Military Metaphors in Politics/Political Economy

My view on political discourse is that serious engagement is fundamentally Quixotic and pointless. Unfortunately, it often cannot be escaped, because three things I really do care about (economics, comedy and my personal finances) often require a moderate understanding of political happenings. I’m not happy about it, but them’s the breaks.

Anyway, the thing the I most dislike about political discourse is the exaggeration of the conflict in the debate. I think people do this to shake folks like myself out of our indifference so that we validate the discourse itself. These talking heads need an audience. Take military metaphors as an example.

One of the few commentators that I can stomach who spends a fair bit of time writing about the political economy is Arnold Kling. Today he wrote about a book called “The Battle” that outlines the “sides” various groups of people are on and, perhaps, talks about who will “win”. Arnold divides the world into statists and free enterprisists and is ready to “fight”:

The battle is to dislodge the statists. I think that Brooks raises a red herring when he argues that those of us on the free enterprise side are the majority. I am, like Bryan, skeptical that we are the majority. Moreover, even if we were in the minority, I would not wish to concede the battle.

I find it tiresome, though I agree with much of Arnold’s view of the world, so I suppose I can’t be worse off for his efforts.

In the post, he refers to Scott Sumner who once made the claim that “Presidents don’t go to war, countries go to war” and then controversially said that he thinks Al Gore would have invaded Iraq. That thought really opened up my mind, actually.

I think the result of “The Battle” is meaningless. We overemphasize individuals’ and even smallish groups’ effect on society over any time scale (and, yes, ANYONE who is consistently politically engaged, no matter what “side”, is a part of a small group – most people simply do not care. Look at voter turnout!). The will of a society is a reactionary aggregate phenomenon and no individual or group of individuals is, barring the use of military force, powerful enough to seriously effect anything long enough to matter.