Is To Blame? Why, You Are!
recent headline in my local paper (The
Hour, May 31, 2002) caught my eye: "Local traffic problems
impede long-term growth: Residents have only themselves to blame
for woes." It seems the mayor of Norwalk, Alex Knopp*,
had assembled a panel of "experts" to see who was to blame for the
terrible traffic congestion in the city. The answer was... the residents!
They need "look no further than their own driver's seat when searching
for the root cause of the horrendous traffic congestion in the area."
There is, they made clear, a lack of "long-term public transportation
policies" that combines with a "cultural need to drive alone," creating
the traffic problem. A special culprit is "two-job families with
a third car for the teenagers."
all of this seems reasonable to you, try to imagine a similar headline:
"Hour-long lines at checkout counter impede growth of store: Customers
have only themselves to blame." The owner of the store has assembled
a panel of experts, who conclude that shoppers need look no further
than their own waistline when searching for the root cause of the
long lines. A lack of long-term food policies and the unfortunate
desire of people to eat three meals a day have caused the crisis.
course, we'd reject such nonsense! The customers of a business aren't
to blame for the failure of the business to provide adequate service.
The storeowner is simply trying to cover up the fact that he can't
run a store properly. Furthermore, we'd rightly expect that within
months, one or more new stores would open in the area and relieve
him of his problem and his customers.
there is the difference in our scenarios: The government, the failed
provider of transportation, has essentially no competition in the
road business. Moreover, since it collects the money to pay for
the roads by force, it really doesn't even matter to the government
whether it fixes the problem. Every once in a while, it can convene
a panel of experts to blame the customer (the taxpayer), and, in
fact, use its failure to demand even more funding (e.g., for "long-term
public transportation policies").
situation is not very different on the national level. On 9/11,
when the US government failed in what is supposedly its primary
job, protecting American citizens, it immediately began blaming
us. Even though we've been paying over $300 billion a year for defense
lately, Bush asked for a 15%
increase in that amount. You see, we've just been too stingy!
also been too stingy with our liberty, as well. If only we weren't
so fussy about the FBI spying on us, airline security personnel
groping us, and US military personnel patrolling our streets, we
could get better service.
only that, but government officials assured us that no one could
have imagined what happened on 9/11. However, as Bob Murphy noted,
the terrorists had certainly been able to imagine it! Well, but
no one else could have.
turns out they were lying. Israel
had imagined it, and had warned us. So had Russia, and Britain,
and, as I heard on the news this morning, even Egypt. Not only that,
but many people in our government had imagined it as well. The government's
top counter-terrorism official, Richard Clarke, told officials from
a dozen government agencies last July: "Something really spectacular
is going to happen here, and it's going to happen soon." (Harley
To Ashcroft Proves Threat Was Known Before 9/11.") John Ashcroft
was told to stop flying commercial flights in July. FBI and CIA
officials issued memos warning that Al Qaeda was planning something,
that operatives were attending flight schools, and that it would
involve a hijacking. On the radio recently I heard that on September
10th, the CIA picked up Al Qaeda "chatter" indicating that tomorrow
was the "big day."
all of the advance word and $300 billion to spend protecting us,
the government couldn't stop the attacks. Even after two planes
had hit the World Trade Center and it was known that two more planes
had been hijacked and were in the air, the government couldn't stop
the headquarters of its own armed forces from being attacked 40
more, after his administration has spent a billion dollars a month
attacking Afghanistan, Dick Cheney assures
us that we are no safer than we were on September 12th!
Others have chimed in to express similar cheery thoughts. As Justin
[said] it is "almost
certain" that a terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 is "not
a matter of if, but when." Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
joined in the fun, averring that "we should just face that
reality," while FBI Director Robert Mueller tried
to top that with a flat out prediction that suicide bombings,
as have occurred in Israel, were "inevitable" in the U.S.
when those "inevitable" attacks come, you'll know who is to blame:
amusing aside: I first heard of Knopp while living in Norwalk seven
or eight years ago. One day I received a letter from him, telling
me he was my state representative. "Let me know," the letter said,
"if there is anything at all I can help you with." Now here was
a politician who cared! I called his office and left a message on
his voicemail saying that, indeed, we could use some assistance:
With my wife and I both working, we were falling way behind on the
vacuuming, dusting, and so on. If he could just spare a few Saturdays,
it would be a tremendous help. Curiously, I never heard back from
Callahan [send him mail]
has just finished a book, Economics for Real People, due
out in a few weeks from the Ludwig
von Mises Institute.
2002 Gene Callahan
Callahan/Stu Morgenstern Archives