President-elect Joe Biden’s Build Back Better program has more than a whiff of FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society. Browsing through Biden’s website, one can find a host of proposals that would expand the reach of the federal government and grant it a social engineering license on a scale not seen since the late 1960s.
The proposals themselves are almost a parody of progressive top-down governance. “Ensuring fairness in Biden’s bold infrastructure and clean energy investments,” one proposal reads. Another promises “to use federal government resources to protect native peoples [American] craftsmen. Under the Biden administration, we are assured that “federal agencies and states will be required to publish a strong rationale and show improvements in eliminating disparities from year to year.” And so on.
If Republicans actually lose the Senate in January, it’s hard to overstate how stifling this agenda will be for the country. The last time Democrats took full control of government, amid the rubble of the 2008 financial crisis, they pushed Obamacare through Congress. This time, they would come to power with the still-burgeoning COVID-19 crisis, and they would no doubt want to seize the opportunity to impose other massive and unpopular programs on the nation. Amity Shlaes, the author of The Forgotten Man: A New Story of the Great Depression and Large company: a new story, says these programs fail so often because they cannot adapt to the realities on the ground of the communities they target.
“Central planning fails because planners are too far removed from the people they work for. A government official is far away, especially when working at the Washington level, from someone in a city, ”says Shlaes National review. “A school needs a Spanish teacher and the government sends them a gymnastics teacher because the government does not have enough information about the school’s needs.”
While entertaining, this example helps illuminate the pitfalls of COVID-19 public health policy. Shlaes notes that state governors and public health officials face a political obligation to make swift decisions amid the pandemic, but also points out that their top-down plans can sometimes “ignore the needs of individuals and focus. overall”. The lockdown advocate gets the first order logic correct. But it ignores second-order logic, the ripple effects – ruined businesses, lives plunged into chaos by school closings, the cumulative psychic toll of social isolation.
“Focusing on the aggregate is intellectually satisfying. If you’re an intelligent person, you want to solve problems categorically, not individually, ”says Shlaes. “Smart people like to solve problems on a large scale, [but] often life does not improve. People know what they need and what is good for their future. “
Ultimately, concludes Shlaes, the New Deal and the Great Society offer history students an “object lesson” on “the limits of expertise”. If the government’s response to the pandemic is any indication, it’s a lesson too many of our political leaders haven’t learned – and one that should worry Americans for the nation’s future if Georgia’s Senate run-off followed the path of the Democrats.