Sarah Palin: No Experts Need Apply; Joshua Livestro Has the Whole Economics Thing Covered for Me, Thanks

If you’re wondering how irrational, unpredictable, and volatile a Sarah Palin presidency would be, look no further. News is that she has retained, not an academically trained economist or financial expert, but a right-wing Dutch newspaper columnist (his name is Joshua Livestro) to advise her on all matters related to Europe’s economy and financial crisis. Livestro is a big fan of Palin’s, and has contributed money to one of her ridiculous websites. You can thus reasonably infer Livestro’s state of mind (that of a total whack-job). Conservative David Frum responds with disbelief (as should we all):

The potential collapse of the Euro is one of the most urgent and frightening economic crises on planet Earth. Sarah Palin of course is a likely candidate for president of the United States. As such, she has access to the nation’s and the world’s leading economic minds. The president of the European Central Bank? Available.  Any of the governors of the Federal Reserve? At her service. The economics faculties of every university in the United States? Ready to take the next flight to Anchorage. Heads of the bonds desks at every American bank and financial firm? That conversation might have to be conducted by telephone rather than in person, but still easily arranged. Prime ministers of Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Greece? Accessible. Frankly, it’s hard for me to imagine any expert in any subject who wouldn’t feel it an imperative public duty to talk to Gov. Palin if asked. Instead she turns to a journalist with no formal training in economics and no experience in public finance.

This is the kind of anti-intellectual crank that the Republican Party stands at the ready to promote to the nation’s steering wheel in 2012. And if this is who she’ll call on to learn more about economics and finance, can you imagine who she’ll seek advice from in her run-up to a war with Iran?

It’s a complex world. Having an intellectual president like Barack Obama helps the nation navigate it. And having a non-intellectual president is tolerable so long as that president respects education, expertise, and critical thinking.

But an anti-intellectual president? In the 21st century, it’s a formula for tempting collective suicide. As someone with small children, I hope a Forest Gump simpleton like Sarah Palin never achieves the presidency of the United States.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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10 Responses to Sarah Palin: No Experts Need Apply; Joshua Livestro Has the Whole Economics Thing Covered for Me, Thanks

  1. TomH says:

    As noted economists assured us with great aplomb in early 2009 that the U.S. unemployment rate would absolutely remain below 8%, one wonders whether it might not be wiser to turn to other sources for economic news and analysis.

    • santitafarella says:

      Tom,

      So it’s your position that the next president should surround him or herself with economic advisors who have no advanced degrees in economics, is that right?

      And I think you’ve set up a straw man. I doubt very seriously that most academic economists speak in absolute (your word) terms about the predictions they might offer. I would guess that where economists made such predictions, they offered them in terms of probability. And where polls were taken of economists, there must have been a number (even if in a minority) who thought the unemployment rate would go higher than 8%.

      And by your logic, other complex systems in the world should also be outsourced in their management to non-experts (such as car manufacturing). You’re essentially offering a Luddite view of what it means to live in the modern world.

      —Santi

      • TomH says:

        Santi,

        I give different degrees of credence to those who create real products vs. those who make untestable and/or false predictions. Obama’s blaming the economists he listened to for the unexpectly large rate of unemployment, so my argument was hardly a straw man. You can accuse me of some hyperbole, perhaps, but not for setting up a straw man. My argument is strong, even with the hyperbole.

        If you need to know technology, talk to actual engineers in industry, not academic researchers.

        My position is hardly luddite. I am not very impressed with academia, but that doesn’t make me a luddite.

        If you want to know about the state of the economy, listen to a bunch of earnings conference calls from companies in a variety of industries. Read their balance sheets, cash flow statements, and earnings statements. Then you’ll get a pretty good idea about the economy.

      • santitafarella says:

        Tom,

        Seriously, your faux pragmatism is anti-intellectual. A global human society that has any chance of prospering is rational and efficient. This means that each citizen selects one job (that is, one specialized activity) that they do for renumeration. This is Adam Smith 101. And this rationalization and specialization occurs on both the pragmatic and intellectual levels. This is what it means to have a job—and to pick a singular activity or profession to devote your money-earning to. Some people plug into the global economy as waitresses, others as small business owners, and still others as professional economists.

        It’s completely ridiculous to imagine that the modern world can do without academic economists theorizing and working on theories about how complex economic systems work. And a president has to know what kind of world she or he actually lives in, which is one rationalized by specializations (including in matters of economics). For all the right’s profession of capitalism, its populist political advocates misunderstand the kinds of specialized structures that capitalist rationalization of human work produces. Economics is one of the great human specialist professions, and something a person can be proud to have devoted themselves to. It has elements very near to science.

        But the right’s dismissive maligning of economists, and the very notion that intellectual specialization is “elitist” and insufficiently pragmatic is to completely misunderstand the Adam Smithian world that we have evolved (for the better, on balance) over the past two centuries. A president who imagines herself surrounded by populist experts dishing out non-specialist advice on economics and foreign policy is akin to a regression to innocence. Sarah Palin presidency would be akin to giving the country over to Mr. Magoo. But it wouldn’t be funny.

        What I find most ironic here is that Palin, the Alaskan non-specializer, is channeling idealist hippie impulses from the right. In the 1960s the hippie left was dismissive of capitalist specialization as well, speaking of alienation and missing the forest for the trees. Hippies had innocent notions of insularity and dropping out of the evolving global system. Palin, having internalized this part of American culture, is a right wing Thoreau. Her early move to Alaska—the wildest part of America—and her wilderness innocence has morphed into right wing evangelicalism and populism (as opposed to left wing environmentalism). But the energy of her movement is born of nostalgia for a world that is never coming back (if it ever really existed in the first place); a world that was far simpler and more insular than the one evolving today. Mothers stayed home and were generalists (dishwashers, children attenders, cooks, clothing manufacturers, etc); dad covered some pragmatic specialization (did one specialized job in which he worked with his hands, etc).

        But the 21st century reality is that Adam Smithian specialization has tempted moms out of the generalist home in the production of greater wealth and efficiency, and all this rationalization of work has made for complex bureaucracies (educational, governmental, and corporate) to manage it all. The rebellion of the right is a rebellion of innocence; a regression from what it means to be a serious grown-up in a changing world.

        I don’t blame them for this impulse. I feel it in myself all the time (as a liberal it tugs at me in the writings of Thoreau). Maybe there’s a balance. There must be a balance. But Sarah Palin is not that balance.

        —Santi

  2. Pingback: Adam Smith Specialization v. Sarah Palin Generalization | Prometheus Unbound

  3. Colin Hutton says:

    Santi :

    Are you completely confident that Frum’s article is not intended to be ironic? After all, the GFC happened despite all the experts he cites as now being available to Palin.

    And what about the “ Prime ministers of Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Greece? Accessible.” The very leaders under which those countries got into such extreme trouble that they are now referred to as the ‘pigs’. Would anyone be seriously advocating that Palin seek economic advice from them?

    -Colin

    • santitafarella says:

      Colin,

      No, I don’t think Frum is being ironic. And yes, you talk to people in the midst of a trauma and discover from them what mistakes they made and what they would have done differently. You, of course, would talk to those prime ministers.

      Economic experts should not be conflated with responsibility for the financial crisis. Instead, they understand the dynamics that made for the crisis and can offer sane and plausible adjustments for avoiding future debacles. They can also render sane advice on what to do in the near term.

      —Santi

  4. David says:

    a malignant tumor has been discovered somewhere in your body, let’s say on your liver.
    You’ll die for sure if it’s not carefully removed, along with surrounding tissues which might have cancerous cells in them.

    Who do you turn to? Some local oncological surgeon who has done this procedure a dozen times or the surgeon trained at M D Anderson or Harvard Med, the elite of surgeons for this kind of operation? Do you put your life in the hands of a competent but less tested surgeon or do you go for the best if you have that choice?

    Running this country takes the best and brightest. I’d not want a quitter, half-governor anywhere near the levers of power, particularly someone who has a thing against brainpower. That might appeal to those who either have intellect-envy or are simply unaware that a guy like himself is hardly qualified for dealing with complexities and dangerous outcomes if gross mistakes are made.

    • Colin Hutton says:

      David-

      I can’t disagree with anything you say. However, I do not accept that the medical/doctor analogy is useful or valid.

      Colin

  5. Colin Hutton says:

    Santi-

    I had followed your link and had read Frum’s article in full. It appeared highly improbable to me that it was ironic. So my comment here was a touch facetious. Apologies. However, it was an intentional continuation of my attacks, in previous posts, on the unwarranted credibility given to economists. I plan to continue to do so!

    Colin

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