The question many on the left are asking as they witness the Obama administration flail in response to HealthCare.gov’s debut disaster is: How could this happen? Obama is so brilliant, so capable and so wise. How could he bungle his signature initiative?
He isn’t, but even if he were, it wouldn’t make a particle of difference. One of the central delusions of progressives is that government is efficient and effective and that complex human societies are amenable to centralized control and direction.
We on the right presume government ineptitude. The Washington Post reports today, for example, that the federal employee retirement system paid more than $400 million in benefits over the past few years to deceased retirees. On the same page, we learn that despite the U.S. government’s $7 billion investment in combatting heroin cultivation in Afghanistan, the trade is booming. Last week, the Brookings Institution published a study suggesting that Cash for Clunkers was a failure, costing taxpayers $1.4 million for each of the 3,676 jobs created.
This is normal. There are common sense reasons for it — explanations available to most students of Econ 101. Those spending other people’s money have very little incentive to economize or seek top value. Nor can central bureaucrats possibly have enough information to make wise decisions about something as complex as one-sixth of a $16 trillion economy. As Friedich A. Hayek cautioned: “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”
Discovering that government lacks competence in many areas is what caused a critical group of liberal intellectuals to become the “neo-conservatives” in the 1970s and 1980s. Irving Kristol, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Norman Podhoretz, Michael Novak and others were not moved only by anti-Communism. They were first chastened by studying the failures of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.