There is this guy, Lew Rockwell, who writes regularly on these pages. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it or not, but the man is an extremist. Yes, I repeat that: an extremist! He has no sense of proportion, nor balance. Instead, he marks out the most extreme positions on any given subject, and tries to make them sound, horrors!, reasonable.
The latest example of this extremist nonsense of his, and, believe me, this is the merest tip of the iceberg, is a horrendous little piece in which he has the temerity to call for the complete privatization of, would you believe it, electrical utilities. Now, I concede that, superficially, he has a point. The blackouts that have lately been bedeviling consumers in New York and California do demonstrate that all is not well with our present system of delivering electrical power. But that is the way of all extremists! They seize upon an actual fault in the system, and, instead of attempting to improve things marginally as would a sensible commentator, they use this an excuse to yank the rug under our feet with their radical "solutions."
Yes, there are problems in the energy field. This cannot be denied. But if Lew had called for more "hearings, reports, meetings, yammering, resolutions, reforms" I could go along with him. This after all, constitutes responsible public policy analysis. Surely, if we fire a few of the people responsible for the present mess, and replace them with party hacks, no, sorry, a thousand pardons, I meant better engineers who have graduated from schools that emphasize inclusivity, political correctness, feminist and gay studies and affirmative action, we would have better results. Or, if Rockwell had stressed that the provision of electrical power is too complex for the states and localities to run, and that only federal expertise would suffice, then I might be able to support him. FEMA, for example, and the Army Corp of Engineers could be brought in to solve the problem. (But don’t for a moment count on this extremist getting with the program on that matter. Here is what he had to say about those organizations.)
Did Rockwell offer any of these constructive criticisms? To ask this question is to answer it; no, he did not. Instead, he said "What we need today is full, radical, complete, uncompromised deregulation and privatization. We need competition." C’mon, give me a break. The country is simply not ready for this sort of thing. Maybe, after a decade or two of government subsidies for Austrian economics, we could begin to move in this direction.
Has not Rockwell heard of marginal analysis? This is a mainstay of Austrian economics, which he says he supports. According to marginal analysis, good public policy consists of making marginal changes (get it? marginal) to extant economic institutions. But marginal means small and responsible. You just don’t tear down ways of doing things that have been in force for years, even decades. In that direction lies irresponsible extremism. Fascism, even.
Has not Rockwell heard of the Chicago School of Economics? No extremists, they. You will never find an economist associated with that revered school of thought making half-vast recommendations of the sort we are now criticizing. No, this distinguished group of Economics Nobel Prize winners confines itself to politically possible changes and is justly world famous for so doing.
Imagine the disruption if Rockwell’s cockamamie schemes were put into effect. Why, there would be thousands, no, tens of thousands, no, hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats, time servers, nincompoops, wastrels, no wait, I mean great contributors to the economy, tossed out on their ears onto the unemployment lines. This would radically reduce their income. As a result, they would purchase less than before; things like luxury cars, luxury food, luxury bicycles, foreign vacations, jewels, Rolexes, yachts, etc. This would mean, in turn, that the purveyors of these items would suffer economic losses, and so on. No, in that direction lies depression. Haven’t we had enough of this sort of thing in 1929? Do we need more of the same, now, courtesy of Lew Rockwell?
No, no, I say, a thousand times no. Let those people suffering from brownouts and blackouts live in "90-degree houses and sleep in puddles of sweat." There are more important things than our (well, their) selfish creature comforts. High on this list is maintaining our present socialist system of electronic power distribution, or, at least, not disturbing the status quo more than merely around the edges.
It is no wonder that the Mises Institute is not popular with the beltway crowd. It is easy to understand why those associated with this organization are not regularly interviewed by the New York Times, and do not regularly appear on major network television. It is totally comprehensible that this group limps along with an extremely (get that!?! poetic justice, here) small budget, compared to other "free market" think tanks that have caved in, no, no, I meant, taken on a more moderate position. It is all because of Rockwell’s unmitigated disaster of an extremist policy!
Rockwell must go. Down with Rockwell! Boo, Lew. He stinks.
Dr. Block [send him mail] is a professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans. Currently he is the Steven Berger Visiting Professor at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of Defending the Undefendable.