This is Part Two of an essay with the same title occasioned by an exchange I had on Facebook with a mature liberal – B. C. – I described as articulate. She has since disengaged.
B.C. Liberals work for programs that benefit ALL of us. They champion cooperation – even a pooling our resources – for the common good. …
(Bolding mine; J.D.)
J.D. The “common good,” there lies part of the problem.
I am all for pooling resources. That’s simple economic rationality. Peter catches a mess of fish. Paul offers his large barbecue. Mary, John and Andrew volunteer to clean the fish. Everyone agrees that Antoinette, – a French woman, of course- can cook fish better than anyone in the neighborhood. She does the needful. They all get together with others who supply side dishes and bread. Miguel the rich loner declares he will buy beer for everyone.
And then, thanks to pooling of resources there takes place in the neighborhood an unforgettable fish barbecue. This is a story of intelligent virtuousness. But is this what B.C. means?
In all likelihood, that is not what she means (but I can’t be 100% sure; you decide; maybe she will correct me). Instead, she has in mind something like this:
The government takes some of the money that Tom earned. The government then spends it for something that does everyone some good and that no other actor is likely to provide. Or, the government spends it on something that is useful but, that practice demonstrates, can be provided cheaper and/ or better by the private sector (postal services, air transport). Or, it uses Tom’s money to supply satisfactorily a service at several times the cost of what a commercial solution would give (bus service within my leftie city of Santa Cruz). Or it invests Tom’s money in something that few people want, that few people will use, to replace an existing solution that works reasonably well, at a cost that far exceeds the original estimate. (The projected North-South “fast train” in California the estimated cost of which is six times the original before a single mile of track has been laid.) Sometimes, the government takes one dollar from Tom to give twenty-five cents to Peter, collecting the balance of seventy-five cents to pay its numerous, well-paid administrators with the super-generous pension benefits.
Liberals are usually fairly familiar with this tale. They counter by throwing examples of government services that work (usually because they enjoy a monopoly) or that they imagine work because their purpose if noble but there is no accepted metric of success. (B.C. did just this. I used her examples in Part One of this essay.) Public schools is the best example of the latter category of defense. This, in spite of the fact that private schools cost half as much, that their students do seem to learn to read and write in large numbers. But that’s not the whole story say liberal proponents; there are other ineffable virtues that public schools are uniquely equipped to impart. N. S. !
Nevertheless, liberals are fairly familiar with the charge that government provides services inefficiently. This means at higher cost than is necessary, or not very well, for a given cost. Liberals seldom understand however that conservatives may have not one but two major disagreements with them. In addition to the efficiency objection, many conservatives have a moral objection to the extension of government.
Suppose Tom resists the government taking his money, refuses to pay income tax. If his resistance lasts long enough, the following is going to happen: Men and women, probably in uniform, carrying mace and Taser, in addition to nightsticks and guns will break down his door, throw him to the floor, or make him kneel, handcuff him, force him into a car. If it turns out that the facts are as I gave them, Tom will spend several months to several years in a prison. There, he will be malnourished, stressed, given inferior health care, often, beaten, and subjected to the whims of muscular sodomites.
“Yes, but he should have obeyed the law,” liberals will say. Well, Tom and I don’t think that this is a good response. The fact that 12.5 % of the whole population plus one may have indirectly agreed to the brutal procedure described is not enough to console us. The same 12.5% plus one person could tomorrow vote me a volunteer for live organ donation. (50% of the whole population is allowed to vote; 50% of these 50% exercise their right= 25%. Half of these plus one are a majority sufficient to pass almost all laws.)
The point is that government services are provided through a process that includes the direct threat of violence, and of serious violence. Violence against fellow-citizens should not be used to procure a fast train, I think.
It turns out that there is a a true and tried method to pool resources for the common good that avoids violence completely. When I spend $400 to buy a share of Apple, and my pension fund spends $300 to buy a share of Microsoft, and thousands of strangers do the same, and Apple and Microsoft together use the money to bring forth a brand new world that everyone loves, to creates hundred of thousands of completely new jobs, I am pooling my resources with those others. We know for a fact that this form of pooling includes no coercion, no threat, because individuals often compete for the privilege of pooling, of investing.
The institutionalized market, accompanied by courts, such as it has existed for one hundred years in civilized countries is an effective way to pool resources on a limitless scale without any trace or intimation of force. For every government service financed through force and intimidation, there exists a market solution that is vastly more moral. (That’s irrespective of, in addition to the general superior efficiency of market solutions.)
I don’t wish to be put in a position to argue that all taxes must be abolished if one single tax is reduced. I don’t care about philosophical discussions. I just note that there is no incoherence in observing that less systemic immorality is better than more immorality.
To finish: One thing that especially infuriates conservatives is that when liberals unleash violence against Tom because he wants to keep the money he earned, using agents paid in part by Tom himself, they get this warm glow. They are convinced that they are thus demonstrating their generosity toward those less fortunate. (Hence the verb “pooling,” in preference to “grabbing,” for example) It never seems to cross liberals’ minds that they can personally volunteer to pay just as much as they wish in taxes over and above what the government requires, thus doing something to alleviate to some extent inherent government violence. Taking by force from the unwilling somehow seems morally superior to them. Or, they have not thought about it. Liberals don’t think things through as a rule, it seems to me, even very smart ones. ( See my essay on bright people saying stupid things: https://factsmatter.wordpress.com/2011/07/07/sasquatch-and-liberal-academe//).