Saturday, September 01, 2007

Calling Paul Krugman



I don’t get to read Paul Krugman every week. His column is buried in the Times Select section where you have to pay to read his column on line. I like The New York Times and I’ll pick it up if I see it at a newsstand. But that is an uncommon event for those of us down here in the country -- in a “red” county, in a “red” state. I’m tempted to pay for Times Select just so I can read his column. But I keep telling myself I have too much to read already.

I do see a synopsis of some of his articles on Economist’s View occasionally. After all, Mr. Krugman is an economist. What fascinates me about his writing is that he seems to be able to cut through the fog and get to the heart of the matter. The latest piece I was reading was about Hurricane Katrina. But it wasn’t. It was about our government. Including the FAA.

"There’s a powerful political faction in this country that’s determined to draw exactly the wrong lesson from the Katrina debacle — namely, that the government always fails when it attempts to help people..., as if the Bush administration’s practice of appointing incompetent cronies to key positions and refusing to hold them accountable no matter how badly they perform — did I mention that Mr. Chertoff still has his job? — were the way government always works."

Just cut out the Katrina references and you’ll see what I mean.

”There’s a powerful political faction in this country that’s determined to draw exactly the wrong lesson ... — namely, that the government always fails when it attempts to help people..., as if the Bush administration’s practice of appointing incompetent cronies to key positions and refusing to hold them accountable no matter how badly they perform...were the way government always works."

I post history lessons about the FAA on a regular basis here. Perhaps I should go a little deeper and post a few lessons about aviation. America didn’t just wind up being the world’s leader in aviation by default (even if we were the first to fly. The first jet engine for an airplane was invented in England. The jet engine was first put into operation by Germany. The first commercial jet -- the Comet -- was built in England. Perhaps these words from the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission will make my point best.

”Despite its early start, the United States soon lost aeronautical leadership."

”Many aviation leaders in the 1920s believed that federal regulation was necessary to give the public confidence in the safety of air transportation. Opponents of this view included those who distrusted government interference or wished to leave any such regulation to state authorities."

The “opponents” lost. America won. In the process, it not only won the greatest aviation industry in the world, it won the greatest air traffic control system in the world. A system brought to you by good government.

Back to Mr. Krugman.

”Future historians will, without doubt, see Katrina as a turning point. The question is whether it will be seen as the moment when America remembered the importance of good government, or the moment when neglect and obliviousness to the needs of others became the new American way."

A...”moment when America remembered the importance of good government.” I like to think that the people involved in aviation are at least slightly above average as far as intelligence. I pray it doesn’t take a national tragedy to remind us of the importance of good government.

You wouldn’t think it would be a hard lesson to accept. Government intervention and investment brought us the golden age of flying. Airlines made money, the airplanes ran on schedule and aviation workers were well paid. Airports became economic engines that built neighborhoods, built schools and fulfilled dreams. Bad government -- “neglect and obliviousness”-- has brought us bankrupt airlines, endless delays and demoralized aviation workers that can barely pay rent.

The “Free Marketeers” will tell you that airline deregulation has been good for America. They’ll explain how flying is so much cheaper and how much money we’ve all saved. Somehow, I don’t think that their calculations included the cost of all the bankruptcies, the layoffs, the lost pensions -- the pure human misery of it all. Not to mention the tens of billions of dollars the industry has lost. All so you can sit on an airplane going nowhere fast -- with no food, no legroom and overflowing toilets.

I wonder what an economist would say about all that. I wonder what Paul Krugman would say.

Don Brown
September 1, 2007

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