25.6.07

IF WE CAN LAND A MAN ON THE MOON. Once upon a time, those words prefaced all manner of Utopian Wonkery(TM), usually predicated on a hope that some "fundamental reordering of priorities" (yes, people did use expressions like that) might produce a better world. The person using that preface was often guilty of conflating what is, after all, a straightforward optimal control problem with something a bit more difficult. How things change in forty years. Charlie Sykes found a Mark Steyn column with this observation.
The illegal immigration question is an interesting test of government in action, at least when it comes to core responsibilities like defense of the nation. When critics of this "comprehensive" immigration bill demand enforcement of the borders, the administration says: Boy, you're right there! We're with you on that! We want enforcement, too. But we can't get it as long as you're holding up this "comprehensive reform."
Why not? There are immigration laws on the books right now, aren't there? Why not try enforcing them? The same people who say that government is a mighty power for good that can extinguish every cigarette butt and detoxify every cheeseburger and even change the very climate of the planet back to some Edenic state so that the water that falleth from heaven will land as ice and snow, and polar bears on distant continents will frolic as they did in days of yore, the very same people say: Building a border fence? Enforcing deportation orders? Can't be done, old boy. Pie-in-the-sky.
I'm not as quick to question the immigration reform bill as Mr Steyn appears to be, but I note that the border fence, at least, could be repackaged as "If we can land a man on the moon, we can build a border fence." That one works. Both are engineering problems, and the latter requires no optimal control theory. The full column is a meditation on the difficulties of using the power of government as a corrective to what the Welfare Economics Paradigm refers to as market failures. Taken in that spirit, however, the concluding paragraph rings a bit hollow.
Poor children are the children of poor grown-ups. If the state assumes responsibility for those children from their parents, what kind of adults are you likely to end up with? And if you can't trust free-born citizens to reach their own judgments on cheeseburgers, what can you trust them with?
Perhaps socializing the young into the Habits of Highly Effective People is a bit harder than setting up a moon shot, or building a fence.

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