Ed Driscoll

Infighting on the Pages of the Washington Post

A staple rule of journalism is “Don’t **** where you eat.” (You can fill in the asterisks with whatever four-letter word you like.) At the New York Times, Maureen Dowd isn’t going to disagree with Paul Krugman, who isn’t going to disagree with Thomas Friedman. It just isn’t done, both out of professional courtesy, and basic survival instinct. The same is true in television journalism — when conservatives pointed out that Dan Rather had cooked the books during the scandal known as Rathergate, his then-fellow over-the-air nightly news anchors Tom Brokaw and the late Peter Jennings both circled the wagons to defend their fellow dino-journalist from those whom they perceived as rabble conservative upstarts.

Last year at the Washington Post, Ezra Klein and his fellow Juicebox Mafiosos at the Post and Slate — still owned by the Post at the time — did attack superstar journalist Bob Woodward on his home turf. The reason was that Woodward dared to point out that the Sequester was the Obama administration’s idea, thereby destroying a key leftwing talking point: that rightwing bomb throwers wanted to shut down the government.  (Only inside the Beltway and on the JournoList is shutting down the government seen as a bad thing.)

But even with that precedent at the Washington Post set by the left, it’s still rather surprising to see the libertarian-themed Volokh Conspiracy blog, having only recently taken the Boeing to become ensconced at the Post, attacking another longtime Post grandee, E.J. Dionne, in a post titled “Dionne v. Hayek,” by Volokh conspirator Todd Zywicki:

Last week, E.J. Dionne Jr. penned a column in the Washington Post that blamed adherence to the tenets of the Austrian school of economics for gridlock in Washington. Well, sort of. He seemed to say that Austrian economics simultaneously was an obscure set of ideas of which no one has heard (except Ron Paul) and is yet powerful enough to provide the rallying cry for the Republican Party in Washington. More important, he says that Austrian economics is troublesome as a practical matter by blocking activist-government Keynesian-style interventions and deficit spending that would spur the economy and bring about greater wealth redistribution, but Austrian economics is wrong as a theoretical and historical matter. (As an aside, listening to the recording of Ron Paul’s speech, it doesn’t sound like he says “We’re all Austrians now.”  He says, “I’m waiting for the day when we can say ‘We’re all Austrians now.’”).

Dionne’s column is problematic in two ways.  First, he completely misrepresents the central argument of Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, which seems to be his central target. Second, he fails to accurately reflect the debate over the historical record of Keynesianism during the Great Depression and in particular the “stagflation” episode of the 1970s, which shattered the Nixon-era consensus on the wisdom of Keynesian economics.

Read the whole thing, if only to get to what is perhaps the most damning sentence in Zywicki’s blogpost. As he notes, “it isn’t evident from the column that Dionne has actually read The Road to Serfdom itself, as opposed to just reading commentators on the book who have also fundamentally misunderstood the book.”

As Stacy McCain quips in response, “Liberals Hate Books They Don’t Read:”

Margaret Thatcher famously remarked that the problem with socialism is that, “sooner or later, you run out of other people’s money”. However, we might add, liberals never run out of bad arguments for failed policies.

Meanwhile, Russ Roberts of Cafe Hayek wonders what Dionne has been smoking:

I guess he forget that $820 billion “stimulus” spending. That spending somehow got through the political system despite the obsession conservatives have with Austrian economics. Keynes is dead but somehow, between 2009 and 2012, federal deficits were over a $1 trillion every year. We’ll see about 2013, it may be less. That government spending as a percentage of GDP was only 25% in 2009 and above 24% in 2010 and 2011–the highest levels since WWII–was evidently due to lawmakers being in thrall to Austrian thinking.

If only it were so.

And as Glenn Reynolds adds, “Even with Hayek dead for decades, Dionne is still overmatched.” But what would Hayek himself think about all this? Perhaps his 1975 comments (found via Ace) on leftwing dashboard saint John Maynard Keynes and his ignorance of basic economic principles help to answer that question:

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And what does Dionne think about being attacked in his own (virtual) pages? I have no idea, but I think we can all picture the steam shooting out of his ears. But assuming the Volokh Conspiracy aren’t ejected from the Boeing, congrats to new owner Jeff Bezos on allowing actual debate at what once a largely closed-loop system.