« Nine for Nine | Main | Eric »

"Fear and greed are built into" The New York Times

Well, Thomas Friedman is consistent, anyway. If you're going to be wrong, be wrong in style. By that standard, today's bizarre column, In oversight we trust, is certainly stylish.

Friedman's argument is -- well, actually his argument is "George Bush is evil. Enron, Worldcom, Harken. At the New York Times, we try to say these words as many times as possible next to George Bush's name." But once you get past that, his theory is that bureaucrats are good. Or, rather, some bureaucrats are good. That's right: America is better than other countries because we have better bureaucrats. As Dave Barry says, I am not making this up.

Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't we have an SEC -- not run by corporate crony George Bush and his sinister henchman Harvey Pitt, but by the saintly Bill Clinton and his trusty sidekick Arthur Levitt -- when these (alleged) frauds were actually being perpetrated? And correct me again if I'm wrong, but was it the crusading investigators of the SEC who uncovered the Enron fraud? That's just not quite how I remember it.

What Friedman doesn't understand, apparently, is that all the bureaucrats in the world don't prevent crimes from occurring. They can create new crimes by requiring lots of paperwork to be filled out in triplicate, but they can't prevent crimes from taking place. Certainly, vigorous prosecution of people who are caught committing fraud is necessary and desirable -- and should serve to deter future would-be con artists. But all the SEC reports, rules, and regulations in the world aren't going to do a thing to stop those already willing to break the law and cheat others.

I could go on, but I'd like to quote a different Friedman -- Milton -- in rebuttal. (From Jacob Sullum's column this week in Reason.) He was talking about the war on drugs, but his observations apply more generally:

Friedman said "the war on drugs and the harm which it does are simply manifestations of a much broader problem: the substitution of political mechanisms for market mechanisms in a wide variety of areas." He estimated that "the United States today is a little over fifty percent socialist," as measured by the resources the government commands through taxes and regulation.

Friedman emphasized that "the problem is not the kind of people who run our governmental institutions versus those who run our private institutions. The trouble, as the Marxists used to say, is in the system."

In particular, he explained, the ability to spend other people's money at will means that government programs do not face the discipline that private businesses do. "When a private enterprise fails, it is closed down," he noted. "When a government enterprise fails, it is expanded."

Friedman cautioned reformers against trying "to cure a problem created by socialism [with] some more socialism" by putting the government in charge of drug distribution. He urged them to "recognize that repealing drug prohibition is part of the broader problem of cutting down the scope and power of the government and restoring power to the people."

(Emphasis added.) It's as if Milton Friedman was reading Tom Friedman's mind. The SEC didn't work? This proves the need for the SEC! In fact, more SEC! It never even occurs to Tom to try a different approach.


TrackBack URL for this entry:


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 28, 2002 10:54 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Nine for Nine.

The next post in this blog is Eric.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.31