25.7.03

REVEALING THEIR PREJUDICES. Steven Den Beste, who produced a column-length essay for Opinion Journal, collected a round-up of sneering reactions to the recent deaths of Uday and Qusay in a firefight. These reactions tell us more about the mind-sets of the war critics than they do about the progress of the campaign. One popular trope with the less reflective Leftists is the notion of a ruling class, with a Command Central someplace from where all shots are called. (A simple version of Marxism holds that it suffices for The People to discover and take control of that someplace, thereafter the resources can be directed for the benefit of all.) It does not surprise that adherents of such a primitive Leftism would speculate that President Bush knew all the time where those guys were, and offed them when the campaign hit a rough patch. (But why not off the guys before May 1, and have the frozen corpses delivered to the carrier?) It isn't necessary to be an unreflective Marxist to give voice to such speculations. There used to be a popular mode of model-building in economics, in which individual agents lack knowledge about something important, such that an inefficiency arises, but a sufficiently informed government could issue the right commands or calculate the right tax such that all else comes out right. That sort of thinking might also lead to the conclusion that a sufficiently informed government could time the showdown with the Hussein brothers. I suppose it's churlish to ask, well, if Intelligence could smoke out two Hussein brothers attempting to hide in Iraq, why couldn't it smoke out nineteen Saudis and Egyptians in plain sight in California, Florida, and Washington, D.C? But perhaps it's not so churlish: what has battered the reputation of the aforementioned strand of economic theorizing was a relatively simple question, made popular by Professor McCloskey: If you're so smart, why aren't you rich? In economics, any inefficiency leaves unexploited gains from trade, which provide powerful incentives to fix the inefficiency and harvest the gains from trade. It's that sort of alertness, not sufficiently informed governments, that usually fixes the inefficiencies.

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