It Isn't A Culture War

Jon Chait skewers the book recently written by Arthur Brooks:

The premise of The Battle is that America is fighting a “culture war,” but this culture war is not over social issuesit is over economic ones. A culture war, of course, is a zero-sum fight between two antithetical values in which compromise is impossible. That is how Brooks portrays the conflict between statism and free enterprise that has been unleashed by Obama’s radical attack on American values. “These competing visions,” warns Brooks, “are not reconcilable: We must choose.”

It is a curious premise. After all, economics is very different from social issues precisely because it is rife with positive-sum outcomes (i.e., prosperity) and because it pertains to technical questions amenable to data and difference-splitting.

What’s more, Democrats do not advocate communism and Republicans do not advocate anarchy. Both parties favor some mix of market and state. Even Paul Ryan, whose purist small-government vision has enthralled the conservative movement (and who forms a mutual admiration society with Brooks), advocates a federal government that consumes 19 percent of the economy. Democrats advocate a government that consumes, in the long run, around one-quarter of the economy. Is it really not possible to imagine a compromise between these two visions?