Wednesday, February 25, 2009

GOP philosophy, or lack thereof

Driving in to work this morning I subjected myself to one of the local talk radio stations (KTSA) to see what they were saying about Obama’s first address to Congress last night. After a few minutes of listening to Trey Ware go on and on about how he doesn’t believe in getting help from the government and all he wants is for government to “get out of the way” and that if we would just cut taxes on business that we would see this huge economic growth, blah, blah, blah.... I was ready to pull my hair out.
Has he been asleep for the past eight years? What does he think Bush was doing all that time?
Of course, Ware sounded no different than Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal did in his embarrassingly bad response to Obama’s speech the night before in which he complained about government spending on volcano monitoring, like that is somehow a bad thing. Does this mean that Jindal is too young to remember Mount St. Helens?

And so I thought Paul Krugman’s response was very much on target.

What is the appropriate role of government?

Traditionally, the division between conservatives and liberals has been over the role and size of the welfare state: liberals think that the government should play a large role in sanding off the market economy’s rough edges, conservatives believe that time and chance happen to us all, and that’s that.

But both sides, I thought, agreed that the government should provide public goods — goods that are nonrival (they benefit everyone) and nonexcludable (there’s no way to restrict the benefits to people who pay.) The classic examples are things like lighthouses and national defense, but there are many others. For example, knowing when a volcano is likely to erupt can save many lives; but there’s no private incentive to spend money on monitoring, since even people who didn’t contribute to maintaining the monitoring system can still benefit from the warning. So that’s the sort of activity that should be undertaken by government.

So what did Bobby Jindal choose to ridicule in this response to Obama last night? Volcano monitoring, of course.

And leaving aside the chutzpah of casting the failure of his own party’s governance as proof that government can’t work, does he really think that the response to natural disasters like Katrina is best undertaken by uncoordinated private action? Hey, why bother having an army? Let’s just rely on self-defense by armed citizens.

The intellectual incoherence is stunning. Basically, the political philosophy of the GOP right now seems to consist of snickering at stuff that they think sounds funny. The party of ideas has become the party of Beavis and Butthead.

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