Bernstein on Posner

David Bernstein comments on Richard Posner’s self-described ideological drift:

I find Posner’s claim that he’s “become less conservative since the Republican Party started becoming goofy” strange, for two reasons. First, he claims to still admire Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman. What policies is the modern conservative movement, or the modern Republican Party, pursuing that Reagan wouldn’t endorse? None that I can think of, except perhaps a tougher line on immigration. And the four GOP presidential nominees since Reagan have all been substantially less conservative than he was, suggesting that if Posner doesn’t like the modern GOP, he should become more conservative. And what economic policies is the GOP endorsing that would offend Milton Friedman for being too conservative? Friedman would surely think that Paul Ryan’s budget plan doesn’t go nearly far enough in cutting federal spending.

The second oddity is that the purported goofiness of the modern GOP, if it is such, would have any effect on his own ideas. I’ve certainly found occasion to be embarrassed to call myself a libertarian because of the antics of other libertarians, but my own substantive views never changed because of that, and I don’t see why they would.

What Posner almost seems to be saying is that he finds the GOP to be goofy, and if he is identified in the public mind as a conservative, some of that goofiness will be attributed to him, and affect his own reputation. So he publicly espouses policies that will separate him in the public mind from the GOP’s goofiness, thus preserving his own reputation.

Posner’s drift makes sense according to the group affiliation model of ideology. Posner is an educated person and no doubt likes to affiliate with educated people in general. It is my impression that progressive views are predominant among the college-educated, and there is at least some data to back this up. As conservative politics become more closely associated with the less educated, it becomes uncomfortable for the more educated to associate with conservative politics, regardless of whether the GOP’s politics have shifted substantively. If the demographics really have changed since the days of Reagan, perhaps Posner has changed with them.