Have to Wonder How This Made it Past the Dissenting Opinion Suppression Committee; or, Tom Friedman Call Your Office

At the New York Times, yet even.  They actually mention what happened under their socio-economic darlings’ responsibility.  Twice in the same op-ed:  The piece is of course about the dozens of millions starved to death in the Great Leap Forward (I suppose we ought to be thankful that Dear Leader didn’t adopt that as his campaign slogan this time around), which lasted four years, but it also gives a nod to the Holodomor, in which Stalin bagged as many Ukrainians in a year and a half as Hitler picked up Jews over twelve years.  [I have to wonder if anyone in the editorial department made any observation about the NYT‘s own Walter Duranty, Stalin’s mouthpiece and white-washer, who as a NYT reporter won a never-repudiated Pulitzer for his intentional misrepresentations about Stalin’s terror famine in the Ukraine.]

The bunch who brought you the Great Leap Forward is the same ruling clique which Tom Friedman, also of the NYT, laments isn’t in charge here in the U.S.  Well, perhaps not them exactly, but he’s on multiple occasions bemoaned that the U.S., with all that messy checks-and-balances thingy, just can’t quite respond as rapidly and effectively to circumstances as specifically Red China.  He’s all for a little single-party dictatorship around the edges, if it means we can be more “efficient,” presumably in having the government take over everything it feels like. 

OK, one more time, for even the slowest-witted NYT pundits (or subscribers):  The Great Leap Forward is precisely the reason that we have checks and balances; it is Exhibit A in the seminar on why you want government policy to move slowly, and with multiple chances to be derailed.  It was, as the linked article explains, a bunch of party insiders who understood zero about the actual processes of growing things and making things who simply declared that Output Will Be Raised to X.  Their underlings then hopped to it to report that output in fact had been raised to X, which of course suggested to the insiders that they hadn’t been sufficiently ambitious, and so then they decreed 4X.  Meanwhile, back in the provinces, the regional and local apparatchiki decided that if they ever wanted to become insiders, they’d better just go ahead and make it 7X because the guys in the next province over had only gone to 6X.  And so they did, thereby prompting the insiders to move the goalposts again. 

And on the ground, there was no food.  Entire villages died out.  There’s a good story of the carnage in Jasper Becker’s Hungry Ghosts:  Mao’s Secret Famine.  As with so many other instances in which it comes time to count communism’s dead bodies, it’s hard to get a handle on how many were done to death; the 36 million figure is probably conservative.  When the Soviet Union had a census after the Holodomor, Stalin didn’t like it that the head-count was several million shy.  So he had the census bureau shot, and sent out a new team with instructions to go count again.  Got a much more acceptable result, he did.  The system Tom Friedman wishes upon us makes a state secret of the basic census numbers.

The Great Leap Forward, the Holodomor, the Holocaust, and similar but not-quite-as-deadly interludes are what happens when government works efficiently.  It very efficiently plows millions of its citizens under the turf.  The reason that government “efficiency” necessarily does this is that the very fact of “efficiency” destroys the feedback loops which serve to inform and therefore restrain private conduct.  If Ford builds a crappy car, it won’t sell.  Ford will know that it’s not selling within weeks of its launch.  It will be on the horn with every regional sales management team in the country to find out why it’s not selling.  If it can’t be made to sell, Ford will jerk it back off the market within a matter of months, and either re-design it or quietly shoot it in the head and hope no one noticed.  It will do this because if it does not, the consequences of Ford’s lousy decision-making will come back to roost with Ford.  When you have a coercive power on one side of the equation, and on the other people whose incentive structure is to mollify, not modify that coercive power, then you get bogus feedbacks.  You get the regional party chairman earnestly reporting to Peking that Whatever-the-Hell Province has increased production to 60,000 metric tons per acre of grain, which prompts Peking to figure that he’s got to be slacking off at least a little, and so we’ll just go ahead and set the “norm” at 78,000 metric tons and see how he does with that. 

In a coercive system, as all government is, you also have the decision maker insulated from the consequences of his decision.  Dear Leader’s EPA will suffer not a whit if huge areas of the U.S. power grid, dependent on coal-fired electricity generation, have to ratchet rates through the roof as the generators have to shut their turbines down because they can’t comply with ever-heightened emissions requirements.  The EPA jobs will never go away; their offices will never go dark.  If the electric-operated foundries now find their products no longer competitive, even behind tariff walls, they will shut down.  That feedback will not register in those locations where the decisions are made.

It is therefore important to realize that calls for government “efficiency” are actually calls to hand the power over and bugger the consequences.  Hayek pointed out decades ago that the essential function of the free market is to communicate information rapidly and accurately to widely dispersed decision-makers, none of whom have the capacity to know all the inputs into anyone else’s decision matrix.  Government fiat does not, cannot match either the speed of communication or the reliability.  In fact, since government regulation assumes something that cannot exist, viz. concentration at a single decisional locus of all pertinent information, you will inevitably get measurably incorrect decisions because you’re basing them on bad information.

Given the NYT‘s predilection for totalitarian systems, it’s nothing short of amazing that they printed this op-ed.  Wonder how long before it gets disappeared down some memory hole.

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