Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"Whatever the Left Touches, It Ruins"

My text today is from Dennis Prager, the radio host, writing about the descent of late-night comedy from Johnny Carson to Stephen Colbert and his recent gay-themed comment about President Trump's mouth.

The left ruins everything it touches, writes Dennis:
The universities, the news media, the entertainment media, the fine arts, the courts, the high schools, and the elementary schools... all ruined wherever leftism has achieved dominance.
Why is that?

The answer, of course, goes all the way back to the French Revolution (and before that to Rousseau and no doubt to Plato) and the idea that government can be salvific, and save society. In President Obama's words, borrowed from Martin Luther King, we are talking about using government to bend the arc of history towards justice.

But this means using government force and political power to change human minds. Unfortunately, government force and political power are probably only good for breaking things.

There is a role for force and power, as in breaking up racist accommodation laws preventing blacks from sitting at the same lunch counter as whites, or anti-Semitic policies preventing Jews from attending pricey private schools, as Ben Stein writes. But when it comes to racial quotas and reeducation classes, you pretty soon get into the weeds.

And when you mobilize so-called "peaceful protesters" into violent antifa mobs that shout down and threaten conservative speakers, then you are bending the arc of history towards injustice.

That is why conservative politics has concentrated on limiting government -- because the more force the more injustice -- and designing government institutions from the view that politics is civil war by other means.

I mean by that to design government institutions so that they function to encourage people to compromise their differences rather than take them to the proof of civil war. The point of the complicated US constitutional system is to make it very difficult for one faction to seize all the powers of government and impose its vision on the rest of America.

Case in point: Obamacare. You may think that socialized health care is a good and just thing, and "single-payer" the best way to get there. But there are plenty of people that disagree. So if you pass a health care law that forces everyone into the one single government plan, you are forcing people to pay for something they think is wrong. Those people experience the wonders of Obamacare as injustice.

So the question becomes: how pressing, how important is health care that you must force people to enroll in and pay for your plan and risk their anger and resentment? Or how important is intersectionality that you must name and shame everyone around you that fails to toe the ideological line as a racist, sexist, bigot?

My answer is: not that important.

As you know, I define government as:
an armed minority, occupying territory, and taxing the inhabitants thereof to reward its supporters.
In the limited government case, the supporters are merely the armed forces that protect the borders of the territory, and thus nobody except the soldiers and the veterans look to government for rewards for their support. But once you get away from the limited government it is Katy bar the door, because there is no limit to the rewards the government can offer to win the support of the voters.

But the real case against big government comes after the program has been passed, and after the government has won the support of new supporters with its new rewards. And this case is quite simple: what happens when the world changes?

Let us take a simple case: suppose there is a new life-saving procedure in health care. What do we do? Do we increase funding to provide the new procedure to the people? Do we reduce the use of other procedures? Do we privilege certain people with certain conditions to get the new procedure? How do we get the bureaucrats to get off their backsides to write the new regulations? And how to we get the politicians to write new laws to adjust the health care system to the new reality?

The science was settled on this a century ago when Ludwig von Mises wrote that socialism could not work because it could not compute prices. You can see this applies to any government program that is trying to avoid the discipline of the price system. And then 70 years ago F.A. Hayek said that administrative government could not work because a thousand bureaucrats could not outperform a million consumers and producers. In today's language we would say that the bandwidth of government is too narrow to respond effectively to changing conditions. And then there is the theory of "regulatory capture" developed by George Stigler and others that the regulators of all regulated industries end up being owned by the industry they regulate.

But there is a bigger problem that just the give-and-take of daily adjustment to the normal changes of the world. It is this.

What happens if you are an oil state and you have committed your oil revenues to a ton of vote-winning programs and the price of oil drops by 50 percent? We see that in Venezuela right now. What happens is that the government dare not do the sensible thing and cut government spending to fit its reduced circumstances, because that would prompt riots in the streets. Instead it prints money, crashes the economy, and ends up in exactly the same place as if it cut spending, with riots in the streets.

This is the real reason why government should be limited to the basics. It is almost impossible to cut government spending. In fact, I propose that the only spending governments ever dare to cut is military spending after the end of a war.

In fact, I propose a new and profound principle of government. No government should start a program unless history has shown that it is possible to cut such a program.

You can see why it is true what Dennis Prager says, that "whatever the left touches, it ruins." The reason is that the left has got everything wrong. It thinks it can make the world better with force, both the force of government spending and the force of government naming and shaming.

And it will get worse before it gets better.

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