My Hammer and Some Nails
By Arnold Kling
My solution is competitive government. I do not think that wanting to live in Silver Spring Maryland should automatically subject me to the local school monopoly, the national pensions system monopoly, and so on. I would like to be able to subscribe to the school system of my choice, the financial regulatory system of my choice, the food inspection system of my choice, and so forth. Monopoly based on geography is not necessary for most government services. I am willing to concede national defense and courts. I am also not advocating leaping with blind faith into some anarch-capitalist future. There are lots of gradual steps we could take to make government more competitive than it is now. The widely-unread Unchecked and Unbalanced describes some of these gradual steps.
This solution is my hammer, and to me lots of things look like nails. For example, the United States seems to be in some sort of awful political pickle right now. It will not shock you to learn that I do not think that the Left has the answer. There are several stories in today’s news in which folks long for the Center. But the Center is weak politically, because the Center stands for TARP, stimulus, and all sorts of stuff that people hate. The Center is too weak to fix the entitlement mess or to stand up to the political muscle and villainy of the teachers’ unions. In any event, the Center, like the Left, has too much faith in experts in The Era of Expert Failure.
So is the Right the answer? Apart from the many reservations one can have about the Tea Party movement, I just don’t think that entitlements can be reformed by one political party alone. The Democrats needed big majorities and a strong will to force through a health care bill that was mostly dessert, with a bit of spinach. Entitlement reform is all spinach, with no dessert.
So I don’t think that the answer can be found on the Left, the Center, or the Right. Which means that I think there is a serious chance that our political system will become untenable.
Collapse of our government might not be a bad thing. According to Scott Sumner, we are only 15th among advanced countries in terms of quality of government. The top 10 are either very small or else Canada or Australia. I don’t know about Australia, but Canada is reasonably decentralized. Its people are very spread out, and my sense is that its provinces feel more autonomous than U.S. states are feeling these days.
After our government collapses, I would propose subdivision. Start with two governments. Regardless of where you live, you can join Northern Evangelica and be governed by the descendants of John Adams and Lyman Beecher or Southern Evangelica, governed by the descendants of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. Eventually, these governments are likely to split into sub-governments also, but we can start with two.
Anyway, all the arguments about the Tea Party or Arthur Brooks seem to me like nails that I want to hit with my hammer of competitive government.