"Reviving the Hamilton Agenda." That's the headline the New York Times gave David Brooks's recent column honoring Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father perhaps least interested in limiting political power. Unlike his rival Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton favored strong central government and weaker states.
And he didn't trust the free market. He was an old-fashioned mercantilist -- he wanted politicians and bureaucrats to control private economic activities for the sake of special business interests.
In the true Hamiltonian spirit, Brooks also doesn't trust the market -- which means he doesn't trust free, peaceful individuals and private property. He writes, "We Hamiltonians disagree with the limited government conservatives [I assume Brooks has libertarians like me in mind] because, on its own, the market is failing to supply enough human capital."
Now David Brooks is a bright guy, so I wonder how he can blame the free market for failing in this way. He continues, "Despite all the incentives, 30 percent of kids drop out of high school and the college graduation rate has been flat for a generation."
Excuse me, but why is that the market's fault? Government dominates education in America. K-12 education is a coercive, often rigidly unionized government virtual monopoly that fights every attempt to experiment with free-market competition.
Brooks writes that Hamiltonians like him "think government should help people get the tools they need to compete." But when has government ever been good at that?
He claims the state can "increase the quality of human capital" by, for example, providing "Quality preschool [to] help young children from ... disorganized homes. ... "
Really? What is the chance that it would be "quality" preschool if government runs it? Even the acclaimed Head Start has not been shown to have any lasting effect on academic performance.
Why does Brooks think the government is competent enough to "help ... people compete"? He writes that liberals' "programs haven't worked out," but then proposes his own. When I challenged him on that, he said his ideas are in a "different category" and argued that some intervention is effective and necessary.
Please. When I asked Brooks why a government that performed as ineptly as FEMA did after Hurricane Katrina will be better at running preschools, he said, "Some lives are so screwed up, it's hard to make them worse."
Government coercion almost always makes things worse. It discourages individual effort, and sucks capital away from more productive uses.