Tuesday, November 13, 2012

what price freedom?

RubyeJack opened a can of worms when she wondered why USians voted the way they did in the Presidential election.

In my last post I made some sweeping generalisations about the motivations of more extreme Republican voters.

It’s hard not to dismiss some Republican voters as nutters because, let’s face it, some Republicans do seem more than a tad “out there”.

Although the nutters might be Conspicuous, the bulk of the Republican party’s supporters – a silent majority if you’ll pardon the expression– are good, intelligent and sensible people. 

As much as Michelle Bachmann seems a bit – well, funny – she is no joke. Enough people have voted for her to make a member of Congress.

As she tells it, Michelle just struggles to get the words right when she opens her mouth. 
To be fair, I can be incoherent and waffly enough while tapping away at a keyboard, so I can’t pick on her for failing to find the words she is looking for when she has to speak without having time to think.
It's what Bachmann has to say when she finally gets her point across clearly is harder to understand or excuse.

She has a Palinesque grasp of history and economics, and has some unlikeable values. Perhaps the words “pray the gay away” are all you need hear to get the general idea.

Not all Republican types are educated, aspiring politicians.


Not all Republicans show a lack of compassion, or insight into other people’s day to day struggles.

In most democracies, most people want the same thing regardless of how they vote. They want to do well for themselves and their families and do good for others with whatever they have to spare. 
Most of us want the world to be a nicer place. Even people like Michelle Bachmann don’t deliberately wish anyone harm, however harmful their policies might be.

In political terms, the only difference between people on the left or the right is what they believe is the best way to go about making the world a nicer place.

The most significant difference between left and right opinions about how to make the world a nicer place revolves around money.

Who should decide what pies are made, how they’ll be made, and how the pies should be shared around once they have been made – governments, or the people themselves?

private enterprise and a free market economy

The US has a culture that enthusiastically extols the virtues of private enterprise and a free market economy. We could go so far as saying that for many USians a free market economy and social or political freedom are two sides of the same coin – you can’t have one without the other.

People on the right tend to have a stronger preference for a free market economy than people on the left.

Free market theories assume that people are motivated by self-interest. Given the choice between sitting on my backside and having everyone else pay my bills, or standing at an assembly line 60 hours a week, self-interest suggests I’d be stupid not to sit on my backside. On the other hand, given the choice between sitting on my backside starving, or standing at an assembly line 60 hours a week, self-interest suggests I’d be stupid not to get a job.

In the long run, letting other people pay my bills would be unfair to everyone else.

Many of the things we have today we only have because someone else acted in their own self interest. If we live in a city we rely on a shopkeeper to bring food to us, but the shopkeeper does not usually do this out of the goodness of his/her heart.

As one of Rubye’s Republican voters, missrobin,  put it: “…if there is a problem, someone will step up to fix it – if only so they can make money…”


the job of government

As a rule the free market, private enterprise and capitalism often solve important problems more efficiently than any government could. But we must remember: Like democracy, a free market /private enterprise/ self-interest/ price system might be the best system there is, but it is far from perfect.

One of the biggest flaws of a free market system – and there are plenty of flaws – is that it works as efficiently when put to an immoral use as it does when put to a good use.
Without a free market /private enterprise/ self-interest/ price system the supply of illegal drugs would be far less efficient.
Without a free market /private enterprise/ self-interest/ price system the arms industry wouldn’t facilitate mass murder half so effectively.

Not everything we do is okay just because there is a buck in it.

Even in the best democracies, some government intervention is required to

  • limit the operation of a free market when the outcome is harmful
  • compensate for some of the free market system’s inherent flaws

myth: free enterprise saves taxpayers money

Governments can be unbelievably inefficient, but private enterprise is not always more efficient, simply because it is private.

Theoretically, it’s better if private enterprise rather than government delivers essential goods and services. It’s in their owners’ best interests to be more efficient and cost effective. The added bonus is that, with profit as an incentive, private enterprise absorbs all of the risks involved in getting those goods and services moving.

The Global Financial Crisis or GFC occurred because, in an unregulated free market, a heap of free enterprise banks made a heap of questionable home loans. If I understand correctly, these questionable home loans were made precisely because it was in the best interests of individual lenders to make them.

Unfortunately, what resulted from this individual self-interest was not in the country’s best interests. Because the banking sector was on the brink of collapse, the whole US economy was on the brink of collapse. If the government had not provided money to prop up the banking sector, everyone would have suffered far more.

In a perfect free market, the opportunity to make a profit provides an incentive to free enterprise to accept risks – but a free market is rarely perfect without government interference.
The bankers making all those bad loans were gambling and, when they lost, taxpayers were left with their gambling debts.

There are really only two certainties in life; debt and taxes.
The right’s preferred system – an unfettered free market – can hurt taxpayers as much as the left’s preferred system of taking directly from the rich to give to the poor.

For all its flaws, the free market /private enterprise/ self-interest/ price system is the best system, but people who expect it to always deliver the best result are kidding themselves. There is always a need for at least some government intervention.

next: the sum of the parts


  1. The two certainties in life i know of and have always known about for many, many years are death and taxes.

    1. Haha, Windsmoke, I don't think anyone will let me leave til I hand over some money :)

  2. Add to those certainties, strong wind warnings east of Wilson's Promontory.

    Essential services need to be delivered by government enterprise and there is no reason why they cannot be delivered efficiently, but I am afraid there is a dearth of examples.

    1. Yes, the essential services thing is a biggie. I think Australians have some strong opinions about this now in our 'post-privatisation' age.

      A forecast of 'Strong wind warnings east of Wilson's Prom' definitely belongs on the list!

  3. And who gets to define 'essential services'? There are some who seem to think one of the rights to life is owning an iPhone, and on the other hand, provision of health services isnt consistent across the country - so I can only assume it's NOT a right. So essential service provision is driven by gov't willingness to expend, which in turn is driven by political popularity; not need, rights or long term vision. Somehow that seems skewed ...

    1. Sometimes, when my pencil hovers over the little squares on a ballot paper, I think 'political popularity' is a contradiction in terms.

      [We're all getting skewed one way or another.]

      And sorry, Red, I don't see the connection between 'vision' and politics.

      "By the year 2020, no child in Australia will be living without an iPhone" sounds like a marketable promise?

    2. It's a helluva lot easier to deliver than ' ... living in poverty' ever was!!!!

    3. I'm just glad I don't have any kids at school waiting for their laptop.

      For eloquent expression of regret from nameless PM - a man I could never abide - see last para of