Monday, June 10, 2013

A moral bankruptcy that leads to an economic nightmare

A friend just posted a link on Facebook to Libertarianism’s Achilles’ heel an article that points out that only societies in which government consumes a substantial percentage of GDP produce a prosperous middle class; In the real world, Libertarian has never succeeded. I won't rehash the arguments here, instead I'll take it a step further and analyze why.

Libertarianism argues that the government that governs least governs best; that people should not have more taken from them than necessary for defense and contract enforcement. I would argue that attitude is immoral. First, lack of regulation leads to every member of society having to bear the cost of others decisions. Your right to drive down a residential street at eighty miles an hour, without insurance, while chugging a beer morally ends where a child might be chasing a soccer ball into the street. Your right to produce limitless pollution morally ends where others may be forced to breathe the air or water that you have poisoned.

Furthermore, we almost all believe that every child should have some opportunity to succeed. In this country, and every other, opportunity depends on who your parents are and the vicissitudes of life. A poor child in an inner city school has far fewer opportunities than a child born to a rich family. Libertarianism makes no allowance for the legitimate, moral function of government to give all citizens a reasonable opportunity to succeed.

The reason that these two immoral stances lead to economic under-performance is that it is horribly inefficient if not impossible for each member of society to need to protect themselves from negative externalities. It is impractical for me to test every toy my child receives for lead paint. The result of the government being starved for money has been insufficient inspection and my kids ending up with toys painted in lead. What is the additional security cost we all bear for a police force that must contend with a society in which semi-automatic weapons are freely available?

The second morally bankrupt stance, that your prospects should be determined by who your parents are costs us even more. In our society a Steve Jobs can be an orphan and still succeed because he can get a good public education, hire an educated workforce, have contracts that can be enforced, deliver products on public roads, and take advantage of government funded basic R&D. Without some leveling of the playing field we leave behind so much human potential that even the richest among us are impoverished.