Monday, January 28, 2008

Making trains run on time

In Thomas McCraw's Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and creative destruction, he brings up the notion that Mussolini was admired because he was able to make trains run on time. This is disputed on Snopes but it was coincidental for me to be reading this at the same time that a debate was raging on Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism. McCraw points out that Mussolini was much admired for what he was able to get done even by FDR while Schumpeter himself was suspicious of FDR, thinking that FDR would turn the US into an authoritarian state and cites several examples where it seems like FDR was trying to do just that.

In any case, I thought it was a timely reminder that perhaps all rulers try to become authoritarian thinking paternalistically that it is best for the nation. Thinking also perhaps that if they had the right tools they too can make the trains run on time. And the descent into authoritarianism is not so difficult to conceive as it was easy in the days of J. Edgar Hoover to use patriotism to defend one's actions (as it is post 9/11).

The Washington Post's "obituary" of Suharto is a reminder of the virtues of authoritarianism but the big question is whether authoritarians can remain virtuous. I think we know the answer to that (save for Lee Kuan Yew whose history has yet to be rewritten).

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