Friday, August 31, 2007
Paul Krugman wrote something in today’s column that’s about as scary as it comes:
There’s a powerful political faction in this country that’s determined to draw exactly the wrong lesson from the Katrina debacle — namely, that the government always fails when it attempts to help people in need, so it shouldn’t even try. “I don’t want the people who ran the Katrina cleanup to manage our health care system,” says Mitt Romney, as if the Bush administration’s practice of appointing incompetent cronies to key positions and refusing to hold them accountable no matter how badly they perform — did I mention that Mr. Chertoff still has his job? — were the way government always works.
And I’m not sure that faction is losing the argument. The thing about conservative governance is that it can succeed by failing: when conservative politicians mess up, they foster a cynicism about government that may actually help their cause.
Future historians will, without doubt, see Katrina as a turning point. The question is whether it will be seen as the moment when America remembered the importance of good government, or the moment when neglect and obliviousness to the needs of others became the new American way.
To be sure, a president who doesn’t hold his appointees to a higher standard of accountability isn’t using even the little power he has to affect the incentives. But Krugman defiantly embraces the fatal conceit — for him, central planning isn’t just better, it’s the moral way to go even if it’s worse!
And for Krugman, those pesky public choice problems don’t seem to be all that big a deal as long as we’ve got the right guys in there — and by right, he means mainly not conservatives, who in his judgment are as a homogenous group not just incompetent but determined to see people dying in the streets of New Orleans and outside hospitals in order to prove their incoherent theories. But the most dangerous thing about Krugman’s argument isn’t that he thinks government should always be the solution, or that its only real failures occur when guys he doesn’t like are in office. It’s the last sentence, where he sets up an emotional dichotomy: either you believe government can provide the solution or you’re a heartless bastard who doesn’t care about people, end of story.
Paul Krugman used to be a very well-respected economist who seems to have decided that being an columnist means you don’t have to be an empericist anymore. If I were going to draw the exact opposite conclusion from the entire life work of James Buchanan, dismissing in the process most of the life work of Milton Friedman, in five sentences, I would probably be looking for better evidence than an ad hominem attack on an entire subset of the population to justify my point.