Felix Salmon belabors the obvious

Summers’s incentives | Analysis & Opinion |

Being captured is not some kind of intellectually dishonest overt bribe, where you truly believe A but profess to believe B because doing so makes you rich. It’s much more subtle than that, based partly in the wealth and success and sterling reputations of those (like your mentor Bob Rubin, perhaps) who believe B. And it’s a survivorship-bias thing, too: if you don’t believe B, you’ll never rise to the kind of position where your opinions matter as much as Larry’s do and did.

I’d go a little further and say that capture works best on people with both a general desire to do good and the right modicum of self-reflection. If the intellectual results you achieve appeal just a little to your sense of transgression and go (maybe more than) a little against your professed beliefs in equity and the general welfare, you can be sure that they’re really intellectually rigorous. Not like those people who let their desires for how the world should be distort their analysis of how the world actually is. Yeah, right.

I think that one of Krugman’s great successes, in part because he embraces the notion of being a liberal (even though he only barely is by last-century standards), is in calling out the cult of virtuous suffering (especially suffering by other people). That cult is composed not only of the closet and not-so-closet sadists who like the idea that others must suffer to expiate economic sins, but also of those who have been abused into internalizing the notion that a world in which (other) people don’t suffer is somehow wrong — unnatural, immoral, weak and headed for disaster or whatever. That second group can only believe that its ideas are correct and rigorous (ahem) when they involve suffering. Any solution that involves good things happening to good people is per se suspect.


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