Yesterday in response to one of my more outrageous “dad jokes,” my son said that I was “cra-cra” (pronounced Cray Cray). I hastened to the internet to look the term up. It means “Crazy.”
The term put me in mind of a recent exchange I had with frequent commenter MatSpirit. We were discussing President Trump’s reaction to New York Governor Cuomo’s call for more ventilators. For those who did not follow the story, on March 27 Cuomo said New York needed 40,000 ventilators. The state had 12,000 already, so Cuomo was calling for an additional 28,000. On that same day Trump said that he believed the request was inflated, that New York did not need that many ventilators.
Fast forward three weeks. New York appears to have gotten past the worst of the crisis. Hospitalizations are down. And here’s the kicker: The state did not use all of the ventilators it already had. It turns out that instead of 28,000 additional ventilators, it needed exactly zero additional ventilators.
So I asked MatSprit, who was right Trump or Cuomo?
MatSpirit replied, Cuomo of course. He justified his answer as follows: “In the peak of the covid crisis, with thousands dying and things getting worse every day, Coumo planned for the worst case.”
MatSpirit’s justification of his answer is a classic invocation of the “precautionary principle,” a principle much beloved by progressives, because it allows them to push for ever more government control, intervention, and expenditures without having to bother about silly questions such as “are government control, intervention and expenditures actually necessary?” The principle is often invoked by progressives in the climate debate, for example, to push for draconian government intervention in the economy “out of an abundance of caution.”
Let’s examine how MatSpirit’s invocation of this principle worked in this case. Here are the facts:
1. Cuomo called for additional 28,000 ventilators on March 27
2. The cost per ventilator is $40,000, so the total cost of his request was $1.12 billion.
3. Trump said on the same day NY did not need 28,000 more ventilators.
4. NY is past peak hospitalizations, and it turns out NY did not use all of the ventilators they had in stock. So it is clear they did not need 28,000 more.
For those who want a blow-by-blow of the details, here is a good summary.
Yet MatSprit insists the Cuomo was still correct to call for the billion dollar expenditure on ventilators that were not needed. “Huh?” you might ask, “how can he justify that?” Simple, like all good progressives, he invokes the precautionary principle.
It’s brilliant really, because it can be used to justify absolutely any call for government action — no matter how cra-cra. Here’s how the logic works:
Cuomo demanded 28,000 ventilators he did not need. He was right to do so. Indeed, he was morally obligated to do so, because he was “planning for the worst case.” Notice how flexible this principle is. No matter how hysterically overstated Cuomo’s demand, he would have still been right – indeed morally obligated – to make it. 28,000 he did not need? He was right. 50,000 he did not need. Still right, because he was planning for worst case. 100,000? Still right. You get the picture.
How can progressives just completely ignore a cost/benefit analysis when they make outrageous demands like this? Simple, most progressives in government have only the vaguest conception of where the money they spend comes from. You may think I am exaggerating, but I am not. I have been in a legislature and have watched the process unfold in budget hearings. As boondoggle expenditure after boondoggle expenditure is approved, the people spending the money take no notice that every dime they spend is extracted from taxpayers under the implicant threat of force. Instead, they act like the money fell like pennies from heaven and is just lying around waiting for them to dream up ways to spend it. The main problem with government budgeting has always been that is not subject to market discipline. There is never any penalty for wasteful expenditures.
Back to Cuomo. In a fit of hysteria he called for an unnecessary billion-dollar expenditure. Thankfully, his request was denied by the adults in the room. But progressives like MatSprit still thank he was right to call for the boondoggle. You can’t make this stuff up.