Digging Out the Fundamental Difference
By Bryan Caplan
I think it’s fair to say that one has to believe either one of the following statements:
1. The U.S. political system is fundamentally different from the Soviet system; or
2. The U.S. political system is only superficially different from the Soviet system.
Bryan sounds like he is arguing for (2). In that case, he ought to be aware of the difficult hole he is digging himself into.
Let me dig myself out. Of course they are fundamentally different. Communist regimes murdered millions of their own people, and starved far more to death, and the U.S. government did not. That’s fundamental. Nevertheless, my claim is that Arnold does not correctly identify the reason why the U.S. and Soviet governments acted so differently.
So what is it? Put simply: The people who set U.S. policy are not Communists, and the people who set Soviet policy were. But why aren’t leading U.S. politicians Communists? Because the U.S. is a democracy AND most American voters are not Communists. If the median American voter were a Communist, we would have had Stalinist famines and purges by popular demand.
This does not mean that all warlords are equally bad. But statements like “To break a warlord equilibrium, you need government” only confuse us. In contrast, once you recognize all governments as warlords, you can focus on the deeper questions: Why are some warlords so much better than others? How is this stable? And if you can predictably elicit good behavior from a monopoly, why couldn’t competition do as well or better?