Hedgehog and the Fox
Sir Isaiah Berlin wrote a wonderful little book called The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy’s View of History. Here is a quick version of Berlin’s thesis.
‘A fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’. This fragment of a verse by Greek poet Archilochus describes the central thesis of Berlin’s masterly essay in which he underlines a fundamental distinction that exists in mankind–between those who are fascinated by the infinite variety of things (foxes) and those who relate everything to a central all-embracing system (hedgehogs).
I think our current election pits a hedgehog (Romney) versus a Fox (Obama). I think the libertarians who comment on this blog are hedgehogs. I think Bob Dylan is a fox and Louis Armstrong and Picasso and Susan Sontag and Martin Scorsese and Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerman are all foxes. I think Ron Paul is a hedgehog and Franklin Graham and Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum are hedgehogs. They see the world through a single lens, be it Austrian economics or fundamentalist religion.
But our world cannot accommodate hedgehogs, because “the infinite variety of things” is only exploding. The hedgehog is incapable of dealing with facts that contradict his world worldview. Take the whole inflation debate which our Libertarian correspondents have been telling us is coming down the pike at hyper speeds for the last four years, because the Treasury and the Fed are “printing money”. As Richard Duncan points out in his new bookThe New Depression: The Breakdown of the Paper Money Economy , that at the very point that Greenspan was unloosing the easy money, Globalization was causing “a 95% drop in the marginal cost of labor by bringing a billion people from the developing world into the global industrial workforce.”
How could you possibly have inflation in such a circumstance? Hayek is simply not able to account for this. So Ron Paul will never stop predicting hyper inflation and the suckers will never stop buying gold futures which PAY NO INTEREST.
Or take Paul Ryan’s insistence that an austerity budget like the Conservatives pushed through in Great Britain is the key to America’s future. Ryan continues to push his budget, which mimics the British one, despite the announcement this week that Britain has fallen back into a double dip recession.
Britain’s austerity experiment in particular has been judged by economists to have been ill-timed and poorly constructed at best. It is a reminder, in the consensus view, that the basic tenets of Keynesian economics – primarily, that government spending plays a key role in maintaining demand when the private sector is struggling in a severe financial crisis — remain as valid as ever.
So much for the hedgehogs. Never let facts get in the way of ideology.
But how are the foxes going to convince the country that their vision that we are at a Cambrian Moment–A time of radical evolutionary development–is a rational reaction to the end of the Interregnum. I am convinced that Liberals must embrace the experimentation that flows from Subsidiarity: the notion that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. David Brooks writing about Jim Manzi’s latest book Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society, notes that experimentation is the key to rethinking our politics.
Manzi wants to infuse government with a culture of experimentation. Set up an F.D.A.-like agency to institute thousands of randomized testing experiments throughout government. Decentralize policy experimentation as much as possible to encourage maximum variation.
Here once again we return to the idea of New Federalism. As you know, I have been wrestling with this idea for years without coming to a satisfactory conclusion. I think as the school year ends this becomes my summer project.