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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Is Robert Samuelson an Ideologue?

Is Robert Samuelson an Ideologue?

Monday, 07 October 2013 03:53

That's the question that readers will inevitably ask after reading his column complaining that ideology is responsible for the government shutdown. Samuelson tells readers:

"A crucial difference between interest-group and ideological politics is what motivates people to join. For interest-group politics, the reason is simple — self-interest. People enjoy directly the fruits of their political involvement. Farmers get subsidies; Social Security recipients, checks. By contrast, the foot soldiers of ideological causes don’t usually enlist for tangible benefits for themselves but for a sense that they’re making the world a better place. Their reward is feeling good about themselves.

"I’ve called this “the politics of self-esteem” — and it profoundly alters politics. For starters, it suggests that you don’t just disagree with your adversaries; you also look down on them as morally inferior."

Let's see, does Robert Samuelson get direct tangible benefits when he harangues readers about the need to cut Social Security and Medicare because the country is projected to face a growing debt to GDP ratio in a decade or does this just make him feel good about himself?

That's a tough one that we can leave folks to spend the day contemplating. But just to remind everyone of the facts of the situation, the projections, which incorporate little of the recent slowdown in health care costs (in other words, if the slowdown continues, we don't have a problem) imply that the deficit will be somewhat larger in a decade than is consistent with a stable debt to GDP ratio.

If that projection proves accurate, there have been many times in the past in which the country has made far larger adjustments in its budget to deal with deficits (e.g. the Bush deficit reduction package in 1990 and the Clinton package in 1993), so it is hard to see why anyone would get so bent out of shape about the issue now. Since we are losing close to $1 trillion a year in lost output now and seeing millions of people have their lives ruined due to unemployment or underemployment, Samuelson's deficit concerns seem a bit like obsessing over the need to repaint the kitchen when the house is on fire.

So, is he an ideologue?

Comments (4)Add Comment
Are Lemmings with Suicide Vests Ideologues or a Self-Interest Group?
written by Last Mover, October 07, 2013 6:55

Samuelson may be right. At some point the message from Tehadis is clear that the village must be destroyed to save it and they're happy to go down with the ship if that's what it takes to get their way. It's the ultimate manifestation of USA, love it or leave it.

Then again, consider that the Tehadis themselves have turned on the 1% in many ways because they discovered they can win elections by going around the usual campaign coffers that fund the tweedle dees and tweedle dums of entrenched politicians who mechanically recite scripted messages against each other on cue, then quitely reside to the back room to join hands and write up yet another bill to take down the middle and lower class for the benefit of the 1%.

So do Tehadis do this because they feel good about themselves and their values, standing at the patriotic ready to lose all things of material value in the name of ideological value?

Or were the Tehadis co-opted with big lobby money behind the scenes after their political power was recognized, and now they have crossed the line and are being rebuked by some of the same powers that be for going too far and endangering the real gravy train that must survive so the 1% can survive?

Either way, rest assured the either-or, zero-sum mindset of Robert Samuelson and the like will never explore such possibilities. The world is made up first, of designated makers or takers with nothing in between. That some choose to pursue ideology over self interest or vice versa is secondary, like choosing tea over coffee.

Ideology doesn't change one twit whether they are still making or taking from a self interest point of view does it Robert Samuelson, because it's about doing the right thing isn't it.
Is there a difference...
written by Richard, October 07, 2013 10:50
between ideologue and id10t?
self interest AND ideology
written by William Osterberg, October 07, 2013 12:11
The presumption that those who act out of self-interest are NOT ideologues is surely mistaken. In contemporary America there are many, usually on the right-side of the political spectrum, that believe that a society in which everyone pursues self-interest is one in which the greater collective good is achieved. Obviously this is related to a perverse interpretation of laissez-faire.
For such people the belief (thought?) that their actions are consistent with the greater good is a powerful rationalization for doing whatever works for them individually (or for a narrow circle of people around them).
ain't too much sadder than the tears of a clown
written by watermelonpunch, October 07, 2013 8:00
People enjoy directly the fruits of their political involvement.
Social Security recipients, checks.

Can we take a moment to consider this one?

I don't even know where to begin, but this just breathtakingly ridiculous a thing to say, in so many ways.

Please tell me I'm not the only one thinking this.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.