There was a curious Peter Robinson post on the Corner the other day attacking David Brooks and other apostles of changing the nature of the conservative movement away from dogmatic tax cutting that, it seems, his fellow NROniks deemed very intelligent. I found it to display a curious lack of familiarity with the intellectual giants of the right:
Milton Friedman argued that government spending will always prove pernicious for the simple but profound reason that “nobody spends somebody else’s money as well as he spends his own.” Has Brooks ever refuted Friedman? No. He writes instead as if Friedman had simply never existed. Hayek argued that government intervention in the economy will always prove grossly inefficient because government planners can never acquire all the information they’d need to do a good job of allocating resources.
As John Holbo says “if Friedman proved that, and if no one has refuted him, then Milton Friedman proved that all forms of government should be abolished — including the American system of government, presumably.” I think Friedman just offered a quip that’s not really supported by the bulk of his work or by any serious position in political philosophy — the irrefuted line, if taken seriously, would be a universal acid that dissolves the police and fire departments, the sidewalks, the army, everything. And Robinson is clearly searching here for a defense of orthodox American conservatism, not some novel radical doctrine.
Hayek, meanwhile, argued that Hayek argued that central planning as in the Soviet Union will always prove grossly inefficient because government planners can never acquire all the information they’d need to do a good job of allocating resources. It’s an important argument. But it hardly applies to all possible intervention int he economy. It doesn’t show that the provision of subsidies to the poor so as to improve their quality of life are doomed to fail. Nor does it show that there are no negative externalities that can be usefully taxed or that there are no activities featuring positive externalities that can be usefully subsidized. The point about central planning was crucially important when many people and many governments were enthusiastic about central planning. These days, in part because of the influence of Hayek’s arguments, you don’t see nearly so many such people and arguments tend to be about issues where Hayek’s planning argument is less clearly relevant. Certainly I take it that David Brooks isn’t a Communist.