TARP, Torture, And The Bomb

Posted by | October 26, 2010 17:33 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

Ross Douthat’s New York Times columns vary from sensible, to partisan hackery.  Rarely, however, is he as downright silly as he was yesterday. Douthat talked about how the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) is an example of policies that worked well (he’s right on this part) but that the public later regretted once the emergency had passed.  Other examples:

Faced with extraordinary circumstances — wars, natural disasters, economic crises — political leaders will always incline toward a blunt utilitarianism, in which the need for stability trumps more high-minded ideals. But after a crisis has passed, it’s immensely important that the ideals reassert themselves, so that the moral compromises made amid extraordinary times aren’t repeated in ordinary ones as well.

This point is starkly obvious in wartime. It was understandable, if not necessarily laudable, that Harry Truman used the atomic bomb against Japanese population centers to end years of global total war. But it would have been appalling if the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki hadn’t created a taboo around the use of nuclear weapons that endures unviolated to the present day. Likewise, the Bush administration’s decision to waterboard Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in the wake of 9/11 was far more defensible than the attempt, by many administration apologists, to insist that waterboarding raised no moral or legal difficulties at all, and should be a routine part of our interrogation repertoire going forward.

Um, no.  While I can understand the dissatisfaction with a policy that creates moral hazard and helps those who created the crisis, to compare it to the torture of suspects and especially the atomic bomb is ludicrous.  All three may have been necessary (I strongly disagree on torture) but TARP was a policy issue not a moral one.  To excuse critics of TARP by comparing them to critics of torture and the dropping of the bomb is irresponsible.

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Copyright 2010 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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