Goldberg analyzes a key problem tied to government growth
Posted by Mitch Kokai at 08:28 AMIn a brief column for the latest dead-tree version of National Review, Jonah Goldberg explains one reason why those who support big government are reluctant to support any proposals that would dismantle existing government programs.
Goldberg bases his work on a recent Ross Douthat column in The New York Times that discusses “The Great Consolidation” of state power over society:
Douthat’s diagnosis has merit. Disaster strikes, the public demands accountability, and then the elites who bungled things are replaced with new elites — often protégés of the old ones — who insist they need moe power to make sure “this never happens again.” So the European Central Bank and the Federal Reserve get vastly expanded authority, and new agencies are created with oversight powers that will outlive the current crisis and sow the seeds of the next one. “This,” writes Douthat, “is the perverse logic of meritocracy. Once a system grows sufficiently complex, it doesn’t matter how badly our best and brightest foul things up. Every crisis increases their authority, because they seem to be the only ones who understand the system well enough to fix it.”
Though he doesn’t mention it, the process Douthat describes was most famously chronicled in the libertarian classic Crisis and Leviathan by Robert Higgs, in which Higgs described the “ratchet effect.” Because a crisis is a terrible thing to waste (cf. Rahm Emanuel), government expands power during trying times but never fully relinquishes it when the danger passes. Liberals call this the path of “progress.” Conservatives and libertarians have many names for it, including the road to serfdom.
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