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The Law of Expected Consequences

Friday, September 17, 2004
Neoconservatism has had a strange history. It began as an offshoot of New Deal Liberalism, but became disenchanted with the 1960's Great Society - they claimed that liberal programs, while well-meaning, frequently rushed in where angels feared to tread. This was little more than a valuable note of caution in the face of large, far-reaching problems. Neocons later articulated what they called the Law of Unintended Consequences. This is basically the balloon theory of public policy: anywhere you step on a balloon, it will just pop out someplace else. In other words, the neocons just threw their hands up at problems. They were still Democrats until they were alienated by the anti-war protestors and the Carter foreign policy. Their transformation into Republicans was complete when they discovered the beneficial uses of religion. Now they have become some kind of strange breed of imperialists who think that democracy can flow out of the barrel of a gun.

EJ Dionne has laid out what is bizarre about neoconservative foreign policy, but I want to point out some amusing things about their domestic policy. Contemporary conservatives (neo- and otherwise) have moved aggressively in the direction of privatization. They claim that the discipline of the market is inherently more efficient than "government planning." (a phrase by which they conflate any government program with Stalinism) As evidence the conservatives point to past government failures and the manifest success of the private sector.

As usual, we can ignore those pesky things called facts. The neocons have done a lot of that with foreign policy, as you know. But now we have some more evidence of the wonders of privatization, both reported today in the New York Times. First, the charter school plan has been a complete failure, which should raise serious questions about the school voucher proposal. In addition, it turns out that private medicare is considerably more expensive than the public version (check it out). And how can we forget the spectacular success of private military contracting in Iraq?

This is the sad thing about neoconservatives: they started out with a perfectly reasonable caution about government programs and an equally reasonable opposition to the Soviet Union. But their failure to adhere to their own original principles has made them the determined enemies of everything they once championed, or profess to champion now. They have even ignored their own Law of Unintended Consequences, any adherence to which would have led them to oppose the Iraq adventure and be very suspicious of something as untested as privatization.

It would almost be funny if they weren't ruining the country.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 4:55 PM
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