The Ezra Klein Show: A Critique of Government That Liberals Need to Hear

New York Times Opinion New York Times Opinion 2/18/22 - Episode Page

Government is a bureaucratic, slow-moving institution. It’s too easily captured by special interests. It’s often incapable of acting at the speed and scale our problems demand. And when it does ac...t, it can make things worse. Look no further than the Food and Drug Administration’s slowness to approve rapid coronavirus tests or major cities’ inability to build new housing and public transit or Congress’s failure to pass basic voting rights legislation.

This criticism is typically weaponized as an argument for shrinking government and outsourcing its responsibilities to the market. But the past two years have revealed the hollowness of that approach. A pandemic is a problem the private sector simply cannot solve. The same is true for other major challenges of the 21st century, such as climate change and technology-driven inequality. Ours is an age in which government needs to be able to do big things, solve big problems and deliver where the market cannot or will not.

Alex Tabarrok is an economist at George Mason University, a blogger at Marginal Revolution and for years has been one of the sharpest libertarian critics of big government. But the experience of the pandemic has changed his thinking in key ways. “Ninety-nine years out of 100, I’m a libertarian,” he told me last year. “But then there’s that one year out of 100.”

So this conversation is about the central tension that Tabarrok and I are grappling with right now: Government failure has never been more apparent — and yet we need government more than ever.

We discuss (and debate) the public choice theory of government failure, why it’s so damn hard to build things in America, how reforms intended to weaken special interests often empower them, why the American right is responsible for much of the government dysfunction it criticizes, the case for state capacity libertarianism, the appropriate size of the welfare state, the political importance of massive economic inequality and how the crypto world’s pursuit of decentralization could backfire.


The Rise and Decline of Nations by Mancur Olson

“It’s Time to Build” by Marc Andreessen

“The bulldozer vs. vetocracy political axis” by Vitalik Buterin

Book recommendations:

The Anarchy by William Dalrymple

India: A Story Through 100 Objects by Vidya Dehejia

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at

You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein. Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at />
“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld and Rogé Karma; fact-checking by Michelle Harris; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Jeff Geld; audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Our executive producer is Irene Noguchi. Special thanks to Kristin Lin.

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