Nature's admonitions

Via Paul Krugman via Joe Romm, here's the Economist from 1848:

Suffering and evil are nature’s admonitions—they cannot be got rid of; and the impatient attempts of benevolence to banish them from the world by legislation, before benevolence has learned their object and their end, have always been more productive of evil than good.

What are they complaining about? In the years before the Great Stink of 1858, the Economist was protesting about government attempts to pass housing and sanitation laws; to quote from that wikipedia article:

Part of the problem was due to the introduction of flush toilets, replacing the chamber-pots that most Londoners had used. These dramatically increased the volume of water and waste that was now poured into existing cesspits. These often overflowed into street drains designed originally to cope with rainwater, but now also used to carry outfalls from factories, slaughterhouses and other activities.

Nice. Add to that, no-one knew exactly what caused cholera. Romm got started on this responding to an argument against regulating co2: "it is almost the height of insanity of bureaucracy to have the EPA regulating something that is emitted by all living things."

Romm: what, like with sewage? Krugman: actually, it turns out, yes if the same thinkers had had their way in the nineteenth century. Which reminds me again what an amazing time for ideas nineteenth century Britain was. The nightwatchman state; great quote from Sir Charles Wood, chancellor of the exchequer around the time of the 1845 Irish famine: "the more I see of government interference, the less I am disposed to trust it, and I have no faith in anything but private capital employed under the individual charge."

Great froth of ideas; not so great smell. Anyway, this is about as perfect an example as I could hope for to illustrate an indispensable lesson about Burkean anti-meddling arguments: don't get tangled up in them too much. Life is too short and there's too much sewage in the world.