Saturday, January 12, 2013

Daily Assignment

As is my nature, I often get into political conversations with people about the size and scope of government---what its proper limits are, what its role is in a society that we often describe as "free," and what functions and duties it should perform within that society.

A great deal of people describe themselves as "moderate." There's nothing intrinsically wrong with being a moderate, although I think it's enjoying a sort of vogue right now. There's lots of talk about compromise and common ground and balanced decisions, things which in and of themselves are also not intrinsically wrong; there's also much lambasting of "extremism" and "ideology" and so forth, and I do not believe the latter two things are intrinsically wrong either.

In any case, one thing that you encounter with the so-called moderates is a strong desire to juggle certain philosophies that are often diametrically opposed. The most frequent juggling act one encounters is phrased roughly as follows: "I believe in the free market, but I think there are things government needs to supply that cannot be supplied by private enterprise." Usually, the things that it is believed the government needs to supply are as such:

  • Laws protecting people from aggression. 
  • Courts.
  • Roads and bridges.
  • Schools.
  • Worker protection.
  • Food safety regulation.
  • Environmental regulation.
  • A social safety net.
  • Medical care (left-leaning moderates).
  • National defense.
  • Retirement funds. 
This list is nowhere near exhaustive, and different moderates will pick and choose different things which they believe are necessary for a stable society. Regardless, there is a sincere belief on the part of such folks that while the free market might be able to supply us with good consumer products, there are certain things that should not be "left to profit," and hence should be left to government, and government alone. 

Your job is not to question why your moderate friend is opposed to profit-making in the realms of schools and bridges and such. Rather, your job is as follows: ask your companion for a list of examples as to why such things cannot be provided by the free market---or, to put it differently, you are to ask for examples of when the free market has tried to provide these things and failed.  

Demand specifics; avoid vagueness. In many cases, you may be treated to some source citation: regarding the need for food regulation, for instance, your buddy might point to the pre-Sinclarian chicago meatpacking industry that often meat-packed its own employees along with the chuck. In other cases, your friend will have no concrete examples to give, but will base his opinions solely on emotional or philosophical grounds. 

The point is not to embarrass your moderate by revealing his ignorance of the very things he wishes to regulate. Rather, the point is to make people think about what they say, and why they say it. With any luck, if your friend cannot provide factual justification for his regulatory desires, he will go off and read a little history and a little economics. 

This would be a good thing; knowledge is always a plus and it always necessary. It may very well be that his investigations will further re-affirm his beliefs in the necessity of government regulation; it may be that it causes him to change his mind on some things. Either way it's a win, because then you can have a real debate. This debate, of course, hinges upon you knowing your facts as well. So in addition to encouraging others to study, you must study as well the things and beliefs you espouse. Consider that last part your daily assignment forever. 

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