Saturday, September 10, 2005

Whose Incompetence Do You Trust?

So you think government is to be trusted to "get the job done"? Are you less certain, in the aftermath of Katrina? Well, even if you're not certain, you can bet that many other remain certain that government is still to be trusted, if it's given more money or put it in the hands of the right party. I think not.

FDR's administration might have foreseen the vastly expensive and intrusive central government that grew out of its anti-Depression efforts. But whether or not FDR's administration foresaw the regulatory-welfare state, its "experiments" on the American people shouldn't have been trusted.

FDR's administration wasn't to be trusted to foresee and prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor, when a successful defense of Pearl Harbor might have deterred the Japanese and hastened victory in Europe. (The U.S., rightly, would have at some point come to the aid of Great Britain.)

Truman's administration wasn't to be trusted to foresee and prevent the invasion of South Korea, which led to a costly and inconclusive war and demonstrated, for the first time, a lack of military resolve (Truman's willingness to accept the status quo ante). Thus it should have come as no surprise that the USSR was emboldened to tighten its grip on Eastern Europe and to squash the 1956 uprising in Hungary.

Eisenhower's administration wasn't to be trusted to foresee that the Bay of Pigs invasion, which the Kennedy administration botched, would make Castro more popular in Cuba. The botched invasion pushed Castro closer to the USSR, which led to the Cuban missile crisis.

JFK's inner circle was unwilling to believe that Soviet missile facilities were enroute to Cuba, and therefore unable to act before the facilities were installed. JFK's subsequent unwillingness to attack the missile facilities made it plain to Kruschev that the the Berlin Wall (erected in 1961) would not fall and that the U.S. would not risk armed confrontation with the USSR (conventional or nuclear) for the sake of the peoples behind the Iron Curtain. Thus the costly and tension-ridden Cold War persisted for almost another three decades.

LBJ's administration wasn't to be trusted to foresee the consequences of the incremental application of military power in Vietnam, which led to the enemy's eventual victory. Worse for the U.S., the Vietnam experience became a rallying point for the anti-war Left, which continues to undermine the defense of American interests.

Nixon's administration wasn't to be trusted, period.

Carter's administration wasn't to be trusted to foresee how its feeble, futile, and belated effort to rescure the Americans held hostage in Iran would encourage Islamic terrorists. Ditto for the Reagan administration's willingness to cut and run after the bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon, for the Clinton Administration's similar bug-out after the massacre of U.S. troops in Somalia, and for the Clinton administration's feeble, legalistic responses to the bombing of the World Trade Center and the bombings U.S. embassies in Africa.

Bush I's administration wasn't to be trusted to foresee that the failure to remove Saddam and install a friendly Iraqi government in 1991 would eventually require us to start from scratch, after Saddam and his party had had time to plan for a post-invasion insurrection.

Bush II's adminstration wasn't to be trusted to go where the Clinton administration had failed to go, that is, to anticipate and prevent the long-planned attacks of September 11, 2001.

Government incompetence is nothing new under the sun. It just seems new to hundreds of millions of naïve Americans, who want to believe that government, which usually fails to anticipate rather predictable and often manipulable human enemies (and fails to defeat them except when it wages all-out war), will magically become competent when it comes to dealing with implacable nature, in all its variety -- the usual log-rolling, pork-barreling, and graft notwithstanding.

But of course, the sudden emergence of governmental competence is precisely what most Americans want to believe in. (It's the main theme of every presidential election.) And so we will end up throwing more money at the problem, to little avail and without regard for the viable alternative. That alternative is to let people decide for themselves what risks are important to them, and to let them decide how to spend their money (cooperatively, as they wish) in preparation for those risks.

We should trust the collective wisdom of people acting cooperatively in their own interest, through markets, to protect and preserve their lives and property. We should not trust the amply demonstrated incompetence of government, which suppresses the collective wisdom of markets and replaces it with the collective misjudgments of politicians and bureaucrats, whose main interest is to protect and preserve their power and perquisites.

(For more, see this post at ParaPundit, and this one. Then there's this one, and several others, at Capital Freedom. And don't forget Catallarchy, which has plenty, just scroll down.)