January 13, 2011


Penn Jillette rants about the basic problem with giving the government more power to make us better people and the world a better place. Yes, he belabors the point, but in the process articulates well the fallacy of the "indispensable man" (language NSFW).

I just started translating Demon City Shinjuku. Kikuchi begins with an "indispensable man." The bestest politician that ever was, the "savior of the universe" (as Queen would put it). Thankfully, he's hustled off stage once his fate gives the superhero and the supervillain something to fight over.

The inexorable tides of history and the very future of the world resting on the shoulders of one man is a reliable plot device. In real life, it'd be absolutely terrifying. The problem with Napoleonic figures is they tend to end up like, well, Napoleon, crowning themselves emperor and invading Russia.

In other fictional realms, statist technocrats like Thomas Friedman are drawn like moths to the flame to the "indispensable bureaucracy." It's China now. It was Japan thirty years ago. But then Japan crashed and burned, largely because things too good to be true are, and things that can't go on forever won't.

No matter how indispensable.

The strength of federalism is not that it guarantees collective success. Far from it. Anything run by humans will constantly fail. What's important is that it not all fail at the same time. Better a system that muddles through over one that performs brilliantly right up to the moment it catastrophically self-destructs.

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# posted by Anonymous Dan
1/14/2011 8:56 AM   
Tell Ivy School graduates a corporation should have a monopoly over gasoline and they would rightly be horrified. But if it is the government with monopoly power then maybe it's not so bad. Thus when one advocates a government monopoly on health insurance underwriting they will nod in approval.

The explanation, of course is obvious. The educated elite have an affinity for policy making and consider government their natural habitat. They trust government. They do not trust businessmen. It also helps that government programs can, over long periods of time, operate beyond the harshness of economic law. Accounting rules and financial solvency can be such inconvenient hassles.