Libertarian Crisis Management


Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron over at CNN offers some libertarian-leaning ideas for crisis management that go beyond the cliche of "doing nothing."

Among his recommendations:

Moderate the Growth of Entitlements: The elephant in the room amidst the stimulus debate is the impending imbalance in Social Security and Medicare as the baby boom generation moves into retirement. Without reductions in benefits, taxes will have to increase substantially, generating a major drag on the U.S. economy…….

Eliminate Wasteful Spending: Most discussion of the stimulus focuses on areas where, according to proponents, government spending should be higher. Much current expenditure, however, is wasteful.

Examples include agricultural subsidies, bloated transportation projects like the Big Dig in Boston, misguided infrastructure projects like the New Orleans levees (why encourage people to live below sea level?), ineffective weapons systems, pork barrel spending, and subsidies for Amtrak and the Post Office (buses are more efficient than railways, and Fedex is more efficient than the Post Office)…..

Withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan: President Obama plans to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq over the next eighteen months, while expanding U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. It is hard to see, however, that any good arises from dragging out our Iraq exit or from staying in Afghanistan. The government should move toward faster withdrawal, and from both countries….

Renew the U.S. Commitment to Free Trade: One crucial danger in the current environment is that the U.S. and other countries will embrace protectionist policies…..The Obama fiscal stimulus risks reviving this insanity, since both the House and Senate bills require that certain stimulus-funded projects use U.S. equipment and goods. The administration should oppose these provisions……

Stop Bailing out Businesses that Took on Too Much Risk: Popular opinion blames deregulation and private sector greed for the financial meltdown, but the reality is more subtle.

Existing regulation was ineffective at preventing excessive risk-taking, and the private sector did its best to profit from the incentives that were in place. The extreme increase in risk-taking, however, would not have occurred absent policies that encouraged such risk (e.g., Fannie Mae or the Fed's reassurances about housing bubbles) or past bailouts that cushioned the losses from private risk-taking.

Miron's conclusion isn't particularly optimistic, but almost certainly true:

It is tempting to believe that every problem has a solution, but the reality is not so nice. It is possible, even likely, that the best we can do is fix things we know how to fix, and then get out of the way. This may not ameliorate the current situation, but it avoids making things worse. In economics as in medicine—first, do no harm.

Back in October, Miron explained right here at Reason Online why the current crisis is not a failure of libertarianism.

Hat tip to reader Dave Wolcott for the link.