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From Will Collier via Remote Control

January 27th, 2009 - 8:44 am

Guest Blog!

Tom Maguire notes this remarkable bit of Paul Krugman effluence:

Next, write off anyone who asserts that it’s always better to cut taxes than to increase government spending because taxpayers, not bureaucrats, are the best judges of how to spend their money.

Here’s how to think about this argument: it implies that we should shut down the air traffic control system. After all, that system is paid for with fees on air tickets — and surely it would be better to let the flying public keep its money rather than hand it over to government bureaucrats. If that would mean lots of midair collisions, hey, stuff happens.

This is a spectacularly specious argument, even for Krugman. Air traffic control, whether practiced by government employees or a private company, is a specialized task with predictable outcomes. To borrow a line from Don Rumsfeld, there are very few unknown unknowns: pilots and controllers are trained to use a specific set of rules for flight and established terminology to communicate with each other. By its very definition, air traffic control is not a chaotic system–if it were, we’d have all those plane crashes Krugman bloviates about.

Krugman is laughably trying to sell the notion that the American and world economies are just like air traffic control: everybody involved knows exactly what they’re supposed to do, there are no unknowns (don’t start with weather regarding ATC; that’s an observable and to a large degree predictable phenomenon, at least in a short time frame and on the large scale), and thus they can be readily manipulated by the smartest experts who went to all the right schools and who clearly know better than all you rubes out there who drive SUVs and aren’t Nobel laureates.

This, of course, is nonsense on stilts.

No professor, no cabinet secretary, no “expert” of any sort knows anything close to “everything” about the economy. That’s not a slam on any of the above; it’s just physically impossible for that much chaotic data to be assembled and comprehended by a single human mind–not least because the data is constantly changing. Suggesting that a few Democratic politicians and their minions in the federal bureaucracy are even remotely capable of “running,” much less fixing the global economy is at best foolish, and is at worst a dangerous lie intended more for consolidation of political power than actual economic benefit.

Krugman, whether he’d ever admit it or not, knows as much. Today’s risible comparison has nothing to do with economics and everything to do with partisan politics. He’s just spouting economic truthiness to build support for an Obama-Pelosi push to buy enough votes to get through several election cycles–and in that, at least, he’s on firm historical ground. Party-building with other people’s money was the one true legacy of the New Deal, and the one that Krugman and his elected allies are most interested in reviving.

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