Jonathan Chait of The New Republic is in a feud with “freelance public intellectual” Will Wilkinson about Peter Orszag‘s defection for Citigroup. But isn’t the first time Chait and Wilkinson have feuded; back in August 2009 their blogging heads butted in a three-part TNRtv sparring match about income inequality. So what has changed since then? Many things, and I’ll give you a hint…none of them is “income inequality”!
So back in ’09, Chait wrote a TRB column taking issue with a sanguine Cato Institute paper Wilkinson had written on income inequality, which Chait felt was a bad thing on the basis that a vastly disproportionate “concentration of wealth” could beget a dangerous “concentration of political power.” Wilkinson in turn reasoned that this concern of Chair’s was groundless on the basis that some billionaires voted for Obama, further reasoning in the video that, “as people become wealthy there’s no good reason to believe they are going to act especially motivated to act politically to reinforce or consolidate their economic advantage.”1
Today the subject at hand is Orszag and his Citi sellout. Wilkinson argues that the “seeming inevitability of Orszag-like departures” to the industry in which the nation’s wealth and income is most conspicuously concentrated is proof that “the system is rigged” to encourage the wealthy to act politically to reinforce and consolidate their economic advantages via a phenomenon commonly known as “regulatory capture.” Because he’s a libertarian, of course, Wilkinson assigns blame for this corruption not on the gaping inequalities and accompanying wealth concentrations that are (like the rise of credit default swaps, “financial supermarket” business models, “2/20” rules, “guaranteed” bonuses and other fixtures of modern finance) relatively new phenomena in American society, but on the government, or more accurately the mere idea of “government” and more pathetically, the sad liberal delusion that it is capable of anything but losing luggage and stifling innovation.
This time, Chait’s response was to argue that regulatory capture is the “exception not the rule” and trot out the consensusphere boilerplate “there’s no evidence that Orszag did anything worse than ‘tacky’ etc. etc.”, then to reiterate both points after Wilkinson got somewhat apoplectic the first time around. What changed? Well, Chait has since recast himself as one of those self-hating TNR “liberals” who is contractually obligated to blame so-called ‘liberals’ for everything sad that happens to Obama’s sad Administration. But you can see what happens when “liberals” like Chait insist that the people he derisively calls “liberals” are the problem, and that the guys who those “liberals” derisively place square-quotes around the term when sarcastically referring to as “liberals” (i.e. Jon Chait) are merely being “pragmatic” etc. etc., which is…Will Wilkinson ends up making (relatively) more sense. Which isn’t saying much, but whatever.
1A less “centrist” soul might have replied that the source of Wilkinson’s paycheck stood as a good enough reason to believe such a thing, but I digress.