Things Government Should Do

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There are plenty of ideas of what governments should do born out by long history of where governments have been successful and where markets have failed. Not just defense, but things like basic research, infrastructure, social insurance and a host of other practical needs.

Links

Agrarian Justice (book, online)
Thomas Paines' prescient proposal which advocated the use of an estate tax and a tax on land values to fund a universal old-age and disability pension, as well as a fixed sum to be paid to all citizens on reaching maturity.
Civil Rights (4 links)
The civil rights movement has been one of the great libertarian bugaboos: it is a classic example of non-market application of government to relieve widespread oppression.
Diamond Shaped Society
The diamond shaped society is a term coined by Charles Wright Mills and revived by David Brin for majority middle-class societies in the first world. Libertarianism, being conservative and aristocratic, is harmful to the diamond shaped society.
Eminent Domain (4 links)
Libertarians hate this limitation on property rights, ranting incessantly. And when used corruptly, it is detestable to all. But it does have an important role to play in overcoming a common market failure called the Tragedy Of The Anticommons. The key concept is that property ownership is not an unmitigated good, and, worse yet, it can lead to economic gridlock and underutilization of resources.
Infrastructure (4 links)
We use infrastructure as we breathe the air: we hardly ever think about it unless it fails. But the infrastructure of roads, communications, education, science, defense, law, and many other institutions is largely a product of government efforts.
My Take on the Seven Things We Need to Focus on for Equitable Growth in America [More...]
Brad DeLong presents seven progressive ideas that promote growth and simultaneously reduce inequality.
Natural Monopolies (3 links)
Libertarians like to deny the existence of natural monopolies in roads, sewers, and many other services (like Google search) that have increasing returns to scale. Or they make crazy arguments that they should not be produced or regulated by government.
Norway’s gargantuan sovereign wealth fund, by the numbers [More...]
This is how society should be run. Not to prop up billionaires, but to support everybody. "Since its founding in the late 1990s, the fund has amassed its vast wealth with the intention of paying for pensions in future generations, when Norway’s population ages and its oil wells run dry."
Public Expansions Of Liberty (11 links)
Government creation of enforceable rights makes markets for those rights, as in cap and trade. Public safety protects us from crime and accidents, giving us the freedom to use our resources productively rather than protectively. Infrastructure such as roads lets us travel and do many things more freely.
Public Housing (1 link)
Long derided by conservatives and libertarians as programs that are worse than their alternatives, there is strong evidence that public housing is an effective approach to poverty. Cities such as Singapore have long used public housing to promote their economy.
Research (2 links)
Scientific research and statistical information gathering are vastly better performed by government, and underproduced by private actors. These are classic public goods.
Roads (9 links)
The "who will build the roads?" question has become an inside joke for libertarians. So much so that they don't even debate or discuss it anymore. They just regurgitate "privatize everything!" despite the fact that history shows their solutions don't work except in rare cases.
Social Welfare (6 links)
Often derided as the "welfare state", social welfare produces the best lives for all by standards of low poverty, health, long lives, employment, education and many other measures. There are many varieties, including Basic Income. Conservatives and libertarians create many myths about welfare failures.
Socialized Medicine (4 links)
The proven method to the most economical and broadest provision of health benefits to a nation's populace. Rejected by libertarians because it is a government program; that is more important to them than the life and health of people.
Take Away the Entire Welfare State From Employers [More...]
"The phrase "employer-provided welfare state" might seem to be a contradiction, but it's an apt description of what we have in this country. Employers don't just pay out cash incomes to workers, but are instead tasked -- whether by law or not -- with running complex social insurance schemes among their workforce."
The Connection Between Work and Dignity [More...]
An efficient economy leaves unemployment high: some inefficient but useful jobs can alleviate unemployment and create dignity for the workers. "If we work hard and produce something of tangible value, we tend to feel a sense of self-worth when society rewards us for it with a decent, middle-class life."
The importance of redistribution [More...]
"democratic egalitarianism"--the idea that individuals flourish best in a free society that allows them to choose democratically the rules that govern their lives, with the understanding that the institutions must be sustainable and must allow all individuals to flourish, not just a select few.
The Second Bill Of Rights: FDR's UNfinished Revolution-- And Why We Need It More Than Ever (book)
FDR proposed 8 economic rights: employment, with a living wage; food, clothing and leisure; farmers' rights to a fair income; freedom from unfair competition and monopolies; housing; medical care; social security; education. A foreshadowing of the Capability Approach.
The US Gov’t as Venture Capitalist: Why Go There? [More...]
Jared Bernstein writes: "The question of should the government backstop investments in new areas of research is actually an odd one, because it’s been doing so since before we were even a nation [...]"
Voluntary Failures (4 links)
Just as there are market failures and government failures, there are also voluntary failures such as philanthropic insufficiency, philanthropic particularism and philanthropic paternalism. Where voluntary and market efforts fail, government should step up.

Quotations

We are going to need a bigger and better government. The private unregulated market does not do well at health-care finance, at pensions, or at education finance. The private unregulated market does not do well at research and early-stage development. The private unregulated market does not do well with commodities that are non-rival, or non-excludible, or produced under conditions of greatly-increasing returns to scale. We are, in all likelihood, moving into a twenty-first century in which these sectors will all be larger slices of what we do. Thus in the twenty-first century a well-functioning economy will need a larger government share in the economy than was needed in the twentieth century.
Brad DeLong, "My Take on the Seven Things We Need to Focus on for Equitable Growth in America: Thursday Focus"
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"
Urban street gangs in under-policed neighborhoods, mafias in under-taxed countries, and groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon invariably step in to fill the void where government fails. When the Japanese government wasn't able to adequately help the population after the earthquake and tsunami, the yakuza helpfully stepped in to do it for them. The devolution of local authority and taxation into the hands of criminal groups willing to provide a safety net in exchange for their cut of the action is the invariable pre-feudal result of the breakdown of the government-backed safety net. It happens every single time. The people will want a safety net where utter chaos doesn't prevent it: they'll either get it from an accountable governmental authority, or from a non-governmental authority of shadowy legality. Both kinds of authority will levy their own form of taxation, be it legal and official, or part of an illegal protection scheme.
David Atkins, "The "No True Libertarianism" fallacy"