Monday, July 20, 2009

Making Things Straight

Matt Yglesias posts this chart, asks, and answers:

What happened? Well, public policy happened. In the 1960s, federal domestic programs got more ambitious, especially with regard to senior citizens. And the poverty rate went down, with the declines concentrated among the seniors who were the main targets of the spending. The extent of poverty is very much subject to our control. Disease, presumably, really will always be with us. But still, polio isn’t with us anymore. Nor is smallpox.
This helping of the blindingly obvious comes in response to a too-familiar bit of ideological spittle from, in this instance, Charles Krauthammer, wringing his hands about the futility of doing anything about anything: "poverty and disease and social ills will always be with us," he sniffs, feigning interest in poverty and disease and social ills only long enough to declare them off-limits to sober public policy.

It's a variation of the despairing maxim attributed to Kant, that "out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made." That's just a restatement of older formulations: we're the fallen, the bumbling heirs of Cain, the ruinous hordes that god himself had to flood out of existence, the wretcheds for whom god himself had to get crucified and thereafter remind everyone of it by appearing in corn chips and tree knots.

Does anyone this side of diapers find this line of argument, such as it is, convincing? Do we actually live in a world in which people need to be reminded of what Matt Yglesias wrote above? Krauthammer is transparently clowning, right?

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