Saturday, October 3, 2009

Poll: What do you trust?

A comment from a reader of Paul Krugman's blog caught my attention the other day,
You are right Professor; inexorably, irrefutably right to anyone who is logical - any adult who understands it is better to keep capacity and output from disappearing because trying to replace it if it collapses is so much more expensive.

Our problem is: Many on the other side of the argument don’t believe in the system - there is no amount of logic and no number of experts who will change their mind, partly ‘freshwater school’ influence but largely a fatalistice [sic] belief in ‘end times’ psychology. The only way to have an honest argument is to ask, upfront, ‘ do you believe in the system ?’, ‘ do you believe in government ?’

Time is of the essence, and we cannot waste it on people who fundamentally do not believe in government functions, AND live out those beliefs through their economic behaviours and the way they vote in Congress - it is the true essence of behavioural economics.

The comment reminded me of a blog article by Greg Mankiw from several months ago. Here are the final four paragraphs:

Most private organizations have some competitors, and this fact makes me more comfortable interacting with them. If Harvard is a bad employer, I can move to Princeton or Yale, and this knowledge keeps Harvard in line. To be sure, we need a government-run court system to enforce contracts, prevent fraud, and preserve honest competition. But it is fundamentally competition among private organizations that I trust.

This philosophical inclination most likely influences my views of the healthcare debate. The more power a centralized government authority asserts, the more worried I am that the power will be misused either purposefully or, more likely, because of some well-intentioned but mistaken social theory. I prefer reforms that set up rules of the game but end up with power over key decisions as decentralized as possible.

What puzzles me is that Paul seems so ready to trust solutions that give a large role to the federal government. (In the past, for instance, he has advocated a single payer for healthcare.) I understand that trust of centralized authority is common among liberals. But here is the part that puzzles me: Over the past eight years, Paul has tried to convince his readers that Republicans are stupid and venal. History suggests that Republicans will run the government about half the time. Does he really want to turn control of healthcare half the time over to a group that he considers stupid and venal?

These thoughts, I appreciate, are broad generalizations. They don't immediately lead to a specific set of reform proposals. But I wanted to give Paul credit for a key insight: A central question in this and perhaps other debates is, Whom do you trust?

That brings me to the poll question of the week.

What do you trust the most?

(a) Individuals
(b) Government
(c) Incentives
(d) The media

The poll is open for a week. Vote early and tell your friends to vote. The poll is on the sidebar (--->). I look forward to what you have to say.

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