We have long been making the point that there’s two aspects to Paul Krugman. The outstanding economist and excellent essay writer, then there’s the New York Times columnist rather in the tank for one specific political view of the world. that second world being where government tells people how to live their lives better. But there’s still flashes of the underlying economist around:
Politicians who preside over economic booms often develop delusions of competence. You can see this domestically: Jeb Bush imagines that he knows the secrets of economic growth because he happened to be governor when Florida was experiencing a giant housing bubble, and he had the good luck to leave office just before it burst. We’ve seen it in many countries: I still remember the omniscience and omnipotence ascribed to Japanese bureaucrats in the 1980s, before the long stagnation set in.
We see this in the development economics of Ha Joon Chang and others too. S Korea grew so therefore the policies that we like that they followed must be implemented elsewhere so they can have growth. Our point is that the reality is rather different:
This is the context in which you need to understand the strange goings-on in China’s stock market. In and of itself, the price of Chinese equities shouldn’t matter all that much. But the authorities have chosen to put their credibility on the line by trying to control that market — and are in the process of demonstrating that, China’s remarkable success over the past 25 years notwithstanding, the nation’s rulers have no idea what they’re doing.
We tend to think that no government ever knows what it is doing. This is partly Hayek, pointing out that it can never have enough information to plan things, partly our own observations of how governance actually works in detail. We know lots of the people who do actually run the government. Some of them are even very nice people but we’d not describe any of them as the Wise Solons who know the answer to every, or even any, of the nation’s problems.
So what have we just learned? China’s incredible growth wasn’t a mirage, and its economy remains a productive powerhouse. The problems of transition to lower growth are obviously major, but we’ve known that for a while. The big news here isn’t about the Chinese economy; it’s about China’s leaders. Forget everything you’ve heard about their brilliance and foresightedness. Judging by their current flailing, they have no clue what they’re doing.
China’s stunning growth since 1978 is not an illusion. The country has gone from being roughly as rich as England in 1600 (as measured by per capita GDP) to about the UK in 1953, 1955 or so. That’s pretty good for simply stopping the adherence to Marxist and Maoist idiocies. But that’s what it was: the rulers stopped following idiot policies.
And thus why we are minarchists. There are indeed some things that both must be done and must be done by government. But given the paucity of knowledge, of competence, among those who would govern that’s all that government should attempt to do. The only further ambition they should have is to not do stupid things. Which, given those who become the governors, means nothing over what must and can only be done by government.