Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Clueless Liberal in the Academy

Much of the time it seems to conservatives that liberals and Democrats have everything figured out.  They know how to rile up the base; they know how to frighten women with their "war on women" tactic.  They all seem to get the same talking points and stick to them.

But then some liberal academic writes an article for CNN that demonstrates their utter cluelessness.

Take Prof. Julian Zelizer.  He's a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and he has written a bunch of histories and a biography of Jimmy Carter.  He's looking at the wreck of Obamacare and writing that liberals really screwed up by proposing a half-baked proposal like Obamacare.  Let's give him his say:
The ACA was a product of a kind of half-baked liberalism that has been popular among many Democrats for several decades.

Since the 1990s, many Democrats have settled for jerry-built proposals that shy away from direct and aggressive federal intervention. Many Democrats have concluded that in the current era, the only domestic programs that stand a chance of passing Congress are those that rely on the participation of market-based actors, limited federal funding and heavy federal-state collaboration in the administrative process.
 The problem for full-baked Democrats is that it's hard to develop a clear message that lets people see the benefits of a program, and it turns into the mess that Stephen Teles has called "kludgocracy."  The solution is clear: well presented programs like Social Security, with clear benefits and clear funding that people can understand.

So, according to Teles,
if the government chose cleaner solutions to big challenges such as health care and education, "government would be bigger and more energetic where it clearly chose to act . . . but smaller and less intrusive outside of that sphere."
The cluelessness of this idea is nothing short of breathtaking.  Let's go through it all step by step.

  1. "Cleaner solutions."  Social Security is a stupid example, and it shows the insular thinking of our modern academics.  The point about Social Security is that it is just about money.  The government takes in money and it hands it out to its supporters.  It doesn't have to do anything, like run a health care or education or welfare system.  The science is in on this.  Government can't do anything well except shovel money at its supporters.  The reason is that government is force, but the production and consumption of goods and services needs to be price and consumer driven.
  2. "Half-baked liberalism."  The reason that liberals have been offering half-baked liberalism is that, as Rush Limbaugh says all the time, liberals can't admit who they are and what they really want to do.  Liberals would love to offer comprehensive and mandatory programs for everything.  It's just that the American people would upchuck on the spot if they ever did.
  3. "Less intrusive".  Give me a break.  Where in the United States is the government not intrusive?  The government wants to tell us how to do everything, from sugary drinks to toilet flushing.  And all because of liberals.  The reason we have the "kludgocracy" is not because liberals have been stymied in their grand plans but because there are 100,000 liberal activists all beavering away on their one little issue and getting legislation and regulations passed to intrude on every aspect of human life.
It ought to be obvious, to anyone that has a clue, that all government is a "kludge."  What do you think the Soviet Union amounted to?  It was a kludge with terror on the side.  Ditto Cuba and all the rest.  When you get government without terror on the side then you just get kludge.  You get politicians offering more and more benefits to get elected.  But without the terror.

Let's look at things another way.  Let's start with Mises.  Socialism can't compute prices.  Expanded to its full potential this means that all government programs are a mess because they are always trying to deny the reality of prices.  What does that mean?  It means politicians are always trying to pretend that their grand plans don't have real and inescapable costs.

You can see this with the progression from Social Security to Medicare to Obamacare.  Social Security was, at least in the prospectus, all paid for by the payroll tax.  But remember, it was never a real savings program.  It was always "pay as you go."  Medicare was only partly "paid for."  It was a kludge job.  It had to be, because, no doubt, people in 1965 wouldn't have agreed to pay the real costs.  Anyway, government lowballed the costs, conveniently forgetting that people would line up to consume free stuff, and how.  Then with Obamacare the government had to flat out lie, because nobody would agree to any new program that wouldn't let them "keep their plan."  And that would apply to a single-payer program as well as the half-baked kludge of Obamacare.

OK. Now let's go to Hayek.  The bureaucrat in Washington can't out-perform a million producers and consumers in the marketplace.  Producing and consuming products and services -- including so-called public goods like health care -- are complex operations, and require constant adjustment by consumers and producers to the marketplace.  "Marketplace" means adjusting every day what people want, what they are willing to pay for, what producers can produce, and at what cost.  Government can't do that.  It simply can't.  Government is a system that responds to activists, special interests and "peaceful protesters" instead.  In other words, government responds to the threat of force.

Finally, there's Buchanan and Tullock and "public choice theory." (Why am I having to educate a distinguished academic on this?)  Public choice theory tells us that every government initiative involves log-rolling.  Any proposed use of government force means that a majority of the legislature votes to tax a group of people to fund some program that will provide certain benefits to another group of people.  Typically, the people asked to pay the costs of the program will vote against it.  So the proposers need to buy the votes of people only mildly hurt by the program to bring the full force of the law on the hapless minority.  That's why every legislative bill these days is a 1,000 page monster.  You have to pay off all the big interest to get their buy in.  It makes sense -- see the progression from Social Security to Medicare to Obamacare above -- that this problem will get bigger and bigger as the government itself gets bigger and bigger.

Right at the end of The Calculus of Consent Buchanan  and Tullock describe the only just voting system.  It is unanimous consent.  Under unanimous consent the majority that benefits from a program must pay the costs of the minority in order to get their buy in.  Notice that the market is a system of unanimous consent.  Nothing gets produced or bought and sold unless the buyer and the seller agree.  What a concept.

Unanimous consent, I think, is a process that would truly give us a government that "would be bigger and more energetic where it clearly chose to act . . . but smaller and less intrusive outside of that sphere."

But Zelizer is an academic.  He would know that.

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