Thursday, December 13, 2012

But If That's The Purpose, then Maybe Government Really Works

It's always seemed to me that the first requisite of a design for small government is that you want a small government that works:  you want to make sure you can hire the best people to put the money in the most cost-effective places.  Sometimes we get that: agencies, cadres, programs that do the job and come in on time and under budget.

Of course at least in our time, that has been just the opposite of the standard strategy.  In the Age of Reagan Norquist, the trick has been to make government so ugly and disgusting that people will beg to get rid of it.  You can recognize the strategy in a hundred guises.  Make civil service employment so shameful that anybody who accepts it will have to bear the mark of the beast.    Encourage private school so as to reduce political support for a public school system. Limit access to retirement benefits so as to reduce support for the scheme as a whole.

Here's a particular variant that you'll probably recognize in substance, but I never before saw it so clearly expressed:
Sir Alan Budd, chief economic adviser to British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, wrote: “The Thatcher government never believed for a moment that [monetarism] was the correct way to bring down inflation. They did, however, see that this would be a very good way to raise unemployment. And raising unemployment was an extremely desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes. . .  . What was engineered— in Marxist terms— was a crisis of capitalism which re-created the reserve army of labour, and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since.”

Lind, Michael (2012-04-17). Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States (Kindle Locations 6289-6294). Harper. Kindle Edition. Lind's footnote reads: Quoted in Nick Cohen, “Gambling with Our Future,” New Statesman, January 13, 2003; Robert Wade, “The Economy Has Not Solved Its Problems,” Challenge (March/ April 2011): 34.

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