In a footnote to his latest posting, which is mainly about health care, the founder of AQR Capital Management, Clifford Asness, writes, "my style is to write very aggressively and passionately about what I believe."
Give him credit for being self-aware, for willing to speak out with his own name attached, and for a lively, if sometimes over-the-top, style of writing and argumentation. Here's his description of advocates of an Obama-style overhaul of the health care system: "they are mendacious socialists who know that they will not achieve their massive imposition of state control on all aspects of life if they are honest about it. So they are dismantling liberty piece by piece."
My favorite line from this piece was Mr. Asness's reply to Rep. Charles Rangel's proposal to tax the rich more to pay for health care for everyone else. Why stop there, he asks, suggesting that the same rationale would justify "imprisoning the rich and harvesting their organs for better health care for everyone else." Mr. Asness may want to be careful lest someone in Washington pick up on this idea.
Another insight of Mr. Asness's is the way that left-wing politicians and big business sometimes work hand in hand. "Libertarians are often accused wrongly of loving 'big business' but we don't, particularly when they predictably turn themselves into crony capitalists who try to succeed by wheedling from the government," he writes. "On the other hand the socialists love cronies of all sorts, ones who command large enterprises all the better. Socialists are far closer than libertarians to building and countenancing the all-powerful corporate state they claim to fear." There's a lot of truth to this.
Mr. Asness's rhetorical style will probably do better at firing up people who already agree with him than at persuading undecideds or those who are unsure of their political or economic views. But his tone is worth paying attention to as an indicator of just how alarmed and angry some Americans are about the increased role the government is taking in the economy. There was a similar bitter backlash against Franklin Roosevelt that never translated into a real political victory. Part of that may be attributable to the bitterness, part to the political difficulty, in a one-person, one-vote system, of building a movement against income redistribution that taxes a rich few to distribute benefits to a less-rich many. And part to the political dynamics of World War II on the home front. The politician who really succeeded at turning things in a different direction, Ronald Reagan, did it with gentle good humor and optimism and in a way that convinced ordinary Americans, not just the embattled rich, that he was on their side. That's not intended as a criticism of Mr. Asness, who is not a politician but a money manager, and shows flashes of his own humor in his writing. It's just a reaction.