Sunday, December 17, 2006

Check Your Premises

Thanks to Jeff Pruitt for offering the thought provoking response to my previous post! I disagree with him at the most fundamental level, but his comments made me think about privatization beyond it being a mere function.
I think the fundamental difference is that government is responsible to the people (directly) and private entities are responsible to the shareholders. What is good for the shareholders is not always inline with the common good.
I think that it's safe to say that along these lines, one of the common leftward criticisms of capitalism is that it creates winners and losers.

It's time for some intellectual honesty here, with regard to the "common good", and "winners and losers". But first, I will give my intellectual honesty.

Capitalism does create winners and losers. Those who offer little to employers tend to get little in the way of rewards, and are losers. Those who offer much to employers thend to be greatly rewarded. I believe that to be just. I like it. I work hard myself to be one of capitalism's winners.
I always bristle at the notion of the common good. I find it rather a falicy. For instance, stalwart Republicans would tell you that a ban on gay marriage is for the common good. The majority of Americans support a ban on gay marriage, so it must be so. At the same time, stalwart Democrats would tell you that government intervention into health care is for the common good. A majority of Americans support government intervention into health care, so it must be so.

The proponents of doing things for the common good must recognize that they create winners and losers, if they have any intellectual honesty. Certainly, gay people are the losers in the first example. Certainly, people in good health who end up paying for the health care of others are the losers in the second. Both left and right need to own up to this.

The difference is, with capitalism, you can opt out.
  • Don't like Wal Mart? No problem. You don't have to shop there.
  • Don't like American social policy? Tough. You're in the minority. Suck it up.
See the differences? What's done in the name of the common good invariably oppresses the minority.

How you like them apples, those of you on the left?

Sure, government is "accountable to the people". That's the abstract of it. Don't like public policy? Just vote 'em out! But, something for nothing is very popular. The reality is that it is virtually impossible to remove an incumbent.
  • In capitalism, a 2% market share is enormous. You become wealthy on that. You're a winner!
  • In goverment, a 49% vote share is a bitter loss. You find something else to do afterwards. Your a loser!
Besides all this, I think it's important to question those who are high and mighty enough to let you know that they represent the common good. What kind of conceited, self-righteous powermonger does it take to issue proclamations that not only is their side "the common good", but that it's so "good" that even those who don't like it have go along with it? The worst kind, as far as I can tell.

To me, the hallmark of freedom is the ability to withhold your participation. I guess that's why I like capitalism. I can choose whether or not I'll eat at McDonalds, shop at Wal Mart, use Tide or Ecover in the wash. I don't suffer the insult of choosing to go to Kroger's and then endure having to buy brussels sprouts, beef liver, and Wonder Bread- all of which I detest.

But, that's how government works. I cannot choose government a la carte. I can't say that I will withhold my taxes if I oppose certain policy. No, I have to fund it against my better judgment and without my approval! I cannot say, well, I support having public police, fire, safety & rescue, and courts and am glad to pay for those, but will withhold that percentage of my taxes that goes to fund the war in Iraq, the war on drugs, and socialized football. These have all been adjudged by our elected officials to be, you got it, the common good. It's an all or nothing proposition. The taxes come out of our pockets, go into the meatgrinder that is the Treasury, and goes out according to all these things that are, we are told, the common good. Things that you may well regard as bad or worse so often get fully funded, and you get to contribute to it. Justice? My eye!

So, if doing things for the common good is part of your fundamental M.O., please do me a favor and acknowledge that you create more winners and losers than capitalism does, but only if you would like me to hold you in the esteem of one intellectually honest.

4 comments:

Jeff Pruitt said...

Well I certainly didn't expect to stir up a capitalistic debate by referencing the common good. Personally I don't see the contradiction you imply - i.e either one is for capitalism OR the common good. They are not mutually exclusive in my eyes and I'm definitely no anti-capitalist.

Of course I DO believe that capitalism is to be checked by the government and the government is to be checked by the voters. Your choice analogy does not always apply. For example, the local steel mill may find it more profitable to pollute the local water supply but certainly no one would consider that an improvement for the common good. Yet as a citizen you can't simply choose not to buy steel. Others will continue to support the mill and you will still be stuck w/ a polluted water supply.

My only point in bringing up the phrase "common good" was simply to suggest that corporate profits sometimes trump what the majority of the citizenry would rather do. If you privatize certain government functions then the citizenry no longer has the DIRECT ability to change the policies governing that function.

I'm not against privatizing certain government functions but I want to see how the citizenry benefit from such a move and will most certainly not take this improvement a priori...

Anonymous said...

When the socialistic term common good comes up how could you not expect a debate.
In todays bread and circuses world you would have a hard time finding enough people to stick together long enough to send a message to the steel mill but we do have a voice in the matter and the steel company would have heard. Boycotts and bad press are things their corporate lawyers would have no toolbox of evasions for.
However, anytime we the people decide we haven't the time of day for something, the government is always waiting in the wings to step in.
I wonder about our "DIRECT ability" sometimes, didn't those voters in California once vote to deny unlimited welfare to Illegal Aliens only to have it overturned???

Anonymous said...

I forgot to sign above;
Kevin Wickes

Eric Kanagy said...

Mike--I appreciated your campaign (I voted for you!), thoughts, ideas and the discussion generated by your blog. I'm glad you've kept posting and haven't stopped now that the election is over. The Libertarian perspective is definitely needed in our country. Thanks for continuing to post!