I know that the winner of the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian Award is supposed to be announced on April 15, but I needed more time to decide among our three excellent (horrible) nominees and filed for an extension.
I thought my nominee, Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis, was a strong candidate because he illustrates how our liberty faces the greater threat of gradual erosion from Petty Little Dictators than from Big Scary Dictators. Ardis may only be the mayor of a small city, but he still has the power to find some legal pretext to send the police to raid the house of people who mocked him on Twitter. We can all recognize how a Putin or Khomeini might want to oppress us and so we all (or should be all) make efforts to counter those threats. But the mayor of a small city in cahoots with the local police and judge can exploit the fact that our extensive legal code makes each one of us a possible criminal to selectively use the force of the government to punish enemies.
Ardis, however, falls short of earning a Higgy because his actions were too transparently self-interested. The ideal Higgy candidate believes he is shaping the world for the better, but is foiled by hubris, self-delusion, and the extent to which the complexity of the world exceeds the ability of people to impose centralized plans on it. No one believes Ardis was trying to make the world better. He was just trying to settle a score. It’s oppressive but it isn’t Higgy-worthy.
Greg’s nominee, John Maynard Keynes, is also a strong candidate. Yes, Keynes’ ideas provide justification for reckless state intervention in the economy. But my previous objection to awarding Keynes with the Higgy still holds. I don’t think the state needs much justification to intervene. In fact, the historical norm is heavy state distortion of economic activity. This was true for centuries (probably millenia) before Keynes came along and is still true today when few even bother to reference Keynes for support. Keynes may have bad ideas but so does the guy who stands on the corner of the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market who shouts about how Jesus smoked pot and 9/11 was an inside job. You don’t get the Higgy just for having bad ideas.
Matt’s nominee, Jonathan Gruber, didn’t just have bad ideas, but he helped develop a plan to foist those bad ideas on the country through deception and manipulation. And he engaged in this central planning because he believed he was doing something good for us. Let me be clear — I don’t believe Jonathan Gruber is a bad guy. I know a number of economists who are his friends and they swear that he is a decent, capable economist who was just caught on camera expressing the type of hyperbolic commentary that is fairly common at academic conferences. That may be true, but there is a kernel of truth even in that hyperbole. And that truth is not very flattering to Gruber or ObamaCare. It reveals the type of hubris and delusion of control over events that is a near-perfect model of a Higgy winner. And Gruber does not have to be a a bad guy to do something that worsens the human condition enough to warrant a Higgy.
I therefore bestow the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian Award to Jonathan Gruber with all of the dishonors, responsibilities, and lack of privileges that accompany it.