Money for Nothing, and Prizes for Free

An excellent point from Jon Chait yesterday—there’s simply no equivalent on the liberal side to the gobs of money that the conservative movement is able to throw at middleweight orthodox conservatives just for being orthodox conservatives. We have liberal groups in DC, and they pay people salaries, and it’s always possible that you’ll write a popular book or something. But no progressive nonprofit is going to hand out multiple $250,000 checks to people on an annual basis just because they’re swell.

This is important not just because it makes me sad (though it does make me sad) but because it has real impact on people’s incentive-structure. Everyone suffers from groupthink and pressures toward conformity, but there are also counterveiling pressures to try to make yourself stand out and seem unique and important. The presence of large financial rewards for just sticking it and being a loyal footsoldier (not just in the form of prizes, but also make-work fellowships, bulk book purchases, etc.) changes that structure.