Monday, November 28, 2011

Middle Way Won't Work

the best thing that the Government can do is to get out of the business of running (or subsidising, or initiating, or incentivising) things altogether – not just in the interests of saving money, but because the effects of such interference are counter-productive. What the economy is suffering from is not an insufficiency of overweening, fussy, bureaucratic initiatives that inevitably unleash an avalanche of unintended consequences, but a lack of cash in the hands of people who might spend it in ways that would actually create wealth and stimulate (in the proper sense of the word) economic growth.

--Janet Daley, Telegraph (U.K.)

In a nutshell, big government’s time is over. Not only the failed bigness of Hitler, Mao, and the Soviet Union, but the failed broad bureaucratic reach of welfare state Western Europe, of industrial Japan (no longer #1), and even of “Blue Model” America. But don’t tell our leading pundits.

Our media are wired directly to activist government. The two are “joined at the hip.” Why bother writing policy recommendations to an audience larger than a president able to execute the enlightened one’s recommendation with one shouted command? Why would these journalists opt instead for slowly winning over millions of people? Scribes prefer the efficiency of talking to the guy at the top who gets it done.

Matt Welch of the libertarian Reason has insightfully gone after the pragmatism by which our elite commentariat profess to live. Elite writers claim to sit in the middle between the small government ideologues of the right and the left’s virtual socialists ( and public sector unions). It’s no small coincidence that pundits outside government, just like the policymakers inside, frame their recommendations to the president as a favored middle option between two deliberately undesirable extremes.

Libertarian Welch oozes contempt for America’s so-called “problem solvers” in the middle:
Do something. Is there a two-word phrase in politics more loaded with disguised ideological content? Embedded within is both an urgent call for powerful government action and an up-front declaration that the policy details don’t matter. The bigger the crisis, the more the urgency, the sparser the detail. . . American discourse is saddled with a large and influential do-something school of political punditry, a cadre of pragmatists from Meet the Press to your local editorial board who are forever seeking to solve the country’s problems by transcending ideology, demanding collective citizen sacrifice, and—always—empowering authority. . . [David] Brooks and [Thomas] Friedman [pictures] may be the most prominent practitioners, but the do-something school is evident just about anywhere the political class is talking shop.

Do-something punditry means almost never considering the possible benefits of getting the government out of the way of a given issue, since that would be “ideological” and require walking away from the world’s largest problem-solving tool. Pragmatism also means never having to say you’re sorry about the unintended consequences of well-meaning legislation, the capture by industrialists of the regulators who were supposed to constrain them, or even the basic failure of government action to produce the promised results. By the time such flaws make front-page news, there is always a new crisis requiring urgent intervention. And if all else fails, you can blame it on the competence of the government that followed your advice.
Welsh appreciates that our “non-ideological” problem-solvers do in fact have an ideology of their own:
it involves increased taxes (especially on energy), short-term spending boosts, long-term entitlement cuts, and roughly the same foreign policy commitments as today. It calls for renewed citizen engagement, a return to political civility, and a rejection of coarse cynicism. Better teachers, trained workers, and cleaner air. Although advocated by pundits from all over the traditional political spectrum, the program is remarkably uniform when it comes to giving the government more power. Just don’t call it ideological.
The middle ground is a false choice. In a time of “fish or cut bait,” those who believe in better government come down on the side of big government. They reject less government, the choice America should make in 2012.

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