Friday, January 19, 2007

Thomas Friedman's Love of FDR's Statism

by Tibor R. Machan

In a recent column I made the point that "With the Democrats back in power in Washington, it is not unreasonable to suppose that securing and expanding FDR's list of rights—as distinct from those laid out by the American founders in the Declaration of Independence—will once again dominate the federal government's agenda." And almost so as to bear out my prescience, Thomas Friedman, the well known author and columnist for The New York Times, produced an essay that explicitly champions drafting a list of "rights" in the spirit of FDR's "second Bill of Rights" or The New Deal. As Friedman would have it,

“The right rallying call is for a "Green New Deal." The New Deal was not built on a magic bullet, but on a broad range of programs and industrial projects to revitalize America. Ditto for an energy New Deal. If we are to turn the tide on climate change and end our oil addiction, we need more of everything: solar, wind, hydro, ethanol, biodiesel, clean coal and nuclear power—and conservation.” (The New York Times, 1-19-07)

And Friedman quite rightly tells us that "To spark a Green New Deal today requires getting two things right: government regulations and prices." Which is to say, he recommends that we become a planned society, with government doing the planning and the rest of us compelled to comply. This, oddly, at the same time as Friedman acknowledges that "Neither the White House nor the Democratic Party seems to grasp that the public and business community are miles ahead of them on this energy/environment issue." That pretty much admits that government is inept and bogged down in bureaucratic slow motion on matters that require intelligent planning, something evidently carried out with some success by the private sector.

This is especially important when it comes to environmental matters since the major obstacle to making adjustments here, as in so many other areas of social life, is the tragedy of the commons. When public spheres are involved—and they are increasing by leaps and bounds these days—there is no hope for prudent conduct from those who have an interest in the outcome. Instead, the various special interests that drive public policy decisions eagerly grab whatever advantage they can, via the political and bureaucratic process, with very little concern for how to deal with the long run.

Back in the days of the Soviet Empire what was so evident to anyone who visited that part of the globe was how ineptly the Soviet system dealt with environmental problems. Government planning simply will not deliver the desired results, in part because the knowledge needed to prepare for the future is lacking in centers of state power and because of the pressure to suit short-term interests.

The opposite is the case with the private sector. If property rights are clearly specified, those who own property will far more likely keep their eyes on the future, even promote their own precautionary measures so as to keep what they own productive and avoid destroying the property of their neighbors who could sue if this isn't done properly. Indeed, just the opposite of what Friedman is advocating is necessary so as to cope promptly and effectively with environmental hazards. What is needed is more vigilant privatization.

Placing responsibility for the care of the environment into the hands of private agents is the way a society best copes with the future. Unfortunately Friedman & Co. are so captive of the governmental habit that they cannot grasp this. In Friedman's case this is especially perplexing, since he has written on the merits of globalization—in his book, The World is Flat—as far as problem solving abroad is concerned.~ He ought to be first in line to reject government meddling—which is to say collective decision making and coercive planning—and urge turning to the private sector when it comes to how a free society ought to prepare for the future.

Instead Friedman, along with all the other statists in this country and elsewhere, see some problem and immediately turn to government for help. This is why they love FDR's New Deal and his Second Bill of Rights, since both of these are basically no more than the transference of the variety of private ways of coping with the future to the one-size-fits-all, guaranteed-to-fail public or collectivist approach.

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