Bad Ideas That Will Never Die

030713-8(Image:CartoonArts International / The New York Times Syndicate)Three decades ago, when I went off for my year in the United States government, an old hand explained to me the nature of the job: it was mostly about fighting bad ideas. And these bad ideas, he went on to explain, were like cockroaches: no matter how many times you flush them down the toilet, they keep coming back. Lovely image, isn’t it? But I have been noticing a lot of cockroaches lately.

I recently gave a book talk at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which was actually a lovely event. But sure enough, there were people in the audience insisting that former Congressman Barney Frank, as part of a powerless Democratic minority in the House of Representatives, nonetheless somehow caused the recent housing bubble and the whole economic crisis; years of careful, evidence-based refutations from economists have made no impact at all on these people.

That said, I have to admit that I’m a bad person: after one questioner finished his peroration with “Am I wrong?,” I did kind of enjoy saying, “Yes, you’re wrong.”

And then there’s the “Keynesians said the stimulus would fix the economy, and it didn’t, so Keynes was wrong” argument — in a recent blog post the economist Dean Baker pointed us to commentary written in Politico by TV host Joe Scarborough on the subject, and carefully walked us through what we knew and when we knew it. But here’s an even easier takedown: just look at what I was writing in columns in January and February of 2009. What part of “the Obama plan just doesn’t look adequate to the economy’s need” is so hard to understand?

To paraphrase an old line about Vietnam, sometimes it seems to me like we haven’t spent four years discussing the response to economic crisis; we’ve spent one year discussing the crisis, four times over, with the discussion starting up each year as if nobody can remember or learn from what went before, and with constant repetition of the same old errors and fallacies.

Sometimes I get comments from people accusing me of repeating myself; no doubt I do make the same arguments multiple times. But that’s because people keep forgetting!

Memories of Bubble Denial Past

A further thought on the Barney-Frank-did-it view of the American housing crisis that has become G.O.P. orthodoxy, and was regurgitated by Senator Marco Rubio in his response to President Obama’s State of the Union address in February: at the time when evil liberals were supposedly forcing helpless bankers to lend during a housing bubble, leading to crisis, pretty much the very same people now claiming that it was all the government’s fault were vehemently denying that there was a bubble — and asserting that the only reason anyone even imagined that there might be a housing crisis looming was the malign impact of the biased liberal media.

It’s really pretty awesome.