Accuracy in Media

Matt Miller, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP) and host of the Left, Right, & Center radio show, was the featured author at an event at CAP, discussing his new book The Tyranny of Dead Ideas. He repeatedly called himself a capitalist, which he should understand the implications of—being an economist. However, he would have done better to argue that he is a capitalist who has converted to something else entirely.

The Tyranny of Dead Ideas is based on six ideas that Miller considers to be either dead, or in one particular case, dying. His description of these is as follows:

  • “First: the kids will earn more than we do…. We now have research showing up to 100 million Americans live in families that are earning less than their parents did at the same age. And that really is a crisis for the American dream that I think we have to honestly confront.
  • “The second dead idea is the idea that free trade is ‘good’, no matter how many people it hurts. I think the economics profession has done us a disservice by hyping, for political reasons, the case for trade, not being honest enough about its downsides.
  • “The third dead idea is your company should take care of you—the whole employer-based system of healthcare and benefits which, again, we uniquely have….The whole idea that if we’re going to look outside the family for a measure of security against life’s major challenges like illness and old age or poverty that we should look to our company, not our country for support. I think when you put it that way, it’s a kind of jarring thing, and it’s a dead idea that needs to be revisited.
  • “The fourth dead idea is that taxes hurt the economy and they are always too high…. even though we’re obviously going to cut taxes now to get through this recession in the next couple of years, taxes are going up, no matter who is in power in the next decade, when we double the number of people on Social Security and Medicare.
  • “The fifth dead idea is that…money follows merit.”

 The sixth of the dead ideas, which Miller forgot, is that public education should be a local matter.

With regard to his fifth idea, that “money follows merit,” he said, “I actually think that’s an idea that most average people don’t hold. I think average people think the system is rigged.” However, when New York Times columnist David Brooks, the moderator of the event, confronted him with the fact that most Americans do, in fact, believe that hard work matters, and data actually shows that this belief is generally correct, Miller back-tracked: “I didn’t mean to say—it’s true: all the polls show U.S. people believe that they’re more in control, and the Europeans tend to believe that forces outside have a greater influence. I am convinced that in the next decade, that will shift seriously because of the more pervasive effects of global economic integration and the way that rapid technological changes of altering the trajectory of people in the modern economy. So what I meant to say is that…there’s always a combination of individual effort and hard work and then forces outside their control that shape things.” So, apparently, this idea is still dying—not dead. claims that, “Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned. Under capitalism the state is separated from economics (production and trade), just like the state is separated from religion…. It is the system of political freedom.” However, Miller’s idea of capitalism is a little different: “I think we’ve overestimated the power of the individual to shape his own economic destiny at this moment in the history of American capitalism…. And that we need a rebalancing then between the role of government and the role of private citizens, or the individual in making sure that we have a decent society with the kind of opportunity and security we would expect of a wealthy country that was trying to do right…. We’re in a situation where we have to do whatever it takes…to avoid this downturn.”

Miller’s solution to the current economic failure is simple: “I’m…calling on a lot of business leadership to help implement this and try and change the minds of a lot of capitalists…because I think we’re at one of those moments that if we’re going to update American capitalism for the 21st Century, and…preserve and build and renew our society, we need capitalism to work better.” He went on to say, “There’s no one but the government that can step in a major way to stop—to halt the collapse in demand and try and jumpstart things.” However, Miller didn’t discuss how previous efforts to jumpstart the economy have fared. For example, he did not give the nearly identical unemployment rates that bracketed Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

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