Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Andrew Sullivan argues against the government trying to run either G.M. or Afghanistan:

I understand why conservatives balk at the notion of a politician running a car company. Obama hasn't done much with GM yet, but if he is not careful, he could easily get trapped, as David Brooks notes, in a hell of a pickle. He will face political pressure to hang in, even as the company continues to fail. And he has no expertise of the kind needed to run a car company. And this is the core conservative insight here: success is hard; it requires close attention to the details of a business or an enterprise; it takes experience and judgment and practical knowledge that no politician or economist or analyst has. Now I know GM's management has sucked as well - but that doesn't mean that government won't suck a lot more. This is a classic case of a mismatch between what a politician can do and what he is trying to do: an over-reach, a categorical error.

But why, pray, does this not equally apply to running Iraq or Afghanistan? Why does our conservative elite believe that these vast, complex, foreign cultures and countries are somehow more manageable than GM? What expertise does Barack Obama have in running Afghanistan?

In general, I tend to agree with him here. But it depends on the purpose for which you're intervening. If it's the FDIC going in to take over a bank, cleaning it out, and basically getting out, that's one thing. If it's to try and keep it running, then Sullivan's conservatism makes sense to me.

One exception to this may be the health care system. I'm not sure that you can run this with a hybrid system, with government paying for a large chunk of it via medicare and medicaid, and private industry getting the profits and determining the costs. That's a recipe for unsustainability. It probably needs to be one way or the other--all private or all public. Since all private would be unacceptable to most people these days, given the horrific consequences, all public is probably the only alternative. But I don't think we have the political will to do this until it forced upon us by circumstances, namely a collapse of the system.

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