Chait vs Manzi

The wry leftie has a new blog. And one of his opening shots is at Jim Manzi's essay. The premise of Jim's essay is that there is a balance to be struck between economic growth and social stability. Like the conservative he is, Jim appreciates that a conservative will want a balance between these two goods and will hope that statesmen, using prudential judgment in periods of unknowable flux, will do their best to make the right adjustments to keep a society both prosperous and stable. And in this contrast, he compares Europe with America over the last thirty years. But his comparisons are not exactly apples to apples. And the contrast in growth is underwhelming when viewed from a distance:

How did the United States perform in comparison with European social democracies? Well, since 1980, the original 15 members of the European Union saw their real per capita income grow by 58%. Real per capita GDP in the United States grew by... 63%. And that measure actually overstates the difference. 

The European Union does not include Switzerland, Norway or Iceland -- three countries that clearly qualify as European social democracies. Those three countries had 71% growth in per capita GDP since 1980 -- thanks to Isha Vij of the Center for American Progress for pointing this out to me -- which, if added to the EU 15, would bring the growth record of the United States and the social democracies even closer to parity.

Interestingly, Manzi concedes in his essay that social democracy provides superior social cohesion. His essay simply assumes that it inherently produces dramatically lower growth. But now that we can see his assumption doesn't hold up, he's actually making the case for social democracy. To be sure, I'm not a social democrat, but Manzi has inadvertently softened my skepticism. If instituting a social democracy in the United States would dampen growth only very slightly, and create greater social cohesion and economic equality (meaning, for people who aren't very rich, higher living standards), why not give it a try?

My only solid take-away from this is that there really is intelligent and civil discourse on the web between the right and left. You just have to make an effort to find and appreciate it.