Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Age of Stalemate

The language Ron Nate used to open his recent column in the Post Register helps illustrate why Americans seem to be more polarized than ever.

“Truthful economists admit that minimum wages reduce work hours, restrict growth, impinge liberty and are never the stimulus they're thought to be,” he wrote.

Nate, a professor of economics at Brigham Young University-Idaho, essentially asserts that there is an obvious right answer when it comes to the minimum wage, that he knows what it is, and that anyone who disagrees with him is not being truthful. There is no room in those assertions for the possibility that highly educated, thoughtful and truth-seeking economists can honestly arrive at different conclusions.

Welcome to the Age of Stalemate.

The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business recently polled a panel of 38 economists it considers among the country’s “elite.” It asked whether those polled agreed or disagreed with this statement: “Raising the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour would make it noticeably harder for low-skilled workers to find employment.”


The results weren’t exactly conclusive; 34 percent agreed, 24 percent were uncertain and 32 percent disagreed. Not a single respondent “strongly” agreed or disagreed. While the question isn’t precisely the issue argued by Nate, one must assume that he would have a strong position on the matter and would assert that any economist disagreeing with him is not truthful. In this case that would include all 38 elite economists surveyed because they all waffled.

The firmness of Nate’s position isn’t the issue. The issue is the assertion, which we should assume is what he teaches in his classroom, that any economist who disagrees with him (at least when it comes to the minimum wage) is not truthful instead of having honestly arrived at a different conclusion.

Today the arts of political compromise and honest intellectual debate are nearly lost, replaced by certitude often found in people who take positions based more on ideology than rigorous investigation. Ideologues are to the Age of Stalemate what intellectuals were to the Age of Enlightenment.

Imagine what would have happened if our Founders and Framers had adopted a similarly hard line. For starters, we’d all be speaking the King’s English, because the revolution could never have happened. We most certainly wouldn’t have come up with a Constitution.

In the Age of Stalemate, compromise is a dirty word, debate is merely an opportunity to grandstand and “crossing the aisle” is tantamount to consorting with the enemy. It would have been a simple matter for Nate to have suggested that his studies led him to a particular conclusion without calling anyone who disagrees with him a liar. But we don’t do that anymore.

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