Who Has Zombie Ideas?

Today Paul Krugman attempts to make the case that “government intervention isn’t always bad”. However, he says such an argument has a tough time establishing itself because the “zombie ideas” of Reaganism just won’t die, i.e.”government intervention is always bad.”

You know, I don’t remember it that way at all. In fact, few will argue that all government intervention is bad, to include Ronald Reagan. Reagan did say that most times not only is government not the solution, but it is the problem. But I’m not sure that translates into what Krugman is claiming.

As we’ve said many times, the primary function of government is to protect the rights of its citizens and it does so by protecting them from force or fraud. That obviously requires some level of government intrusion and intervention. I don’t think Reagan saw it any differently. As I recall, he, unlike Krugman, just didn’t see government as the solution for the vast majority of problems we encountered.

So what Krugman has erected is a strawmen argument. Most see some role for government that they’d deem necessary and legitimate. But not necessarily in all areas. What Reaganism said was that there are areas of our life and economy which are much more efficiently run by the private side. Government should stick to the protection game – something it actually does relatively well – and leave the rest to private enterprise.

That, of course, doesn’t sit well with the “government is always the answer” crowd. It is a battle they’ve been fighting – and losing – for decades. What is really bothering Krugman is he is seeing it happen again at a time when he believes it should finally be clear sailing for the government intervention crowd.

This how Krugman begins his argument today:

The debate over the “public option” in health care has been dismaying in many ways. Perhaps the most depressing aspect for progressives, however, has been the extent to which opponents of greater choice in health care have gained traction — in Congress, if not with the broader public — simply by repeating, over and over again, that the public option would be, horrors, a government program.

You have to appreciate his choice of wording. Krugman has come right out and said that he sees the public option as one that could “evolve” into what he prefers, single-payer. Yet within two sentences, he tries to brand those who are against the public choice trojan horse as “opponents of greater choice in health care”. Nice try, but no cigar, Mr. Krugman.

He then launches into a fairly incoherent attempt at “proving” Reaganism (as he’s defined it) failed.

But in fact, it didn’t fail. People remember the ’80s and the prosperity they brought with some fondness. It’s one of the reasons voters were willing to give an uninspiring Republican VP a shot, before turning him out of town for another smooth talking Democrat who promised “change”. But what should you believe, Krugman’s version or your own lying eyes?

Krugman transparently attempts to erect this strawman of Reaganism, declare it thoroughly discredited, further declare its “zombie” ideas to be worthless and proclaim that since he’s destroyed the zombie, the opposite (don’t try to apply logic here) must be true – i.e. government intervention is good. And if government intervention is good, then it follows it must then be good in all areas, to include health care.

Of course even Krugman’s hero, Barack Obama, in a Freudian moment, mentioned that it wasn’t UPS or FedEx constantly in financial trouble, no siree – it was the good old, government run USPS that couldn’t quite cut the mustard.

Krugman laments:

But some of the blame also must rest with President Obama, who famously praised Reagan during the Democratic primary, and hasn’t used the bully pulpit to confront government-is-bad fundamentalism.

My goodness, you’d think praising Reagan was akin to praising some fascist who made the trains run on time, wouldn’t you? But for those who are deacons in the church of “government intervention is good”, that’s probably a valid comparison. Because everyone knows history is rife with examples of government intervention success stories . That’s why people are constantly trotting them out instead of attempting to discredit arguments about government that were never made.

[Crossposted at QandO]

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