The G.O.P.’s Privatization Pathology

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The G.O.P.’s Privatization Pathology
Let me take a moment to flag an issue others have been writing about in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy: The weird Republican obsession with killing the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Kevin Drum, a political blogger at Mother Jones magazine, has the goods: they just keep doing it. “At a deep ideological level, Republicans believe that federal bureaucracies are inherently inept,” Mr. Drum wrote on Oct. 30, “so when Republicans occupy the White House they have no interest in making the federal bureaucracy work. And it doesn’t. Democrats, by contrast, take government services seriously and appoint people whose job is to make sure the federal bureaucracy does work. And it does.” George Bush the elder turned the agency into a dumping ground for hacks, with bad results; Bill Clinton revived the agency; President Bush the younger ruined it again; President Obama revived it again; and Mitt Romney — with everyone still remembering Brownie and Katrina! — said that he wanted to block-grant and privatize it. (Even TV news didn’t let him Etch-A-Sketch that comment away). There’s something pathological here. It’s really hard to think of a public service less likely to be suitable for privatization, and given the massive inequality of impacts by state, it really, really isn’t blockgrantable. Does the right somehow imagine that only Those People need disaster relief? Is the whole idea of helping people as opposed to hurting them just anathema? It’s a bit of a mystery, calling more for psychological inquiry than policy analysis. But something is going on here. Soup Kitchens Caused The Great Depression Some readers have been asking me to reply to Casey Mulligan’s latest attack on my recent book — he was writing for The New York Times’s Economix blog. Um, no. Life is short, and if I spent my time responding to every attack on yours truly — or, indeed, everything Mr. Mulligan, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, writes that I consider foolish — I would have no time to do anything else. So let me just outsource this to the economist John Quiggin. Now, a recent blog post by Mr. Quiggin takes on both Mr. Mulligan’s specifics and the broader claim that increased use of the social safety net is a cause rather than a result of a depressed economy. As one of his commenters points out, this amounts to the claim that soup kitchens caused the Great Depression. Mr. Quiggin does an admirable job of refuting this claim. I would, however, add one more point. If you really believe that the problem is that excessive generosity to the downtrodden is reducing the incentive to work, so that what we really have is a supply problem rather than a demand problem, you should expect to see upward pressure on wages. But that’s not the case.

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