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Manzi vs. Chait, Round Three

January 8, 2010

The Manzi/Chait controversy just won’t die. After perusing Manzi’s latest rebuttal, I left him a comment, cross-posted here. (Only in the blogosphere is it possible to plagiarize oneself plagiarizing oneself.)

Here’s the rub, as I see it: Chait is right that Manzi has turned the essay into something it is not (by introducing new metrics for economic output); at the same time, Manzi is right that Chait has turned the essay into something it is not (by turning an aside into Manzi’s central claim). The essay, in short, has become something it is not.

Chait, rejecting Manzi’s assumption that social cohesion and economic growth are necessarily at odds, is not prepared to accept — or, for that matter, even consider — the central claim of the essay, which is, as Manzi now explains, that “the advantages that less regulated markets can provide . . . does not lead to the conclusion that we can or should continue on the deregulation-oriented path on which we find ourselves without considering the balancing consideration of social cohesion.”

Manzi never intended to provide an empirical demonstration that “less regulated markets tend to provide faster economic growth under many conditions than more regulated markets” — a claim that right-wing readers of National Affairs would surely take for granted (however mistakenly). Chait turns an aside — Manzi’s comparison of the American and European economies — into the essay’s thesis.

Chait’s critique of Manzi’s revisionism nevertheless holds true. Manzi may not have intended to establish his premise that wealth redistribution inhibits economic growth. Yet, if Manzi is unable to making a convincing case for this position when challenged, the essay falls apart. Here’s why: Manzi cannot shift his measurement of economic output from per capita GDP to the total size of an economy without, at the same time, shifting the values at stake from economic growth to military and cultural might (see my previous post for more on this).

Is Manzi prepared to make the argument that America must balance social cohesion with the imperatives of imperialism?

Update: Apparently, he is. Here is Manzi’s reply to my comment: “[American imperialism] was outside the editorial scope of Yuvals’ magazine, but I agree that this is a crucial issue, and one that the current political process is not dealing with. The foreign policy element of my recommendations is ‘Avoid Empire’. I intend to get into this much more in the book, and hopefully in an article before the book comes out.”

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