Kevin D. Williamson: ‘Politicians Steer the Economy Like Chimps Fly Rockets’Posted: January 30, 2014 | |
Kevin D. Williamson writes: When I was about four years old, I was having dinner with my family and eating spinach. Being a slightly unnatural child, I’d always liked spinach, but developed an odd way of eating it: I’d take a mouthful, chew, lean way over to the left, swallow, take another mouthful, chew, lean way over to the right, swallow, etc. My mother was used to a fair amount of inexplicable behavior from her younger son, but this eventually caught her attention, possibly because she feared I was suffering from vertigo. When she inquired, I responded that spinach is well known as a source of physical strength and muscular development — such was the inescapable influence of Popeye cartoons in the 1970s — and that while gravity could be counted on to deliver spinach-y benefits to my lower extremities, I wanted to make sure plenty got to my arms, thus the leaning. To a four-year-old, that was a perfectly sensible thing to do. My understanding of human anatomy was literally skin-deep — everything deeper was unknown to me.
We only know what we know.
Twenty-odd years later, I was visiting my mother and making dinner for her: spinach crepes. Being a southern woman, she was incurably suspicious about anybody else operating in her kitchen, and she peeked over my shoulder as I chopped the spinach: “What’s that?” she asked. I told her that it was spinach, and her face went blank for a second — and then I could almost literally see the metaphorical light bulb going on. She’d never seen fresh spinach before. Or, almost certainly, she had — I bought the spinach at the same place she habitually bought her groceries — but her formative marketing experiences had been in the 1940s and 1950s, in small towns in the Texas panhandle, and to her spinach was something that came in a can marked “Del Monte,” as soggy and densely packed as seaweed. She’d probably been walking past fresh spinach stocked next to the iceberg lettuce for years, but it was not part of her mental matrix.
We only know what we know.
On Tuesday, the president of these United States called for an end to the “rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government,” so that he might move forward with his economic agenda uninhibited by “stale political arguments.” It was an interesting moment. The president’s childlike faith in his own ability to direct resources according to his own vision is almost touching in its way, though when the actual costs are accounted for it is terrifying. The president’s understanding of how the economy works is about as sophisticated as was my understanding of anatomy and nutrition at the age of four: Lean this way and we’ll strengthen the middle class, lean that way and we’ll nourish the working poor. He doesn’t even understand the debate that he wants to preempt: It is not only a question of the size of government but a question of what government does.
He only knows what he knows.
The questions we habitually ask —“Is the government spending too much? Is it spending enough?” — are without meaning in and of themselves. It matters what the government is spending on. Spending X percent of GDP to defeat Hitler is one thing, spending it to subsidize Solyndra is another. Government must always be recalibrated in light of current conditions: war or peace, boom or bust, expansion or decay. The debate about the size and scope of government can be “stale” only if you fail to understand that its relevance is constant and eternal.
Progressives like to frame the argument about the size and scope of government as Thomas Hobbes vs. Ayn Rand: Every step toward decentralization and deregulation is in their view a step toward chaos, the war of all against all. To the progressive, there can be no meaningful move toward liberty (save in the case of sexual license), only a dangerous slide toward anarchy…
— Kevin D. Williamson is a roving correspondent for National Review, and is the author of “The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome”
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- Obama’s Stale Political Argument (nationalreview.com)
- Chimps choose friends like themselves, says study (reuters.com)
- Ben Bernanke: no more vitriol for man who rescued US financial system (theguardian.com)
- Chimps abandon social norm for prizes (evoanth.wordpress.com)
- Iran launches monkey into space (wyff4.com)
- One Chimpanzee’s Life is a Testament to Humanity (Op-Ed) (livescience.com)
- Iran hails voyage of Fargam the space monkey (telegraph.co.uk)