In muckraking begins the modern state by mattsteinglass
June 1, 2009, 9:08 am
Filed under: Conservatism, Terrorism

This is a very weird but kind of interesting James Joyner post. (Via Andrew Sullivan) He’s responding to a Hilzoy post that compares the Federal government’s recent enthusiasm for preventing deaths from terrorism to its (in her view) lackadaisical efforts to prevent deaths from food poisoning. Joyner begins by saying Hilzoy is “comparing apples and skyscrapers here.” But by the end of the post, he’s agreeing that Hilzoy is exactly right: both food safety and protection from terrorism are inherently Federal government responsibilities, and the question of whether or not spending a few billion on one or the other will actually prevent deaths is simply an empirical one:

While there are a handful of anarco [sic] capitalists out there, even those of us who prefer our government small recognize the need for the FDA and USDA in a globalized world. The fact of the matter, though, is that, while it may well make sense to increase the number of food inspectors and the like, we’re simply not going to be able to inspect every batch of food that goes out to consumers.  Our country is just too vast and our food supply too differentiated for that.  Could, say, tripling the number of inspectors have prevented a few deaths from, say, contaminated peanut butter or unwashed spinach?   Maybe.  Maybe not.

Then again, the same thing is true of terrorist attacks, too.   We can throw tens of billions at killing bad guys and trying to improve the lives of people in the countries likely to breed future terrorists but, as Jim Jones noted earlier this week, “perfection is an impossible standard” in the national security business. I could, therefore, pretty easily be convinced that shifting a few billion dollars from homeland security to food safety makes sense. But let’s talk about logistics rather than intentions.

This seems to me like an example of where American political discourse will be headed once the Republican Party returns to the land of the sane. Though it may be less exciting to talk about “logistics rather than intentions.”


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