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October 07, 2010

The Road To Ezra Klein

Recently the NY Times had one of their semi-regular “Conservative Gorillas In The Mist” pieces. This time they discovered, much to the horror, that conservatives still read books by people like Hayek. I guess it’s a step in the right direction that liberals acknowledge that conservatives can actually read. Still, they seem pretty mystified that we take these ideas seriously. Naturally, that leads to an attempt at discrediting those ideas (usually in the form of mocking).

Enter this post by liberal wunderkind Ezra Klein.

There isn't any serious player in American politics who supports a centrally planned economy. There are people who support social insurance, and people who support national defense, but no one wants Apple or General Mills to take production orders from a bureaucrat. But it's very hard for political movements to adjust to a world in which they only have to be 10 percent as worried. In some ways, there seems to be an opposite incentive, as lower stakes require groups to use more extreme rhetoric if they're to keep their followers engaged. If Obama had really pushed for a socialized health-care system, the right could've argued against that. As it was, his plan was quite moderate, and so death panels entered the discussion.

At this point, the liberals I know are excited by the prospect of a few things. Extending health insurance -- probably private -- to all Americans. Reducing health-care costs for all Americans, as that will leave them with more of their income to spend on what they wish. Doing something about carbon emissions, preferably through market signals like a carbon tax or cap-and-trade. And, in my case, some sort of early-childhood education system. Marx would be very disappointed, but Hayek, I think, would be quite comforted.

Klein is playing a cutesy little game here (though I doubt it’s one he’s aware of). His thesis is just because the American liberals aren't centralizing power in the same exact ways that their ancestors in Hayek’s time did, people on the right are paranoid kooks for paying attention to him. Yes, the Road to Serfdom and a lot of other favorites in the conservative canon speak of centralized power more akin to the old Soviet of command and control systems, but just because the style of government control has changed over time doesn’t mean the results aren’t the same.

First, I'm not sure why Klein to argue that no one wants companies taking “production orders from a bureaucrat” when the US government has more than a passing interest in how General Motors, Chrysler, AIG and a number of large financial institutions are run.

You can certainly say that we aren’t at the point where the federal government is issuing 5 year production plans exactly like the Soviet Union but that doesn’t mean it’s a disinterested spectator when it comes to the choices companies are allowed to make over wide swaths of the American economy.

Even if the federal government didn’t own substantial stakes in 2 of 3 American car manufacturers it is still deeply involved in the types of cares that can be made and the choices Americans will have when they buy a car.

Liberals like Klein love to pretend that if they toss the word ‘market’ onto their Cap and Trade dreams it makes everything alright. Creating a ‘market’ where none is required still leads to greater government control over economic activity. Look at this way…there are way too many pundits today, they are polluting public discourse. In order to cut down on all the clutter we are going to create a new ‘market’ where some pundits will be able to keep publishing while others are silenced. In order to do this the government will sell ‘pundit credits’ and those that can afford them and find a seller can continue to publish, the rest will be out of luck. Would that new ‘pundit market’ mean greater or lesser freedom for pundits and readers? In Klein’s telling of it, that wouldn’t be government increasing its role in the private sector in a harmful way since the pundits wouldn’t be on the government payroll and the government won’t be dictating word for word what’s written like they were in the old Soviet Union.


As for the idea that ObamaCare isn’t a huge government power grab is almost too absurd to even acknowledge.

And those are just a handful examples of where Democrats would have us travel down a path to centralization and government control. Yet Klein seems to be saying they just want to nibble here and there, no big deal. Well it is a big deal and the more it's allowed, the bigger deal it will become.

While the rhetoric and methods of those who seek to amass centralized power may change, the message that free people need to be forever vigilant in defense of their freedoms is an eternal one.

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posted by DrewM. at 02:16 PM

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