By Arnold Kling
According to Iain Murray’s new book, the worst disasters come from environmental policy. It is remarkable the magnitude of the harm caused by government relative to the harm caused by the private sector from which it protects us. My co-blogger cites the number of people murdered by Stalin as an example of government-caused harm that is very difficult for the private sector to top.
Here are some more comparisons to consider:
1. The total death and illness caused by all of the chemical pollution ever created vs. the death and illness caused by the ban on DDT.
2. The GDP lost due to consumption of illegal drugs vs. the GDP lost due to the drug war.
3. The deprivation and suffering caused by predatory lending and other subprime mortgage shenanigans vs. that caused by biofuel mandates.
I think that as the world gets more complex and interdependent, we will see government activism cause ever-greater harm, because the unintended consequences become harder to predict, or even to trace when they do occur.
UPDATE: A commenter points out that the title of Murray’s book is confrontational, and this will discourage people from reading it dispassionately. I am very sympathetic with the commenter’s point. I like the classic lawyer’s saying, “If you have the facts with you, argue the facts. If you have the law with you, argue the law. If you have neither, pound the table.”
I think that the facts are on Murray’s side, which makes pounding the table seem inappropriate. Of course, I felt the same way about Jonah Goldberg’s book, and it became a bestseller. Still, I myself would not want to have a claim to fame as a table-pounder.