Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Anne Applebaum Is Like A Plane Crashing Into A River And Sinking

I linked earlier to that Anne Applebaum story, just to highlight the ridiculousness of her analogy, but there are a couple wonderful passages there.

[O]ne aspect of the new administration's various "bailout" plans worries me in particular: the assumption, which seems to lie behind them, that people make better decisions when they are handling public money than they do when they are handling their own money.

Even Mickey, master of the Straw Man, probably wouldn't go so far as to suggest that the Wall Street bailout is predicated on high-school-level anti-capitalist theories (Здравствуйте, Comrade Paulson!). Plus, wouldn't any decisions that don't lead to the near-total collapse of the financial services industry qualify as "better decisions"? Applebaum seems to be setting the bar pretty low here, even as she indicts no-one in particular of rejecting free market capitalism.

It's like she's accusing the fire department of failing to believe enough in people's ability to put out fires themselves. While standing in a burning building. In Dresden.

Anyway, the best part is that her evidence of this theory ... wait for it ... is Hurricane Katrina! In Applebaum's world, the problem with the government reaction to Katrina was that there was too much intervention:

Following the initial failure of the federal government during Hurricane Katrina, for example, government money poured into New Orleans in the weeks and months afterward. The result: large-scale fraud, massive dissatisfaction, and mobile homes so badly built that they could not be used.

Thus, Applebaum reframes the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina (death toll: 1,836) as a failure of government expenditure accountability, and is trying to use Bush's dramatic failure there to damn Keynesian economics. I would call that Kaus-esque, but Mickey would have found a way to work Davis-Bacon into it, too.

Yet many good things happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Volunteers of all kinds flocked to the city; local self-help organizations sprung up. This isn't to say there was no role for government, but that government worked best by supporting citizens' initiatives, not by replacing them.

Local Self-Help:

Citizen Initiatives:

My greatest fear is that in trying to fix the economy, the new administration will waste time and money in the mistaken belief that government-funded, centrally planned infrastructure projects will somehow use money more effectively than their private or locally inspired equivalents.

Coincidentally, that was Herbert Hoover's biggest fear, too. My biggest fear is zombies.

Also, note how the poor phrasing implies that "locally inspired" is somehow distinct from both "government-funded" and "private". Are we supposed to expand our public transportation network through a bake sale or something? Applebaum is such a sharp mind that given a choice between laissez faire capitalism and New Deal public investment -- in the middle of a financial meltdown, no less -- she opts for Localism Inspirationomics.

If you're wondering how in the hell she got here from the "Barack Obama as a courageous pilot" angle, it's because she abandoned her metaphor (like a sinking passenger jet!) less than halfway through her incredibly brief article and jumped aboard a half-baked libertarian missive (like a water taxi responding to a crisis!), only to try to salvage it at the very end (like the NTSB!).

[H]e will fail if he abandons the many lessons learned about the relationship between government and the governed over the past several decades—a relationship not unlike that between pilots, however heroic, and the passengers they are trying to save.

a) The decision to ditch the plane in the water should not have been "centrally planned"?
b) Even heroic pilots will fail if they don't follow the teachings of Milton Friedman?
c) If Rousseau had been alive during the era of jet travel, would his treatise have been called "The Social Boarding Pass"?

At least we can all agree that the evacuation of the plane was "locally inspired".