… is from page 177 of Mark Pennington’s outstandingly good 2011 book Robust Political Economy:
It is not, therefore, the principles of association and dissassociation that are more likely to ‘atomise’ people, but the coercive nature of a tax-financed welfare state. There is little or no opportunity to develop fraternal feelings between taxpayers and the recipients of welfare state services, most of whom are complete strangers and who have no reason to engage with one another directly.
Mark’s point relates to the one that I meant to make – although I fear that I did not do so as well as I might have – in this recent post on the Rush Limbaugh / Sandra Fluke dust-up.
I concede that Limbaugh’s remarks are offensive and uncivil. But such incivility is to be expected, if not justified, when provision for our individual wants comes more and more to be the object of conscious state action and less and less the result of a multitude of voluntary exchanges and arrangements, both commercial and eleemosynary. What Ms. Fluke demands – regardless of the medical merits of her demands – is something that has traditionally been achieved through private, individual actions. By and large, it has been the personal responsibility of each of us to acquire our own contraceptives. Such acquistion (at least over the past 50 years) required neither the consent of strangers – many of whom (unlike me) object on moral grounds to contraception – nor the resources of strangers.
But when provision of goods (especially ones for which there is no serious case to be made that they are public goods) comes to be the object of collective action, people in the minority will naturally feel put-upon when forced to pay for strangers’ goods and services – put-upon not only financially but, in many cases (as in this one) morally as well.
In short, collectivizing the provision of goods and services increases the likelihood of conflict and, hence, of eruptions of incivility.