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Anjan Mukherjee Named to Obama's Economic Policy Transition Team:

I am happy to note that my friend and Lexington High School classmate and debate teammate Anjan Mukherjee has been named to Barack Obama's transition team group on Economics and International Trade. Anjan is currently a managing director with the Blackstone Group, a major private equity firm.

Anjan is a very smart guy. He had probably the best academic record in the history of Lexington High up to that time, and was also a formidable debater (one of the top 10-20 in the country during our junior and senior years). Obviously, he has gone on to bigger and better things since then, including reaching a high position at Blackstone at a very young age. Anjan's political views and mine have always been substantially different; so his appointment doesn't do much to alleviate my fears that the Obama Administration and Democratic Congress will implement a major expansion of government. Nonetheless, I congratulate Anjan on the well-deserved honor, and wish him well.

Thales (mail) (www):
Ilya: Top high school debaters tend to have the virtue of being able to understand, process and appreciate different points of view, so your friend may come around to what you consider the right course more so than a political hack appointment would.

As a strong supporter of Obama, I've never been entirely comfortable with some of his trade positions taken in the election season and hope that he moves back to something close to the bipartisan center that evolved during the Clinton presidency on that issue. However, certain aspects of NAFTA and other multilateral agreements are definitely objectionable from even a free trader's perspective, and I share the view that not every agreement called a free trade agreement is good.
11.23.2008 6:31pm
Susie (mail):
I strongly disagree with the tenor and content of this post. I went to school (H.S., college and grad schools) with various intelligent people. People I liked or respected, but whose views were completely antithetical to freedom. I would not wish them well if they joined the Obama Administration. I would not be glad for my old friends that they had gained such an opportunity to promote their own particular brand of tyranny. I think you can share your private comments to your friend who received an appointment, but this particular post and this particular person... this post does a disservice to your otherwise fine blog.
11.23.2008 6:31pm
Ilya Somin:
I went to school (H.S., college and grad schools) with various intelligent people. People I liked or respected, but whose views were completely antithetical to freedom. I would not wish them well if they joined the Obama Administration.

I would not say that Anjan's views, as I understand them, are "completely antithetical to freedom." In any event, there is an obvious distinction between wishing someone well personally and agreeing with their policy initiatives.
11.23.2008 6:48pm
benjamin g:
I don't like this appointment at all. It's poor resource allocation. Anjan Mukherjee would have been a perfect candidate to head-up the Ministry of Funny Names.
11.23.2008 6:49pm
Rodger Lodger (mail):
If he's that smart maybe he's right and you're wrong.
11.23.2008 6:53pm
JB:
It is a relief both to have an administration not accused by the opposition of staffing itself entirely with political hacks, and one about which that accusation is usually false.
11.23.2008 7:25pm
I Know It All:
Or maybe he's really not all that smart.
11.23.2008 7:25pm
David Warner:
Susie,

"People I liked or respected, but whose views were completely antithetical to freedom."

There's a certain level of intelligence combined with a certain level of friendliness that can allay such fears. Lacking sociopathy, extraordinarily high intelligence often inclines one toward epistemological humility.

I'm reassured by Prof. Somin's post.

Meanwhile, the Team of Urkels nears critical mass; our Manifest Density, if you will.
11.23.2008 7:33pm
Dave N (mail):
It is a relief both to have an administration not accused by the opposition of staffing itself entirely with political hacks, and one about which that accusation is usually false.
Yes, because Hillary Clinton has a distinguished career as a diplomat and in the foreign service.
11.23.2008 7:47pm
Dave N (mail):
It is a relief both to have an administration not accused by the opposition of staffing itself entirely with political hacks, and one about which that accusation is usually false.
And Tom Daschle's degree in political science makes him uniquely qualified to be Secretary of Health and Human Services.

My point is not that Obama shouldn't be able to surround himself with whomever he wants in his cabinet, but rather, that your point about a lack of "political hacks" is a tad disingenuous.
11.23.2008 7:54pm
Reg Dunlop:
Ilya, congratulations.

It won't stop me from being resentful when he sucks my wallet dry. But I do congratulate both of you, it's nice when someone you know from your formative years makes good.
11.23.2008 7:59pm
neurodoc:
And Tom Daschle's degree in political science makes him uniquely qualified to be Secretary of Health and Human Services.
I'd be curious to know why you don't think Daschle a good pick for that position. Is it because he is a "politician," moreover a Democrat who rose to Senate Majority leader? Or do you have more particularized objections to him? Which past HHS heads do you did you like and not like, and why?
11.23.2008 8:06pm
JB:
DaveN,
I see your Hillary Clinton and Tom Daschle and raise you Michael Chertoff, Harriet Miers*, and Alberto Gonzales.

*She wasn't confirmed, but the rhetoric on both sides is applicable.

Bush's appointments were worse, and the Democrat apoplexy at them was even worse than the appointments.
11.23.2008 8:07pm
Ilya Somin:
If he's that smart maybe he's right and you're wrong.

Not about the scope of government, he isn't. If it makes a difference, I have devoted a far larger percentage of my time,effort, and ability to studying such questions than he did (for the understandable reason that he has been in the private sector rather than academia).
11.23.2008 8:11pm
UVA 1L (mail):
Curiously, as a side note, why do we take it as a given that it's "nice when someone from our formative years does well
11.23.2008 8:13pm
NicholasV (mail):
UVA 1L,

Presumably because in that case one knows them well enough to believe they're a good/capable person and thus deserving. Whereas when someone one doesn't know is appointed, one doesn't know whether it's nice or not.
11.23.2008 9:19pm
Bama 1L:
There having been no Sunday song lyric posted, I propose Morrissey, "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful."
11.23.2008 9:29pm
neurodoc:
I see your Hillary Clinton and Tom Daschle and raise you Michael Chertoff, Harriet Miers*, and Alberto Gonzales.
Why lump Chertoff with those other two? What exactly has he done or not done to deserve the opprobrium? I can see singly out an Alphonso Jackson as an example of some really bad Bush appointments, but not Chertoff.
11.23.2008 9:32pm
David Welker (www):

Not about the scope of government, he isn't. If it makes a difference, I have devoted a far larger percentage of my time, effort, and ability to studying such questions than he did (for the understandable reason that he has been in the private sector rather than academia).


So, you do not even think it is possible that you are wrong in your views on the scope of government?

I personally do not think much one can come out of thinking for too long about such things as the "scope of government" in the abstract. Then again, I am not libertarian.

Correct me if I am wrong, but libertarians seem to like neat little theories where you start from first principles and use those to try to explain the entire universe. Something like that.

As libertarians get more sophisticated, they make exceptions to their general principles here and there, but only, it seems, quite grudgingly.

Overall, I would not characterize libertarians as being "inclined towards epistemological humility" to steal David Warner's phrase, although they do like to cleverly twist this point around (of course, ignoring its original application entirely) to suggest that true humility is realizing neither government nor any centralized anything can do anything right.
11.23.2008 9:33pm
neurodoc:
not singly, but singling
11.23.2008 9:33pm
David Warner:
JB,

"She wasn't confirmed, but the rhetoric on both sides is applicable"

both? You really haven't been paying attention.
11.23.2008 10:59pm
David Warner:
David Welker,

"Correct me if I am wrong, but libertarians seem to like neat little theories where you start from first principles and use those to try to explain the entire universe. Something like that."

You're wrong. Unless the neat little theory to which you refer regards the limitations of neat little theories.
11.23.2008 11:06pm
DiversityHire:
David Welker, your summary seems like the opposite of libertarian thinking. The libertarian impulse arises (to the extent that it arises) because there are no neat little theories that operate in the large.

I don't see how Harriet Meiers as White House Counsel is worse than Hillary Clinton as SOS. As far as Harriet Meiers for SCOTUS, well let's wait and see which Clinton demands that slot.
11.23.2008 11:19pm
Robert Farrell (mail):
Have to go with David We. on this one. Many self-identified libertarians have a definite predilection for a rather rigid set of abstract principles and theories -- and their belief in the vital importance of "positive liberty" versus "negative liberty" (as per your link) tends to reinforce, not undermine, that impression.

I agree with libertarians on many issues, but I would agree that they, as a group, often tend to think they know more about human nature and human communities than they actually do, and this leads them to confident assertions about government and society to upon which the verdict of the test of reality is often rather harsh.
11.23.2008 11:33pm
David Welker (www):

Unless the neat little theory to which you refer regards the limitations of neat little theories.


Your already being internally inconsistent.
11.23.2008 11:39pm
David Warner:
RF,

"Many self-identified libertarians have a definite predilection for a rather rigid set of abstract principles and theories -- and their belief in the vital importance of "positive liberty" versus "negative liberty" (as per your link) tends to reinforce, not undermine, that impression."

You might in the future try to actually read what you find at the link to avoid beclowning yourself. Libertarians are on the "negative" liberty side.

Perhaps your definite predilection for a rather rigid set of abstract principles and theories clouded your (pre)judgment.
11.23.2008 11:40pm
David Warner:
David Welker,

"Your already being internally inconsistent."

That's a postmodernist problem, not a libertarian one.
11.23.2008 11:41pm
Robert Farrell (mail):
David, I should also have mentioned that many libertarians are prone to shill, childish rants when challenged -- thanks for illustrating that.

Now, if you were the careful reader you exhort me to be, you would realize that I said only that the distinction was important to libertarians, not that they favored positive liberty over negative liberty. But I'm not surprised that detail was lost upon you as you rushed to your vituperative, whiny comfort zone.
11.23.2008 11:46pm
David Welker (www):
David Warner,

First, I am not sure that postmodernists and libertarians are all that far apart ideologically. Second, your point is internally inconsistent -- I am not sure to what extent other libertarians would rush to adopt it.
11.23.2008 11:53pm
David Warner:
RF,

"Now, if you were the careful reader you exhort me to be, you would realize that I said only that the distinction was important to libertarians, not that they favored positive liberty over negative liberty."

I see. Or rather I do now that you've said it. Perhaps if I had the capacity to read minds (and tones! how does one whine electronically?) that you apparently credit to yourself, I would have seen it before. Mea culpa minima.

So it's the distinction we so treasure. Isn't the more abstract theory the one with fewer distinctions, not more? So who definitely predilicts the more abstract theory again?
11.23.2008 11:58pm
theobromophile (www):
Wow, it only took a few hours for this thread to devolve into something that could be found on Above the Law.

Congratulations to your friend, Prof. Somin.
11.24.2008 12:00am
David Welker (www):
theobromophile,

What sort of discussions are found on Above the Law?

Why I am at it though, I want to second your congratulations of Ilya Somin's friend.
11.24.2008 12:08am
Portland (mail):
how does one whine electronically?

If anyone wonders about this, you seem to be giving a clinic today.

You seem to strongly identify with libertarians. I at one time identified with libertarians myself. Libertarians have good and bad points. Some are more or less sophisticated than others. Many are dogmatic, some are not. I would advise you not to get worked up about it, because no matter what ideology you profess, your childish, whiny behavior is going to be a much bigger problem for you than how people respond to your belief system.


Unplug your computer and pour yourself a tall glass of grow-the-hell-up. 'Gnight.
11.24.2008 12:11am
David Warner:
David Welker,

"First, I am not sure that postmodernists and libertarians are all that far apart ideologically. Second, your point is internally inconsistent -- I am not sure to what extent other libertarians would rush to adopt it."

I was (mostly) joking, although universal consistency is indeed not my highest value, as it cannot be for any but the solipsist.

As for the centrality of epistemological humility to libertarian thought, see anything by Hayek. Or some of this, for starters.

I would also contend (again) that Popper and Berlin are essential resources. As far as I can understand Nozick, I believe his work also would contradict your characterization.
11.24.2008 12:14am
David Warner:
Portland,

"Unplug your computer and pour yourself a tall glass of grow-the-hell-up. 'Gnight."

Thanks, but I'm already a fully-grown smart-ass. At the risk of (further) thread-jacking, what's with the "whining" claims that invariably come from non-libertarians/liberals? I'd think that whining would be more along the lines of "Stop making fun of libertarians, meanies!"

My (perhaps insufficiently light-hearted) mockery of RF and David Welker was intended to jar them out of their intellectual incuriosity*. As such mockery invariably has the opposite effect of throwing one on the defensive, if I weren't already full-grown, I might find a better strategy.

* - also not entirely serious
11.24.2008 12:23am
David Welker (www):

So it's the distinction we so treasure. Isn't the more abstract theory the one with fewer distinctions, not more? So who definitely predilicts the more abstract theory again?


I really like this statement. It illustrates many of the issues I have with your philosophical approach.

You seem to be applying a principle -- to vastly simplify: more abstract = bad, more concrete = good, to a particular instance quite inappropriately.

And that is the point of criticism. Yeah, abstract top-down thinking has its limits. That does not mean that concreteness is always to be favored over abstraction. And that certainly does not mean that abstractness versus concreteness is the only factor that matters. In particular, one cannot defend a meaningless distinction on the grounds that it somehow leads to more concreteness, as if that is the only factor that matters. Especially, when that distinction itself is a mere abstraction!

Furthermore, why it is possible that this distinction may lead to more clarity when applied in particular contexts, perhaps it leads to less clarity in other contexts. The way you seek to apply this theory, in a very top-down manner, is lacking in nuance. "More concrete good. Always apply this distinction, because it leads to more concreteness!" And this also seems to be characteristic of many libertarian thinkers, who tend to gravitate towards universal application of a small number of core ideas.

Really, libertarian thinking does seem quite simple and elegant. Unfortunately, it is also quite flawed. The world is actually much more complex. In the real world, where inaction is a choice with consequences sometimes government action really is the best choice to solve a particular problem outside of the arbitrary boxes that libertarians would like to confine it. That someone would assert otherwise is a sure sign of epistemological arrogance, not humility.
11.24.2008 12:25am
David Welker (www):
David Warner,

To the extent that I have read Nozick (and my reading has been limited), I found him to be arguing against one particular conception of absolute material equality. He seemed to think that arguing against absolute material equality was a very important discussion to have. As if it counts as an argument efforts to bring about greater equality.

Unfortunately, I have only read a rather small excerpt of him, so I am probably not giving him a fair hearing. But, I was not overly impressed by what I did read.
11.24.2008 12:31am
David Warner:
David Welker,

"You seem to be applying a principle -- to vastly simplify: more abstract = bad, more concrete = good, to a particular instance quite inappropriately."

Um, no.

I was contesting this claim by RF:

"Many self-identified libertarians have a definite predilection for a rather rigid set of abstract principles and theories"

It would be silly to value either the abstract or the concrete one over the other.

"By the artificial separation of soul and body men have invented a Realism that is vulgar and an Idealism that is void."

- Oscar Wilde
11.24.2008 12:58am
David Welker (www):

It would be silly to value either the abstract or the concrete one over the other.


I might agree with this statement, depending on how it is interpreted. Clearly, there are times when concrete thinking is more valuable and there are times when abstract thinking is more valuable. So in general, one should not value one over the other at all times.

However, it is not the case that concrete and abstract thinking are always equally valuable when considering a particular issue. This is one way to interpret this statement that I would disagree with.
11.24.2008 1:17am
zzzz:
zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
11.24.2008 2:18am
edh (mail):
Are you talking about Lexington...Massachusetts?
11.24.2008 2:46am
Person of Choler (mail):
Oh goody. Another academically smart guy with bad ideas to help sink our economy deeper.

I can hardly contain my joy.
11.24.2008 4:40am
Adam J:
Neurodoc- "Why lump Chertoff with those other two? What exactly has he done or not done to deserve the opprobrium?"

I don't think he's done much that deserves opprobrium- he's been rather restrained considering the virtually unfettered power he has as Sec of Homeland Security (not to mention no additional attacks on his watch). However, he was something of political operative for conservatives (see Whitewater) before his time in the judiciary and he didn't really have much in the way of qualifications for his post.
11.24.2008 10:25am
Obvious (mail):
Ilya,

If he's such a good friend, you owe it to him to share the results of your extensive study into areas you've mastered, previously unimportant to him, but now crucial to his success.

Good luck with that...
11.24.2008 10:57pm