A Unified Theory of Conservative Crankery Isn’t So Hard

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Paul Krugman is musing about conservative crankdom:

Notice that the ludicrous claim that most of the revenue effects of huge tax cuts would be offset by higher growth comes from economists who, like Jeb!, are very much establishment figures — but who evidently find that the partisan requirement that they support voodoo outweighs any fear of damage to their professional reputations.

While the intellectual implosion of the GOP is obvious, however, it’s less obvious what is driving it….The thing is, there isn’t anything comparable on the other side. You can find cranky individuals on the left, but mainstream Democratic politicians don’t feel the need to support, say, extreme anti-GMO positions. There are interest groups with a lot of influence on Democratic politics, like teachers’ unions, but supporting bad economic theories that serve their interests isn’t a litmus test for establishment politicians.

All of this leads to a further question, which is why the GOP is the party of apparatchiks and cranks. I don’t yet have a deep answer.

I don’t know that I’d overthink this. Krugman points to two varieties of economic crankery—tax-cut fever and inflation paranoia—but I don’t think there’s any big mystery there. As Krugman points out, supply-side tax nonsense is obviously driven by the desires of rich people. And I think inflation paranoia comes from the same place. It’s a bit of a mystery why rich people are so worried about inflation, but they are.

Other subjects are similar. The claim that global warming is a hoax is obviously driven by the desire not to address global warming, which would require offending the interests of lots of rich business donors. Anti-evolution crankery is a little different, but it’s basically harmless and it doesn’t offend powerful interests, so there’s no reason not to play along with it.

There are other bits of crankery here and there that are driven by base politics, but in the end, the versions of conservative crankery that really matter nearly always come down to pandering to the rich at all costs—or, at the very least, doing nothing to offend them. Whatever else you can say about the Republican Party, it knows who’s in charge and it always has. This is starting to create some seismic faults that are likely to cause them a lot of angst in the near future, but for now, it’s the wealthy uber alles.

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