One of the arguments against decentralized decision-making is that it's too selfish. There's no collective action. There's no community. When the government does stuff, it's collective and thereforeâso goes the argumentâthere's an opportunity for everyone to be acting on everyone else's behalf.
These arguments have always struck me as strange. There's lots of collective action, it just isn't coerced. And I've never understood the "community" created by taxation.
The romantic vision of government created community is getting exposed a bit under the Obama plan to increase spending by a trillion or so for the bottom 98% financed by the top 25. When I suggested earlier that this wasn't an ideal situation for a democracy, some commenters responded that the top 2% had plenty of money so what was the big deal.
Of course taxing the top 2% to finance consumption of the bottom 98% isn't exactly the community that progressives usually invoke. But it's interesting to see the lovely effects of such a scheme. Michelle Singletary at the Washington Post  isn't too happy about it:
written to me complaining that they aren't directly benefiting from the
federal government's efforts to resuscitate our gasping economy.
The sniveling sentiments of these people come down to one question: "What about me?"
"How come only those who spend irresponsibly get bailed out?" a
reader asked. "As a person who thinks before he spends, I have a lot to
be frustrated about these days."
Another reader from Indiana wrote: "Frankly, I'm infuriated. I don't
make a ton of money, but I live within my means. I purchased my home
eight years ago and just paid my mortgage off this past November. It's
extremely frustrating to see us bailing out people who made foolish
decisions while many others meet the obligations they agreed to."
Singletary continues later:
These people are suffering from what I call "WAM Syndrome" or "What About Me?" disease.
My children have WAM. I see them looking as I pour juice or cut a piece
of pie. They watch closely to see whether their siblings get more. If I
give one child a little extra of something, the other two pout and
whimper, "What about me?"
But I expect this from children. They often don't understand that
sometimes one person — whether he or she deserves it or not — will
get more. They can't comprehend that life isn't fair.
Am I frustrated that my investment accounts are significantly down? You'd better believe I am.
Am I upset that my home value has dropped? You betcha.
However, why are you grousing that you aren't getting money or a tax break if you don't truly need the help?
It's a fair question. Let me try to answer it. It is perfectly normal to try to use the power of the state to exploit others. And when you see others getting goodies, it's natural to wonder why others are benefiting and you are not. And when we protect people from their bad decisions, we treat them like children. Not surprisingly, such public policy creates child-like behavior.
Several readers have complained that they can't take advantage of the
new $8,000 first-time home buyer's credit. This is an improvement on a
$7,500 tax credit that is really a 15-year, interest-free loan.
Margaret, a first-time home buyer from Massachusetts, said she was
outraged that some people will benefit from the $8,000 tax credit,
which doesn't have to be paid back.
"I am a single woman who has worked long and hard to finally
purchase a home," she wrote. "I purchased a home on July 30, 2008, and
await my $7,500 interest-free loan. I was thrilled and grateful that
this was offered to me."
After learning about the better tax break, Margaret is no longer grateful.
"I am totally disgusted. I would like justification and an answer to
how this administration can justify doing for some and not for all,"
she wrote. "If you do for one, you must do for all. After all, this is
Singletary thinks Margaret should suck it up and be glad she has a house.
But I think Margaret is on to something. The constant bailing out of this group but not that one is bound to lead to resentment and feelings of unfairness. Or as the progressives promised, feelings of community. But there is little unity in such community.