(do not use, moved to Workflowy) Government vs markets

For good and for ill, capitalism takes some interactions out of the realm of the personal or political, and puts them in the economic realm

Which comes first? Which is more fundamental?

Markets are prior to, or more fundamental than, government

Nothing here yet

Government is prior to, or more fundamental than, markets


The only thing that causes anyone to ever have entitlement over pieces of the world are the laws and institutions of society. It is police violence in concert with legal rules that actually demarcate what belongs to whom, and there is no demanded-by-the-universe way of orienting those institutions. Also, it's clear that curtailments of liberty are at the very heart of all economic institutions, laissez-faire ones just as much as socialist ones.
- Matt Bruenig, Sorry, John Stuart Mill Was Not a Libertarian | Demos

The economy is itself just a large government program. Through its laws and the police, the government has put in place a vast array of economic institutions that collectively determine who gets what at any moment in time. To assess the effectiveness of the institutional design choices the government has made, we need to know who is benefiting from them and to what degree.
- Matt Bruenig, It Matters How Rich the Rich Are | Demos

You must first make a government, before you can have property. There is no such thing as propl-erty without government.
- General William Sherman, Letter to H. W. Hill, Camp on Big Black Septbr. 7. 1863

In an important case in 1788, Mr.
Justice Heath decided to discard the long-established rightof the poor
to pickup grainleft in the field afterharvest. As he noted, the"incon-
vience arising from this custom being considered a rightby the poor
would be infinite. … It would raise the insolence of the poor."The
judge hada point; it undoubtedly raised the"insolence" of the poor—
that is, their sense of entitlement and empowerment—to be assured
of this "gleaning" right,which had enabled themto feed their families.
Better simply to remove this right than to risk insolence—which is
exactly what the courts did.
Another judge, Mr. Justice Wilson, lending support to Justice
Heath's opinion in the gleaning case, made sweeping conclusions
about the property owner's natural rights in another case. "The soil
ishis, the seed ishis, and in natural justice his also arethe profits."As
E. P. Thompson notes, "It is difficult to think of a purer expression
of capitalist rationality, in which both labour and human need have
disappeared from view, and the'natural justice' ofprofits has become
a reason at law." The honesty of the judge's position was at least
refreshing. There were no soothing bromides here about how the
poor, deprived of the rotting grain left in the field, would develop
more character. Stamping out the insolence of the poorwas the sole
reason for taking away their rights, and the judge stated this simple
truth without the layers of dissembling rhetoric we so oftenhave to
wade through in political debate today.
Ultimately, these rulings seem to reflect nothing more than naked
class bias. They certainly reveal the ability of the judges to identify
withthe property owner, and their total inability to identify withthe
guy scrounging around inthe field forbits of leftover grain. Similarly,
Adam Smith was moved bythe imagined plight of a property owner
who, lacking adequate legal protections for his property, wouldbe
unable to "sleep a single night in security."Meanwhile, the farmore
serious fate awaiting people who lost their common rights didn't
lead Smith to concern himself with their ability to get a good
night's sleep. This capacity to sympathize with and focus on the
plightof the powerful—while ignoring the far-more-distressing fate
faced by the powerless—is familiar still, as we saw with Thomas
Friedman's identification with today's economic and political elite.
Ifwe free ourselves of thisclass bias, we are leftwith a verydiffer
ent picture. Private propertyrights lose theirspecial sacrosanct status
as a natural right, becoming just another competing political claim
with no more inherent validity than, say, common rights. And some
of our most widely held political beliefs suddenly seem to be based
less on overarching principles ofnatural law and justice and more on
special privilege.
- McQuaig, All You Can Eat

Misc, to-do

  • The earliest expression of this I know is Robert Lee Hale - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    • see Barbara H. Fried, The Progressive Assault on Laissez-Faire: Robert Hale and the First Law and Economics Movement (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998)
  • Ha-Joon Chang

Freedom and well-being can both be diminished by the wrong combination of government and markets

Nothing here yet.

Freedom and well-being can both be enhanced by the right combination of government and markets

let's consider for a
moment the potential impact a fully unregulated market can have.
And we don't need to dream up scenarios—we can get a sense of
what actually happened by looking atmeasures thatwere passed into
law in themiddle of thenineteenth century to curb some of themore
serious problems created by the largely unregulated market of early-
nineteenth-century England. In i860, for instance, a revision to the
Mines Act made it "penal to employ boys under twelve not attending
schools and unable to read and write." An 1862 act made it illegal to
operate a coal mine witha single shaft; itwas inresponse to the deaths
ofmany miners who became trapped without an escape route when
the one shaft in their mine collapsed. In 1863, the Chimney-
Sweeper's Act imposed restrictions on howchildren couldbe used in
the chimney-sweeping business, after a number of littleones had died
horrible deaths as a result of being forced to clean out very narrow
These acts of restrictive legislation were strongly protested at the
time bymarket enthusiasts, such asHerbert Spencer, who considered
them a betrayal of free-market principles. Polanyi notes, however,
that this sort of intervention in the marketplace, which became
extensive after 1860, was oftenadvocated bypeople whowerenot in
any way hostile to the basic principles of the marketplace, but who
recognized the necessity of restraining aneconomic system capable of
causing horrendous human damage.
- McQuaig, All You Can Eat


Markets are moral, government immoral

Everyone should have a space free from society, free from politics. a physical place and a psychic place. Society should provide (among other things) respite from society.


I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.
- Rainer Maria Rilke

Misc, to-do

  • Ayn Rand in that one chapter of Atlas Shrugged, I seem to recall it was about how common ownership gave everyone a claim on everyone else. scathing and valuable indictment of (what I call) collectivism, but of course conflated with socialism.

Government is moral, markets are immoral

Misc, to-do

  • alienation
  • emotional labor, Wherehouse Video, Pret a manger
  • Post Office and DMV clerks known for rudeness, and some of them may be, but what I think it really is, is that their jobs are secure, so they don't have an incentive to do the emotional labor we're so used to receiving as customers, so it seems rude by comparison.
  • calling customers guests on Aweigh with Words 2014-01-19
  • is this an instance of pushing work from one person to another?
  • I've noticed that sometimes when people argue, one person is angry and the other is not, until at some point the calm person gets mad, then the formerly mad one is mad no more. it's as if the negative emotion was pushed from one to the other.


Government is effective / efficient, markets are not

Libertarians sometimes point to the supposed inefficiency / ineffectiveness of government, without specifically showing evidence that markets would do better. Sometimes, all they want to do is show that government does not work.

One reason people don't think the government is useful is that they're not aware of how much they already rely on it themselves

Perhaps we overvalue efficiency, and we should balance it with other values

While Polanyi's economic model is more complicated than a market economy or a centrally planned economy, the same could be said of the political separation of powers. It would be far more efficient, in terms of getting things done, to have no separation of political powers. Imagine how quickly the White House—or the central government in any modern state—could get things done if it wasn't slowed down by opposition from Congress or the courts. But in the political sphere, we willingly sacrifice expediency in the interests of a more balanced distribution of power and protection from potential abuse. Strangely, in the economic sphere, we seem less willing to distribute power more widely, even though there is also reason to fear the concentration of too much power in the hands of individual players.
Polanyi's emphasis on the primary importance of meeting social needs puts him outside the parameters of mainstream political debate today. In today's debate, the efficient operation of the market is regarded as essential, and the debate between left and right generally revolves around how much importance should be given to the secondary issue of meeting social needs, with the right wanting very little emphasis on social needs and the left wanting somewhat more.The left often bases its defence of the importance of meeting social needs on the grounds that doing so will actually enhance economic efficiency, as the highly productive social-welfare economies of Scandinavia show. (In fact, there's considerable merit in this position; there's a lot of evidence to show that investing in public health care or education isn't just more equitable, it's also more economically efficient.) Still, by making the defence of social needs contingent on the enhancement of market efficiency, the left is staying within the parameters of the debate established by the right. It is implicitly accepting the right's position that the market's efficient operation is the first and foremost goal. All else must fall in line behind that.

But Polanyi would reject the limited nature of this debate. He would start by rejecting the notion that the efficient operation of the marketplace is the required starting point. For him, the starting point is the well-being of society.

- Linda McQuaig, All You Can Eat

Have government efforts to reduce poverty in fact reduced poverty?

  • This is an empirical question, not a question about values.


"America has not succeeded in reducing poverty over the last 50 years." This is true under the Official Poverty Metric, but this metric is widely criticized for failing to include tax credits and non-cash benefits, as well as utilizing a poverty line that doesn't make much sense. Under the more respected Supplemental Poverty Metric, the poverty rate has fallen by 38 percent (from 26% to 16%) since 1967, with all of the decline coming from non-market income programs.
This is an important corrective because Aziz uses his estimation that there has been no progress on poverty reduction in the U.S. to conclude that "the U.S. needs to seriously re-examine its approach to poverty." But it doesn't really need to do that. The prevailing approach of taxing and transferring has been very successful.

We need only to ramp it up further to get more poverty reduction

- Matt Bruenig, It Matters How Rich the Rich Are | Demos

The War on Poverty, as you probably know, was a massive smashing success. From 1967 to 2012, the disposable income poverty rate fell from 26% to 16%, a decline of 38.5%. During that same period, the market income poverty rate increased from 27% to 29%. Over the course of those years, transfer programs reduced poverty by a total of 1.2 billion people-years.

While Sumner’s cite to “the blogosphere full of progressives” is creative in the realm of statistical argumentation, whatever it references has it wrong. I suspect he is vaguely conjuring up readings that focus on the Official Poverty Rate, which has bounced up and down and more recently settled back to its 1967 levels, but this rate does not take into account non-cash or tax credit transfer programs like SNAP, school lunch, WIC, housing subsidies (e.g. Section 8), home energy subsidies (e.g. LIHEAP), EITC, and CTC. When you take those into consideration, you get the 38% drop mentioned above. I made an entire website dedicated in part to trying to explain this to people.

As a closing note, it deserves pointing out that adding up the total amount of money “spent” on the War On Poverty and then remarking there is still poverty is a really confused way to understand poverty reduction. Poverty is a flow, not a stock. You don’t ever spend enough total dollars on poverty to make it end because poverty is the state of having an inadequate level of income over a specific time period. On some base level, people must realize this because the paychecks they get from their jobs don’t manage to solve their individual quest to stay out of poverty. You can tell because those paychecks run out and then they have to go get another one.

If I were trying to pull a Sumner here, I would say that last year we spent over $14 trillion dollars (the ballpark of our net adjusted national income) fighting poverty but failed to solve it. Another $14 trillion will be spent this year doing the same thing. If I were trying to be more level-headed, I would say that since poverty is a flow and not a stock, the best way to talk about its solutions is not in terms of dollars, but in terms of institutions. The operative question is what kind of institutions better ensure that the annual flow of poverty is lower? The comparative welfare state literature strongly points in the direction of Nordic social democratic institutions, which heavily utilize transfers and universal welfare benefits.

- Matt Bruenig, Cutting Poverty Is Super Easy: A Response to Sumner | MattBruenig | Politics


Markets are effective / efficient, government is not

Surprising uses for markets, and suggestions for more

solution for dealing with racial discrimination. Rather than trying to
outlaw it, Derrick Bell proposed creating amarket fordiscriminatory
behaviour. Employers wanting to discriminate would be free to do so,
but theywouldhave to purchase a license."
- McQuaig, AYCE


Misc, to-do

  • unleashing charities
  • what holds these back is moralizing. we should treat markets as tools, neither inherently good nor bad.

Both government and markets are legitimate and necessary


Saying ‘governments can’t create wealth’ is a sweeping, largely vacuous statement based on a superficial zero sum view of taxation as being ‘extracted’ from the private sector. In fact, taxation is just one prong of a symbiotic relationship that exists between the private and public sectors. If we take the definition of wealth as the creation of valuable resources, it’s clear that, say, teaching and infrastructure ‘create wealth.’ We’ve already seen just how large a source of wealth the government can be through its funding of research and development. Furthermore, many state-backed institutions are historically a prerequisite for substantial wealth creation to take place at all.

- An FAQ for Libertarians | Unlearning Economics

[…] the idea that people have full liberal property rights in their pre-tax income is unwarranted. They participate in a co-operative venture with others in society subject to certain conditions, and those conditions include one that part of “their income” already belongs to the wider society, via the state. This point, hated by libertarians, defeats the widespread view that people are having “their money” taken off them: it wasn’t theirs to start with.

- Chris Bertram, Squeezing the rich is good: even when it raises no money — Crooked Timber

Authority and liberty are interdependent, not simply opposed. As Kant, among others, made dear, rights (including property rights) are defined and enforced by the state. Referring to "natural rights," Emile Durkheim convincingly wrote that "the State creates these rights, gives them an institutional form, and makes them into realities." To violate liberal rights is to disobey the liberal state. In a sovereignless condition, rights can be imagined but not experienced. In a society with a weak state, such as Lebanon for the past decade, rights themselves are weak or underenforced. Statelessness means rightlessness, as the story of migrating Kurds, Vietnamese and Caribbean boat people, and many others should by now have made abundantly clear.

- Stephen Holmes, The Liberal Idea


Misc, to-do

It seems to me that there are five areas in which government spending has a demonstrated superiority over the private sector — health and disability insurance, education, old-age pensions, infrastructure spending, and military spending. It seemed to me that structural changes in our economy and society were driving the amount of money we ought to spend in sum on those five up, hence the enlargement of government.
Brad DeLong, "Nick Eberstadt and the "Takers" Once Again: More Reflections on the General Theory of the Moocher Class"

Clean these up

Neither buyers nor sellers have
any particular concern about the details of eachothers' lives.
It is precisely this dehumanized aspect of the market system that
offendedand alienated the protestors of earlier centuries, who hadn't
yet adapted to the marketmentality. Not beingsufficiently schooled
in market principles, they seemed unable to grasp—or unwilling to
accept—the notion that therewas no such thing as a "fair price," that
instead the price was whatever the buyer could get away with charg
ing. To the protestors, it seemed intuitively obvious that the price
should have a moral basis—that is, it should be linked to issues like the
amount of work and effort performed by the seller, not the level of
desperation of the buyer. Similarly, it seemed morally obvious to them
that the common people should be able to buy grain at the cheapest
price, in the portions they required, since their resources were
limited, and that dealers shouldn't be allowed to deny people access
to grain so that they could hold it until it was more valuable (and
therebymaximize their profit).
This popular insistence that the economy operate according to
some moral laws was deeply at odds with the new market-based
system. In essence, the market system was all about liberating the
economy from moral rules. This represented a dramatic break with
traditional approaches to economic issues. What distinguished the
earlier approaches was their refusal to separate economics from
morality, or a sense of "fairness"—precisely the same insistence we
find in the food rioters of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
- McQuaig, All You Can Eat

themarket economy exists because a legal system
has been put in place to enforce it.As we saw, this required a funda
mental redesign of society and its laws—a process that involved a
greatdeal of coercion bythe state. For all the tossing about ofwords
and expressions like "free," "natural" and "laissez-faire," the market
economy exists purely because a setofman-made laws enforce it.The
propertied classes deliberately—and with the use of force—created
a legal system that protected their own property interests and
stripped away the pre-existing common property rights of most of
the population. So it would seem bizarre to see these new private
property laws as any more"natural" than the common property laws
of earlier times. Natural to whom? To paraphrase slightly: They call it
natural, when themselves feel comfortable.
Even after its creation, the "free" market needed the full force of
state legal power to bemaintained. Polanyi observed, "Administrators
had to be constantly on thewatch to ensure the free working of the
system." Despite incessant proselytizing from authorities about the
merits of the market, the new system proved a hard sell, and there
werealmost constant attempts to reininthe full fury ofmarket forces
before they wreaked too much havoc on people's lives. As Polanyi
ironically notes, "While laissez-faire economy was the product of
deliberate state action, subsequent restrictions on laissez-faire started
in a spontaneous way. Laissez-faire was planned; planning was not."
Indeed, if we are looking for something "natural," we find it not so
much in the market, but rather in the massive and constant reaction
against the market.
- McQuaig, All You Can Eat

a crucial strategy for the rich has been the vilification of
government and all attempts at collective action to control the
market. The market is held up as representing freedom, and any
action to limit its powers is portrayed as an assault on human
freedom. One of the singular achievements of the pro-market school
has been its ability to link the notions of coercion and compulsion
exclusively with government.
While government isundoubtedly capable ofcoercion—and of the
worst sort—it has no monopoly on coercive behaviour. The market
imposes a coercion of its own that is less obvious but still real and
important. The apparently "voluntary" market exchange, in which
workers exchange theirlabour forwages, takes place within a context
ofmutual coercion, Robert Hale notes. Each side has the legal right
to withhold something the other side wants—the labourer isn't
obliged to work; the employer isn't obliged to pay—and each side
uses that right to try to obtain the most favourable terms from the
other. So while neither side is pulling a knife on the other, they are
bothusing a form of coercion to get their way.
If government intervenes in this struggle—with minimum-wage
laws, or anti-scab or back-to-work legislation—it can tilt the balance,
enhancing the powerof one sideto impose its terms on the other.But
it would bewrongto view the government's intervention as the intro
duction of coercion into the process. Coercion is already there.
Government is simply rejigging the power balance, thereby increas
ingthe leverage of one side to dictate the terms.One can dispute the
legitimacy of a specific government intervention, but one could also
presumably question the fairness of the original distribution ofpower.
One couldargue, for instance, that the employer enjoys considerable
financial security already—as a resultofproperty laws—and that this
financial security gives him an unfair degree of coercive negotiating
power through his ability to hold out longer than a hungry labourer.
By imposing minimum-wage laws, the government is perhaps only
slightly rebalancing a badly skewed power balance, in which the laws
of the state have already conferred an enormous advantage on the
It's not even clear that the government's intervention is an
infringement of liberty. It certainly is an infringement of the liberty
ofone side. But at the same time, it expands the liberty of the other
side. Hale's point is that all sets of rights impose constraints on the
rights of others to do as they wish. When governments establish
private propertyrights, they limitthe rights ofnon-property owners,
denying themaccess to property that now belongs to others.
One of the starkest examples of this, law professor Neil Brooks
notes, is the way property laws exclude people from gettingaccess to
life-saving drugs. This exclusion happens because governments have
created an elaborate set of copyright and patent laws to protect so-
called intellectual property so that the creator or inventor of a
product can claim exclusive rights to sell that product. This exclusiv
ity may not present too much of a problem when the product is a
musical recording or abook or amovie. But as wesaw in chapter one,
it becomes extremely serious when theproduct isanitemessential to
human health.There are millions ofAfrican AIDS victims facing the
prospect of premature death because they are unable to afford the
price thatdrug companies aredemanding for access to their products.
If it wasn't for laws enforcing the "intellectual property" rights of
these companies, other companies would be permitted to produce
generic versions of these drugs for a fraction of the amount.
(Of course, the drug companies argue thatwithout these intellec
tual property rights—which are extensively protected through trade
deals like NAFTA—they would not be able to carry out the costly
research necessary to invent newdrugs.While it's true that research
is costly, the drug industry is highly profitable and very reluctant to
divulge information about its internal costing systems. Critics charge
that the industry routinely inflates the costs of its research to many
times what it actually spends. It certainly downplays the fact that
government funding has paid formuch of the basic research that has
led to importantmedical breakthroughs, including thosethat have led
to new AIDSmedications.)
In any event, the point is that intellectual property rights amount
to a massive government intervention in the marketplace—an inter
vention that greatly increases the rights of the multinational drug
industry while drastically curtailing the rights of poorAfrican AIDS
victims. And the intervention is a highly arbitrary one that is tilted
heavily in the direction of the drug industry. If the patent laws were
altered, it would change the way the rights are distributed. If drug
patents were made to expire in five years or ten years, for instance,
rather than the twenty years usually specified by law these days, this
would diminish the rights enjoyed by some of the world's richest
corporations and greatly expand the rights enjoyed by some of the
sickest, mostvulnerable people onearth.There isno particular magic
in twentyyears. The long patentperiodmostly reflects the enormous
clout enjoyed by the drug industry, which, by investing heavily in
government lobbying and political contributions, has managed to
construct a market to suit its own interests
- McQuaig, All You Can Eat

The concept "It's my money—I
earnedit, and I'm entitled to keep it"seems to have a powerful reso
nance in an age that encourages endless self-regard.
It is part of the hubris of our times thatwe think we, as individu
als, are the key actors—that we've basically made it on our own, and
that we therefore are individually entitled to enjoy the benefits that
our personal efforts have reaped. This sentiment is echoed in the
concept ofTax Freedom Day—an annual event promoted by right-
wing think-tanks inCanada and the U.S. to encourage thenotion that
taxes arecoercive and burdensome. By calculating thenumber ofdays
in the year that the average person must work to earnenough to pay
his or her taxes, the organizers are suggesting that up until this point
in the calendar, people are simply "working for the government."
The concept receives widespread coverage in the media, and is
treated almost as some kind ofneutral and importantassessment bya
watchdog agency responsible for monitoring the size ofgovernment.
Infact, the eventtries to confuse the issue of taxation. Utterlyleft out
ofTax Freedom Day is any notion that taxes are what we pay to buy
services that we all need and use, and that would be much more
expensive or even impossible to purchase privately—fire and police
protection, highways, roads, canals, coast guard services, snow
removal, water purification, schools, hospitals, libraries, etc. Tax
Freedom Day could undoubtedly bemoved up to early January ifwe
were prepared to walk out of our dwellings thatmorning onto a dirt
path and take our chances onwhat might befall us.
Furthermore, the suggestion that one has created one's income
all by oneself conveniently ignores the complex web of laws and
regulations—affecting property, copyright, inheritance, licensing
andcertification of tradesand professions—that plays amajor role in
determining income.Withoutall this, individuals wouldn'tbe able to
"earn" andsafely enjoy the income at all. Doctors, lawyers, engineers
and architects have high incomes not only because their services are
in demand, but also because they receive accreditation from govern
ment—accreditation thatgives the public confidence in their services
and restricts would-be competitors who lack accreditation from
offering their services. Even incomes that seem to be determined
without the involvement of government are usually influenced in
some way by legislation affecting a whole range of issues revolving
around the right of workers to organize into unions and to go on
strike. Atilt in the legislation in favour of labour will likely push up
wages; a tilt towards management will tend to shift a larger share of
the profits to the employer.
So the individual's moral claim to his or her income should be
tempered by the notion that society has already had a hand in direct
ing the income to that person in the first place. If the laws hadbeen
different, the income distribution would have been different. The
claim to a certain amount of income rests, then, on little more than
society's choices. As JohnStuartMill noted, the distribution ofwealth
in any society is a product of human choice, dependent on the laws
and customs of thatsociety and subject to alteration at any time.
- McQuaig, All You Can Eat

Intheface ofthearbitrary nature ofthemarket's system ofdistrib
uting income,what arewe to do?Themarket advocates insist that we
should do nothing, that to redistribute resources through the tax
system amounts to a coercive intervention. But they are of course
ignoring any previous coercive intervention. As Neil Brooks notes,
"Redistributive taxation simply changes the starting positions of the
parties, and all starting positions involve coercion." Certainly
progressive taxation can have the effect of expanding liberty for
many, whose life choices will be enhanced through stronger social
programs that give them greater access to health care, education and
financial security. So constraints onthe liberty of thewealthy can lead
to expanded libertyfor the rest of society.
- McQuaig, All You Can Eat

While the market distributes income
on the basis of one's ability to service those withmoney, government
programs redistribute it onthebasis ofnothing more than being part
of the community. As a member of the community, an individual is
deemed to be entitled to a basic level of economic well-being—a
level that at least prevents himfrom having to, say, sleep on a grate.
There is also the notionthat this isa right, automatically conferred on
everyone through citizenship. Note thatwithout the coercion of taxa-
tion, such rights would not exist; the poor would receive from the
rich onlyas amatter of charity, and only when the rich chose to give.
Through the coercive mechanism of taxation, the rich are obliged to
give. And the poor receive as amatterof right—just like their peasant
predecessors centuries ago had "rights" that allowed them to graze
their cattle on the common land even when the lord was not in a
generous mood.
It is quite striking, then, the way progressive taxation reimposes
the notion of community onto the market economy. Not only are
certain"common rights" restored to the people, but the financial elite
is once again obliged to takeon social duties and responsibilities. Just
as the holding of property was conditional on service to the king in
medieval times, the holding ofwealth and propertyunder a progres
sive tax system is conditional on the payment of a tax—a payment
that goes towards the upkeep of the whole community. And that
payment becomes proportionately larger as the property holdings
increase in size—reflecting the owner's greaterability to pay and also
the fact that he or she ismonopolizing a larger share of the resources
available to the community. All this reflects the idea that the owner
ship of property is not an absolute right enjoyed apart from society,
but rather is a conditional right, granted by society and entailing
social responsibilities. Ultimately, progressive taxation re-establishes
the moral authority of society over themarketplace.
So the claim "It's my money—I earned it" is not only embarrass
ingly egotistical, but also essentially wrong. It should at the very least
be qualified, as in,"I earned it, butonly with agreat deal ofhelp along
the way." Taxation is in many ways simply a recognition that the
money was not earned by individual effort alone, that, as Edmund
James put it, society and the statewere silent partners and therefore
have a right to share inthe prosperity.Those temptedto slough offthe
helpful role of the state should, as James suggests, "compare the
fortune accumulated by Cornelius Vanderbilt in America with what
he might have accumulated hadhe been adopted when an infant by a
family of Hottentots."
- McQuaig, All You Can Eat

people don't like to be excluded
from the earth's bounty.
And that is precisely whatcapitalism does. It cordons off—behind
fences or hedges or other visible and invisible barriers—most of the
world as private property from which non-owners are excluded.
- McQuaig, All You Can Eat

[cf Zappa: "communism doesn't work because people like to own stuff."]

the flip side of all this focus on personal
empowerment is a focus on disempowering us collectively. All our
public systems—public health care, public education, public
pensions, public transit—are underfunded and under attack.
Although we are richer interms ofGDP than we've ever been before,
we are told we can't afford the level of spending on public programs
thatwemanaged to afford in the past. Besides, we're told, there's no
point in having public programs with ambitious social goals because
government will only screw them up. All ourconfidence in our ability
to act collectively is being undermined, with the subtext message
Whatever it is, the private sector can do it better.
Nevermind that there'sno evidence to prove this. Nevermind, for
instance, that the private U.S. health-care systemis 40 percent more
expensive per capita thanthe Canadian public system, eventhoughthe
Canadian system provides full medical coverage for allCanadians and
the American system leaves some forty-three million without any
coverage at all. This isn't because Canadians are smarter than
Americans—it's because we have a public system andtheydon't. The
simple truth is that by pooling resources through our national tax
system, Canada hasbeen able to builda public health-care system that
takes care of all its citizens—an impressive achievement, when you
think about it. One of the reasons we've been able to do this is that a
public system is less expensive than a private system—not because
the services are inferior, but because the enormous overhead costs of
private insurance are eliminated and also because health problems
tend to be diagnosed at an earlier stage, before they become more
serious andmore costly.When you leave health care to the market, it
ends up being dished out like every other consumer good: to those
whohave themeans to pay. So some endupwithgreatcare, andsome
end up with no care.
Theattemptto discredit public health care—the crowning jewel of
the social programs created in the early post-war era—shows the
determination on the part of pro-market forces to undermine our
confidence in our ability to act collectively. All this is part of an
attempt to reshape society, and indeed, to reshape us—to make us
morefocused onbeing consumers, and less focused onbeing citizens.
As consumers, we are being offered aworld of dizzying possibilities;
as citizens, we are being offered a world of shrinking possibilities.
- McQuaig, All You Can Eat

a private health-care system is based only on self-
interest and gives no encouragement to the broader needs of the
community. In fact, as the U.S. system shows, individuals are soon
pitted against each other. In the privatized U.S. system, there is a
public program called Medicaid that provides care for the poor. But
this createsa real divisiveness inAmerican society. Consider the situa
tion: there are some forty-three million Americans—mostly belong
ing to the ranks of the lowermiddle class and the near poor—who
don't qualify for this public program.These people, and their family
members, often go without necessary medical treatment because
they can't afford it, and yet they must pay taxes that enable other
members of society to get free medical care. Here, the motivation
of self-interest clashes sharply with the motivation to contribute
positively to the community—indeed, so sharply that any motivation
to help the poor has been largely extinguished.
Given the understandable resentment of the forty-three million
uninsured Americans, who have limited resources themselves, there
is always political pressure to cut back on funding forMedicaid. As a
result, the program provides limited and generally low-level care; it
fails to covermany poor people, and it reimburses doctors for their
services at suchlowrates that few will accept Medicaid patients.With
the motivational ducks lined up in opposition to eachother like this,
the results are disastrous for society: inadequate care for the poor,
inadequate or sometimes no care for the lower middle class and,
overall, an incredibly expensive system to operate. The only real
beneficiaries of the U.S. system are the thousands of companies that
sell health insurance and provide medical services in the massive and
lucrative private health-care industry.
One of the key strategies of the pro-market forces in recent years
has been to convince us that collective solutions such as medicare
can't properly serve our individual interests, thereby destroying our
confidence in these collective solutions. Of course, this is the whole
point of public-choice theory, which aswe saw in chapter one argues
that humans are bynatureonly self-interested andare therefore inca
pable of coming upwithcollective solutions that serve a largerpublic
- McQuaig, All You Can Eat

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License