always good, no matter who gets hurt - Employers should be responsible for health coverage - Taxes hurt the economy - Schools are a local matter - Money follows merit These ways of thinking-dubious at best and often dead wrong-are on a collision course with economic developments that are irre-versible. In The Tyranny of Dead Ideas, Matt Miller offers a unique blend of insights from history, psychology, and economics to illuminate where today-s destructive conventional wisdom came from and how it holds our country back. He also introduces us to a new way of thinking-what he calls "tomorrow-s destined ideas"-that can reinvigorate our economy, our politics, and our day-to-day lives. These destined ideas may seem counterintuitive now, but they will coalesce in the coming years in ways that will transform America. A strikingly original assessment of our current dilemma and an indispensable guide to our future, Miller-s provocative and path-breaking book reveals why it is urgent that we break the tyranny of dead ideas, for it is only by doing so that we can move beyond the limits of today-s obsolete debates and reinvent American capitalism and democracy for the twenty-first century. A leading political and business thinker identifies the greatest threat to our economic future: the things we think we know-but don-t America is at a crossroads. In the face of global competition and rapid technological change, our economy is about to face its most severe test in nearly a century-one that will make the recent turmoil in the financial system look like a modest setback by comparison. Yet our leaders have failed to prepare us for what lies ahead because they are in the grip of a set of "dead ideas" about how a modern economy should work. They wrongly believe that - Our kids will earn more than we do - Free trade is always good, no matter who gets hurt - Employers should be responsible for health coverage - Taxes hurt the economy - Schools are a local matter - Money follows merit These ways of thinking-dubious at best and often dead wrong-are on a collision course with economic developments that are irre-versible. In The Tyranny of Dead Ideas, Matt Miller offers a unique blend of insights from history, psychology, and economics to illuminate where today-s destructive conventional wisdom came from and how it holds our country back. He also introduces us to a new way of thinking-what he calls "tomorrow-s destined ideas"-that can reinvigorate our economy, our politics, and our day-to-day lives. These destined ideas may seem counterintuitive now, but they will coalesce in the coming years in ways that will transform America. A strikingly original assessment of our current dilemma and an indispensable guide to our future, Miller-s provocative and path-breaking book reveals why it is urgent that we break the tyranny of dead ideas, for it is only by doing so that we can move beyond the limits of today-s obsolete debates and reinvent American capitalism and democracy for the twenty-first century.
This book is propaganda ... nothing more.
Matt Miller is just trying to repackage the worst of the bad old "wine and brie" liberalism of the past as somehow now 'new' and 'innovative'.
I'm a progressive, an iconoclast and a freethinker -- so I'm interested in genuinely new approaches to solving public policy problems -- this book is therefore a disappointment.
In the end what you realize is that Miller is a traditional liberal corporatist who is trying to make people believe that higher taxes, bigger government and more centralization is the answer to the myriad of messes with which Bush has left us. Let hope that Obama does not go down this "we know best" pathway because it will get us nowhere fast.
So, save yourself three hours or so an skip this book.
- What we need Today!
Mr. Millers book is spot on. Now that the Conservative ideologies have been proven bankrupt, we need to bury these DEAD ideas.
Look at the Conservative responses to the book. Rehashing old labels to protect dead ideas!...more info
- We could all use this
Not the best written book I have ever read but thought provoking and worthwhile all the same.
- Is it Needed?
I am glad to see that some think this books is nothing short of "Commie Pinko Socialism". If it didn't get that type of review it wouldn't be radical enough for our times.
If you are delighted by the near trillion dollar corporate greed driven bailout and the otherwise crumbling US and world economy then this book is not for your. But, if you say enough is enough and some basic change is required then you will be enlightened by the contents. It is well written and thoughtful expose of our times and what needs to change to prevent them from expanding or happening again. ...more info
- Rehashed Socialism
When you get right down to it, the book is nothing more than a recast justification for statist solutions to free market anomalies. The author endorses higher taxes and increased government management of the economy, socialist policies relabeled as communitarian ideals. The deadest idea in this intellectual vacuum is the central thesis itself: a warmed-over Marxist ideology that is one "old way" we can't seem to shake so long as progressives continue to find new ways to restate hoary discredited bromides. Spare us, please....more info
- Professor Miller Sounds The Alarm, But Cannot Kill the Zombies Alone!
This book alerts us to a basic problem in a crisp and innovative way although, in my opinion, the solutions it offers are not so great. That's o.k.
As Miller persuasively argues, much of our current policy debates center around ideas that are built deeply into our American worldview (e.g. employers should provide healthcare). Whether or not these ideas should have died is not the issue; they HAVE died, and the question is what to do next?
Zombielike, the corpses of our old idea wander the land; instead of chanting "Brains!", they shout "Socialist!" or "Fascist!". They eat alive any attempt to solve our problems! Will we escape this horror, or fall prey to the dead ideas?
Miller's description of these ideas seems straightforward and commonsensical. That in itself is remarkable and useful; clear writing makes itself look easy. We must face squarely the fact that our beloved economic Memes, still beautiful in memory, are now dead. It is our only hope of going beyond them.
What to do with the corpses wandering the landscape is where the book falls down. The prognosis chapters are much slimmer than the diagnosis chapters, and reflect a faith in business leadership that seems ill-placed.
However, this is not a fatal flaw. Once we villagers are made aware of the zombie infestation, and roused to action, then we ourselves can work out what to do. The first thing is to sound the warning persuasively, and that Miller has done.
Read this book, then think and act. We must not let the zombies win!...more info
- Worth the read
Very well written and presented. Miller is certainly 'left of center', but his historical review of what got us to where we are today is critical to understanding where we can go from here. If you are 'right of center' or just flat conservative, some of this comments will rub you the wrong way. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater! Read the whole book and let all ideas soak a while. It will help you develop opinions for what you will and won't support, whether or not you agree with Miller. ...more info
- 3 out of 6 dead ideas still breathing
Matt Miller would portray himself as an unapologetic centrist, non-partisan, unencumbered by the burdens of ideology. An eminently reasonable policy wonk, if you will. But he does adopt the ideology of the technocrat. The technocrat believes in the power of science and reason to mediate political compromise and find out "what works." Voters demand competence and this the technocrat promises. By now we should know this is the ultimate "dead idea."
Mr. Miller numbers six Dead Ideas: 1) each generation can expect a rising standard of living; 2) free trade is always good; 3) employer-provided healthcare benefits; 4) tax rates are too high; 5) local school finance; and 6) free market outcomes are just and fair.
Of these, his technocratic arguments can possibly affirm only two (local school finance and employer provided health care), with a fair philosophical argument for a third (free market outcomes are just and fair). On the other three he plays victim to his own dead ideas.
The technocratic approach is based on the social sciences, principally economics, political science, and sociology, which in turn are based on rudimentary psychology. Unfortunately, the behavioral assumptions of these pseudo-sciences provide a foundation of quicksand. We have discovered this to our own dismay with our current worldwide economic and financial crisis. Does anybody get a queasy feeling these `experts' have no idea what they're doing? This is the world of the technocrat: hubris based on self-delusion. For a more sober assessment of the limits of economics and finance I suggest reading Nicholas Taleb or Benoit Mandelbrot.
Whether future generations will experience a rising standard of living will depend on the policies we adopt and the way we define our standard of living. In other words, it's not a dead idea until and unless we kill it. Malthus claimed the same dead idea regarding population growth and look how wrong he was. Anyway, do we think this idea is dead for all classes across society? Does this mean poor youth have no hope of rising above their parents' station? I would hope not. If the poor of the world have better prospects for the future, why not the middle and upper classes? In fact, if we really think government is going to provide universal healthcare, we better hope the quality of care will be progressive rather than regressive. Advancing medical technologies almost assure it will be. The only question is will we be able to pay for it?
On free trade, no Ricardian ever claimed the benefits of free trade are distributed evenly. The adjustment costs must be managed politically and this is how free trade blossomed in the 20th century. Ricardo's trade theory shows how comparative advantage makes trade a win-win proposition in terms of national welfare. But the winners still have to compensate the losers. This is not a dead idea, it's a misspecified one.
On taxes, it seems disingenuous to make general statements about whether taxes must go up or down without specifying what taxes and how. Taxes are a favorite of the technocratic class because public revenues are needed to fund technocratic solutions. Mr. Miller is a fair-minded centrist here, shooting for the middle ground to define the pro-market, pro-government agenda, but it comes back again to how taxes affect incentives to create wealth and how well government spending fulfills the demands of voters that cannot be met by markets. From where we stand now I'd have to say markets could and do provide most of the public benefits that technocrats insist must be provided by government. Most retirement funding and healthcare has historically been provided by the private sector. And historically we have done very well until we decided to put macroeconomic management into the hands of the technocrats (re: The Fed, Treasury and Congress). Taking a wrong turn on entitlements now will not enhance our future quality of life, but detract from it.
I would most agree in supporting Mr. Miller's argument on the fairness of market outcomes. Like Machiavelli claimed 500 years ago, at least half of man's fate in life is due to Fortune and the other half to Virtu. Especially with our current version of casino capitalism, many of the superrich owe their outsized wealth to pure luck and influence, not intelligence, talent or hard work. But this is a philosophical and moral argument as much as an empirical one. It won't be resolved by technocratic claims.
Mr. Miller is a good writer and thinker, an honest, intelligent technocrat. Most readers will find his arguments reasonable and appealing. Unfortunately, that doesn't make them right. The school of technocrats should have been closed after Robert S. McNamara, the ultimate technocratic wunderkind who left behind a wake of destruction wherever he went. Technocrats are functionaries, they do not have the right tools to be designing the edifice for society.
- Don't Read This Book if You Fear Change
Don't read The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of the Old Ways of Thinking to Unleash a New Prosperity if you're seriously entrenched or otherwise fully invested in the "way things work". You won't like what Matt Miller has to say. It's revolutionary.
The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of the Old Ways of Thinking to Unleash a New Prosperity proposes that not only does this set of ideas way past their prime hold us back from experiencing prosperity and indeed, happiness - but by holding on to them, giving them endless mouth-to-mouth in a vain attempt at resuscitating them, we are creating an extremely dangerous financial, social and psychological situation for America.
On the other hand, if you're tired of "staying the course" as our mothership, the U.S.A., sinks deeper and deeper beneath the waves of conventional wisdom, than this book is a MUST read for you.
The most frightening messages The Tyranny of Dead Ideas imparts are the simple truths - you know the ones our political and business leaders shield us po' citizens from, on the basis that little old us "can't handle the truth". In actuality it is our "leaders" who can't handle the truth, heck the rest of us are primed for a healthy dose of CHANGE aren't we? The truths are basically this - the world is a vastly different place than it was in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. And its about time we stop trying to live in the past, touting Miller's dead ideas and praying for a miracle - it ain't coming.
Miller deftly explains the origins of each dead idea - how it came to be written in stone, why it is no longer viable, and also how it needs to change in order to ensure the future of this country and its citizens. He also proposes a series of "Tomorrow's Destined Ideas" which reads like a useful, do-able instruction manual that every elected politician ought to have a copy of.
But its not just the politicos that have to start to rearrange their thinking - it is all of us. This just isn't the post WWII boom time anymore. We have to look at the world differently. Technology, globalization, the world is shrinking fast and our - at times - overfed American egos are running out of room.
I recommend reading The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of the Old Ways of Thinking to Unleash a New Prosperity - in fact, I recommend everyone over 20 years old read this book. It will help to understand why as a nation we are suffocating under our own weight, what we can - all of us - do about it, and why we have to start doing things differently right now. Read it to know why this set of dead ideas - some of which define us as Americans - must be put to rest in order to save our country. You may not like what you read, but it will arguably be the cold, hard truth....more info
- A Good Think, but a Hard Sell
I've just finished my second pass through Tyranny, a great read with a lot to think about. Clearly Miller's ideas are sound, but it's going to be a hard sell. He probably should have called it The Tyranny of Political Inertia.
Still, a valuable book for positioning one's self for the future with a horizon of a decade or more. ...more info
- Right Answers, Lots of Wrong Reasoning
Miller tells us that America's economy is about to face its most severe test in nearly a century, thanks to global competition and rapid technology change. Our leaders, however, are doing next to nothing to prepare us, thanks to a set of "Dead Ideas" about how a modern economy should work. These include: 1)free trade is "good" no matter how many people it hurts, 2)employers should pay a central role in the provision of health coverage, 3)taxes hurt the economy, 4)"local control" of schools is essential, and 5)people tend to end up, in economic terms, where they deserve to be.
Miller disagrees that taxes hurt the economy, pointing out that we have almost $60 trillion of unfunded promises for Social Security, Medicare, and other programs, plus a need to rescue the banking system, insure the uninsured, develop clean energy, and rebuild our infrastructure. All good points.
As for free trade being good, Miller tells us that economists in both parties tell us that free trade is "good for the country" because the benefits to some Americans outweigh the losses suffered by others. Miller's objection is having economists being in charge of weighing the interests of one set of Americans vs. another.
A much more REAL problem with free trade, however, is that it's a serious net loss for the U.S. - $677 billion in 2008. Thus, ceasing trade would would restore a large portion (possibly all) of the NET job losses. In addition, we would no longer need to contend with financing large trade deficits or worry about where they're held, retain our self-sufficiency in the event of hostile foreign developments, and also continue to develop manufacturing skills and resources.
As for education, Miller claims everyone agrees education is key to improving future living standards, yet our financing of schools through local control is shockingly inequitable. Two problems: 1)The main cause of declining real incomes in the U.S. is our inability to compete with other nations paying eg. $100-150/month for 60+ hour work-weeks. 2)Miller is implicitly assuming more money benefits educational outcomes. Not true - decades of steadily increasing real-dollar/pupil funding, international comparisons, and reams of education research on the impact of reducing class size, more preschool, increasing teacher education, etc. show that there is essentially no sustained benefit. The real problem with local control is that it creates enormous administrative waste and dilute accountability for outcomes.
Finally, I agree with Miller that people do not end up where they deserve, in economic terms - too much income today is acquired through abuse of power (eg. CEOs now earning 400X+ the income of the average worker - even when the firm loses money or goes bankrupt. Lobbying and "knowing the right people" is another major determinant. And as for businesses funding health care, the problem with that is that it makes exports less competitive vs. other nations where health care is nationalized (eg. Britain, France, Germany) or a personal responsibility (eg. China, Japan)....more info
- Lightweight liberal thinking in a pretty package
Credit some savvy marketing mind for conjuring a catchy title like "Tyranny of Dead Ideas", perhaps the author or an agent or a publisher. The title is a smooth coating to help readers swallow a rather bitter pill of coming economic stagnation, along with a superficial economics lesson combined with trend analysis and some political observations. There is not much new thinking in this book. Overall the book may be most helpful as a way to prepare Americans for a diminished, bleaker future.
The book's premise? We can do smart things, but the "dead ideas" are in the way; ditch these ideas, and a bright future spreads before us like a magic highway of prosperity. The nifty title, in one sense, suggests to spendthrift Americans that there's an easy way out of our mess. Just get rid of the "things we think we know", writes author Matt Miller, a supposed "leading political and business thinker", and poof -- we'll be fine. But we all know the box we're in ain't so easy to escape.
What is Mr. Miller's prescription for America? He wants to restrict free trade, increase taxes, nationalize healthcare and education, get employers out of health coverage. Sound familiar? It's a socialist & liberal prescription for America that we're probably going to get anyway because Democrats control government. Mr. Miller lists forces such as (1) "white collar anxiety" as higher up jobs are increasingly exposed to competition from hungry, well-educated Indians and Chinese via the Internet; (2) corporations dumping expensive healthcare for employees and pension funding; (3) not enough money for aging boomer retirees; (4) extreme inequality (numerous authors such as Kevin Phillips have been chronicling this for years).
There's a difference between free trade (benign & helpful) and globalization (possibly harmful), in his view. Free trade allocates resources efficiently, according to his reading of Adam Smith, so people gravitate towards what they're good at. But he sees globalization as free trade with a twist -- not only do goods and services move about, but productive capacity shifts as well, so entire factories are transported overseas, and this can be harmful. The bottom line, he argues, is that there is "no guarantee that the net affect of change will be good for the US as a whole." American firms have both a fiduciary duty to shareholders as well as a duty to America and he contrasts American economic policy with India and China which, he asserts, have a "national business agenda", citing work by economists Gomory & Baumol. In a hypothetical example, a worker may lose $5 if his job is offshored, but a consumer may gain $6 from lower-priced goods, so the net effect is beneficial for the economy as a whole -- although clearly not beneficial for the worker who loses his $5. He asks: who wins? And he suggests that the globalized economy is better IF the worker is somehow compensated for the loss of a job. But this doesn't happen in today's economy, and there's some truth to this, perhaps, but I don't think it's this simple.
While I'm not an economist, I bet a free enterprise advocate would see the supposed distinction between free trade and globalization as superfluous and his example as rigged, with $6 slightly higher than $5. An alternative example could easily be cooked up -- a $5 loss for a worker may bring about a $12 benefit to a consumer. Now this arithmetic changes the dynamic significantly. Clearly there's a need for more astute economic analysis here. The world is complex. History and economics have shown time and again how free trade benefits everybody in the long run, and how tariffs and trade barriers tariffs can cripple commerce. Some think the US Depression lasted longer than necessary because of such restrictions, and we're at a point now where government may restrict trade sharply as a response to economic conditions. And I can point to counter-examples in which Japanese auto makers built plants inside the United States which hire American workers. It's more efficient for Toyota and Honda and Nissan to build cars here than in Japan; isn't this a beneficial aspect of globalization? And, in this case, foreign firms shifted productive capacity TO America.
Mr. Miller describes other supposedly dead ideas which are more accurately described as trends. One idea is that "your company should take care of you" regarding healthcare and pensions. This is happening naturally whether we like it or not. Medical care is so expensive that firms are being forced to drop insurance; further, national healthcare is already part of the Democratic agenda. Pension security doesn't make sense in today's world because workers shift jobs so often. Another supposedly dead idea is "kids will earn more than we do"; again, not a dead idea, but a realistic and unfortunate assessment of the future, and the author deserves some credit for talking about a subject which we're loathe to acknowledge. Downward mobility is a fact of life, and by understanding this, perhaps we can help prepare our kids for a tighter, bleaker future, and teach them that economic weakness is not worthlessness. As individuals and as a society, "we've been running the economy a bit like a giant Ponzi scheme, gambling on better days tomorrow to make good on unsustainable borrowing today." He's right; but this isn't new thinking.
Mr. Miller claims another dead idea is that "taxes hurt the economy and they're always too high". He argues that raising taxes may be beneficial for the economy. And I don't think he's done his homework here. I think most economists will assert that the power to tax is like a brake pedal on any economy -- pressing it slows it down. The relation is very direct. The question is whether it's worth slowing down the economy with redistributive taxes to help the less fortunate. My thinking is American history alternates cyclically between periods of rapid economic growth in which inequality becomes sharper, and slower economic growth in which the middle class wealth is restored. The problem is that the winds of economic change are no longer blowing towards North America, but straight to Asia, and there's not much that can be done about this.
Mr. Miller thinks America should control schools at the national level, citing nations like Singapore and others which have imposed high standards and hired good teachers. He blames America's abysmal educational record on local control. I was not convinced by his arguments here. This seems too complex of an issue to be raised without substantive supporting arguments. Thinkers like Tocqueville favored local control of government because the distance between deciders and users was less, so Tocqueville would have favored local school boards.
One editing note: Mr. Miller wrote "As Lincoln famously noted..." Please, "famously" should NOT be used as an adverb! Kevin R. C. Gutzman (author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution") uses it too, unfortunately; excellent writers (like Dana D. Nelson, author of the brilliant "Bad For Democracy") do not.
So how can we cope with a bleaker future? He argues technology can help somewhat to offset the coming reality of fewer high paying jobs, writing that "only better living can save sagging paychecks". And his analysis ignores areas I think are vital to American prosperity, in particular substantive non-partisan political reform and prevention of crime, tyranny, and foreign terrorism. In short, the political process is broken, gridlocked by pointless partisanship, corrupt (over 90% of incumbent congresspersons are re-elected). The foreign policy architecture is absurd. And people are not citizens but rather consumers, workers, investors. The whole idea of citizenship needs to be explored. If there is a real "dead idea" causing tyranny, it's that the United States Constitution is so perfect and flawless that we can't even think about amending it in serious ways, possibly by a Constitutional Convention; but here people are blinded by loyalty to a document which was written several hundred years ago.
Overall, not a ground-breaker but a snapshot glimpse of current trends, a cheap present in a pretty package, not much new thinking but a rehash of liberal & socialist solutions with a clever title.
Thomas W. Sulcer
author of "Common Sense II: How to Prevent the Three Types of Terrorism" (Amazon)
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