Wouldn’t it be nice if roads built themselves, if cold and hot water appeared magically whenever we installed sinks in homes, or if cellular networks operated without towers, money without banks, courts without laws, or judges, or lawyers? Wouldn’t it be nice if food simply appeared in our supermarkets or on our tables? Yet, in the magical world where our GOP leaders live, the administrative, legal, regulatory, economic and commercial integration of the globe apparently happens just as small children imagine that it happens: without any laws, regulations, or administrators, and evidently even without any legislators or legislation or law-making.
If this all seems only too fantastic, you should take note that as of April 7, the FAA is pulling some 149 or so traffic control towers because, evidently, under the sequestration air traffic safety is also supposed to happen as if by magic.
Except instead of magic, perhaps we should instead speak of the “invisible hand” of the marketplace. That is what the Reason Foundation’s Robert Poole wants us to believe. According to Poole, “there’s a tendency over time to have Congress direct more money to small airports than would probably be economically justified” (NYT). We also direct more money to police and fire departments, to public hospitals, public schools, and public highways than would “probably be economically justified.”
Does it matter that Poole is an engineer and not an economist? Not in the least. Because the brilliance of a child’s eye view of the economy such as that entertained by Poole and his GOP admirers is that all a person needs is a little Carl Menger, a little von Mises, and a little von Hayek, and, presto chango, the whole world looks and works a lot more simply.
Now, needless to say, Poole, the MIT-trained engineer, probably would not want me designing bridges, high-rises, automobiles, or airplanes. But, the economy? It all works by magic.
No doubt, there are some starry-eyed, true believers – Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan for instance – who really do view the world through Hayekian-colored glasses, who believe that if we just kept our noses out of private enterprise all would be fine, just like those nice cellophane-wrapped vegetables in the produce section of Walmart, which simply miraculously arrive there. Oh, yes, of course, there is the currency printed by the Treasury and the Fed that governs its supply. And, then, there are the banks where store managers deposit cash receipts (where did they come from?). Oh, yes, and the roads and highways along which those huge Walmart trucks careen, publicly paid and laid asphalt crumbling under their weight. And there are the international laws and covenants that govern the transfer taxes and trades between China and the US and the international shipping laws and regulations that govern traffic on the high seas. But, aside from all that, its all just the purchaser and the seller, mano y mano, just as Milton Friedman said.
There are others, however, who are not so child-like as Wisconsin Senator Paul Ryan. These others know full well what they are doing. They know that in the absence of municipal fire departments fires rage uncontrolled between the insured and uninsured homes, compelling those who can afford it to pool their resources to purchase private fire coverage in private neighborhoods because a fire department for all, irrespective of wealth, probably cannot be “economically justified.” They know that in the absence of well-funded, well-staffed public schools, the human capital of our entire community plummets, leaving only those with sufficient wealth to attend private schools with the human capital to create and invent and grow, while the rest of us pull levers and drive stakes for our diminishing hourly wage. And they know that in the absence of a well-funded, and well-staffed public postal service, the mail will still get through, just not to everywhere, not at the same price per package, and so, ultimately, only the wealthy are able to fully monopolize the information highways, paper, sound, image, and wave. And they know that privatization leads to the overall dis-integration not only of the economy, but of the society.
Paul Ryan and Rand Paul don’t know any of this. Its beyond them. They are children. Who can fault them.
But many in the Republican leadership know that airplanes will fall out of the sky when traffic towers are closed, that men and women and children will die horrible deaths, that airlines will close routes and field smaller more selective fleets, leading to diminished commerce, travel, and transportation in our skies. They know this and they don’t care because – and they are right – the only way to rid our country and our nation of those pesky political institutions that make laws and spend money and tax our wealth is to kill the programs and get rid of the laws that they pass, so that everyone will recognize that government is so dysfunctional that they will welcome the plutocracy that will displace it.
But this has nothing whatsoever to do with economics – liberal, conservative, left or right, Keynesian or neoliberal. This is politics pure and simple and cynical to the core.
So, let Paul Ryan dream his warm fuzzy dream of breakfast appearing by fiat on the table every morning. In the world where I live, economics is at least as complicated as engineering and might require more than a quick adolescent read of Atlas Shrugged to figure out. In the world where I live, where 87,000 planes fly through our air every day, traffic control towers might be a good idea. In the world where I live, where legislators are democratically elected to uphold the law of the land and enact and fund legislation their constituents have asked them to enact and fund, it is against the law for those same legislators, however childish they may be, to refuse to fund those programs with which they disagree.
But we are talking about children here.