Art Carden  

Helen Lovejoy Political Economy: "Think of The Children" As a Justification for Government

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Via my Facebook feed and email, LearnLiberty posts a link to this debate snippet featuring Steven Horwitz and Jeffrey Reiman.

The first question asks whether we should work to alleviate the problems of people whose parents make bad decisions. I'm definitely sympathetic to the plight of the poor, but I have three very quick responses:

First, it isn't always clear what a "bad decision" is and when a bad decision is responsible for relief-worthy circumstances in the future.

Second, parents have weaker incentives to make good decisions when they know someone else will pick up the slack for their kids and when they know that their kids won't enjoy the fruits of the parents' good decisions. Subsidizing prodigality and taxing prudence will give us more prodigality and less prudence, all else equal.

Third, and Steve Horwitz does a great job with this in this 2009 Freeman column, what we ought to do is constrained by what we can do. In several settings, I've heard James Otteson refer to the "wouldn't it be nice if..." argument that pervades a lot of these kinds of discussions (I believe he's actually calling it the "nice if" fallacy in a book he's working on). It would be nice if people didn't respond to their incentives. Unfortunately for many interventionist ideas, they do.

Disclosure: I've been paid by IHS for appearing in LearnLiberty for appearing in LearnLiberty videos, but not for writing this post.


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COMMENTS (6 to date)
David R. Henderson writes:

What I find interesting is how, in response to Steve, he backs down bit by bit, from "we need government to do it" to "government might not be the best at doing it.” And then he changes the subject.

drycreekboy writes:

Apparently the only difference between rich children and poor children is their respective parents net discretionary spending power. There is a demonstrable f(x) = y relationship where x is how much is taken away from rich parents and given to poor children and y is poor children's life outcomes. Who knew?

It's almost as obvious as the fact that educational outcomes have rises constantly with public education spending levels for the last forty years. We've improved education by over 200 percent! What's that you say? The outcomes are nearly flat? Again, who knew? Apparently not tenured professors at American University.

Pajser writes:

If resources invested in raising children are the same, society in which all children have equal rights, independently of anything their parents — drugged thugs or successful surgeons did — is better one. If there are practical problems, OK, nothing is perfect, nothing works as planned, but equality is ideal. ☭

geoih writes:

Reiman thinks as a child. He wants to help the less fortunate and the only way he can think to do it is to rob the more fortunate.

This is the essence of the thinking of much of today's intellectual class, to think as children, with only their emotions.

josh franta writes:

"This is the essence of the thinking of much of today's intellectual class, to think as children, with only their emotions."

government is a stop loss order for the free markets. whenever the market fails, people turn to government for solutions. it's why government always grows because as the economy grows, it creates more problems that markets don't always solve, solve well, or solve quickly.

the wide eyed kid in me that loves the idea of libertarianism purely would love to see free markets solve every problem, but the rational adult looks at history and says not likely anytime soon, and the business person in me looks at some people i know who run businesses and say they probably need the check and balance.

Floccina writes:

Rich kids have one disadvantage in school and that is poor motivation. Why study if you are set to inherit sufficient money to live on. Just the other day I saw an interview with Warren Buffet and one of his sons and one of his grandsons and the interviewer mentioned that none of Buffet's children graduated from college.

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