DeLong chants ‘USA! USA!’

16/12/2011 § 2 Comments

I read Brad DeLong’s blog regularly. He links to interesting material, his analysis helps me think about macroecon (even when I don’t agree with him), and I learn about economic history.

My utility from reading his blog just dropped.

Today, he says:

The United States remains, on balance–adding up along the political, social, and personal dimensions–the freest tracking place on the globe, not least because it is so big that if you find social pressure from your neighbors obnoxious you can move and get different neighbors without losing your linguistic-social-cultural capital.


Two personal anecdotes:

#1. When we first moved to NZ, I was the househusband. My baby got sick with one of those nondescript virus-y things that causes first-time parents to panic and second-time-round parents to think, ‘oh no, not again’. I called the local doctor’s office. The receptionist said, ‘I’m sorry, but we can’t fit you in until this afternoon.’ This afternoon? Hallelujah and choirs of angels! She apologised for a same-day appointment! In California, a nurse tried to diagnose my wife over the phone because it would take two weeks to arrange an appointment in person. So, freedom from worry and pain? Freedom to receive medical treatment? NZ looks pretty good.

#2. When I was a university student in France, someone called in a bomb threat. As Breton separatists were known to explode bombs from time to time, the police took it seriously. I arrived at the campus to find all the students at a perimeter and police searching the building. The students were incensed. Police weren’t allowed on French campuses. Bomb threat or no, they had no right to be in the students’ building. Those students had an amazing sense of innate rights, of freedom from overreaching authority.

Now, the US is about to sign indefinite detention into law (it should be noted, ‘oh no, not again’ — see, Lincoln, suspension of habeas corpus; Roosevelt, Japanese internment; and McCarthy, Internal Security Act). The President is being given the power to issue lettres du cachet, a hated example of the power of the absolute monarchy in pre-Revolution France. In the league table of ‘freest countries’, I think this moves the US down a few ranks.

If you actually get out in the world and see how other people live, you discover that the US does some things well and others things poorly. If you read the data and try to imagine how life is for people who aren’t tenured professors at top universities, you discover that, actually, the US is more corrupt, has less economic mobility, and even ranks lower for starting a business than many other places.

The best closing for today is a quotation: ‘Patriotism is an arbitrary veneration of real estate above principles.’


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