Posted by: CJ | August 25, 2010

Failed Governing, Seductive Markets

Congress is broken, and it’s making governance at the Federal level difficult. The executive, judicial, and Federal Reserve (unofficial 4th branch of government) have to pick up the slack. Which might be only very daunting except that Congressional approval of nominees is required to staff those branches. Increasingly it looks like the inability of Congress to figure out a way to reform its internal institutions and get its act together is a major, major problem. As in there’s a potential it could doom us all. (It doesn’t help that the press, the unofficial 5th branch of government, is also broken.)

Once one has given up hope, accepted that the Federal Government is broken, and decided that something big must be done, I think there are three basic reactions.

The first, obvious, one is to somehow reform the current structure with minor tweaks. Somehow. And pray. A lot.

Second is to yearn for a strong leader to uproot everything and try to set things aright again. And then, hopefully, hand off power someone to the newly a-righted government. (This is one version of how people hoped things might go with Obama.) Call this option the, “At least with Fascism we wouldn’t have Congress” option, even though the real hope is for a Philosopher King. Hope for Plato, probably get Mussolini.

The last option is to go Libertarian.

I personally despise most libertarianism. As a belief system it’s ludicrously incognizant of how capitalism, politics, and universal human rights interact. Both theoretically and historically. That’s not to say every individual libertarian is an egotistical assholes yearning for subjugation by the wealthy and enacting perverse rape fantasies on the poor. But all the libertarians I know are definitely missing a few fine points about politics and human rights.

But…many libertarian ideas have the seductively simple promise of elegant solutions.

Education sector mired in inefficient practices and failed solution after failed solution? The heavily regulated medical sector baffling resistent to adopting new practices and technology? Housing going into bubbles partially because government  indirectly subsidizes buying houses? Agriculture hopelessly mired in unethical, unsustainable practices and production choices?

In each case, a libertarian solution is to “unleash the market”. Stated that way, it sounds like a damn stupid idea. We usually chain up the market for good reasons. But considered more analytically, finding a way to reform big, inefficient sectors like agriculture, education, housing, and medicine is important and we don’t know how to do it. Letting the market sort it all out has the plus side of potentially finding better organizational structures and ways to deliver nearly as good end-results for much cheaper. The downside is that market solutions are basically always biased towards those with money and against those without. Sometimes in major ways, sometimes not. Market solutions are also great at reforming practices, or getting current ideas to product. I’m unclear how good the private sector is at generating completely new ideas and playing around with them compared to, say, academic or government research facilities.

More importantly, such market-oriented solutions might not be politically stable. If the outcomes of the market are just too unfair for a large majority of the populace to bear, they’ll probably elect people to office to enact new rules/regulations to avoid those outcomes.

I would not want to live in a libertarian world. But I sincerely wish I knew what such a world looked like and how it operated. I suspect there would be many enlightening differences.


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