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Jonathan Chait, Victor?

January 7, 2010

Here is Chait summarizing Manzi and Douthat’s rebuttal to his original critique of Manzi’s essay:

“Ultimately, absolute size of an economy matters,” [Manzi] writes in a response, “because economic clout represents the latent capacity for military and cultural power.” Likewise, Ross Douthat, whose column first brought Manzi’s piece to my attention, writes, “Manzi makes the sensible point that his essay (like my column, which quoted from it) was focusing on America’s position on the global stage as well as our domestic situation, and when it comes to global politics the sheer size of your economy — and not just your per capita wealth — matters a great deal.”

Is Manzi’s point “sensible”? Perhaps, but, as Chait goes on to explain, Manzi’s essay does not compare the absolute size of the European and American economies; it makes the “traditional right-wing argument that social democracy (and, by implication, the Obama agenda) inhibits economic growth.”
So Chait’s critique still stands.

I would add that, by shifting his argument from GDP per capita growth to the absolute size of an economy, Manzi introduces a new set of values for consideration. Liberals and conservatives alike agree that economic growth is necessary and desirable. But “latent capacity for cultural and military power” is a different matter altogether. It may, of course, be true that Europe is, as Douthat argues, a “beneficiary of the Pax Americana, and the outsize military spending that our overall economic size makes possible.” Douthat’s argument, however, pits social cohesion against the benefits of imperialism — whereas Manzi had originally contended that societies must balance social cohesion against innovation.

With respect to values, here are the options on the table: on the one side, economic growth and social cohesion; on the other, economic growth and “Pax Americana.”

So much for agonizing dilemmas!


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