Market Utopians

by Don Boudreaux on December 27, 2005

in Myths and Fallacies

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Jeffrey Hart makes an argument that I first encountered in John Gray’s work:

At length, the free market triumphed through much of
the world, and today there are very few socialists in major university
economics departments, an almost total transformation since 1953. But
the utopian temptation can turn such free-market thought into a
utopianism of its own — that is, free markets to be effected even
while excluding every other value and purpose …
… such as Beauty, broadly defined [original elipses].

Such a claim reveals a poor knowledge and understanding of economics.  (Among other books that I can recommend to Prof. Hart is Tyler Cowen’s In Praise of Commercial Culture, which clearly explains — using facts and economic reasoning — how markets promote rich cultures, graced with much beauty.)

I would like Profs. Hart or Gray or anyone else to direct me to any work by any respected free-market economist that portrays free markets as utopian.  Perhaps such a work exists.  If so, I’ve yet to encounter it.  If any Cafe Hayek reader knows of such a work, please direct me to it.

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{ 38 comments }

Ivan Kirigin December 27, 2005 at 1:24 pm

Perhaps it is in relation to the universal answer "free markets are better".

Plenty of people can seem like idealists if that is always the answer. It isn't utopia, because it's achievable :)

Don Boudreaux December 27, 2005 at 1:36 pm

Agreed. People often mistake consistent answers for utopian answers. Hers's what I wrote on this issue in the October 2001 issue of Ideas on Liberty:
…..
Saying “let the market handle it” actually is to endorse an unfathomably complex arrangement for dealing with the issue at hand. Recommending the market over government intervention is to recognize that neither he who recommends the market nor anyone else possesses sufficient information and knowledge to determine or even to foresee what particular methods are best for dealing with the problem.

To recommend the market is, in fact, to recommend letting millions of creative people, each with different perspectives and different bits of knowledge, each voluntarily contribute his own ideas and efforts toward dealing with the problem. It is to recommend not a single solution but, instead, a decentralized process that calls forth myriad competing experiments and, then, discovers those solutions that work best under the circumstances. This process is flexible and it encourages creativity. It also denies to anyone the power to unilaterally impose his own vision on others.

In short, to say, “let the market handle it,” is to say, “I have no simplistic plan; I reject all simplistic plans. Only a competitive, decentralized institution interlaced with dependable feedback loops—the market—can be relied on to discover a sufficiently complex and detailed way to handle the problem in question.”

The most elaborate concoction of the minds of the finest Ivy League scholars, written in minute and lengthy detail, is a tiny clump of dirt beside the Everest that is the stock of creativity and knowledge used by the market to deal with even routine problems.

Randy December 27, 2005 at 2:56 pm

Is it a "market failure" when social inequities exist? I think not.

Markets leave some people out – primarily because they have nothing of value to offer in the marketplace. But it isn't the responsibility of the market to solve the problem.

I bring this up because I think their is a utopian element that believes the free market can solve such problems. They are right to some extent in that a free market can create the wealth needed to care for those who exist outside of the market. But it does this only indirectly.

K December 27, 2005 at 3:25 pm

"and today there are very few socialists in major university economics departments,"

Really! Jeffery Hart may or may not, as you said, have revealed a poor knowledge… ..economics.

But I sense that he undertands even less about universities and faculty.

Faultolerant December 27, 2005 at 3:54 pm

I think we're seeing a fundamentally incorrect use of the word "Utopian". In the sense of this particular argument, I think the appropriate term would be "Darwinian".

"The Market" (And that's an exceptionally broad, ill-defined term in the current context) is NOT interested in anything except those individuals and products which are deemed to be "Of Value".

Art and rich culture (to paraphrase) have value in "The Market" to many individuals. However, "The Market" explicity and purposefully promotes inequalities. Those who are "of value" are those who fare best. Those who are of marginal value or can only contribute services of marginal value are left to die, as if so much biological detritus.

I think Dr. Boudreaux overly personifies and imbues "The Market" with a dignity and caring that are wholly missing. This almost mystical, mythical creature he pines about is as cold and calculating as any computer chip ever was. (Apologies to any electrical engineers, I know chips generate heat and are not "cold" when in use)

The government is not a good answer to most questions, but the market (unspecific a term as that is) is not the answer to every ill either. That seems to be a fundamental blind spot to most economists. They love "The Market" like most people cherish a lover. Well, their lover-of-choice is a fickle creature and will gladly consign them to the scrapheap as soon as they're no longer "of value".

Pragmatism seems to get lost in most discussions of Government vs. Market. Neither is the end-all & be-all – but both have a place. I'd certainly hate to live in the Libertarian Utopia (sarcasm intended) where "The Market" makes all the decisions. Spock might be happy here, but I doubt the rest of us would be.

Oh, and as far as their not being any socialists in University economics departments….well, I don't think a lot of research went into THAT statement.

Aaron Krowne December 27, 2005 at 4:10 pm

Relativists would have it that free market capitalism was "just another planned
strategy" for creating the economy of a nation.

They are wrong.

Free market capitalism is, in fact, a *meta-strategy*. It is the strategy of
*not planning* and having only minimal groundwork-laying state involvement. It
is the economic extension of non-coercion, of live-and-let-live, and,
ironically, of letting multiple value systems coexist.

The eternal temptation of politicians is to imagine new ways to organize the
private life of the nation coercively. There is an infinitude of ways to do
this. But there is only one way to be laissez-faire, because it simply
requires that the state do nothing. Apparently, this is too boring for
politicians (and a hefty chunk of intellectuals), and so it appears that as
long as there is a state, there will be a temptation to experiment with
coercive economic strategies.

But they never work, and they won't work, because they can't work. The
correct strategy is the null strategy. Positioning socialism, in all its
flavors, as an alternative to laissez faire and on par with laissez faire,
is just plain intellectually dishonest.

One this distinction is admitted, quite a bit of relativistic garbage is
exposed for what it is, including claims that free market economists are
"just as utopian" as socialists.

-apk

Aaron Krowne December 27, 2005 at 4:28 pm

Faulttolerant:

Recognition that markets and firms can not solve all problems goes back to
Hayek and probably further. The insight here is that there will /always/ be
charity, but that it need not be coercive (and indeed, it probably works
best when it isn't, and is certainly more morally legitimate).

Interestingly, non-market and non-firm based production which *isn't* charity
has emerged and been identified as a specific phenomenon in the past decade, in
the form of commons-based peer production (think Linux, Wikipedia, blog-based
media, etc.–Look up Yochai Benkler's tract on this topic, where he extends
the ideas of Ronald Coase.)

This mode of production is not, strictly speaking, based on markets. But the
critical component is that it is based on non-coercive activity. And I think
this will emerge as the theme underlying most "correct" economics; it is not
technically the free markets that typify the discipline (normatively speaking),
but the conduct of large-scale activity *without resorting to coercion*. It
is the laissez faire, not the markets! Once you open the field to laissez
faire, all kinds of modes of production can flourish, perhaps including those
we have not yet discovered.

So, I think criticizing markets for not totally encompassing all human activity
is a straw man argument. Any economist who believes this is, in my opinion,
missing something important.

-apk

P.S. – Don't take offense to the term "production"; I really mean this in
the general sense of "accomplishing the attainment of anything human beings
find of value", including charitable causes.

ben December 27, 2005 at 5:04 pm

"…can turn such free-market thought into a utopianism of its own — that is, free markets to be effected even while excluding every other value and purpose… such as Beauty"

It seems to me that this argument could be mounted against other idealogical systems with more force than against capitalism. Communism, for example, produces lower incomes meaning less ability or freedom to substitute work time for leisure. In addition, under Communism a very substantial amount of leisure time – time which might otherwise be spent producing or enjoying "Beauty" – is spent queuing. Schleifer and Treisman (2003, NBER working paper 10057) report that in 1989 the average citizen spent 40-68 hours per month in queues.

faultolerant December 27, 2005 at 6:33 pm

Aaron,

You raise some very valid points about collaboration and non-market charity. These phenomenon are, IMHO, the truest, best form of classic laissez faire capitalism. They're all to infrequent at the moment, but (sans government meddling) will hopefully proliferate.

Your point about criticizing the markets for not being "all encompassing" is the crux of my earlier comments. I'm utterly amazed when supposedly highly educated people put forth "The Market" as the solution to everything – regardless of what the question may have been.

Lastly, with regard to your use of the word "production" – I would tend to agree with your definition, at least in the current context. Production can take on many forms and isn't necessarily limited to actually creating a widget or a toaster.

medusa December 27, 2005 at 7:05 pm

"that is, free markets to be effected even while excluding every other value and purpose … … such as Beauty, broadly defined"

If we are excluding every other value, can someone pinpoint in particular which value we are including, and how that precludes "Beauty"? I'm not being facetious, just a curious diletantte.

BTW, I enjoy this blog very much and hope to learn a few things just by inhaling its radiation..

John Pertz December 27, 2005 at 11:54 pm

As someone who is sympathetic to the idea of "The Market", I must say that I hate the term. I think the term gives an awful lot of undue amunition to the anti-capitialists. What capitalism is at its most basic level is human beings freely interacting with one another without the coercion of some sort of alterior force such as a government. Therefore to coin the term "The Market" in order to encompass this process within a word is cheap in my opinion. The order of human interaction under capitalism is so complex that it is almost worthless to try and use any word to describe it. All atempts to generalize the inner workings of capitalism under a few slogans or words will ultimately fail because the individual actors who comprise this interaction of millions have tastes and preferences that are so varied that it is impossible to devine any meaning.

Aaron Krowne December 28, 2005 at 12:39 am

John,

I basically agree, but I think if you want to get technical, even "capitalism" is the wrong term to use. Capitalism is a specific system encompassing the definition of "capital", its legal and practical representation, and the set of cultural practices surrounding it. Like markets, it is part of the picture, but not the whole story.

Reflecting on this conversation, I do think "laissez faire" is in fact the correct principle to advocate. You speak of giving ammunition to anti-capitalists: it seems their lives could be made maximally difficult by putting them in the position of opposing laissez faire–in essence, having to defend naked coercion.

The granola and environment-worship probably won't seem so compelling after that =)

-apk

Russell Nelson December 28, 2005 at 1:21 am

Faulttolerant: The Market is a code word for "allowing people to form ad-hoc organizations which transfer funding as needed." For what problem is that ever NOT appropriate? Can you think of any problem in which people are better off having somebody force a solution on them? Not in theory, but in actual practice. And not as an exemplar of the practice, but the mode of the practice.
-russ

Russell Nelson December 28, 2005 at 1:32 am

In my mind, Utopia is where people make no mistakes. Since there is no such place outside of my mind, Utopia is the place where people make the fewest mistakes. Since markets encourage correctness and discourage mistakes better than any other known organization of society, a market society is utopian.
-russ

James December 28, 2005 at 4:15 am

The answer to Dr. Boudreaux's question is contingent on what constitutes a utopian portrayal. There are some definitions of utopian that include just about everything, although the general application of such standards is to rule free markets out of the set of options worth considering for dealing with various and sundry problems. Since advocacy of markets rather than interention amounts to advocacy of peaceful behavior rather than violence, and total elimination of violence is vanishingly unlikely, every free market argument is utopian by some standard. The same standard manages to apply the utopian label to everything else as well.

Dash Brannigan December 28, 2005 at 6:23 am

I find it odd how people use the word Utopia not knowing its actual origins. It was a word popularized by Thomas Moore, meaning “no place” or “no where”.

Funny how people use this term but don’t appreciate the inherent irony.

faultolerant December 28, 2005 at 11:00 am

Russ,

In answer to your question: "When is The Market ever NOT the best solution?", there are several answers:

The obvious is enforcement of the rule of law and national defense. There are those in the Libertarian cult who, being of a cowardly nature, would even argue that national defense (or even the nation) are unworthy causes. I think these answers are too simplistic for the question you pose.

However, I also have to reject the modifier to your question, which relates to "force". If one assumes that by "force" you mean any solution in which each individual participant isn't given the opportunity to provide meaningful input (I won't go to extremes with the term "meaningful") then I suppose there is absolutely no solution whatsoever that doesn't involve some measure of "force".

However, I suspect that by "force" you mean a non-governmental (That's BigG Government) solution. That being said, there are really only two (IMHO) possible solutions to any question in OUR society: Government & The Market. My assertion is that The Market is inherently self-serving, narcissistic, Darwinian and entirely bent on the profit motive.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for profit. As a small-business owner (OK, it's not so small), I love the market for what it permits me to do. Success is remarkably easy (read: possible if you work hard) in a laissez faire economy. However, I'm not blinded by unfettered admiration for this "free association" we call The Market.

Take a peek at any – and I do mean ANY – class of individual who is unable to care for themselves in a meaningful way. You pick the condition/affliction and you will most assuredly see that "The Market" gives not a flying damn about these folks.

I'm on the board of a non-profit here in Dallas. I also serve on the board of two other companies that are For-Profit. The differences are amazing. The For-Profit corporations have access to, essentially, the entire marketplace and to facilities that are simply awe-inspiring. My company has those same accesses.

The Non-Profit, however, is largely shut out of virtually every one of these amazing facilities. Some of these preclusions are reasonable, others are simply capricious. In virtually every area where the subject of the conversation is not a contributor to this mythical marketplace, there is a constant and never-ending scratch for existence. It is in these places that government may serve it's second-best (maybe even best) purpose.

I know the adherents to Libertarianism are intently focused on the acquisition of cheap goods, low-priced services, socio-anarchy, and atomistic pleasures. That's all fine and good, but not everyone ascribes to this set of "values" (and that term is used to it's loosest potential).

I will agree, however, that Government goes WAY too far with "entitlements", as no one is "entitled" to a part of my income. However, having no social programs whatsoever is as bad, IMHO, as too many. No, I don't have all the answers (If I did, do you think I'd be posting here?!) but I also don't think that the Libertarian "Kill-The-Government-Let-The-Markeplace-Sort-It-Out" mentality is nirvana, either.

So, in return, I challenge you to describe a solution whereby "The Marketplace" solves all the ills of the world (Or at least our little corner of it). It's just as valid a question as assuming that there can be NO good solutions outside the market.

BTW, I appreciate the question!

Randy December 28, 2005 at 11:58 am

faultolerant,

I don't think that most libertarians would disagree that there is a role for government. The question is simply about what that role should be.

As I see it, markets came first. They created the wealth that governments expropriate for uses that the market doesn't care about. The problem is that some of these uses have been wildly popular with the electorate. So popular that it has become fashionable in some cirles to believe that the government is actually a source of wealth. This is an unsustainable belief. The libertarian is simply giving the warning.

medusa December 28, 2005 at 12:03 pm

FaultTolerant says: "You pick the condition/affliction and you will most assuredly see that "The Market" gives not a flying damn about these folks."

But isn't that the point? That values are not enforced but arise "organically" from the choices of every individual within The Market? What you say is actually contradictory because you claim to give a damn, and you, being a part of The Market, means that, actually, The Market gives a damn, ie, values the emotional and physical needs of strangers.

Isn't what you really mean to say is that The Market does not place the same value on your particular brand of amelioration of human suffering as you or your colleagues do? And for that you would call upon the sledgehammer of Government to force everyone to value this particular thing to the same degree you do? Well, they can't really do that. All The Government can do is steal my money and put it in the pockets of those you favor.

And you call libertarians cowards…

Scott Scheule December 28, 2005 at 12:35 pm

My first year curriculum, the infamous section 3, at Georgetown Law School consisted in large part of attacks on the law and economics movement. After a while, I began to wonder if there was ever any economist who had really claimed what our professors were accusing them of claiming: that efficiency is the only value worth pursuing in society, that economics is infallible, that economics is absolutely neutral, that economics is completely determinate, and others.

At this point, I doubt any economist has ever made any of those claims. My guess is rather that many of the foes of free markets are simply attacking inflated figments.

faultolerant December 28, 2005 at 3:47 pm

Medusa,

I'll attempt to address each of your major points:

1. The Market (again, an imprecise term) doesn't "care" for non-contributors. Let's differentiate, shall we, between those who cannot contribute and those who will not (or choose not) to contribute. Willfully failing to become "marketable" merits failure, while the inability to contribute is another beast entirely, and the crux of my argument.

Back to your point: Certain market participants have various interests. Your "logic" seems to imply that if a single participant in The Market has a given interest, then, ergo, The Market has that same interest. That's a massive generalization that is meritless.

2. "The Market does not place the same value"… Well, you can't make your first argument and your second argument as they're polar opposites. If, as you state, any participant in The Market has a given interest, and, thus, The Market has that interest, yet The Market doesn't have the interests I have…..yada yada yada. It just doesn't compute.

3. You assert that I would "call upon the sledgehammer of Government" for a given activity. As I said, there are times and places for The Market to lead and times and places for Government to lead. You're obviously of the "All Government Is Bad" sect. You're certainly entitled to that position, but it doesn't make you divinely right.

4. "All Government Can Do Is Steal" is a hue and cry of the Lib sect more and more and it rings entirely hollow. Can you say hypocritical? On the one hand the Lib movement says that government must enforce The Rule of Law and cater to National Defense, yet decry its existance at every step. Using your prior logic, we're ALL members of The Market, and we're all members (loosely speaking) of The Government.

Like The Market, The Government is not some living, breathing beast. It's a collection of people with a set of common causes. Yes, I'll wholeheartedly agree that our form of Government is vastly out of control, but let's not kill the patient, Doctor, because it's ill.

One can but assume, based on the tone of your comments, that you're one of those people who believes The Market is the answer to all questions, the panacea for everything that ails, and non-fattening, too. Well, if The Market is so good at solving problems, why do we have such overreaching government to begin with? There's a strong argument to be made that Government was created, and expanded, to fill the void The Market was unable to satisfy.

We're at the place and the time where Government is stifling The Market, and it's definately time to prune it back. No argument there. But your tone indicates you'd do away with Government entirely and prefer to live under a Darwinian Market Society. Do you think you might have taken Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" a bit too literally?

5. "And you call libertarians cowards…" No, I actually said that there are Libertarians who are cowards, not that all Libertarians are cowards. Let's get our ad hominems straight, shall we? It's a fact that some in the Libertarian sect, as well as a sad proportion of those of other socio-political movements, are people of poor character, ready to surrender at the first sign of danger or trouble. Does this fact offend you? Does my pointing it out offend you? If the fact causes you trouble, that's unfortunate. If my pointing it out is offensive, I offer an apology, as my intent was not to offend anyone, but to express an opinion.

You are absolutely entitled to your opinions, as I am to mine, but that makes neither of us "Right", just in disagreement.

John Pertz December 28, 2005 at 4:04 pm

From faulolerant:
"I know the adherents to Libertarianism are intently focused on the acquisition of cheap goods, low-priced services, socio-anarchy, and atomistic pleasures. That's all fine and good, but not everyone ascribes to this set of "values" (and that term is used to it's loosest potential)."

No, Libertarians are biased towards the concerns of absolutely nothing except for the respect of the existence and rights of others. In fact you can be a libertarian and be just as humanitarian as any socialist or you can apreciate the supposedly non-economic joys in life just as much as the next statist. However, libertarians do not believe that violence should be used to alter society and or create a vision for society. That is the modus operandi of every other political ideology save liberalism.

The trick for socialists and convservatives is to scare people into their beliefs. If you listen to a socialist they will tell you that society will go backwards two hundred years if libertarians were to come to power.Some conservatives, mostly the new age neo-cons, will offer some fatalistic apacalyptic vision of the world if the United States is not the world's lone super power. Both ideologies within American politics use fear to literaly scare the living hell out of people in order to achieve power. The most unfortunate thing about this whole process is that the actors who are behind the political process dont even believe in this cheap rhetoric that is ultimately the source of their power.

Steve Podraza December 28, 2005 at 4:26 pm

I think Faultolerant might be a troll. If he is, he is a damn good one.

medusa December 29, 2005 at 9:27 am

Faultolerant has me on my sloppy language, but I believe your core message remains that because "The Market", or just plain folks in general, don't value your particular non-profit to the same degree you do the "Government" should be used to force your value upon everyone else. Everyone else who has decided in their private lives NOT to support your non-profit. You say that the government should "lead" in these cases, ie, when the rest of the folks have decided they value your causes less than you do. But the only way I know of that the Government leads is by taking my money and giving it to someone else. If you could show me another way in which the Government "leads" I'd be interested to hear it.

"Well, if The Market is so good at solving problems, why do we have such overreaching government to begin with?"

The only problem you cited was the failure of the general population to send enough goods and services to your non-profit. And I do not consider that a problem–it's a choice with which you disagree. Further I deny that there is any "problem" at all with regards to care for those folks you describe as being "outside The Market". One figure I could find for charitable contributions in the US for 2004 was $248.52 billion–about $828 for every person in America. So, what precisely is the problem? It appears The Market as a whole highly values the needy. So you see that folks call for Government to fix problems that don't exist.

Randy December 29, 2005 at 2:34 pm

Medusa,

I don't see charity as a market activity, because charity does not involve a value for value transaction. Also, I do think there is a segment of society that exists outside of the market in that they have nothing of value to offer in the marketplace.

I realize I may be bending definitions to suit my purpose, but I think there is value in drawing a line.

A constant complaint from the left is that the free market doesn't care about inequality. That complaint is accurate. But it is also irrelevant. The value of the free market is not that it takes care of everyone, but rather that it creates the wealth that can be used (in a properly governed society) to take care of everyone. A free market makes charity and income redistribution possible. Therefore, attacks on the free market for not eliminating inequality are simply absurd. If there is a failure, it is in the political process, because the market is doing its job quite well.

medusa December 29, 2005 at 4:21 pm

Randy: "I don't see charity as a market activity, because charity does not involve a value for value transaction. "

Well, I know so little about economics I assumed that charitable giving was a market activity. After all, some folks buy that hideous modern art stuff that I find no value in whatsoever, though no one would deny that to be a transaction. So I fork my money over to a toothless woman to ease my conscience—aren't I getting something in return, at least as good as a used canvas with a mess on it?

faultolerant December 29, 2005 at 4:21 pm

Steve,

If by a "troll" you mean a person of short stature, beard and pointy hat…you're all wrong. I don't have a beard.

If you're implying that I'm acting as some sort of intentional troublemaker (i.e. a Republi-crat) then I'd like to set you straight: I'm primarily here because I fully believe the current administration (Dems & Reps – not just the person behind the big desk at 1600 PA Ave) is failing/has failed.

The essential tenents of Libertarianism of limited government and economic and personal freedom is what I'm here to explore. That doesn't mean, however, that I have to swallow the whole enchilada without a little chewing. I genuinely value the opinions of others and look forward to the new and differing perspectives.

FWIW, Dr. Boudreaux's Hayekian vision of Libertarianism (and life in general) goes down much better than does Lew Rockwell's brand of atomistic atavistic cowardice.

As I learn more about the Lib movement I find things that I like – very much – and I also see that there is much work to do to make Libertarianism more than a fringe political perspective.

John, to respond to your assertion that "No, Libertarians are biased towards the concerns of absolutely nothing except for the respect of the existence and rights of others" – I would argue that's simply wishful thinking. This may be true of some folks, but there are simply too many inconsistancies with this assertion for it to be believable.

Lastly, Medusa, apparently I'm not explaining things well because you insist that my goals are to use the Government to promote my particular non-profit interests. Your assertion is flat wrong.

My statement was that ANY non-profit, as opposed to for-profit, has a more difficult time in The Market. My own particular NFP has not, does not and will not seek government assistance for the work we do. Other than the 501(c)(3) certification and our annual reports, we interact with no government agencies. So you're arguing a non-issue, at least in this instance.

In general, however, you assert that I'm in favor of Government acting to reallocate your money (and mine, too, incidentally) to a cause for which you have no interest. To a limited degree you're exactly right. Are you saying there should be no social programs whatsoever?

I must take exception with your use of The Market as some sort of generic description of everyone and everything. As I said before, if I engage in a given activity it does NOT mean The Market supports that activity. As an individual (Which is what you purport to hold as the ONLY important econo/politico/socio-actor) I can do anything I choose and not necessarily move The Market. This amorphous mass you keep referring to simply is too imprecise a term to describe much of anything. You may as well say Everyone, Everything or AllStuff. They're equally non-descriptive for the purposes of this discussion.

Lastly, I did not assert in any way that there was a failure of The Market to send enough G&S to "my non-profit". Let's stick to what we know and not what you want things to be. My NFP isn't at issue here. However, charity, in general, is. On that basis I will agree that The Market is inefficient (as is Government, unfortunately) at supporting "Needy" causes.

With regard to your comment: "So you see that folks call for Government to fix problems that don't exist" is a bit confusing. Are you implying that there are no problems left to fix? Or that The Market has solved them all? Or that any problems NOT undertaken by The Market are unworthy? On its' face, your assertion that "problems don't exist" is either hyperbole or a complete lack of connection with reality. I'll vote that you were going for hyperbole.

Randy is correct in that attacking The Market for failing to resolve inequalities is a fool's errand. I'm all for inequality when it's the direct result of effort and success in The Market. I earn in the top 3% of all wage-earners in the US. Whoopee for me. The kid across the hall from me earns 20% of my income. Too bad for him. However, his "contribution" or "value" to society must be 20% of mine – or else I'm a mighty good liar when it comes to salary review time. (I suspect a bit of both are true)

I'm not overly concerned with income inequality because – for those who CAN participate in The Market – there is always opportunity for advancement. There is a subset of society who refuse to participate in the market. They should starve. Laziness is not an excuse.

The group I'm most concerned with are those who cannot make a contribution. This could be anything from those with physical handicaps, mental infirmity, the results of illness or injury, or even beings who aren't people (think of abused animals, etc.) In these populations The Market has, largely declared them of No Value and has, functionally, abandoned them. Again that gawdawful term The Market implies that ALL of us have abandoned the Unfortunates. That's not strictly true – there are those who labor on behalf of the less fortunate.

Take a look at your "charity" number. Dig a little deeper and you'll find that a whole big bunch of those dollars went to places like The Baptidome in Dallas (A $40-million dollar church). Yep that was charitable giving, and done freely, but what does it have to do with the alleviation of suffering? Hey it has Mary Kay's name over the door – but not a single person was "helped" by that money. However, it was Mary Kay's (Of Mary Kay makeup fame) decision to put her money where The Baptidome sits…and I'm all for it. No Government intervention needed here.

Seriously, tho, my major point is that I perceive there is a need for BOTH Government and Market in this area. You may see it otherwise – and that's great. I perceive The Market does many things well, but it isn't the answer to All Ills. Unfortunately, I don't have THE ANSWER. Wish I did. No one I've read, met or ever known of has IT either.

Until someone or something does come up with THE ANSWER, I look forward to more discussion on The Right Way To Go.

medusa December 29, 2005 at 4:35 pm

"In these populations The Market has, largely declared them of No Value and has, functionally, abandoned them."

248.52 billion!!!! Dude, abandon me!

faultolerant December 29, 2005 at 5:43 pm

LOL…unfortunately you don't get it all…it ain't the lottery. Otherwise, I wanna ticket, too.

John Pertz December 30, 2005 at 6:24 pm

Flautantor I was wondering what your take is on crowding out in the charity marketplace due to government intervention caused by social programs?

Faultolerant December 30, 2005 at 11:13 pm

John,

Truthfully, I think the government, in it's current configuration, is pretty lousy at just about everything it undertakes. There's lots and lots of room for improvement. My concern is that The Market is unlikely to have a better answer to many of the issues undertaken in the charitable world. It's the worst of two worlds…not the best.

As far as "crowding out", I don't really understand what you're getting at. Sorry.

John Pertz December 30, 2005 at 11:25 pm

Crowding Out is an economic term that is used to describe market failures due to the fact that the government is already involved in trying to provide that good or service. For example, if the government was supplying cheap drugs to its citizens at below market levels then this would have an adverse effect on the drug industry. Therefore my question is asking to what extent is the government's rather large involvement in the charity business hurting the functioning of private charity. Most notably the fact that the government uses violence to force people to be charitable and worst of all it doesnt give them the choice as to how to be charitable.

medusa December 31, 2005 at 8:41 am

John, just as an aside, I found that one major pharmaceutical company, I believe Pfizer, discontinued its discount drug program for seniors as a result of Medicare D. This is disappointing because they assisted seniors without forcing them to pay premiums.

Scott Wood December 31, 2005 at 11:40 am

Faulttolerant seems to focus exclusively on providing for the indigent, which, it seems to me, is a particularly weak way of criticizing libertarianism as a whole. Most libertarians (that I know, anyway) do not center their libertarianism on disgreeing with government providing care for the indigent, although they would certainly prefer it to be in the form of a negative income tax, and even have some sympathy for the argument that private charity would simply work better.

OTOH, libertarians have big problems with things like (off the top of my head):

A Social Security system that requires almost all citizens to partake in a specific retirement/insurance scheme regardless of how well it suits them personally.

Regulations that forbid people from purchasing health insurance policies that do not cover mental illness.

A public school system that ropes people (particularly poor people, as the dynamic works) into a particular set of very poorly run schools, when a far superior market-like alternative (vouchers) exists.

Laws that forbid people who would like to gather in a "public" bar or restaurant under rules that allow for cigarette smoking to do so.

A legal system that allows fanatical and utterly unrepresentative lawyers to cherry pick clients and juries to get legal decisions that impose their own view of the right way to live on everyone else.

Regulations and laws that mandate that all workplaces be identically puritanical with regard to decorum and character.

If you want to criticize libertarianism, you should do so on those fronts.

Faultolerant December 31, 2005 at 1:31 pm

John,

Thanks for your explanation. I did some homework after your posting and got, essentially, the same answer. Your point is a good one: As long as government provides X benefit there's no need for me to engage in charity in said area. (Or so the thought would go)

I'd be interested in reading an analysis of this concern. It's certainly a valid point and has a solid core logic to it. I'm unable to speak meaningfully to it.

Scott,

To your points:

I'm not *primarily* concerned with the indigent, but they're certainly a subset of this issues I've been discussing. My concerns are significantly broader.

SS – I agree. I want out. Let me put as much money as I can into my IRA, SEPP, 401(k)…whatever. Just let me keep my 7.65% (and maybe my employers contribution as well!). Forcing us into a failed/failing Ponzi scheme is abhorrent.

The Lib perspective here is gaining traction, thankfully. I perceive, however, that the options proposed by Libs are fairly binary: SS or No SS. For people like me, No SS is the answer. I'd be WAY better off. For those at the very bottom to whom 7.65% savings would amount to very little at the end of the day, there still may be a need for outside assistance. If we can resolve that one, this issue may actually be fixable.

Health Insurance: That's a hideous quagmire. Although, fortunately, some improvement is occurring. Look at HRA's and high-deductible accounts. Finally we're seeing some market response to this issue. It's not perfect, yet – but it's a step in the right direction. Mental Health coverage is not one with which I'm familiar, so I'll trust that your comments are spot-on.

Public Schools: It's one of the last bastions of our society where mediocrity, failure and incompetence are rewarded. I'm thankful I don't have children.

Smoking: Like motorcycle helmets. Hey I'm all for folks getting cancer and having their melon's smashed on the pavement. That's a personal choice. Many times I've left a restaurant because I don't like smoking. That's a business cost borne by the restaurant owner. He/she fully knows it and chooses not to cater to me as a customer. It's HIS/HER property – it's HIS/HER choice! There are places for non-smokers, because other restaurateurs cater to us. I'm all for getting stupid regulations out of situations like this.

I'm also very much in favor of getting rid of helmet laws. Talk about nanny-state nonesense. I would NEVER EVER ride without one – but that's my choice. I buckle up and have 8 airbags in my car – my choice. If you don't want to do those things, that *should be* your choice. I'm quite happy for you to take risks as you see fit – just don't endanger me.

Drinking and driving: I don't want a drunk killing me. I would call that a "bad". Cellphones: Sometimes they're more dangerous than a drunk on the road. I don't care if you kill me when you're on the phone or drunk: dead is dead. If you wanna kill yourself…go for it. Just don't do it to me. In this sense, I'm completely in alignment with the Lib philosophy that, as long as you don't negatively intrude into my world, your world should be as you want it to be.

Legal System: Tongue in cheek I say let's follow Shakespeare and kill all the lawyers. Outside of that, I'm just appalled.

Workplace Regulation: Wouldn't want to offend anyone with a "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Kwanzaa" would we? My goodness, it might cause someone emotional scarring for life, for which they would need that Mental Health insurance.

On the issues you raise, I think we're of like minds. For that matter, if this were the primary thrust of Libertarianism, I'd have it tattooed on my forehead. (Well, figuratively speaking) If Libertarians were really *for* individual liberty, instead of seeking the downfall of society (which is what I see a lot of energy is expended upon) I honestly perceive there'd be a lot more support, rather than general derision, for the cause.

That's just how *I* see things. And as we all know, opinions are like buttholes: we all have one.

LowcountyJoe January 1, 2006 at 7:45 am

Faulttolerant – or shall I call you Mr. Mackey,

You wouldn't happen to know a thing or two about organic foods now, would you?

Faultolerant January 1, 2006 at 4:29 pm

Sorry, Joe, I don't get the reference to Mr. Mackey. And I wouldn't know organic foods from any other kind…except for the signs at the grocery store (Oh and the larger prices).

ButWhatAbout January 2, 2006 at 9:32 pm

Hey bub, it ain't no bed of roses here on this planet and it never will be. Utopia? Maybe for a few for a while. But the 'let them eat cake' attitude has to be considered and dealt with. A starving man with a Libertarian gun can be a great equalizing force. A group of them can change history. Please try to be realistic. How about a discussion on market forces focused on solving for our health care crisis? Let's try some suggestions for where the rubber meets the road.

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