Weapons for the GOP punditocracy

Ilana Mercer, November 20, 2009

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid is advancing on the country with an $848 billion health-care bill in hand, which he hopes to bring to the senate floor before he and cohorts go on holiday. Yet the swiftest arrow in the Republican punditocracy’s Obamacare quiver remains this:

If the government can’t pull off the “Cash For Clunkers” scam, how will it handle healthcare?

Or this:

If government can’t manage the gallery of the grotesque ─ Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security ─ how will it run a sixth of the economy?

When all else fails to persuade, they galvanize the argument from Hitler. Taking their cues from Rush Limbaugh, it is not uncommon for Republican commentators to pair B. Hussein’s health care with Hitler’s hobby horses: smoking bans, abortions, euthanasia and eugenics.

Hitler and the mismanagement by government of Medicare and Medicaid (but not the military) ─ this is the Republican commentariat’s repertoire of riffs. Anything but First Principles with which the GOP has an oil-and-water relationship.

Republicans are clearly more exhausted than engaged. The same goes for the targets of their message. If the polls are anything to go by, most Americans are unimpressed by anti-government rhetoric when emanating from former Bush acolytes. According to a CNN poll, “49 percent of those questioned would vote for the Democratic candidate in their congressional district, with 43 percent supporting the Republican.” At an approval rate of 55 percent, Bush’s successor is still beloved.

Fleetingly going against the GOP grain, Dick Armey took on a Clinton lackey named (deceptively) David Goodfriend on CNBC’s “Kudlow Reports.” To make his argument against the encroaching command economy, Armey, who holds a Ph.D. in economics, mentioned that the economist Ludwig von Mises had won the great calculation debate.

Economist Bryan Caplan has (disapprovingly) parsed the Mises proof thus:

“Government ownership of the means of production renders economic calculation impossible. If the state owns all of the capital goods, there will be no market for capital goods; with no market, no market prices [can arise]; no market prices [means] no way to calculate profit-and-loss. QED.”

Far be it from me to expect the media front- men and women of the GOP to understand why the rational allocation of resources in state-run systems is virtually impossible. Even less likely is this cadre to crack open a von Mises or von Hayek volume ─ or, for that matter, consult our Vox Day ─ for the answers. But there is no good reason why Republicans can’t turn their stuttering attempts around by mastering plain, principled arguments for private property.

Why are privately owned homes cared for and public housing trashed? Why do government-controlled forests burn each year at tremendous costs to the people and property they abut, while privately managed forests are spared? Why did crops rot in the collective farms run by the old Soviet communist system, but not in capitalist, commercial farms?

Government-controlled resources go to seed because there is no private ownership of the means of production. Entrusted with the management of assets you don’t own, have no stake in; on behalf of millions of people you don’t know, don’t care about, are unaccountable to, and who have no real recourse against your mismanagement except to whine like wimps—how long before your performance plummets?

Property-rights economist Armen A. Alchian unpacks it for us:

“Under socialism, government agents—those whom the government assigns—exercise control over resources. The rights of these agents to make decisions about the property they control are highly restricted. People who think they can put the resources to more valuable uses cannot do so by purchasing the rights because the rights are not for sale at any price. Because socialist managers do not gain when the values of the resources they manage increase, and do not lose when the values fall, they have little incentive to heed changes in market-revealed values. The uses of resources are therefore more influenced by the personal characteristics and features of the officials who control them.”

In other words, to the extent that vestiges of private property and its ethics are present in healthcare, these will be supplanted by the collective “wisdom” of central planners like Harry Reid.

November 20

CATEGORIES: Argument, Bush, Collectivism, Communism, Conservatism, Government, Military, Political Economy, Political Philosophy, Property Rights, Republicans