Thinking differently, acting alike

The goal of politics is not to get people to think alike. The goal of politics is to get people who think differently to act alike – Walter Lippmann

I’ll take a break from reforming college to interject myself into a debate between Scott Winship and Oren Cass on the fortunes of the working class. For years now Cass and others have stressed that Americans with just a high school degree have been socioeconomically stagnating. Winship disagrees. You can go here, here, here, here, here and here to judge their arguments for yourself.

The exchange reminded me of Dan Sarewitz’s ‘Excess of Objectivity’. In many areas of environmental policy, there’s enough data and uncertainty to reasonably support different positions. This dynamic applies any complicated policy debate, the status of the working class included.

Two comments from Winship’ from his first and last post respectively, stood out for me (emphasis added):

But despite the fact that I agree with most of his policy proposals, I’m still uncomfortable with Oren’s analysis of the roots of the discontent that we both see among the working class/Trump voters/the “forgotten Americans.”


In closing, I want to reiterate that Oren has written a profoundly important book, which contains some of the most innovative conservative-minded policies to expand opportunity ever proposed. Many of them — wage subsidies at the top of that list — are great ideas regardless of whether or not one agrees with the narrative of The Once and Future Worker.

So Winship is saying he wrote thousands of words arguing with Cass even though they both support the same policies! Cass strongly believes in working class decline, and thus advocates for a wage subsidy and vocational path in education. Winship strongly doesn’t believe in working class decline…and advocates for a wage subsidy and vocational path in education!

Given this broad agreement, I’m confused why they chose to debate what they did. I’m also not sure what it accomplished. Their positions were the same at the end as they were at the start: Cass and Winship disagreed on premises but agreed on policies.

I would have preferred to see Winship critique or improve upon Cass’s specific proposals: how should a wage subsidy be structured? How much / how should immigration be restricted? How should these policies mesh with other Republican priorities?

They could have started off with: “We’re probably not going to agree on whether the working class is in decline. So let’s spend time improving on your suggestions and figuring out any policies you may have missed.”

A practical focus on the end goals would have, IMHO, been more fruitful and illuminating than attempting to construct a grand unified theory. We don’t have to think alike to act together.

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