May 18, 2013
Jonathan Shapiro on ‘The Tyranny of Dead Ideas’
Posted on Mar 27, 2009
When the house is on fire, you don’t want to cavil about how the firemen intend to put it out. Miller tries hard to identify and explain what’s wrong about many of our economic notions, and what should be done to change them. Volumes of books and studies might be devoted to any one of Miller’s many proposals. That he discusses so many so intelligently is impressive. Yet not even Miller, a nimble intellect, can give adequate context or analysis to the issues he raises. The book is always entertaining, yet there is only so much that can be done in 272 pages. At times, it is frustratingly short on detail.
Yet if the diversity of Miller’s ideas sometimes feels random, or the volume of ideas comes at the cost of cogency, similar criticisms have been leveled against President Obama’s multifaceted approach. No doubt such criticisms miss a greater point. We do not have the luxury to think about only one thing at a time. The current crisis—really a series of related problems—demands a series of complex and innovative solutions. These will be produced only when our leaders, inspired by thinkers like Miller, think in new ways. Quibble as one might at Miller’s idiosyncratic treatment strategy, he deserves credit for diagnosing the problem, and recognizing that nothing less than extraordinary measures are needed if the patient is to recover.
If only the Obama administration would frame the issues as clearly as Miller does, we could actually have a national discussion on what Americans can expect from their government in regard to health care and public education, access to credit, and financing for affordable housing and business opportunities; in short, all the disparate yet connected institutions and services that Miller correctly identifies as composing and affecting what we mean when we discuss that scary monster called “the economy.”
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