Conventional Wisdom

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Who's your daddy? John Boehner, apparently.

He even reminds me of my father. The same blue eyes. The same love of golf and the tan that goes with it. The same urge to break out the austerity lecture. Every time I see John Boehner on television, I feel like he’s about to tell me to go to my room.

Like Speaker Boehner, my father was a sharp dresser who liked a good party. Politically, he was a libertarian, I think. Which is not to say he was ungenerous. He was happy to press a twenty-dollar bill into the hand of a man who needed help, but he resented paying taxes to enable the government to do the same.

While my dad was building his medical practice, John Kenneth Galbraith wrote "The Affluent Society." In work as relevant today as then, he noted that much of our economic thinking is still governed by what he called the Conventional Wisdom, notions that arose out of very different economic times but persist because of the established bias in favor of the status quo.

One such bit of Conventional Wisdom is that government, long the province of rapacious kings, is not to be trusted. This suspicion of government persists. And yet, just as we would not expect private citizens to build roads or dams or schools, we cannot rely upon Social Darwinism, the survival of the fittest, to build a civil society that meets the needs of its members.


Our democracy permits us to play Robin Hood. To tax the rich and give to the poor. Some argue that this is un-American, but nothing could be further from the truth. This country was founded by settlers who had to look after one another to survive. What would be un-American would be now to abandon our heritage of generosity and selflessness simply because the people who need our help today don’t all look and dress the same as we do.

With a Perspective, I'm Mac Clayton.