All Government Policies Succeed in the Long Run
By Robert Higgs
A crazy claim you are probably thinking after reading my title. After all, “failed policies” are a staple of discussions and debates about government actions in the United States. Everybody, regardless of political preferences, has a list of what he regards as the most glaringly failed policies. This way of looking at the matter, however, is all wrong.
People label a policy as a failure because it does not bring about its declared objective. For example, drug policies do not reduce drug use; educational policies do not educate children better; national-security policies do not make Americans more secure; and so forth. The mistake is to take seriously the announced policy objectives, to forget that virtually everything the government does is a fraud. The best way to document the government’s nearly unblemished record of policy success is to follow the money. With very little trouble, you will be able to follow the trail to the individuals and groups who benefit from the policy. Occasionally the true beneficiaries do not benefit in the form of augmented income or wealth, but in other forms of reward, yet the principle remains the same.
When I first studied economics and began to practice as an economist, back in the sixties and seventies, I learned how markets and the market system as a whole operate. With this understanding in mind, I was able to identify a number of reasons why a particular policy might fail: it might be based on insufficient or incorrect information; it might give rise to unintended consequences; it might receive inadequate funding for its implementation; it might be based on unsound theory or mistaken interpretation of historical experience; and so forth.
Analysts who approach the question of failed policies along these avenues can rest assured that they will never lack for new studies to perform and new measures to propose to legislators, regulators, administrators, and judges. For example, if government fiscal or monetary policy fails to stabilize the economy’s growth because it derives from unsound macroeconomic theory, then the analyst attempts to identify the ways in which the received theory is unsound and to formulate a sounder theory, on the basis of which a more successful policy may be carried out. This sort of back and forth between theoretical tinkering and policy appraisal fills many pages in mainstream economics journals.
But it’s all a waste of time insofar as the attainment of the ostensible policy objectives is concerned, because these objectives are not the policy-makers’ real objectives, but only the public rationales they use to disguise their true objective, which invariably is to bring about the enrichment, aggrandizement, and other benefit of the politically potent individuals and interest groups that pack the decisive punch in the policy-making process—for example, those who can most effectively threaten legislators with affirmative punishments or the withdrawal of financial support for the legislators’ reelection if the string pullers’ interests are not served.
Almost twenty years ago, I wrote an article on this subject called “The Myth of ‘Failed’ Policies,” commenting briefly on how seven different areas of important, obvious policy failure illustrate my thesis. Looking back at my 1995 article, I can say now that in each case the apparent “failure” and the actual success have only grown. In each case, much more money is being poured down the rat hole of a failed policy now than was being poured down it then—which is only to say that the American political process is at least as corrupt now as it was then, and probably even more so. Despite various surface changes in policy details, none of the ostensible “failures” has been repaired in the least, even though the apparent failure has become only more blatant and undeniable.
Many people, for good reason, have concluded that the surest test of whether a politician or public official is lying is to ask, Are his lips moving? An equally simple test may be proposed to determine whether a seemingly failed policy is actually a success for the movers and shakers of the political class. This test requires only that we ask, Does the policy remain in effect? If it does, we can be sure that it continues to serve the interests of those who are actually decisive in determining the sorts of policy the government establishes and implements. Now, as before, “failed” policies are a myth in regard to all policies that persist beyond the short run. The people who effectively run the government, whether from inside or outside the beast, do not run it for the purpose of hampering the attainment of their own interests; on the contrary. Everything else in the policy process is, as Macbeth would put it, “a tale told by an idiot [augmented by economists, lawyers, and public-relations flacks], full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
‘Almost Everything You Think You Know About the Matthew Shepard Narrative is False’
The death of 21-year old Matthew Shepard in 1998 launched yet another attempt by the MSM to attack the right; which in retrospect perfectly fits the template employed by the left in recent years to politicize the shootings of Gabrielle Giffords and Trayvon Martin:
Almost immediately Shepard became a secular saint, and his killing became a kind of gay Passion Play where he suffered and died for the cause of homosexuality against the growing homophobia and hatred of gay America.
Thanks to a new book by an award winning gay journalist we now know that much of this narrative turns out to be false, little more than gay hagiography.
As gay journalist Aaron Hicklin, writing in The Advocate asks, “How do people sold on one version of history react to being told that the facts are slippery — that thinking of Shepard’s murder as a hate crime does not mean it was a hate crime? And how does it color our understanding of such a crime if the perpetrator and victim not only knew each other but also had sex together, bought drugs from one another, and partied together?”
This startling revelation comes in The Book of Matt to be published next week by investigative journalist Stephen Jiminez, who over the course of years interviewed over 100 people including Shepard’s friends, friends of the killers, and the killers themselves.
No wonder “More than half of Democrats, according to a neutral survey, said they believed Bush was complicit in the 9/11 terror attacks,” according to JournoList member Ben Smith. From the cause of the Kennedy assassination to their fever swamp fantasies regarding presidents Nixon and Reagan to their multiple conspiracy theories of the 1990s, the left had been taking national news stories and overlaying on them their most lurid thoughts about the right.
The template the left uses to take already horrific incidents such as the Giffords shooting (in which a judge appointed by Republican George H.W. Bush was killed), Travyon Martin’s attempt to bash in George Zimmerman’s skull (which might also involve homophobia, according to Martin’s associate Rachel Jeantel on CNN), and the killing of Matthew Shepard and turn the amps up to 11 to politicize them is fairly predictable. Also predictable is that it won’t be too long before another crime is politicized by the left to score cheap points. And while the right has talk radio, Fox, and the Blogosphere, the left still has a much, much louder megaphone, including both the “news” media and pop culture.
The next sucker punch is surely coming. How does the right fight back?
Andrew Breitbart’s Sweet, Sweet Victories
I still think it is improbable that Breitbart's premature death was natural. Was he given something to bring on a heart attack? It did not appear to be a normal heart attack
Somewhere, up there, Andrew Breitbart is celebrating. On September 10, 2013, the legendary gadfly whose huge heart gave out far too soon chalked up a three more big wins in his campaign to take America back from the hypocritical liberal snobs he despised.
In New York, a Democrat electorate soundly rejected Anthony Wiener’s creepy comeback bid. And in Colorado, an enraged citizenry defied everything the liberal establishment could throw at them and tossed out a pair of Democrat state senators who thought they could trample on the basic civil right to keep and bear arms. Neither victory would have been possible without Andrew.
Before Andrew came along, we all knew that Democrat politicians were feminists on the podium and leering letches everywhere else. Yet from Ted Kennedy leaving a young woman to drown to Bill Clinton soiling the Oval Office with the ghastly evidence of his out-of-control libido, Democrats got away with posturing as the protectors of womankind from the ravages of the misogynist GOP.
Without Andrew Breitbart, no one would have ever known about Anthony Weiner’s bizarre predilections except Huma Abedin. She understood perfectly that the role of a male Democrat politician’s wife is to ignore her hubby’s seedy abuse of individual women so he can focus on cultivating women as a collective Democrat constituent group. And if she kept quiet, maybe she could be a senator herself. It had happened before.
Andrew broke the silence, not only pushing the story of Weiner’s genital selfies but refusing to let the mainstream media rule the story beyond the pale and ignore it. Then Andrew commandeered Weiner’s own press conference, launching into a glorious tirade and growing from raconteur to legend. Weiner slunk out of Congress and didn’t dare raise his head again until Andrew had passed. But he didn’t count on the fact that Andrew’s spirit remained.
Andrew was born and raised a liberal. He stopped being a liberal precisely because he believed in the things that liberals claimed they believed in – that all individuals should be treated with respect regardless of race or creed, that they should have a voice in their government, that civil rights matter, and that hypocrisy is wrong. It was his epiphany that liberals actually believe the opposite of what they preach that drove him out of the liberal camp. His incredible honesty and his refusal to accept the snobbery and lies that characterize liberalism made him liberalism’s Public Enemy Number One.
Don’t believe me? Scroll down to the comments. Give it a couple hours and you’ll see gleeful celebrations of Andrew’s premature passing from the members of the party of tolerance and compassion. Remember that when a liberal puts a “COEXIST” sticker on his Prius, he isn’t talking about people like us.
Anthony Wiener is gone now, swept away because Andrew refused to let the mainstream media enablers cover for him. Without Andrew, it would be Mayor Weiner, or perhaps even Senator Weiner. The mind recoils at the thought of the personal “filibustering” photos the Distinguished Gentleman from Twitter would be texting to barely legal teens.
In Colorado, a young plumber who had never been involved in politics was refused entry into his state senator’s town hall meeting. The senator didn’t feel like answering the questions the plumber and other voters had about the unconstitutional gun laws she and her fellow Democrats were shoving down Coloradans’ throats. That young plumber decided to make sure she heard him anyway, and on September 10th the entire liberal establishment heard him and other regular Americans roar as their shoestring campaign recalled two liberal senators.
That proud American probably never met Andrew, but he received a lot of help from people and organizations Andrew worked with during his years as a driving force in the Tea Party. Andrew believed that every American has a right to be heard, and he hated the pretension and snobbery of the liberal elite who think regular Americans should sit quietly and obey their masters.
Andrew was not much for sitting quietly.
He flayed the entertainment industry with Big Hollywood, the media with Big Journalism and the government – the last refuge of otherwise unemployable liberals – with Big Government. He confronted snobbery – we can only imagine Andrew’s delight in initiating a Twitter strike on the liberal who lamented the recall blowout by tweeting, “1) NRA money 2) Voter suppression (no mail-in) 3) Huge Amendment 2-like blow to Colorado economy as creative class recoils.”
Andrew would have savaged the bogus “NRA money” narrative by pointing out the ginormous dollar dump from liberals Mike Bloomberg and Eli Broad, and he would have mocked the “voter suppression” meme. But he would have saved his best for the “creative class” comment, a statement packed full of pretension and condescension toward the people who actually built this country and who make it function. That 29-year old plumber does more useful work for our country fixing pipes than a dozen “creative class” hipster doofuses twirling their goatees as they brew batches of undrinkable, cutesy-named, locally-sourced “craft brews.”
Andrew grew up with smug, smarmy liberals. He knew them. He was of them. That made his betrayal all the more intolerable. It made him dangerous.
And right now, as Weiner and the two ex-senators from Colorado try to find jobs in the Obama economy, Andrew is up there laughing his head off.
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