The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

The 1950s are calling — they want their theoretical debates back

May 12, 2011

Daniel Drezner takes another stab at the Brooks-Krugman-Winecoff-Drezner-Farrell dustup. I merely wish to make a few points:

  • Most voters are information specialists; they do not tend to specialize in the intricacies of policy debates. Thus, they are unlikely to know, for example, the actual distributional implications of the Bush-era tax cuts or understand the details of Iraq.
  • Many of the more engaged voters are partisans; they process information through the cues they receive from party spokespersons. This is why, for example, a conservative health-care plan rapidly morphed into radical socialism over a period of roughly two years.
  • Political elites, opinion leaders, and special interests know both of these facts, and they operate accordingly. Hence, while Dan is correct that TAARP received bipartisan support, he needs to ask why it became politicized along partisan lines. Or why it is that misleading cues predominate in political discourse. 

Dan doesn’t, as far as I can tell, disagree with the larger point that Henry and I make about the absurd character of many taken-for-granted mechanisms and assumptions in International Political Economy (IPE) — as well as significant branches of Security Studies. So I guess the “real world” stakes need to be dragged onto the table: whether or not our system of government is badly compromised by the asymmetric influence of various sectoral and special interests.

I didn’t use to think so, but I’m coming around to the view that it is. A significant chunk of what our political process accomplishes is the enablement of rent-seeking. And that’s all Brooks’ tirade against the influence of the demos amounts to in the end: a pseudo-intellectual justification for the extraction of greater rents by the powerful.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.