Originally posted May 18, 2020.
Can the government operate without having to make meaningful tradeoffs of one goal or value versus another? As a way of answering that question, Francis Menton in the Manhattan Contrarian puts forth the “illusion of infinite resources in the hands of the government.”
As individuals we all know that we face constrained budgets and limits on what we can do. Eat out too much, and you need to postpone getting the new TV or new car. Decide to become a lawyer, and you will need to forego becoming a doctor. Your money and your time only go so far.
But somehow it can appear that the government is so huge and has such vast resources at its command that there are no practical limits, and no need for tradeoffs. And thus we get monstrosities like the Bernie Sanders (and Joe Biden?) program for a federal government that eliminates all downsides of human life by passing out the infinite free money.
Heroes Act – Batteries Not Included
Or see the latest “Heroes Act” out of the House of Representatives — $3 trillion to take care of everyone’s pain from the coronavirus response; Medicare for All, Free College, and Batteries not included (yet).
Why Not Believe the Experts
One problem with that is that so-called “experts” are as likely as not to have no idea what they are talking about. But even if they do know what they are talking about, “experts” are inevitably focused on achieving measured success in their own area of supposed expertise, which makes them exactly the wrong people to deal with the difficult tradeoffs that must be made in governing.
Hysteria Blocking Our Ability to Think
The obvious example in everyone’s mind at the moment is that the doctors and epidemiologists leading the charge on coronavirus response are focused only on minimizing deaths from the virus, and are therefore willing to sacrifice everything else — including the jobs of tens of millions of people, and multiple trillions of dollars of economic production — in pursuit of that goal. Are the tradeoffs being made wise ones?
“These people are no more expert on that than any random man on the street,” warns Mr. Menton.
In fact, there is no “expert” on making such tradeoffs. That’s what we elect politicians to do, for better or worse.