February 25, 2009, 11:08 am What should government do? A Jindal meditation By Paul Krugman What is the appropriate role of government? Traditionally, the division between conservatives and liberals has been over the role and size of the welfare state: liberals think that the government should play a large role in sanding off the market economyâs rough edges, conservatives believe that time and chance happen to us all, and thatâs that. But both sides, I thought, agreed that the government should provide public goods â goods that are nonrival (they benefit everyone) and nonexcludable (thereâs no way to restrict the benefits to people who pay.) The classic examples are things like lighthouses and national defense, but there are many others. For example, knowing when a volcano is likely to erupt can save many lives; but thereâs no private incentive to spend money on monitoring, since even people who didnât contribute to maintaining the monitoring system can still benefit from the warning. So thatâs the sort of activity that should be undertaken by government. So what did Bobby Jindal choose to ridicule in this response to Obama last night? Volcano monitoring, of course. And leaving aside the chutzpah of casting the failure of his own partyâs governance as proof that government canât work, does he really think that the response to natural disasters like Katrina is best undertaken by uncoordinated private action? Hey, why bother having an army? Letâs just rely on self-defense by armed citizens. The intellectual incoherence is stunning. Basically, the political philosophy of the GOP right now seems to consist of snickering at stuff that they think sounds funny. The party of ideas has become the party of Beavis and Butthead.