The Best and the Brightest
| Dick Langlois |
I read Peter’s post about paternalism — and the limits of smart people in government — just after I read about the death of Carl Kaysen, long-time MIT economist and one-time Kennedy advisor. Obituaries praise Kaysen for his role as a policy intellectual of great scope, especially in the area of nuclear non-proliferation. But they either fail to mention, or mention with considerable approval, Kaysen’s pivotal role in the famous 1954 United Shoe Machinery case. Kaysen’s view of the case, and of the role of economic analysis in antitrust, is a key example of what Williamson calls the “inhospitality tradition” — that any kind of contract we don’t understand must therefore be anticompetitive. In the eyes of many present-day economists, Kaysen is implicated in having destroyed the American shoe machinery industry and with it the American shoe industry. (The post-mortem is by Masten and Snyder.) Not exactly McNamara in Vietnam, but worth mentioning amid the hagiography of Kaysen, not to mention the reawakened culture of elitist decision-making in Washington.