Arnold Kling

Some Libertarian Basics

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In the comments on my health care rationing post, I received many standard attacks as being cold-hearted and willing to deny health care to people who need it.

From a libertarian perspective, your generosity is reflected in what you do with your own money, not in what you do with other people's money. If I give a lot of money to charity, then I am generous. If you give a smaller fraction of your money to charity, then you are less generous. But if you want to tax me in order to give my money to charity, that does not make you generous.

I believe that some health care ought to be provided collectively. I would like to see people who are very poor or very sick receive health care. Are taxes required in order to get this result? Perhaps. But perhaps not.

Think of government as a charity. From a libertarian perspective, it is a charity run by the Mafia, which will break your knuckles if you don't make your donations. It is also a badly mismanaged charity. It funnels lots of money into questionable causes, and even when the causes are good the programs that it funds tend to be very wasteful.

I would like to see government have to compete with other charities on a level playing field. I often say that government should have had to fund the financial bailouts by holding a bake sale.

In an environment with a level playing field, perhaps charities that provide health care to the very poor and the very sick would be better funded and more effective than the existing government programs. If that did not happen in practice, then I might support the Mafia-run charity that we call government.

But being libertarian does not mean you have to have a cold heart. You can be a bleeding heart, but you show it by what you do, not what you advocate forcing other people to do.


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TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/1702
The author at Brad Taylor's Blog in a related article titled Quote of the Day: Generosity Edition writes:
    From a libertarian perspective, your generosity is reflected in what you do with your own money, not in what you do with other people’s money. If I give a lot of money to charity, then I am generous. If you give a smaller fraction of your money t... [Tracked on April 8, 2009 8:43 PM]
The author at Citizen Paine Blog in a related article titled A mafia run charity writes:
    Great analogy… Think of government as a charity. From a libertarian perspective, it is a charity run by the Mafia, which will break your knuckles if you don’t make your donations. It is also a badly mismanaged charity. It funnels lots of mo... [Tracked on April 10, 2009 6:07 PM]
The author at Paul Stagg in a related article titled Stop Signs writes:
    I saw a a comment on a post that deserved a quick blog entry.  The original commentary is interesting and well done, but a commenter suggested that: The libertarian philosophy does not do well when cooperative action is superior to personal actions, b... [Tracked on April 13, 2009 12:39 PM]
COMMENTS (62 to date)
Zac writes:

Further food for thought for bleeding heart statists: if government is a charity, its a very strange charity that, to the extent it gives charitably, focuses its charitable efforts on the already rich, i.e. American citizens. It is like a homeless shelter that only provides rooms to the college educated.

So maybe its time to drop the "charity" metaphor and call a spade a spade: government is a coercive organization that steals from everyone to give to the few. Its a group that "takes care of its own," allows no competition within its self-drawn borders, and spends most of its resources finding ways to expand its own authority. It insists the services it provides are "necessary." Mafia-run charity? Let's stick with Mafia.

El Presidente writes:

Arnold,

It's a respectable solution for charitable endeavors. I disagree with it, but it is respectable. What about for things like national defense and law enforcement? Should those be competitive too? Should they be considered optional; proper objects of charitable contribution? After all, generally those who contribute most to charities have considerable say over how the money is used. Many benefactors start their own charity for precisely this reason. Is wealth the best qualification for directing resources to the protection or wellbeing of others? Does wealth necessarily confer wisdom or naturally follow from it?

I think we would all agree that it would be great if everything people needed was provided from their own effort or from the generosity of others. Many people go without things they need, and not because they lack industrious character. The problem is that when industry and charity fail to meet needs libertarians would refuse to allow the state to intervene. In other words, if you can't get it on your own, and you can't find someone to give it to you, you can't have it. This does not ever address the question of need. That is perhaps why it is viewed as an insufficient response and a philosophical position found wanting of empathy and humanity in spite of it's sole reliance on them. The philosophy is alright until it meets the reality of our flawed character.

Then there is the matter of efficient scale and scope. While I think that government runs into this problem because it's scale is arbitrary and it's scope is established in a piecemeal fashion, charity is not necessrily better at handling the challenge.

sunrise089 writes:

"If I give a lot of money to charity, then I am generous. If you give a smaller fraction of your money to charity, then you are less generous."

Why add in "fraction"? If I was a poor person, or a person running a charity I'd much rather have 1% of Bill Gate's fortune than 10% of a middle-class American's. To me then, it would seem that Bill Gates giving 1% was being extraordinarily generous.

The simple fact that in such a scenario Bill Gates wouldn't have to work as many hours to fund a $1,001 check to a charity as another man might to write a $1,000 check doesn't affect which check is larger.

Floccina writes:

El Presidente please tel me what you think a person needs.

20sq feet of shelter?

2 sets of clothing?

3 meals of beans and rice a day plus a vitamin and protein supplement? Or something like dog/cat food designed to meet all daily nutritional requirements?

Vaccinations?

Some other healthcare?

Clean water?

AB writes:

I'd like to add my humble opinion that governments do not really help the poor with any of their programs. They help themselves and the well politically connected. Yes I know that most politically connected people are rich, so I guess the quote "generally those who contribute most to charities have considerable say over how the money is used." can apply to a government "charity" as well.

The biggest difference between charity and government is that if a charity fails, its gone. If the government fails it denies failure, points the finger elsewhere, and forces more money from the people it claims to be helping.

The Sheep Nazi writes:

In other words, if you can't get it on your own, and you can't find someone to give it to you, you can't have it.

Shorten that a bit, and you have your basic day-on-the-job ethos. If I can't get it on my own, then I can't have it. Asking from others is shameful. That's why I go to work in the morning. Not that that's anything special: compared to my dad, I'm as soft as a jelly donut. You live in a hard country, Prez.

Dan Weber writes:
In other words, if you can't get it on your own, and you can't find someone to give it to you, you can't have it.
That's pretty much a tautology.
The Sheep Nazi writes:

The conviction, Church-fostered but older and deeper than any church, that a coin spent in charity is consecrated; is in collision with the new conviction that only a Federal dollar is really a consecrated dollar. Take those two things together and you go a long way towards explaining El Presidente's unease. It's just the new orthodoxy, nothing more.

8 writes:

Say we're on a bus trip with 100 people and stop to have dinner at a mall. 90 people have money to buy dinner, but 10 people forgot their wallets.

First, we decide everyone needs food, so we're going to pool our resources, since we can spread the cost. Then someone mentions that we could negotiate a deal with one of the vendors if we all buy the same meal. Lots of people grumble but a chorus of "ok" sounds like a majority so the "group" decides to do it.

Everyone breaks up into cliques and elects a representative. Then the representatives decide what we'll have for dinner, and how much everyone should pay ($8 each to cover the 10 who can't pay). Then the vendors hear what we're doing and start lobbying. The Chinese food stall offers $50 to a representative if he changes his vote. The pizza place offers to throw in free cookies if they are chosen. Finally, we find out that we're all having Filet o Fish value meals, with Diet Coke and fries.

When the reps go to pay, they realize they don't have enough money. More than 10 people didn't pay, or someone pocketed some money. It changed hands about 3 or 4 times. They have to order some cheaper food to get enough.

Everyone lines up to get their food, but at the end, there are 7 people in line and the food has run out. The 7 have to buy their own meal, but one of them is a person who forgot their wallet. A friend pays for his meal.

The guy who paid for three meals is really pissed off, and he uses the f-word about 10 times a minute for the entire bus ride home when talking to his friend. He also makes loud comments about the manhood of one representative and threatens to beat up another. The seven people who didn't get food are angry. Several people hated the fish and just ate fries. Some gave their sandwich to others, but a few just threw them out. That pissed off two fat people who were still hungry later on the bus and a couple other people on general principle, who lectured the others. When we got back home, most people asked, who is the moron who came up with that idea?

Bret writes:

Given that charitable contributions are tax-deductible (partly), doesn't that "level the playing field" (somewhat)?

Frederick Davies writes:

8,

Man, you own! A better description on the real workings of the State has not been written.

Freedom Thinker writes:

Also, 2/3 of health care spending is on diseases. Many of these diseases are preventable. The argument for government health care is they can control costs. If they say they can control costs then is it not their responsibility to dictate how much we eat, excercise, our sexual preferences, smoking, what types of drugs or alcohol we use? Scary indeed!

As I've said before it should be the right of a person to smoke, it should be the right of a person to pay for heart surgery if they can afford it, it should be the right of a person to die from HIV if they engage sex or drug use that leads to the disease.

It is not the right of a person to force me to pay for their heart surgery because they ate to many McDonald Big Macs at the store because they were under the perception that Big Macs are cheaper then vegetables because they sit on the couch watching TV and being brainwashed by 1,000 of commercials instead of excercising.

Max writes:

[Comment removed for supplying false email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog.--Econlib Ed.]

Jesse Rouse writes:

Prez said,

"The philosophy is alright until it meets the reality of our flawed character."

This is my problem with the idea that the state needs to get involved with charity (wealth redistribution). Statists argue that people are too cold and will not contribute enough to help the needy, so Uncle Sam must get involved. Well if it's not human nature to help fellow man and most people aren't willing to give their own money, then why should the gov't be charitable in the first place?

I have faith in mankind but not in the leviathan.

Seth writes:

El Prez asks if national defense and law enforcement should be funded with voluntary contributions.

Aside from the obvious Constitutional argument (these powers are specificially enumerated in it), to help me decide if something is okay to be provided by government I ask the following question.

How easy is it to determine if it truly produces the intended result?

National Defense - Very easy. Win or die.
Law Enforcement - Easy. Justice is served on net or not.

With government redistribution the true results aren't as easily determined. It's easy to find the one person it seemed to help, but the 10 it hurt are invisible. Since such efforts are judged on intent rather than result, there's no natural correction of bad results born from good intentions.

Josh writes:

"I would like to see government have to compete with other charities on a level playing field. I often say that government should have had to fund the financial bailouts by holding a bake sale."

I thought the authors were generally against the referee competing as a player. Maybe that's just Caplan.

Sig writes:

The libertarian philosophy does not do well when cooperative action is superior to personal actions, but enforcement is required to achieve cooperative action.

A libertarian crossroad would have no stop signs. People could stop if they wanted to or drive through if that was there choice. The result would be chaos.

Most everyone would agree to stop *if everyone else agrees to as well* and *if there is enforcement on that agreement*. You need both.

You might not see healthcare as an joint issue like the cross roads (or like defense spending, fore example). But others do. That is the source of the disagreement.

The Sheep Nazi writes:

Sig: you've actually described a typical rural German crossroads. Law and custom dictate that if you and I are both stopped at one, and you are to my right and I am to your left, then you go first. Seems to work just fine.

spencer writes:

But we know the answer to your theory because we do have facts about charity for healthcare before the government started paying for healthcare.

It was terrible and most poor people did without much healthcare except from the charity of doctors.

Why do you pretend otherwise?

George writes:

Arnold,

You could always reply to those making the "cold-hearted" accusation by pointing out that you'd be more than willing to give all their money to the poor, and even offer to go with them to their bank to help.

El Presidente writes:

Floccina,

El Presidente please tel me what you think a person needs.

Malsow would say there are five categories of simultaneous need: Physiological, Safety, Love and Belonging, Esteem, Self Actualization. I agree. I think the state is best equipped to handle Physiological and Security needs and should tread very lightly with respect to the other three because it has great capacity to actually inhibit their realization through its actions. However, I don't preclude state action altogether in that it may be necessary to carve out negative rights in order for these things to be attained. Note that all of them are needs, and none of them are optional for the healthy functioning of individuals, which aggregates into the general welfare of the nation and humanity.

The Sheep Nazi,

If I can't get it on my own, then I can't have it. Asking from others is shameful.

It seems more shameful for those with plenty to wait to be asked and then refuse, or to see human life go to waste because it does not please them to help the needy achieve their potential. Are you sure you want to decide this based on shame?

It's just the new orthodoxy, nothing more.

It precedes and supersedes orthodoxy. It is quite a bit more.

Dan Weber,

"In other words, if you can't get it on your own, and you can't find someone to give it to you, you can't have it."

That's pretty much a tautology.

Not really. A third option is to find a social interaction in which needs are met through cooperation as opposed to individual effort or charity. If I'm not mistaken, that's the basis of classical economics: the interaction of individuals, specializing and meeting the needs of others, is what allows them to have their own needs met and more as they desire. But that's just Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Maybe we should disagree? Or maybe we say that the market dispenses justice. That's one proposition I don't think too many libertarians can defend in good conscience, with a straight face, or for any length of time. At best, they might argue that the market might dispense less injustice, and I'd want to see the argument and the evidence for that.

floccina writes:

A libertarian crossroad would have no stop signs. People could stop if they wanted to or drive through if that was there choice. The result would be chaos.

Sounds like Boston MA.

Crawdad writes:

Martin Feldstein has already produced research on how inefficient government charitites would be compared to private charities. He shows that it would take $1.63 of government funding to produce the benefits of every $1.00 spent through private charities.

eccdogg writes:

"The libertarian philosophy does not do well when cooperative action is superior to personal actions, but enforcement is required to achieve cooperative action."

This is not really true. The value of cooperative action is often brought up against libertarianism. However, I don't think libertarians would disagree with a situation where everyone signed a paper to agree to donate a certain amount of money to charity as long as everyone else did and then to have that agreement enforced.

And in fact many groups do come together for joint action voluntarily.

What they would disagree with is 51% of the people agreeing to give to charity and forcing the other 49% to do so as well or worse yet 51% agreeing to force the other 49% to give to charity while giving nothing themselves.

Obviously unanimous consent on every social program would be an uweildy policy, but it is the only policy that cannot be thought of in some way as theft. Although unanimity is an impossible goal we should not engage in state forced charity unless is has very broad consent (70-90%). I think the state being in charge of the military (not necessarily the level or use of the military) would pass this test.

jpirving writes:

Sig: A "libertarian crossroad" would be privately owned. It is impossible to generalize about what sign may or may not be displayed. I personally would want to keep my crossroad a safe and orderly as possible.

kingstu writes:

"A libertarian crossroad would have no stop signs. People could stop if they wanted to or drive through if that was there choice. The result would be chaos."

You are correct. This is similar to a libertarian line at a movie theatre. People could wait if they wanted or they could simply walk to the front of the line.

Thankfully, we have the “first to arrive takes the next place in line” law. As you can tell by how infrequently we have movie line riots, the law works incredibly well (the L.A. movie line riot of 1947 being the notable exception).

Crawdad writes:

El Prez,

Re: your response to Dan Weber. I see no reason for the involvement of the state in that interaction, especially if we stick to the idea of cooperation; which to my mind is defined by its voluntary nature. No libertarian would argue against people getting together voluntarily to cooperate in the relief of suffering or poverty. Why do you assume the necessity of the state to organize this?

kingstu writes:

"A libertarian crossroad would have no stop signs. People could stop if they wanted to or drive through if that was there choice. The result would be chaos."

Have you considered that people stop not because there is a law which tells them they must but rather because they choose stopping over horrific death by automobile?

Crawdad writes:

"A libertarian crossroad would have no stop signs. People could stop if they wanted to or drive through if that was there choice. The result would be chaos."

I guess someone missed the story about the city in Denmark that, after years of major traffic jams and countless accidents tried something new. The removed all the road signs. Traffic congestion was immediately reduced and accidents drop off almost to zero.

The assumption that people are idiots who can't take care of themselves or each other is the base on which all statist apologetics are founded.

John V writes:

sunrise089,

You make no sense.

Why add in "fraction"? If I was a poor person, or a person running a charity I'd much rather have 1% of Bill Gate's fortune than 10% of a middle-class American's. To me then, it would seem that Bill Gates giving 1% was being extraordinarily generous.

So gross totals matter and not fractions. OK. I'll keep that in mind when talk of EVEN MORE progressive taxation comes up.

and then you say:

The simple fact that in such a scenario Bill Gates wouldn't have to work as many hours to fund a $1,001 check to a charity as another man might to write a $1,000 check doesn't affect which check is larger.

Isn't that why Arnold was talking about fractions and not gross totals?

You sort of contradicted yourself.

Public goods
One problem with the "public goods" argument for State (government, generally) provision of charity (e.g., health care for the poor) is that oversight of State functions is a public good which the State itself cannot provide. Assumption by the State of responsibility for the provision of charity (or any other public good) transforms the market failure which the "public goods" analysis describes, but does not eliminate it.

Traffic control
In Manoa Valley, City and County of Oahu, Hawaii, Lowrey Avenue terminates at the intersection of Oahu Avenue and Manoa Road, producing a five-way intersection. Every street faces a stop sign. There is no light. An ethic has evolved, of passage through the intersection in order of arrival. Sometimes people cheat, but it works, in general. I conjecture that the success of this convention relates to the relatively small number of people who must pass through this intersection every day and to the stability of the resident population of upper Manoa. In times of maximum traffic (0530 to 0830, 1500 to 1800) some time is lost by this custom, relative to a system which would allow multiple cars from the same street to pass together. A signal system which minimized total wait time would sense the number of waiting cars or would use time of day as a surrogate. Individual drivers cannot sense the relevant information (number of cars, anyway), and the simple rule is easier informally to enforce (with honks and one-finger salutes) than would be some time-sensitive function of the number of cars which have preceeded you.

Eduardo Zambrano
Formal Models of Authority: Introduction and Political Economy Applications
Rationality and Society, May 1999; 11: 115 - 138.

"Aside from the important issue of how it is that a ruler may economize on communication, contracting and coercion costs (bold mine. MK), this leads to an interpretation of the state that cannot be contractarian in nature: citizens would not empower a ruler to solve collective action problems in any of the models discussed, for the ruler would always be redundant and (italics in the original. MK) costly. The results support a view of the state that is eminently predatory, (the ? MK.) case in which whether the collective actions problems are solved by the state or not depends on upon whether this is consistent with the objectives and opportunities of those with the (natural) monopoly of violence in society. This conclusion is also reached in a model of a predatory state by Moselle and Polak (1997). How the theory of economic policy changes in light of this interpretation is an important question left for further work."

manuelg writes:

> In an environment with a level playing field, perhaps charities that provide health care to the very poor and the very sick would be better funded and more effective than the existing government programs.

How is an employer supposed to be cheered by this statement of "libertarian basic" thought on health care? I compete against manufacturers in different countries, and a larger percentage of my gross goes to keeping my employees healthy and their families healthy. If my employees have to take a second mortgage and time off to provide health care for a relative, that clearly will affect productivity, because I cannot fully staff with heartless sociopaths, and wouldn't wish to, besides. I don't see too many charities springing up to help me with my utilities expenses, or office supply expenses. So if the libertarian answer is for me to wait for nonesuch health care charities to materialize from thin air, so that I can adequately compete and bring in US tax revenue and wages to US citizens, then, I am underwhelmed.

Doesn't this statement simply cede substantive discussion about health care to all parties _except_ libertarians? I hope that this is a grossly oversimplified statement of a more realistic libertarian stance on health care.

I would feel more confident in a purely market solution where there was no government enforced medical provider monopoly, and no government enforced pharmaceutical and medical device patent monopoly. I expect to see ubiquitous effective medical charities, legal unlicensed medical providers, and free licensing on all medical patents, and I expect them to descend to earth on the same fiery heavenly chariot.

Babinich writes:

"your generosity is reflected in what you do with your own money, not in what you do with other people's money. If I give a lot of money to charity, then I am generous. If you give a smaller fraction of your money to charity, then you are less generous. But if you want to tax me in order to give my money to charity, that does not make you generous."

I love it... Care if I use it?

Milena writes:

Whoever says market causes greed is a fool. People are born with greed. Some have more of it; some have less of it. And because of this greed, many systems (for example, Marxism and socialism) fail. These systems work only when people have no greed and no rationality--they just want to work 20 hours/day as a lawyer dealing with stressful cases and make just as much as their neighbor who works about 3 hours/day taking photos of pretty flowers. But capitalism knows that people have greed and rationality and that's why it finds a way to deal with it. I'm not saying it's perfect; of course it's not. Otherwise we won't be dealing with many of the problems we're facing today. But so far it's been the best. Ok,you can blame market for this recession, but after all, you're still doing better than people living in socialist countries. If not, why are you still here?

Anyway, deep inside everyone has no problem about others getting free health care, but the problem comes when they know that they are forced to pay a certain amount of their income to cover the costs. I'd be happy if everyone got free health care; in fact, I'd be happy to contribute some of my income. However, if I'm giving away my money for a cause, why does government have to tell how much I have to give? That's like going to a charity and someone there tells you that you have to donate X amount of money otherwise you'll be punished. If I give my money to pay for others' health care, I'm generous. And if I don't give any, I'm not generous, but it doesn't mean I'm evil, because there may be a reason why I don't give any or give less than I should (for example I have to save money for my kids' education or other things that are more important to me). And only I know my reason. Government doesn't. Don't you think that I deserve to manage my hard-earning money? (Oh, I forgot that some people believe that money shouldn't be hard to earn, because they want to live in a world where you can work 3 hours/day taking pictures of pretty flowers and make as much money as a lawyer does.)

Vog writes:

First time I have heard an economist talk about government as a mafia. I have been making the comparison for a while - the only difference is that the mafia is very good at keeping its promises!!

Richard writes:

Arnold,

In fact the evidence that you want to support government funding for health care already exists. Does the charity of people provide enough blood and organ donations? Why would you think it would be different with money? Standard economics says that charities probably won't work because of free riding problems. Yes, I want health care for those who can't afford it, but I'm happy to let other people do the charity.

To ignore free riding considerations and believe in the utopia of charities is one of the weakest libertarian standings. Much better is a system that recognizes that taxes are necessary, but then let's you decide for which of competing alternatives your money is going to.

Crawdad writes:

Richard,

Private charities would have much less of a problem with "free riding" than one-size-fits-all, top down, government run charities.

Nobody here is making an argument for a libertarian utopia. That's called a straw man argument. If you think you will ever have a direct say in where your tax dollars go then your own understanding of how government actually works is sadly lacking.

Richard writes:

Crawdad, if defending what I think is best regardless of political feasibility shows my ignorance of how government actually works, then all libertarians are hopeless.

All I'm arguing is that we know that charities will most likely be severely underfunded even on a level playing field; this is just standard economics. In this regard Arnold was very unconvincing. There's zero evidence that charities would accomplish the goal of providing enough health care assistance. In my view, taxation is not the problem; political allocations and unnecessary government monopolies are. This could be alleviated if we could specify that at least part our taxes go to competing alternatives.

DP writes:

Quoting Richard
first post "In fact the evidence that you want to support government funding for health care already exists. Does the charity of people provide enough blood and organ donations? Why would you think it would be different with money? "

My response: The only reason why the blood and organ donation charities are underfunded is because the government is interfering with the markets and making it illegal to sell blood (not plasma) and bodily tissues/organs. Government interference = supply/demand not reaching equalibrium.

Richard's second post: "All I'm arguing is that we know that charities will most likely be severely underfunded even on a level playing field; this is just standard economics."

My response: If the government didn't prop up crappy charities with tax dollars, then the really competent players would be the only ones on the field. Your "always underfunded despite fair playing field argument" does not compute. On what do you base your theory?

As long as government remains more interested in politics and self-preservation than competently fulfilling its obligations, charities will be necessary to fill the gap left by bureaucratic, self-interested government social welfare programs that have alterior motives. For example, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security act as a kind of unemployment insurance. A couple of people at MIT studied this usage several years ago and published two studies about it. Look it up for yourself.

AB writes:

Richard, Presidente, ah heck everyone with an opinion,

Is it moral to force a moral standard on someone else?

or...

Is it ethical to force an ethical standard on someone else?

Joshua Lyle writes:

Richard,
to some extent, charitable contributions, even absent tax subsidy, are consumption goods. The empirical question (or at least a empirical question) is whether the de facto provision of the consumption good produces an efficient amount of whatever the charity is de jure aimed at producing.

Les writes:

Arnold:

Thank you for posting your statement. It really separated the sheep from the goats among those who commented.

One could tell at a glance those who understand economics and those who do not.

Brian writes:

"But being libertarian does not mean you have to have a cold heart. You can be a bleeding heart, but you show it by what you do, not what you advocate forcing other people to do."

Brilliantly said.

It's amazing to hear the accolades heaped upon retired congresspersons who "fought for kids" or some such.... Think of Clinton and the millions he received in speaking fees, Edwards, Obama, and on and on. At the same time, ask a liberal voter why they like these plutocrats and you're told "they helped the poor and defenseless." But never with their own money.

What if, in every govt. decision, the question was asked, "How does this effect liberty?"

D writes:

"But being libertarian does not mean you have to have a cold heart. You can be a bleeding heart, but you show it by what you do, not what you advocate forcing other people to do."

I consider myself a libertarian, so here's my dilemma. The government already takes the money I would have given for the causes I think are necessary/good/etc. I give via volunteering, as money is something already taken from me and unfortunately I don't have enough after this to give to charity (outside of low $ donations to various causes a friend or what not might hit me up for. According to your statement above, I don't show my libertarianism. And none (or at least the vast majority of non-rich/wealthy libertarians) will until they are capable of spending in their own way the money taken by the government. For example, I can't give money to various health care causes, and as a result show my libertarianism, because this money has already been taken from me by government. What's a libertarian to do beside complain about the state of things?

Bilwick1 writes:

"I remember when 'liberal' meant being generous with your own money."

--Will Rogers

But if you want to tax me in order to give my money to charity, that does not make you generous.

Heresy! The left, of course, defines generosity precisely in this way. See, my heart is so big that I realize I can't do enough good deeds with my own money, which is why I have to take yours (while protecting mine via tax shelters. See, I'm so wonderful that I need my money AND yours).

leo the lion writes:

One can agree that there may be needs or expectations that are best satisfied through voluntary association response or action. It appears that over time, these voluntary associations all too often take on a life of their own,growing in scale, bureaucratic in organization, and diminishing in effectiveness in maintaining fidelity to their original mission and values. Such associations begin to look a lot like government. It appears that adherence to the principle of subsidiarily as an organizing governance standard could mitigate this tendency. requiring funding on an annual basis would also help.
Large bureaucracies can be defined as " an organism which can absorb an infinite amount of energy with no apparent movement or effect".

Ludo writes:

This is a pile of ideological crap. Ideologies are easy. Reality is not.

Brian writes:

Sig,

Here's one example (several, actually, in the article) of something approximating a "libertarian crossroads:"

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.12/traffic.html

(Richard): "Standard economics says that charities probably won't work because of free riding problems."
Richard, if you had read the earlier comments you would have seen that this point was previously addressed.
(Malcolm): "One problem with the 'public goods' argument for State (government, generally) provision of charity (e.g., health care for the poor) is that oversight of State functions is a public good which the State itself cannot provide. Assumption by the State of responsibility for the provision of charity (or any other public good) transforms the market failure which the 'public goods' analysis describes, but does not eliminate it."

Oversight of public funds is under-supplied, with the result that taxes purportedly dedicated to deserving recipients support bureaucracies and politicians, not the population which politicians used to justify the taxation.

Crawdad writes:

leo the lion,

I believe the difference would be that private organizations and charities do have to make their cost to benefit ratios public. It's easy to find out how well the charities serve their purposes. You can alway chose to stop supporting them if or when they fail their missions. They know this so it keeps them a lot more honest and focused on their mission or in providing the service they promised.

Government has no such requirements and you can't opt out once they create a program no matter how poorly it functions. What incentive do they have to be honest or provide decent service? Anyone who has ever dealt with a governmental bureaucracy can attest to this reality.

Russell Nelson writes:

Ludo, everybody has an ideology, as a way for finding patterns in the way the world works. Your statement is reduced to "This is a pile of crap", but you don't explain why. Unfortunately, that also means that nobody can respond to you in a sensible manner.

I speculate that you're suggesting that the world is more complicated than anybody is saying. Sure, it is. But that cuts both ways: both for the people who think that markets will solve every problem AND for the people who think that governments will solve every problem. The question is not whether some problems are hard to solve -- they are -- but instead whether markets or politics create better solutions. In enough cases market solutions are better -- enough that it's worth prohibiting political solutions entirely.

When all else fails, try freedom.

Gary writes:

Dear Sig: Time lapse of a Hanoi roundabout without traffic signals.

It's a little chaotic as you hypothesized, but not wholly unworkable.

El Presidente writes:

Crawdad,

Why do you assume the necessity of the state to organize this?

There are several reasons for using the social institution of government to address redistribution. They basically boil down to the idea that people will do less than is needed if left to do it alone. Depending on the scenario, we might be talking about free-riders, the tragedy of the commons, or some similar phenomenon. The state does not, and perhaps cannot achieve optimality (I personally believe that the optimal role for the state is that of facilitator, not enforcer). However, it can produce a better result in terms of material outcome, human relationships, and the limited justice of process than we are inclined to produce without it. I don't think the state is necessary to this end for any other reason than that our tendency to ignore the interrelatedness of our personal wellbeing and our social wellbeing produces a less desirable outcome in its absence.

(El Presidente): "There are several reasons for using the social institution of government to address redistribution. They basically boil down to the idea that people will do less than is needed if left to do it alone."

Any large organization could give money away. Try "There are several reasons for using the institution of Wal-Mart (or "the Catholic Church", or "the AFL-CIO", or "the Mafia") to address redistribution. They basically boil down to the ida that people will do less than is needed if left to do it alone".

Doesn't work, does it? "The State" is people. The argument that a uncoerced market will under-supply "public goods" (including remediation for tragedies of the commons) applies with equal force to State actors. Who will coerce them? Why should they spend their resources on public goods? Just because you wish they would? I wish that the Mafia would so use its resources. I wish everyone would just agree to be nice. I wish I had a flying carpet.

El Presidente writes:

Malcolm Kirkpatrick,

I wish . . . I wish . . . I wish

Some of us choose to act as well. I've put my financial and professional future at stake in this endeavor. It's more than just wishing on my part.

It is true that any sort of large institution could engage in redistribution, but only one institution has the power of force to bring it about when anything less is insufficient. The institution that has that power, regardless of whatever other trappings it might express, should not be mistaken for anything other than government. There are many forms of it, but the capacity for the use of overwhelming force is its defining element; the source of it's promise and problems.

(El Presidents): "...(O)nly one institution has the power of force to bring (redistribution) about when anything less is insufficient."

Who shall force the enforcers? People in government have no more incentive to give to the poor than do people in MacDonalds. The State is a corporation. Corporate oversight is a public good. Oversight of State functions is a public good which the State itself cannot provide. State assumption of responsibility for the provision of public goods transforms the "free rider" problem at the root of "public goods" analysis but does not eliminate it.

roga writes:

8's description was almost perfect, but he failed to mention how the reps secretly grift a quarter of the money to their friends, then the McDonalds manager comes after the whole group with a shotgun because they stiffed him.

(El Presidente): "There are several reasons for using the social institution of government to address redistribution. They basically boil down to the idea that people will do less than is needed if left to do it alone."
(Malcolm): "Why should (State agents) spend their resources on public goods? Just because you wish they would? I wish that the Mafia would so use its resources. I wish everyone would just agree to be nice. I wish I had a flying carpet."
(El Presidente): "Some of us choose to act as well. I've put my financial and professional future at stake in this endeavor. It's more than just wishing on my part."

Which endeavor? Supplying charity or gaining access to the tools of State coercion?

El Presidente writes:

Malcolm Kirkpatrick,

Who shall force the enforcers? People in government have no more incentive to give to the poor than do people in MacDonalds.

The electorate is charged with doing so under our system of governance. If that has become too difficult, then we need to clarify, simplify, and monitor more effectively. I am not opposed to reform. I am not persuaded that railing against a state as a social institution when no better alternative can be given is a good use of anybody's energy. As for incentives, who wouldn't give to poor people if they got paid to do so? What sort of sick individual would refuse to help others even when they received tangible benefit unless they had a better offer? Maybe the problem is that we aren't making a good enough offer, and perhaps that has something to do with the sentiment that "it's mine, mine, mine, mine, mine; all mine." (stomp feet repeatedly)

Which endeavor? Supplying charity or gaining access to the tools of State coercion?

The endeavor of getting people what they need, one way or another. I've worked through NGOs and government.

(Malcolm): "Who shall force the enforcers? People in government have no more incentive to give to the poor than do people in MacDonalds."
(El Presidente writes): "The electorate is charged with doing so under our system of governance."

The discussion then becomes whether democratic feedback mechanisms work in a mass democracy. More precisely, the issue is whether voluntary or the coercive mechanisms of the State yield a better result (health care for the indigent, schooling for children of the poor, etc.).

(El Presidente writes): "If that has become too difficult, then we need to clarify, simplify, and monitor more effectively. I am not opposed to reform. I am not persuaded that railing against a state as a social institution when no better alternative can be given is a good use of anybody's energy."

A better alternative can be given: to incline public opinion (therefore, voters) against a State role in charity, and to rely on extended family and voluntary organizations. For the reason I gave (oversight of State functions is a public good which the State cannot supply), the "public goods" argument for State provision of charity fails.

(El Presidente writes): "As for incentives, who wouldn't give to poor people if they got paid to do so? What sort of sick individual would refuse to help others even when they received tangible benefit unless they had a better offer? Maybe the problem is that we aren't making a good enough offer, and perhaps that has something to do with the sentiment that 'it's mine, mine, mine, mine, mine; all mine.' (stomp feet repeatedly)."

"To" is a statement of intention. Whatever one is paid "to" do, one can pocket the money and default. Economists call this "the agency problem". In the public sector, we see bloated bureaucracies and useless consulting contracts given to friends who sing the praises of the bureaucracies which hire them. After President Clinton signed the welfare reform bill into law, social service agencies and the relevant committees in the Hawaii State legislature held an informational briefing on the expected financial impact. I attended. The room was SRO with expensively dressed late-middle aged "Executive Directors" of this group or that. Evidently the poverty business pays well.

(malcolm): "Which endeavor? Supplying charity or gaining access to the tools of State coercion?"
(El Presidente writes): "The endeavor of getting people what they need, one way or another. I've worked through NGOs and government."

"One way or another." Please consider "another". I recommend Charles Murray's "Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980".

El Presidente writes:

Malcolm Kirkpatrick,

The discussion then becomes whether democratic feedback mechanisms work in a mass democracy.

I'll assume you meant "democratic republic" since we do not have a "mass democracy". Yes, that is the next question, followed by, "If they don't work, what can we do to make them work?"

A better alternative can be given: to incline public opinion (therefore, voters) against a State role in charity, and to rely on extended family and voluntary organizations. For the reason I gave (oversight of State functions is a public good which the State cannot supply), the "public goods" argument for State provision of charity fails.

I don't even know where to begin . . . If your alternative is so attractive, why hasn't it been found persuasive by a majority already? It is not a new idea. It is quite old. Here's a hint: it isn't accompanied by a reasonable and equitable distribution of income. People actually already prefer to do things without the intervention of a state. However, they find that they are unable to bring about the outcome they believe are just in its absence. They don't want the state; they want to more closely approximate justice, and the state can help them to do that. Also, I am not aware of anybody who argued for state provision of charity. That would be oxymoronic since the state relies on taxes of one sort or another (could be tribute). Charity is voluntary by all parties. State aid may involve coersion. I am not afraid of that concept. I am at peace with it. Let's just be clear about what we're discussing.

Economists call this "the agency problem".

Yes, we do. We also call it dealing in bad faith, lying, and stealing. It's a fairly well understood phenomenon that doesn't require a technical explanation. It isn't restricted to bureaucrats and there are ways of dealing with it.

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