Mar 182009


Today I came to realize that in the world of politics, the word “comprehensive” is a near-synonym for totalitarian.

In Tuesday’s WSJ there was a letter in response to an article explaining how cap-and-trade is a corrupt, expensive system. The letter-writer said we should instead think about the benefits of having a “comprehensive” energy and climate system. And then there are the people who say we need to make all of our existing health systems fail so we can have a “comprehensive” system of national health insurance. (They don’t say so quite that explicitly, but this came up in connection with Obama’s recent statements about cutting benefits for combat veterans.)

I’ve now officially decided that I am very anti-comprehensive anything. I am a raging incrementalist, as the late Representative Barber Conable used to call himself.

The comprehensivists always have an excuse for failure. We didn’t spend enough money, fast enough, they will say. A little reform will never do. Yes, everything they’ve done so far has caused misery. That’s why we need to have more — lots more. We must have a comprehensive, all-or-nothing reform system. (Think of those people who say communism hasn’t failed because it hasn’t been tried. Yes, the more of it you have, the more miserable people get — until you get to 100 percent, and then nirvana! See the graph above.)

It’s different with us free-marketers. For our side, a little more is always better. When Stalin and Khruschev backed off of their grand, comprehensive plans and allowed a little bit of market freedom, things got better, not worse. We don’t need comprehensive.

The comprehensivists are like Linus Pauling and his Vitamin C. “Yes,” I would say, “I took Vitamin C and I still got a cold.” “But you didn’t take enough!” they say. So next time I would tell them, “I took a gazillion milligrams, and I still got a cold!” “But you need to take more — lots more!” they say. It’s never enough.

That’s the way it will be with health care or cap-and-trade. It will fail, and we’ll find out that the reason will be because it wasn’t comprehensive enough. “Of course things got worse,” they will tell us. “We need a comprehensive, all-or-nothing, totalitarian system!” (Holistic might be another term they’ll use.)

They will refuse to enact market-based reforms that will merely improve the environment and health-care.