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The Great Disconnect

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

You rightly praise the late Ronald Coase for warning against people who, intoxicated by hubris, seek to use government force to try to engineer the world into a better state (“The Wisdom of Ronald Coase,” Sept. 4).  And you also frequently – and correctly – point to the Obama administration’s ham-fisted interventions into the economy as manifestations of the destructive arrogance that Mr. Coase criticized.

And yet on the same page on which you praise Mr. Coase for counseling humility, you (“Water’s Edge Republicans“) and William Galston (“Syria and the Iraq Syndrome“) endorse the Obama administration’s plan to unleash Uncle Sam’s military might on the Syrian government – a government that poses no real threat to Americans.

You should take more seriously Mr. Coase’s warnings against hyperactive government – perhaps by pondering his wise admonition that “To ignore the government’s poor performance of its present duties when deciding on whether it should or should not take on new duties is obviously wrong.”*

Why do you suppose that the same government that fails so regularly at home will succeed abroad?  What reason, do tell, justifies government humility only in domestic affairs or only for bureaucracies not housed in pentagon-shaped buildings?

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market
Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* Ronald H. Coase, “Economists and Public Policy,” (1974), reprinted in R.H. Coase, Essays on Economics and Economists (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 63.