Public Nuisance

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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Monday, January 13, 2003
 
Matthew Yglesias disagrees with this critique of libertarian hawks, but my own opinion is that it doesn't go far enough.

Libertarians make several broad arguments against government activism in domestic problems:


  • Government power is an imprecise instrument and using it almost always has unintended consequences.

  • Granting powers to the government is dangerous because, even if they are used for a purpose you support, the powers set a precedent and can later be used for a destructive purpose.

  • Money taken by the government for taxation is used less efficiently than if it had been retained by the taxpayer and therefore reduces the total wealth of the society.

  • Decisions made by a centralized government for a local problem are likely to be based on less knowledge of the local circumstances and therefore less likely to be appropriate to the actual situation.

Every one of these arguments applies as well to international activist government as to local activist government. In some cases they are truer - a Washington bureaucrat is more likely to have the knowledge to made a sound decision about Missouri than about Kosovo or Agfhanistan, where he probably doesn't speak the language or have any serious understanding of the local society. It would be one thing if libertarian hawks really seriously looked at how these problems applied to foreign policy - but what they seem to do quite often is to simply assume all their warnings about the dangers of government aren't applicable to the military.



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