Sandefur on the great accomplishments of bureaucrats

March 9th, 2011

Tim Sandefur has a brilliant smackdown of a piece on the Consortium News listing some of the greatest accomplishments of bureaucrats.

Friedman leaves out other accomplishments – from the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution to engineering marvels like the Golden Gate Bridge, Panama Canal, the U.S. Interstate highway system and Netherlands’ dikes – that did emanate from “government bureaus.”

Going back centuries, you could add in the Acropolis of Athens, the Pyramids of Egypt, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and many of the world’s great works of architecture and art sponsored by government patrons.

What about the Acropolis, the Pyramids, the Sistine Chapel, and the Panama Canal?

The Acropolis of Athens and the Pyramids of Egypt, of course, were built by slave labor.They are not exactly the testament to the great farsightedness of government officials that Consortium News thinks they are! And the Sistine Chapel ceiling was painted at the command of a theocrat of almost unlimited power, who financed his lavish lifestyle at the expense of serfs whom he terrorized into submission. The Panama Canal, as David McCollough’s great book shows, was more than an engineering marvel; it was also a fiasco of government waste and mismanagement, and seen by Roosevelt and others as just one more helpful element in the U.S.’s imperialistic mission to take over central America, whatever the cost. Yes, let’s all praise the visionary autocrats who wielded government’s coercive power to build giant monuments to their ambition, vanity, and luxury, at the expense of those poor souls, now forgotten, who make up the rest of the unwashed, tea-party masses.

Tim also points out the broken window fallacy in listing these items as great accomplishments of the state. What is unseen?

What Consortium News is doing here is committing the “broken window fallacy”: they’re pointing at the good things that were done with the money that was taken away—and forgetting what people would have bought if they’d been allowed to exercise freedom of choice. Yes, government funding has often produced some remarkable things—the Apollo mission was an awesome feat, and one of the great things mankind has done. But it was done with money that people would have spent on other things if they’d been allowed to choose—things that they needed much more than a mission to the moon. And some of us have real problems saying to a hardworking poor guy with a family to support that he shouldn’t buy that new jacket, because we’re going to take his money away to buy a moon mission for him instead.

Well done Tim.