Monday, March 02, 2009

HOV lane to serfdom?

Yesterday, my friend Ben Boychuk invited me to participate in the podcast he and his RedBlueAmerica running mate, Joel Mathis, produce weekly. Joel wasn't available, so fellow Infinite Monkey Jim Lakely (aka Dr. Zaius) joined Ben and me. When Ben gets the audio edited, I'll post a link.

Jim made the point that Barack Obama has done more to remake the relationship between individuals and the U.S. government in one month than has taken place by any administration in recent memory. (Can't remember if he referenced FDR, but it'll be in the podcast.)

As I suggested, Obama appears to be familiar with some of the work done by the "Chicago boys" at the University of Chicago, led by Milton Friedman, F.A. von Hayek and George Stigler. Problem is, he's taken the wrong lessons.

In 1984, Milton and Rose Friedman published Tyranny of the Status Quo, a book asking why it's difficult for political reformers to maintain momentum after their early days in office. Looking at the administrations of Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterand and Ronald Reagan, the Friedmans concluded that any new head of state has between six and nine months to implement whatever meaningful reforms they will accomplish.

After that, the "iron triangle" of politicians, regulators and special interests that prospered under the previous regime would reassert their authority and halt if not reverse the new leader's changes.

If Obama studied his Friedmans, he knew that he had to propose an initial budget that would have seemed unconscionable in the fall of 2008 -- including all its expansions of the welfare state and the bureaucracy. Because he wouldn't get a second chance. Talk about change ...

The next year will be a test of the Friedmans' idea. I see a potential problem with it, because Obama's policies are pandering to the regulators, the special interests that benefit from bigger government and the politicians (at least of his own party) who want to bribe people with their own money.

If in this case, however, the Friedmans mean "the status quo" is republican self-government, then we can only pray that their thesis holds up.

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