7 september 2005

Libertarians did it (The Flemish Beerdrinker)

Oh dear. Paul Krugman has found the obvious culpritt in the tradegy in New Orleans. It are the small-government libertarians:

What caused that paralysis? President Bush certainly failed his test. After 9/11, all the country really needed from him was a speech. This time it needed action - and he didn’t deliver. But the federal government’s lethal ineptitude wasn’t just a consequence of Mr. Bush’s personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good. For 25 years the right has been denigrating the public sector, telling us that government is always the problem, not the solution. Why should we be surprised that when we needed a government solution, it wasn’t forthcoming?

As Jacob Sullum points out Krugman makes two big but common (for his side) mistakes here. First, small-government libertarians do not have any power in Washington at the moment. Yes, taxes have been cut, but a tax cut combined with a big budget deficit results mostly in a bigger, not smaller government. The Democrats are the second most powerfull party in Washington, much more powerfull than the libertarians, so if Krugman is right, then the Democrats have failed spectacularily to defend the public sector. Second, and maybe this is an explanation for this failure, Krugman makes the mistake to equate small government with bad and weak government and big government with a powerfull and vigourous public sector. New Orleans however shows that this is wrong. Why anyone, especially an economist, should think that a government that tries to do as much as possible is a strong government is beyond me. Shouldn’t the government, like every individual or institution, specialize itself in those things it is good at (or least bad)? This sounds indeed like the theory of comparative advantage. I’m frankly amazed that Krugman shows so little understanding of that principle. Maybe ideology here trumps his judgment as an economist?

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