Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Revealing discourse

I am a great fan of Russ Roberts' econtalk.  I have pointed readers of this blog, students, friends, anyone who will listen, to many of the fine interviews posted there.

This week it's a discussion Russ has with economist Robert Frank on Infrastructure.  It's an old story and Frank has made the argument many times, including in the pages of last Sunday's NY Times.  We "need" lots of infrastructure repair and replacement; the Treasury can borrow at very low rates; we can put people back to work.  Let's do it.

It's a nice discussion.  Both participants come across as well intentioned and well informed.  But (differences over Keynesian stimulus aside) they fundamentally disagree on what government can do.  Frank talks about the government and infrastructure planning we should have while Roberts talks about the ones we do have.  I urge people to listen for themselves.

My own bottom line is one I have mentioned many times.  I find it stunning that smart people can be so naive about politics.  This is not simply "government bashing" (Frank's phrase).  We are not Scandinavia and their civil service is not a plausible model for the U.S. 

At the margins, we can probably make improvements (Frank cites a new and improved DMV in his home state), but the discussion involves a non-marginal $2 trillion infrastructure program.  At that scale, I'm afraid we have to focus on the politics and politicians we have, not the ones we could have in a better world.