Economic ideology as backseat driving

I try to think of debates over governmental policy as being sort of like arguments over how to drive.

When driving, there are lots of complaints you can make as a backseat driver: e.g., depending on the conditions of the road, the obstacles ahead, and the needs of people in the car, and so on. If someone in the car is bleeding to death, then it may be reasonable to complaint that the car is going too slow; if, on the other hand, the driver is not very skillful or attentive, then it might be reasonable to advise against speeding. On this analogy, reasonable criticism has to be contextual. For instance, only a total weirdo would categorically say, “Hit the brakes!” in every context, unless they’re not in a hurry to go anywhere.

On this analogy, deficit spending is like hitting the gas, and balancing the budget is hitting the brakes. Saying “I’m a fiscal conservative” in politics is like saying you’re a Brakeist in cars. It isn’t a minimally intelligible policy position until you give a little rundown of things going on around you — the places you think we want to go, the needs of the people in the car, and the obstacles ahead, and so on.

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