Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Tyranny of Dead Ideas by Mark Miller

My review of this is lightheartedly, but I hope accurately, titled "Professor Miller Sounds The Alarm, But Cannot Kill the Zombies Alone!"

Just like the scientist in a horror movie, Miller uses The Tyranny of Dead Ideas to point out to a skeptical world that much of our current policy debates center around ideas that have died, but remain deeply into our American worldview. For example
  • Your employer should take care of you, e.g.  healthcare should come through employment 
  • Schools are a local matter
  • Free trade is always good, no matter how many people it hurts
  • Taxes are always bad, and they are always too high
  • Money follows merit:  wealth and even mere pay increases are based on performance
  • Most poignantly: our children will live better than we did. 
These ideas are dead. Whether or not these ideas should have died is not the issue; they HAVE died and we can no longer ignore their smell. Yet zombielike, the corpses of our old idea wander the land; instead of chanting "Brains!", they shout "Socialist!" or "Fascist!". They eat alive any attempt to solve our problems! Will we escape this horror, or fall prey to the dead ideas? 

Miller's description of these ideas seems straightforward and commonsensical. That in itself is remarkable and useful; clear writing makes itself look easy. We must face squarely the fact that our beloved economic Memes, still beautiful in memory, are now dead. It is our only hope of going beyond them.

What to do with the corpses wandering the landscape is where the book falls down. The prognosis chapters are much slimmer than the diagnosis chapters, and reflect a faith in business leadership that seems ill-placed.

However, this is not a fatal flaw. Once we villagers are made aware of the zombie infestation, and roused to action, then we ourselves can work out what to do. The first thing is to sound the warning persuasively, and that Miller has done.

Read this book, then think and act. We must not let the zombies win!

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