Why Is Walter Russell Mead So Intellectually Bankrupt?

Some people cite Walter Russell Mead as an intellectual. These people don’t understand intellectualism.

The Bard College professor has filed a number of articles over the past year lamenting the “Blue Model,” claiming that the basic social contract of the last 70 years has failed. These articles are little more than playground insults, without any serious analysis.

Take, for instance, his latest article describing the flagging budgetary situation in San Bernadino, California. San Bernadino is out of money and unable to cover its pension obligations and now is on the brink of slashing their police force in a city riddled with criminals. Mead suggests that this is the natural conclusion of liberal spending policies.

This is the dystopia where blue ultimately leads. As money gets tight, cities have to choose between paying pensioners or paying for vital services.

At no point in the article does Mead even pay lip service to the massive tax cuts that have plagued California since the 1970s. California’s ballot measure process allowed voters to gut the tax base dating back to the infamous Prop 13 measure. This hijacking of representative democracy by radical anti-tax protesters can only fairly be described as the “anti-Blue model,” arising from policies instituted over the heads of elected Democrats.

Blaming pension programs for San Bernadino is the political equivalent of asking a kid to “stop hitting yourself.”

Declining tax revenue is widely cited as the cause of the San Bernadino bankruptcy (along with some allegations of poor discretionary spending decisions by the Mayor). Mead’s silence on this point is embarrassing — he doesn’t have the decency to offer even a half-hearted response. At least that would be respectable.

3 comments for “Why Is Walter Russell Mead So Intellectually Bankrupt?

  1. December 5, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Call it the Blue Social Model or something else (like fiscal malfeasance), but is it not true that California has about the highest taxes in the country? And, along with that, it has cities with crushing financial obligations incurred by “blue model mentality” state and and city political governance.

    My understanding of the Blue Model profile may be wrong; I’m not a student of Mead’s thinking. But, is it not a so-called “progressive”, security-oriented, “big government” (aka Nanny State) kind of thing, where strong special interests are deeply rooted? Doesn’t it say that we need not be very cautious about public sector obligations, union wages, and the cost of social welfare programs because these will be supported by continuous growth, prosperity, and a healthy tax base?

    And if California doesn’t fit that description, then those of us in the hinterlands have a very mistaken impression.

    • December 6, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      I’d encourage you to read the entire Economist issue from April of last year because it describes the conditions afflicting California in incredible depth.

      Basically there is very little “Blue” about California’s problems because there’s very little coherent leadership due to the extreme model of direct democracy.

      One of California’s biggest tax problems is an over-reliance on its capital gains tax which necessarily fluctuates wildly with booms and busts. And Prop 13 killed the ability of local government to fund itself, dumping much of that spending responsibility on the state. There is a pension problem in California — though its threat stems from CALPERS getting screwed by investing in junk subprime derivatives negligently rated as safe and the massive explosion of the prison industry whose employees grew 15 fold over the past 30 years and whose dependent population exploded from 36,000 to 170,000 because of non-sensical drug punishments and “three strikes” gimmicks.

      Above all of this is a poor governance system that takes over 70% of the budget out of the hands of elected officials before they even meet. The problem is not social services, it’s the fact that unelected, under-informed people are allowed to make policy and slashed revenues and expanded the government’s cost in inefficient ways. For all the faults of representative government, its virtue is generally keeping spending and revenues from getting out of whack (in a real sense…deficits when the markets still think you’re the best investment in the world is not a serious short-term problem no matter what spin doctors want us to think).

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