Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Planning and competition

Kevin Drum makes what in my mind is a very basic error regarding economics. In critiquing David Brooks' assessment of health care, he says the following:
Top-down control has never worked in all of human history? Seriously? Is the Catholic Church a successful endeavor? How about the U.S. Army? Or the interstate highway system? Or every corporation in America?
Even as large as the U. S. Army or any major corporation may be, each comprises a relatively small group of people relative to the society at large. As many different objectives as a large corporation may have, it doesn't even come close to the vast number of goals and desires distributed among a whole country. In terms of economic theory, is a very basic distinction. A large corporation may be structured in a top-down manner--and it probably should be--but it is a gross non sequitur to infer that an entire industry, e.g. health care, should be forced into a single top-down enterprise.

What about the interstate highway system? Or the Catholic Church? In both of these cases, all we can say is that a top-down approach has resulted in something massive; I think it's far from evident that the result in either case has been optimal. And if Drum wants to use a religious example like the authority of the pope, I dare him to apply his principles equally and recommend we have a State-sponsored Church. Those who recommend we nationalize health care (or even health insurance) are saying nothing less presumptuous than those who advocate a State-sponsored religion (which would, I wager, be too European even for liberals).

Planning plus competition equals unfair competition. As long as the government has certain arbitrary powers over the allotment of resources, those who have the ear of government will be able to secure their own well-being without playing according to the rules. It might sound reasonable to suggest that "somewhere in between" is the wisest approach. But when we strip the word "planning" of its outward form and call it what it is--arbitrary power--we see that no amount of it is justified.

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