Monday, July 16, 2012

Romney the Maximizer

I don't watch Sunday talk shows but here's a theme that showed up more than once this morning in my news feed:
The costs of not releasing the returns are clear, therefore he must have calculated there are higher costs to releasing them.
Link.  Cf. link, link.  The speaker is George Will.  The topic (you guessed?) is Mitt Romney, going famously coy on his tax returns.  Okay, I'd by as happy as anybody else to read about the offshore bank accounts, the minuscule effective rates, the fully deductable Guatamalan pistachio ranches, etc., etc.  But what interests me is the style.  It's the way Will treats it as purely a matter of cost-benefit analysis, suggesting that the candidate is acting as a Benthamite utility maximizer.  Since I believe we can stipulate that Will is an A-list megaphone for establishment conservatism, I take it that we can infer he is telling us exactly what his campaign overlords told him to.

And that's the thing, isn't it? Mitt probably does think of this as a pure problem of utility maximization, aka cost-benefit analysis.  Indeed, my guess is that Mitt endeavors to understand everything as a matter of cost-benefit analysis.  And my guess is that this is one aspect of the Mittster that makes both left and right feel about equally creepy.  Santorum's rages, Newt's befuddled vision, even Perry's good ol' boy downhomeiness.  Like them or not, they are all tinctured with a shred of human-ness that the Mittster just doesn't seem capable of offering.

And for extra credit, carry yourself back in time to the last time we had a serious cost-benefit administration in Washington.  And that would be?  Full points if you said "the Johnson adminisrtration in the Viet Nam War"--more precisely the architecture conceived and implemented by the last great cost-benefitman, Robert Macnamara, who really seems to have thought--and to have convinced Johnson--that we could treat war as some kind of exercise in linear programming: cue up the variables, pop in your LaGrange multiplier (or equivalent) and pop! the solution comes tumbling down the chute.  They add a platoon, we add a platoon.  They add a flame thrower, we add a flamethrower.  Except it didn't seem to work and at least one reason why it did not work is that it misses all the richness and confusion of the world.

1 comment:

New York Crank said...

Umm, I think the analysis could be more ominous than yours.

Think about it, willyuh. Just think about it.

If you won't, I will. I just posted my own blog piece, speculating on the Top Ten Reasons Romney won't reveal his taxes.

Very crankily ,
The New York Crank