The Corner

From the Mailbag

1. From reader E.J., on Syria and Iraq:

As an Iraq veteran who participated in the initial invasion in 2003, I had one minor quibble with your otherwise excellent piece in Bloomberg today [link added]. You write that in Iraq, “the state collapsed, and the U.S. had to pick up the pieces.” That is true, but not the whole story: the Iraqi government was barely functioning when we arrived. It distributed food aid, but barely maintained its country’s physical or cultural infrastructure. It was rotten and would have disintegrated within a few years anyway.

None of that contradicts your point about Syria, however, since that country has never been wealthy (at least not for many centuries). Given the prolonged civil war, I suspect the civil government there is even worse shape than Iraq’s was 10 years ago. So if the regime is liquidated, the chaos and strife will continue, and the U.S. will be obligated to help pick up the pieces. That is probably something the president prefers not to consider. 

2. Reader P.T. on Keynesianism:

Your latest article [on the recession] and some other ones you’ve written made me wonder: Is market monetarism a kind of conservative Keynesianism?

I don’t think so — but then, I came to market monetarism through Austrian economics, and other market monetarists might answer yes for all I know. People are still arguing about how Keynesian Milton Friedman was. And there are people who insist that Keynes’s Tract on Monetary Reform was monetarist avant la lettre.

I’ve never read much Keynes and don’t know the ins and outs of New Keynesianism, Post-Keynesianism, and so on. A lot of the concepts I associate with Keynes — the paradox of thrift, the paradox of flexibility, fiscal multipliers, liquidity traps, interest-rate targeting — are ones that market monetarists tend to reject or consider unhelpful.

3. Unnamed reader on health care:

So your big alternative to Obamacare is Obamacare lite. I don’t see why we need to replace it with anything. Just repeal it already.

Obamacare lite? The main components of the replacement plan described here (to which my correspondent is replying) would reduce the tax code’s subsidy for employer-provided insurance, let insurers sell to individuals across state lines, inject choice and competition into Medicare, and voucherize Medicaid. That’s not just a more free-market, limited-government health-care policy than Obamacare; it’s a more free-market, limited-government health care policy than we had before Obamacare, or have had at any point in the last few decades. I think conservatives should advocate this kind of replacement plan for a few reasons. It’s better policy than a straight repeal, both in terms of shrinking government and in terms of improving the affordability of health insurance. And I think we’d be more likely to get an eventual repeal if we make the case that our principles can yield more coverage at a lower cost (including a lower cost in freedom) than Obamacare does.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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