Sunday, August 28, 2011

Poverty and collective action

This post is in relation to an discussion about inequality. I'm not all that interested in it other than to say that taxes are only a part of that issue. Many more things are driving the vast inequality in the US. So I just want to highlight this stuff about taxes in relation to the libertarian view of gov't and not inequality. The first two paragraphs I quote are from Penn Jillette and the third one is from the author Timothy Sandefur

It's amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness.

People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered, and if we're compassionate we'll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.

Note also the typical fallacy that leftists always fall into: thinking that somehow government is morally superior or wiser than people, even though the government is made up of people. If it is true that people are selfish and short-sighted and “cannot be motivated” to address or mitigate serious problems—how can people be trusted to run other people’s lives?

To answer that question, in short, because the gov't can overcome the collective action problem by pulling together a large group's resources and doing the work that many don't do on their own. Its easy to think you can't do much to help the poor. And its true when you say "the poor" because that entails millions of people and the average person can't even begin to make a dent in the cause of helping that many people. Sure, we can help a few people here and there. And some do. But most can't and voting in order to make sure the collective revenue from taxes goes to help the poor is a more effective way to help.

Its not that the gov't is morally superior or wiser than people. As Timothy points out, the gov't is the people. Its that people on their own are limited in their ability to affect things. I guess you could argue that if gov't took less in taxes people would do more to help the poor. But if that's the case with the poor I wonder if he libertarians would argue that it could also be the case with every other thing the gov't spends money on, like public transportation and defense/security? If not, what is it about helping the poor that makes it different?

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