Return of the 1950s

In putting it on Twitter, I was just rereading a recent post, in which I said, “I get the feeling that what the 1950s are to economic liberals– a supposed golden era that will surely never return– the 2000s will be to social liberals.”

The problem with that is that if Trump’s supporters get their way and high tariffs become a regular thing, the 1950s will in some limited degree return.

The 1950s were a unique time.  The world was still recovering from the destruction of World War II, leaving us the main supplier of finished goods for the world.  In other countries, the knowledge of manufacturing techniques was limited; they were not yet the competitors they now are.  But that decade was also before the effects of free trade on law.  International capital flows was one effect of globalization.  Even countries that did not, like England, try to prevent people from taking capital out of the country were not terribly friendly to international capital flows.  But law was also much more direct and ancient about trade: tariffs were much more common and better thought-of back then.  So were unions, which are in their essence a form of protectionism.

Even if anyone wanted to destroy the manufacturing capacity of the rest of the world, even if anyone could, and less still could be done to take away the rest of the world’s knowledge of manufacturing.  But free trade is very much on its heels right now.  No one has discussed restricting international flows of capital yet, since it’s too dry and Byzantine for populism, but it might happen.  If so, and if tariffs do return to their mid-century popularity, the circles of politics and economics in a Venn diagram of America will return toward the high degree of overlap they had in the 1950s.

And when that happens, the impact of votes upon economics will rise– and unions are likely to return to some degree.

Beware the legislative-educational complex

Instapundit links to an article about a large, long-term study showing that the effects of free pre-kindergarten for low-income children are mildly negative for educational accomplishment over time.  It sounds as though the study was thoroughly and properly done, which makes it of even greater-than-usual concern that the study’s authors had a terrible time getting their findings published.  They wrote,

“It is, of course, understandable that people are skeptical of results that do not confirm the prevailing wisdom, but the vitriol with which our work has been greeted is beyond mere scientific concern.  Social science research can only be helpful to policy makers if it presents findings openly and objectively, even when unwelcome.”

In other words, in a world of limited resources, it is vital for policymakers to avoid what does not work, lest the result be no time, money, energy or political capital left for what might.  Seems like a perfectly reasonable point, right?

But there’s no talking to the academics who freak out about this sort of thing.  Getting away from the inconvenience of practicality in their job results was why they fled into their ivory towers to begin with.  Permitting this sort of thing threatens their ability to preen themselves on their morality, and it threatens the real value of their service to the educational-legislative complex: to provide full employment for teachers, whose unions will then send the extra money they get from the public to the Democratic Party.