Democratic government is actually one of the greatest institutional inventions of modern Western civilization. It allows us to pool our resources and to act collectively to address the serious social, economic, and environmental problems that we are unable to deal with as individuals. The public sector is also how we provide for essential human needs that are neglected by the market – such as clean air and water, safe workplaces, and economic security. What’s more, government serves as an essential instrument of moral action – a way for us to rectify injustices, eliminate suffering, and care for each other. In short, democratic government is one of the main ways we work together to pursue the common good and make the world a better place.294
Note: This is one of those things among many others that should be memorized. When pressed on Facebook we often can’t access the immediate answer needed. This would address most of them.
Also, thousands of Americans have gotten sick because of lax and under-funded food inspection programs – thanks again to Republican hostility to regulation.321
Note: The market is an ad hoc solution
These well-known examples of the disastrous results of the attack on government are merely the tip of the iceberg. There are literally thousands of other cases of how cutbacks on government programs have led to increasing problems and suffering for the public. Consider just one example: the deregulation of rat poison. In 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency mandated child-proofing of rat poisons that were manufactured in candy-like pastel pellets. It required that the pellets have a bitter taste and a bright dye. But some manufacturers protested, and in the spirit of limiting government and getting it off the back of business, the Bush EPA rescinded those requirements in 2001. By 2004, poisons centers were reporting that 50,000 children a year were requiring treatment for ingesting rat poisons – three times as many as when the childproofing requirements were in effect.325
Note: Perfect example of misguided deregulation allowing unnecessary preventable harm. Now you can go ahead and attack this example as one isolated incident inside of a huge world. But rejecting this, there are thousands more examples. Market forces are reactive. Government actions are proactive. Is there more “freedom” in dead children whose parents can sue when it’s already too late than avoiding the problem to begin with?
We like to see ourselves as rugged individualists, leading our lives without any help from anyone, especially government. But this is an illusion. As we have just seen, the reality is completely different. We are constantly benefiting from a variety of government laws and programs. Federal, state, and local government employees are literally working around the clock to make our lives better in innumerable ways. Ironically, even those conservatives who complain that they don’t want government “interfering” in their lives depend heavily and repeatedly on government throughout their day. And the examples described earlier are only a small sample of the many ways that government programs improve our lives. They do not even include many of the most important services of government, such as preventing economic depressions, catching criminals, caring for our fragile ecosystem, dispensing justice, thwarting terrorist attacks, and eradicating deadly diseases.536
Note: If you have to debunk Libertarianism in one paragraph, this is a good, easy to understand example to start with.
First, most Americans have become so used to the benefits of government that they simply take them for granted. Benefits that are provided reliably for long periods of time – such as clean water and a stable currency system – tend to fade into the background and to not be considered benefits at all. They disappear from our consciousness.552
Note: The explanation of why delusional libertarians like your Jon’s and Jeremys can actually think like they do. Take for granted the comfort afforded to them.
Our failure to notice or appreciate what government does for us also has to do with the unique and peculiar nature of many government benefits. The benefits we get from paying our taxes are usually not immediate, and they are often not particularly tangible either. They can be remote and elusive. This is easy to see if we contrast government benefits with the benefits we receive from exchanges in the marketplace. When we go to the store, we hand over our money and immediately get something very concrete in return – a candy bar, a blouse, some groceries. This kind of exchange is very satisfying; we see what we get for our money right away.554
Note: Another reason for their delusion
Not so with many of the exchanges we have with our governments. We shell out money for our taxes, but what we gain in return is frequently delayed or remote. For instance, we pay our local government to treat our sewage, but the environmental payoffs may not be immediately obvious to us. When we later go fishing or swimming in our local lake or river – waters whose purity depends upon adequate sewage treatment – we probably do not see this enjoyable experience as a result of our sewer tax. When benefits are remote like this, it is hard to make the connections between them and the taxes we pay. It is unlikely, for example, that we associate sending our check to the IRS with getting reliable weather forecasts every morning, or with the purchase of a flack vest that saves a police officer’s life in Los Angeles, or with badly needed emergency aid that goes to a hurricane victim in Florida.559
Note: Another good example of the disconnect
Government benefits are also different because they are often less tangible than the goods we get from a store. These benefits frequently take the form not of the presence of something, but of the absence of something. Think of it this way: much of the job of government in our lives is to ensure that bad things don’t happen to us. We pay taxes so that our homes don’t get burgled, and our food doesn’t make us sick, our banks don’t fail, and our bridges don’t collapse. In other words, often when people in government are doing their job right – nothing happens. No wonder no one notices. So while we really do get a lot for with our taxes, we often get it in a form that is largely invisible to us. This is one of the reasons why we too easily fall for the illusion that government is doing nothing for us.566
Note: Level 10 – keep this, uncle Umbertos Anti – library. It’s a different type of knowledge. It’s easy to see a Playstation sitting on your entertainment center. No one notices when the bridge doesn’t collapse or the plane doesn’t crash.
There is, however, another much more disturbing reason that most of us mistakenly believe that government doesn’t do much for us: it’s because this is what we are being constantly told. One of the most consistent political messages promoted by conservative pundits and politicians in this country is that our governments are essentially thieves – that they take our taxes but rarely give us back anything of value. The political right is continually telling us that we benefit little573
It is not news when government works well, only when it fails. So news stories focus on policy blunders, government waste, and corrupt politicians.593
Note: Government in the media in a nutshell
Surveys also show that a large majority of citizens (70%) believe that “government creates more problems than it solves.”5626
Note: A clear example of confirmation bias. It’s easy to point out a budget deficit or wiretapping conspiracy while forgetting your able to say it because the cops keep some idiot from bashing your brains out or some country from bombing you
But how accurate is this popular image of the government as a bumbling fool? Actually, this is largely a stereotype – one based primarily on myth and selective anecdotal evidence. Of course anyone can cite a number of failed government policies – such as the war on drugs or public housing programs. But it is wrong to leap from this kind of anecdotal evidence to the conclusion that government as a whole is inherently incompetent. The reality is this: most government programs are successful most of the time. By and large, the public sector does a good job providing clean water to drink, keeping the peace, sending out Social Security checks, reducing workplace injuries, ensuring aircraft safety, feeding the hungry, putting out fires, protecting consumers, and so on.628
Note: Confirmation bias
Let’s start by taking up Rush Limbaugh’s challenge: can we name any government programs that have worked? Actually, that is quite easy to do. What follows is a short list of some of the federal government’s greatest accomplishments. These are policy programs that have not only worked, but have been very successful and have greatly improved the quality of life of most Americans.639
- Regulation of the Business Cycle. Until the financial crisis that began in 2008, most of us had forgotten how dependent we are on the federal government to prevent economic depressions. Since the 1930s, the government has used a variety of monetary and fiscal policies to limit the natural boom and bust cycles of the economy. Before government took on this responsibility, severe depressions were a routine and recurring problem in this country – occurring in 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1893, 1907 and 1929. Thanks to government intervention, we have been able to avoid the enormous amount of human suffering caused by these massive economic meltdowns – the widespread joblessness, the destitution, the rampant hunger, the disease, the riots, the hopelessness and the despair. By any measure, eliminating these depressions and this misery has been one of the greatest – and often unheralded – achievements of our federal government.642
- Public Health Programs. A variety of programs run by the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state and local Public Health departments have greatly improved the health of most Americans. For example, the scourges of polio, cholera, and smallpox have been effectively eradicated from this country – a huge achievement. And vaccination programs have reduced by 95% our risks of contracting potentially debilitating diseases like hepatitis B, measles, mumps, tetanus, rubella, and diphtheria. Federal funds spent on buying and distributing these vaccines have saved countless lives and the billions of dollars it would cost to treat these illnesses. In addition, the dedicated scientists who work for the CDC are all that stand between Americans and a potentially catastrophic epidemic imported from abroad. The most likely and worrisome threat is from a new and deadly strain of bird flu. The last deadly flu epidemic to hit the United States, in 1918, killed over 675,000 people in matter of months.649
- The Interstate Highway System. Started by the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s, this system now forms the backbone of long-distance travel and commerce in the United States.656
- Federal Deposit Insurance. Another government program we’ve taken totally for granted until recently is federal protection of our bank deposits. In bad economic times, banks are inherently vulnerable to destructive “runs” – where worried depositors all seek to take out their money at the same time. Before the FDIC, in the depression of the 1930s, over 5,000 banks went bust and millions of Americans lost their savings. The main reason we had no disastrous runs on banks (and money market funds) during the financial panic of 2008 was that government was there to guarantee those deposits.662
- Social Security and Medicare. Without these two government programs, growing old would be hell for many Americans. Before Social Security and Medicare, millions of the elderly were doomed to spend their retirement years in poverty and illness. Social Security has cut the rate of poverty for the elderly by over half – from 29% in 1966 to 10% today. Not surprisingly, financial columnist Jane Bryant Quinn has described Social Security as “arguably the U.S. government’s greatest success.” Medicare has also been incredibly successful. It has doubled the number of the elderly covered by health insurance, so that 99% now enjoy that benefit. Without this form of “socialized” medicine, 15 million of our neediest citizens would be going without many vital medical services and many would have to choose between food and medicine.667
- GI Bill Without this program, the middle class as we know it would not exist. The GI Bill provided government funds for 16 million World War II and Korean veterans to attend college.674
- Consumer Protection. In reaction to increasing public pressure in the early 1970s, government began to pass legislation to protect consumers from shoddy and dangerous products.684
- Anti-Discrimination Policies. Since the 1960s, policies like the Civil Rights Act and Title IX have chalked up impressive gains in decreasing discrimination against minorities and women.688
- Clean Water and Clean Air Programs. America’s water and air are significantly cleaner than they were in the 1960s, thanks to federal legislation. The levels of four of the six air pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act – nitrogen dioxide, smog, sulfur dioxide, and lead – have been reduced dramatically, by an average of 53%. The quality of the air has significantly increased in virtually every metropolitan area in the U.S. The Clean Water act has been similarly successful.694
- Workplace Safety. Businesses love to complain about the rules of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and sometimes its policies have been a bit overboard – but it has clearly been very effective in greatly increasing the level of protection for American workers. In 1970, the year before the creation of OSHA, 22,000,000 people were injured on the job and 14,000 died from job-related injuries. Since then, OSHA has helped to cut occupational injury and illness rates by 40 percent. Even more important, between 1980 and 2002, workplace deaths fell from 7.5 per 100,000 workers to 4.0.700
- The Military. Even Rush Limbaugh, who has never met a government program that he likes, admits that the U.S. military is a great success story. Although debates continue to rage over how the military should be used, there is complete agreement that our Army, Navy, and Air Force are the most effective military organizations in the world today. We have the best trained and the best equipped armed forces, and they have an unparalleled ability to effectively project military force – as was demonstrated in the two recent Gulf wars. In the case of the military, the government has clearly done an exemplary job of creating a well-working and effective organization.705
- The railroads, which spurred so much growth in the West, would not have been built without massive subsidies from the federal government.714
- Airports – Our own Addition that contribute mightily to growth and transportation.
- Public Education – A field too broad to even expand on. The foundation of prosperity.
Note: Was it Chris who talked about how Rockefeller did it all himself
- Cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas would dry up and blow away without the federally funded dam and canal projects that provide water to those arid regions.716
Note: Entire cities exist because of the government
- National Weather Service. This government agency not only makes your life more convenient by forecasting your daily weather, it also helps to ensure the safety of planes in the air and ships at sea and it has saved countless lives with its hurricane and tornado warnings.719
Note: Great example many don’t think of
- Aid to the Poor. Objection is that we still have poverty. is that most of the policies aimed at the poor in the U.S. were never intended to get them out of poverty. They were only intended to alleviate the suffering of the poor – and studies have shown that they have been very successful in doing this.8725
- Student Financial Aid Programs. College is getting increasingly expensive and more and more students require financial help to attend. The federal grants, loans, and work study money provided by the Department of Education form the largest source of college financial assistance, providing billions of dollars in funding each year.731
Note: The Department of Education is usually the first one cut in Libertarian fantasies
- Every year the FDA identifies almost 3,000 products that are unfit for consumption and ensures their withdrawal from the marketplace. Americans are undoubtedly safer and healthier thanks to these government programs.740
- Funding Basic Science Research. Most research on basic scientific topics – in physics, biology, chemistry, etc. – does not have immediate commercial applications and so this work is highly dependent on government funding. Federal funds pay for 80% of the basic science research in this country, through laboratory facilities in universities and in government agencies such as the National Institutes for Health. For this reason, the government deserves a great deal of cr for the important scientific and technological breakthroughs produced by these efforts. In just one area – biomedical science – basic research has provided the foundation to develop new diagnostic technologies, such as nuclear magnetic resonance machines, and new treatments for cancer, diabetes, and many other diseases. It is revealing that nearly half of the most important medical treatments in the field of cardiovascular-pulmonary medicine have their origins in basic research attempting to unravel the mysteries of the lungs, heart, and muscles – work done by scientists not working in this specific disease area.9743741
Note: Not captured through market forces, yet great benefit to society.
- Beyond such practical payoffs, government-funded basic research has also made important progress in answering many of the most profound questions that have baffled humanity for centuries: What is the nature of matter and energy – and the nature of reality itself? How did the universe begin? How will it end? Are we alone in the universe? What is the nature of life – and how did it begin? The achievements of basic science in the United States have been many and stunning – and these are achievements of government as well.
Note: Properly Basic intrinsic goods in and of themselves. Knowledge
- and this list could go on much further. Other clearly effective programs and policies would include our National Parks, the Voting Rights Act, Rural Electrification, AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, the Cooperative Extension Service, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Crime Information Center. And again, these are just the accomplishments of government on the federal level – they don’t count the thousands of other successful public sector endeavors on the state and local level.
- Regulating the economy, controlling diseases, dismantling segregation, and protecting the environment have all been inherently difficult and complex endeavors, which only makes these achievements of government even more impressive.
Note: Doesn’t stop
But the basic point here is this: there is simply no credible support for the government bashers’ contention that most government activities are ineffective and that policies usually make things worse rather than better. Exactly the opposite is the case.
Finally, and most importantly, this privatization plan would have put workers’ savings much more at risk in volatile financial markets. When the stock market plunged in 2008, many retirees who saw their IRAs melting away were very glad to still have the stable income coming from Social Security.
The fact is, government-run health care programs like Medicare are among the most efficient and effective health care programs in this country.891
Jacob Weisberg, In Defense of Government (New York: Scribner, 1996), p. 32.920
Paul C. Light’s, Government’s Greatest Achievements: From Civil Rights to Homeland Security
But if you really think about it, the institutions that do the most “good works” in our society are not churches or charities; they are our local, state, and federal governments. These governments do an enormous amount to feed the hungry, heal the sick, take care of the old, protect the young, and so on. In fact the good created by these governments far exceeds all the good accomplished by churches and charities in our society. When we think about some of the greatest moral achievements in our history, it is often the American people acting through their government that brought them about. It is government that abolished slavery and ended child labor. It is government that has saved millions of lives through public health programs to eradicate diseases. It is government that has drastically reduced poverty among the elderly. It is the government that is saving us all from the widespread suffering and despair caused by economic depressions.
Note: Outstanding summary of government accomplishments in regards to charity a day we’ll being.
On any measure, the good works accomplished by government have far eclipsed those of churches and other charities.
Note: A ready rebuttal to the libertarian chestnut of simply punt kicking everything to charity. How could a local charity fund, develop, and administer a vaccine to wipe out polio to and entire country? How can a charity eliminate elderly poverty, especially when charged with so many other tasks the libertarians assign them?
And this makes sense, because the resources of these private institutions are very limited compared to the resources wielded by government. So while my local soup kitchen feeds dozens of people a week, it is the federal food stamp program that is primarily responsible for greatly reducing hunger among the thousands of poor in our community.
Private charities and non-profits simply do not have the means to deal adequately with poverty, homelessness, hunger or virtually any of the serious problems that are causing suffering in our society.
Note: We already have private charities and complete freedom to set them up. Yet poverty, homelessness, hunger and the various other social problems remain. They apparently aren’t doing enough. No government hasn’t ended poverty and we don’t suspect it will soon. But remember ignoratio elenchi, or missing the point. The point isn’t that government will “end” poverty but make strides in alleviating it. This can be done through a stronger economy and public goods. A charity can feed a few people. Government can educate tens of millions – and give them the foundation for an entire life of opportunity. Social Security is one of the most effective anti poverty programs ever implemented.
But if we are going to say that government is an important instrument for moral action, shouldn’t we also say that the market is too? After all, the market does do an enormous amount of good by providing the products and services that we all need – and in this way it has certainly made the world a better place for many. Doesn’t that make the market a moral tool as well? Not really. As any economist will tell you, markets are not the realm of moral behavior; they are the realm of self-interested behavior. Economists firmly believe that markets do work in the public interest, but they see that as an indirect effect of people acting in their own private interest. In unregulated markets, people are often encouraged to act selfishly to maximize their own well-being – by paying the lowest price, charging the highest price, getting the biggest salaries, or putting their rivals out of business. People are not obligated to take into account moral considerations, such as what is best for society or what is the right thing to do.
Note: Answers Robert Eschauzer’s question on facebook, why do you think there are unmet needs in a market system? We know the answer, but facing this question out of nowhere after having never thought about it or worked on it for a month or two sometimes it is hard to come up with a sharp response. Here is one.
For example, consider the different ways that markets and governments respond in the aftermath of a disaster like an earthquake or flood. Governments and charities rush in with aid to those suffering in the affected areas – a moral response. But the natural response of economic markets is to price gouge. The shortages of such things as food, water, ice, and building materials caused by such disasters means that the demand for these things are very high and merchants can charge prices much higher than normal.
Note: Level 10 – An absolutely fantastic example of a head to head battle between markets and Government that demonstrates the difference in their fundamental mechanism. When asked in quick battle what government does better than markets, go with this. Government, with a directed conscious seeks to relieve suffering. The markets rushes in to feed off it. I want to be there when you tell the person who has lost everything you are charging him $15 for a bottle of water that is is more “free” than the man in another world who has been rescued by public services. Finally you can use this as a go to for people who want to ask the strangely framed question “Why do you think there are unmet needs in a market system?” Here we have working people with real bank accounts that can’t get what they need after a disaster. The purchasing apparatus breaks down. But government goes to save the day.
Take justice, for instance. It is not usually something provided by the marketplace or created by the actions of individuals. More often it is something that can only be provided and sustained in the public sphere by the actions of government organizations like the courts and the legislatures. If we want a just society, we must work through government to get it.
And today, as citizens, we need to recognize in government what the founding fathers saw in it: that it is the only institution we can rely on to nourish and protect these kinds of values in our society.
Note: Another approach is to point out the founding fathers did not have a libertarian or hands off approach to government. It should be as simple as that.
They get involved in politics and the governing process not because they want something for themselves but because they want to promote certain democratic values – such as equality or freedom – that they feel are important.
Note: How do you promote equality and justice through markets? They aren’t equipped for that. It isn’t the tool for that. They respond to price signals and purchasing power. Why do you think everything that matters to everyone in this world can be bought and sold? Or rather, do you think everything that is important to everyone in this world is bought and sold?
Government is the main provider of justice and fairness in American society. Many government policies and government institutions are explicitly designed to promote these important public values.
Note: Government is that mechanism whereby we promote the very kind of freedom that is most important to us: justice and fairness.
This kind of legal justice is not something that can be reliably provided by the private sector. We would not want, for instance, for there to be a market in legal justice. We would not want this justice to be something provided to the highest bidder. In fact, those times when our current justice system does take on the characteristics of a market – such as when the rich are able to get off because they can afford to hire the most talented and expensive lawyers – are exactly the times when we think the justice system has broken down. Justice should not be for sale, it must be available to all people equally, and only government can provide that.
Note: Fantastic Articulation of the fallacy of market based “justice.” the very times courts behave like markets are the very times we hate it. Or if you would rather, the Market mechanism is the very problem with “private” justice. Some things, if they are to exist at all, must exist equally for everyone outside of purchasing power. Justice and fairness, by definition, if they are to exist, belong to everyone equally. You cannot buy more fairness and you cannot buy more justice. When these things are for sale the cease to be the very things we desire.
Nor can we rely on people acting outside of the law, either individually or in private groups, to provide justice in our society. All too often the result of this kind of approach is the revenge killing, the lynch mob, or the drive-by gang shooting. Justice administered outside of government and outside of the law is almost always arbitrary, inappropriate, violent, and out of control. For justice to be true justice it must be ordered by law and administered by the government.
Note: Outstanding, a full swath to wipe out an anarchist argument or a libertarian argument for mob or vigilante justice. For an anarchist, justice cannot exist, for arbitrary vigilante killing is just murder by the most powerful unchecked.
The whole idea of Social Security is that it would be intolerably unfair for people to work hard all their lives and then be forced to either not retire at all or to live in destitution in their old age.
Note: We recognize that people, as normal imperfect human beings, may make mistakes in saving through private markets or due to the difficulties of life, have trouble saving at all. Living in abject poverty after a lifetime of service to society through work is an intolerable fate for us as empathetic creatures to allow. We recognize that most from the right reach their intellectual limit with “life isn’t fair” but they miss a very important point. We can make it more fair. Why is fairness a bad thing?
There will always be, of course, some unfairness in life. But this doesn’t mean we must accept it or not try to eradicate it whenever we can – that is part of our moral responsibility. We can make life much fairer than it naturally is, but we must usually employ the institutions of government to make it so. So while conservatives are right that “Life isn’t fair,” it would be more accurate to change that saying to “Life, without government, isn’t fair.”
Excellent summary just to have around.
From the beginning, our democratic government was primarily concerned with our physical security – ensuring that the country was immune from outside attack, that citizens were safe from criminals, and that they were protected from threats like fire.
Such things as job loss, cancer, environmental pollution, terrorism, crime, industrial obsolescence, and economic downturns are basically out of our control as individuals. (Okay Libertarians, try to blame those on the people. Say “It’s your own fault” to that.) So we must act collectively to try to manage these risks – and that is where government comes in. In many cases, government programs are the only way to make our lives more secure. And the benefits of these programs go beyond merely minimizing these risks, they also allow us to be free of the constant anxiety and fear that would plague us if these risks were not managed effectively.
Note: How can individuals protect themselves against collective problems? Government is a way for us to create protections against things that markets don’t see, such as terrorism, business cycles, disease, and disaster. What about freedom FROM things, such as anxiety and harm? Pure laissez faire may produce a more glamorous world for the very few, but also a far crueler one for the rest of us. Just what kind of “freedom” are you talking about? How about the freedom from the crushing stress of a world where at any given moment everything can be taken from you though no fault of your own, and there is nothing you can do about it. Yes you can’t control everything. But why leave the things we can control to chance? Why play without any safety net when it is unnecessary?
In fact, studies show that over fifty percent of Americans will become poor at some point in their life, so poverty programs actually act as a safety net for large numbers of citizens.
Note: Who are all these amazing people who never come close to needing help? That isn’t the country we live in.
Capitalist economic systems are prone to a whole host of malfunctions, from runaway inflation to prolonged depressions. The economic crisis that began in 2008 is only one of the latest examples of these problems. Modern governments use monetary and fiscal policy to keep in check these serious threats to our economic well-being.
Note: And no, it wasn’t only government that causes this, as these had been seen to an even greater degree before monetary and fiscal policy. who could seriously think a market economy would somehow run perfectly without any government assistance? where could you possibly have evidence for this?
For example, the Federal Reserve board regulates interest rates to make sure that the economy is not growing too quickly or too slowly. And government can increase its spending to stimulate a stalled economy. Without this kind of macro-economic regulation by government, our welfare would be constantly threatened by these serious economic problems.
Note: deflation, demand pull inflation, bank collapses, things that all seriously threaten welfare of a nation
The ownership society promises freedom, but at the price of a huge shift in risk, away from government and society and onto individual citizens. Social Security, Medicare, insurance – these are basically collective risk-sharing mechanisms. Rather than let each person run the risk of ending up destitute or sick, these programs pool the risk. Because the risk is shared, it can be managed, and people can be guaranteed a minimally acceptable outcome.
Note: most people don’t want to walk a tight rope. maybe higher reward, at profoundly higher risk. If you work and contribute to this country, you’re guaranteed at the very least a minimal survival standard of living. without a minimal safety net, maybe a few would be even wealthier, while millions perished. in the richest country in the world only sociopaths advocate a person work a full time job their whole life and die of starvation. in the richest country in the world there just is no good reason why we can’t take care of everyone. we don’t want the freedom to die from Russian roulette. we want the freedom of empowerment.
Conservatives are often very inconsistent – if not hypocritical – in their view of whether government should be providing security. On the one hand, they are often critical of government efforts, like social programs and regulations, which try to manage and reduce risks for our families and us. But on the other hand, they are obsessed with national security and are willing to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on that. They also support dozens of laws and programs that serve to minimize risks for companies and markets. For example, corporations are shielded by limited liability laws in every state. Bankruptcy laws also play a major role in protecting corporations from financial risks. Regulations that stabilize the money supply also work to minimize risks for businesses. So for conservatives, strong government action to protect us against foreign threats and to reduce the financial risks to business is highly desirable. They only oppose government risk management when it involves policies that protect the public.
Note: Greatest bite sized argument to the hypocrisy of the conservative ideology, and front line answer to Jeremy on how progressives protect the common man.
In a democracy, we are all equal before the law. We have the same legal rights and protections – we have the right to a lawyer, a jury trial, property rights, and so on. We have all become so used to these rights of equal legal treatment that we sometimes forget that they only exist because our democratic government mandates and enforces them.1240
Note: Government and law are the one thing that insures a minimal standard of justice and equality in law. Not left merely up to the rule of the Lynch mob or the most powerful gang, or the highest bidder, government insures you get a chance
When most people think of the defining characteristics of a democratic society – those that separate them from non-democratic societies – the first thing they usually think of are individual rights and liberties. A democratic society is a free society – with freedom of speech, freedom of religion, property rights, the right to a lawyer and a jury, the right to vote, and all the other protections we enjoy as individuals. But what we often forget is that these crucial rights and freedoms are enacted and protected by government. They are created in our state and federal constitutions, and our courts are the watchdogs that we use that prevent our rights and liberties from being violated.1262
Note: Government IS freedom. The right to free speech, to say what you want, doesn’t exist if someone can legally punch you in the face for doing so. This argument, and the extrusion of it, is the answer to Matt Dillihunty’s question were he to ask what is our strongest argument against Libertarianism, or similar neoconservative ideals.
Once again, there is virtually nothing in the private sector that protects these vital liberties. In fact, it is the propensity for private individuals and organizations to create oppressive and intolerable conditions for people that has led to a demand for a steady expansion of the rights and freedoms of individuals in America. Workers have organized and pressured the government to ensure their right to strike and their right to labor in a safe workplace. Environmentalist groups have fought numerous political battles to establish and protect our rights to breathe clean air and drink pure water. Women, the elderly, the disabled, and minorities have lobbied to free themselves from discrimination and segregation in the private sector. All of these groups have worked through government to increase their rights and liberties, and these are only guaranteed through various government policies programs that are created and maintained by various governments. 1269
To put it another way, you can’t support the things the government does – like caring for the elderly, establishing justice, providing public education, fighting terrorism, and protecting the environment – and still maintain that the taxes that support those things are bad. Taxes are the lifeblood of government and so if government is basically good, then so are taxes. 1314
Taxes are our dues — we pay our dues to be Americans and enjoy the benefits of American society. Taxes are what we pay to live in a civilized society that is democratic, offers opportunity, and has a huge infrastructure available to all citizens. This incredible infrastructure has been paid for by previous taxpayers. Roads and highways, the Internet, the broadcast airwaves, our public education system, our power grid — every day we all use this vast infrastructure. Our dues maintain it. 21345
Unlike marketplace transactions, where what we get for our money is immediate and tangible – what we get for our taxes is often delayed and less tangible. When we draw clean water from our taps, we rarely stop to make the connection between this and the taxes we pay to ensure the purity of this vital resource. Also, many of the benefits that come to us from our taxes take the form of things that do not happen to us – like not getting mugged or not breathing dirty air – and these we hardly notice at all. 1366
This goes on all day long. Tax. Tax. Tax. Tax. Tax.”3 This is true – and it helped Schwarzenegger get elected – but it is a misleading half-truth. He leaves out the rest of the story: that we are also constantly benefiting from government programs throughout our day. He deliberately ignores the connection between taxes and the programs they fund. We may be taxed when we flush the toilet, but what we get is the efficient and easy way to dispose of our waste in a manner that does not poison our water or spread disease. We may be taxed when we buy a cup of coffee, but our taxes help pay for inspections of coffee houses and restaurants that ensure that their food and drinks are fit for human consumption. We may be taxed when we pay for gas, but what we get is the interstate highway system that many of us so frequently use. So the reality is really this: Tax. Benefit. Tax. Benefit. Tax. Benefit. Tax. Benefit. While government may be constantly taking from us in the form of taxes, it is also constantly giving back to us in the form of the various programs that improve our daily lives. 1374
Note: A good and simple way to articulate this very salient and important point when the frame is how often we are taxed. Also worth pointing out, for those that will inevitably say that businesses that poison their customers won’t have customers, its an uninformative tautology asked misses the point. punishing someone who makes someone else sick doesn’t make the person healthy again, ad hoc solutions treat the symptoms and not the cause. You want to avoid it the first place.
But many people greatly exaggerate the tax burden in this country. Here is a quick quiz: Guess what percentage of Americans pay over 20% of their household income in federal income taxes? Polls show that most Americans put that figure at 38%. But the real figure is shockingly lower: less than 1%. According to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, over 85% of us pay less than 10% of our income in federal income taxes. The average middle-class family now pays less than 5% of their income in federal income taxes – a historical low. How is this possible? Because many people are too poor to pay income tax, and many of the rest of us have deductions and crs that reduce our effective tax rate to much less than the official tax rate for our income group. In any case, the point is most of us tend to wildly overestimate how much everyone is paying in taxes.1441
Note: Taxation – a quick and useful rebuttal to the idea we are taxed to death. we pay much less than most people think.
Here is another quick quiz: What is the dollar value of the benefits from federal programs that the average middle-class wage earner receives? $1,000? $5,000? A 2007 study by the Tax Foundation found that it was over $10,000.10 And that figure does not include any benefits from such so-called “public goods” programs as environmental protection and public-health efforts. Include those and the value of federal programs rises to over $16,000 a year. And if we add in the benefits from state and local programs, the total amounts to over $27,000. So there is no question that we are all getting back a great deal in government benefits for the taxes we pay. 1509
Conservatives are also wrong about the effects of tax cuts on investment and savings. The boost to investment predicted by conservatives after the tax cuts during the Reagan administration never took place. Between 1979 and 1989, the average rate of investment was 2.5%. From 1989 to 2000, it rose significantly to an average of 5.9%. But this was after George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton both raised federal taxes. There is also little evidence that the Reagan tax cuts boosted savings either. Savings rates fell from 8.8% of personal disposable income in 1981 to 6.0 percent in 1986.11 Moreover, two economists who did a comprehensive survey in 1996 of the economic literature on the effects of tax cuts on savings concluded: “Virtually no empirical study suggests a large saving response by households to changes in after-tax return.”12 Strike two for tax cutters. 1545
But what about the over-all beneficial effects of tax cuts on economic growth? Again, history is a good guide. From 1981 to 1985, after the tax cuts of the Reagan administration, the economy did grow at a good rate – averaging 2.6% a year. But between 1976 and 1980, when the tax rates were higher, it grew even faster – averaging 3.2%. Similarly, after taxes were raised by Bush and Clinton, economic growth actually picked up and averaged 3.2% between 1989 and 2000.13 So there is clearly not a strong relationship between tax rates and growth in this country. Strike three – they’re out. 1552
Comparing the U.S. to other countries brings little solace to tax cutters either. They like to think that our growing economy outpaces those of other advanced democracies in large part because of our lower tax burden. But the research doesn’t bear any of this out. Consider the results of a study that compared tax levels and economic growth rates between 1970 and 2000 for a large number of countries.14 It did find that Denmark and Sweden, which had much higher taxes than the U.S., also did worse in terms of average growth – about 1.6% versus about 2.3% for the U.S. But how do anti-tax advocates explain Finland and Norway, which had taxes almost 50% greater than we did, but actually enjoyed higher rates of growth? In fact, the overall results of the study indicated very little correlation between taxes and economic growth – with the U.S., Italy, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, France and the Netherlands having relatively similar rates of growth, but widely varying tax levels – from 27% to 42% of GDP. International comparisons, then, contradict rather than support the conservative contentions that we need to cut taxes to ensure economic growth or that high taxes hurt the economy. Clearly a country can have high taxes and strong economic growth as well. Strike four. 1557
Note: There are so many factors contributing to economic growth that we must reject the proposition that cutting taxes improves growth. For the investment and savings that we are told is lost, tax money going to education can create a more innovative workforce that makes better technology, or better infrastructure or law reform increasing the efficiency of markets.
One economic analyst, Anna Bernasek of The New York Times, examined a wide variety of academic studies on the relationships between tax rates on productivity, savings, and growth. She concluded that the “notion that taxes are bad for the economy is just that: a notion not backed by strong evidence. And the costs of ignoring experience in favor of hope can be high: mounting deficits, decaying infrastructure, inadequate investment in public education and research. So the next time some proponent of tax reform promises king-size economic benefits, there is reason to be skeptical.” 151566
Do you really believe that you would be better off if you had 27 more dollars in your pocket – the amount the average American spends to fund the Environmental Protection Agency – and had to forego all those agency’s programs to ensure clean air and clean water and to deal with environmental threats like toxic waste, oil spills, mercury and lead contamination, radioactive waste, pesticide poisoning, ozone depletion, and global warming? 1584
Again, looking at Europe is instructive here. Europeans are more secure economically because they have more extensive programs to protect them from the many economic risks of modern life. They have universal health care, extensive unemployment insurance programs, generous government pensions, and free or very low-cost higher education. So instead of leaving everyone on their own to face these economic difficulties – they pool their tax resources and solve these problems for all citizens. Certainly this costs more in taxes, but the economic security that is enjoyed by everyone is priceless.1611
The anti-tax arguments of conservatives and libertarians also rely heavily on denying the connection between the people and their government. They do not want us to see public money as “our” money being spent for “our” benefit.1621
The money does not belong to the government, it belongs to us. But the government belongs to us too. ‘It’ does not steal from “us,” we pool resources so we can act on behalf of the commonweal – the weal (well-being) common to us…. Taxes are not tithes imposed by tyrants; they are self-imposed duties that permit our government to discharge our common purposes. … To cry “Give Americans back their hard-earned tax dollars!” is a disingenuous way of saying “To hell with establishing justice, promoting welfare and securing liberty!” It is nothing more than a cynical bribe to get people to give up on one another and to go it alone. 201640
Note: Level 10 – Its times like this you want to highlight less so things like this stand out more. This is one of the best reframes and rebuttals to the taxes as theft frame we have seen since Myth of Ownership. This along with that argument should meet any opponent. good to have another frame. Its isn’t merely were are paying back into the system that allowed us to succeed thus discarding the idea of pre tax income, which still implicitly accepts the taxes as force frame, but that also, we are making a self enforced payment, that ultimately we built into our system by choice, to insure our freedom, security, future, and way of life.
All of these figures are from John O. Fox, If Americans Really Understood the Income Tax (Boulder Colorado:Westview Press, 2001)1707
Belgium, for example, has a public sector almost twice the size of the United States as a proportion of GDP, and has much more extensive health care, unemployment, and pension programs. Yet Belgian citizens enjoy essentially the same rights and liberties as Americans. We see very few Belgian political refugees applying for asylum in the U.S. because they feel oppressed in their homeland. 1769
Note: freedom, government size, health care. The typical rebuttal will be that Belgium is much smaller and so we cannot make a comparison. But it doesn’t tell you that a big government sector doesn’t work. Presenting this evidence is certain suggestive and compelling. There are no large Libertarian countries for them to draw comparisons from. They have only “The airplane wasn’t invented until it was. We don’t know Libertarianism won’t work.” We at least have evidence on our side and proof of concepts. Libertarians have only speculation.
So the size and extent of government activity, by itself, tells us nothing about how free or oppressive a society is. The necessary trade-off between government size and citizen’s freedom simply does not exist. And the reason it does not exist is because many of the most common activities of the modern state – building roads and highways, putting out fires, fighting disease, treating our sewage, providing college loans, funding basic scientific research, providing medical care for the elderly, supplying clean water, feeding the poor, providing parks and recreational facilities, subsidizing farmers, educating our children, forecasting the weather, sending out Social Security checks, and so on – are not inherently coercive or oppressive at all. So it is simply mistaken to automatically equate more government with less freedom. 1772
Note: Another great overall passage extolling the virtues of a public sector. Role of government, public sector, infrastructure
In his book, Defending Government, Max Nieman has labeled this argument the “Big Brother Road to Dictatorship.” It suggests that the expansion of government powers in the U.S. during the last 75 years has been inevitably leading us down the path toward totalitarianism. But as he has noted, there is really no valid evidence for this theory. If we look at how modern dictatorships have come about, they have not been the product of gradually increasing social programs and regulations over property and business. As Neiman explains: It is common among conservative critics of public sector activism to characterize government growth in the arena of social welfare, environment, consumer and worker protection, and income security as steps toward the loss of liberty and even totalitarianism. Many critics of the emergence of the modern social welfare state … have tried to convey the sense that the road to totalitarian hell is paved with the good intentions of the social democratic program. ….There is no record, however, of any oppressive regime having taken power by advancing on the social welfare front. Lenin and Stalin, Mussolini, Mao Tsetung, Fidel Castro, and Chile’s Pinochet did not consolidate power by gradually increasing social welfare programs, taxes, and regulation of the environment or workplace. Rather, these assaults on personal freedom and democratic governance involved limitation on civil rights and political rights, the legitimization of oppression and discrimination against disfavored or unpopular groups, and the centralization and expansion of military and policy forces. Hitler did not become the supreme ruler of the Nazi state by first taking over the health department. 71790
Note: Good passage pointing out the slippery slope fallacy conservatives are so fond of advancing. also points put how a culture legitimizing discrimination was the pathway to atrocities, not food stamps for the poor. slippery slope, discrimination, conservative hyperbole
But then Wills concludes, “Actually, these rules are immensely liberating.” He explains that without these elaborate controls on our behavior, the traffic system would break down and we would not be free to drive anywhere. “If we all woke every morning, took out cars of uncertain performance, and tried to drive every which way, not heeding (nonexistent) signs or a right-side requirement, any speed laws or rules of precedence at crossings, we would either be crashing constantly, or would be immobilized by a fear of crashing or being crashed into.”12 In other words, without all those coercive traffic laws, we really wouldn’t be free to drive. And such rules are not an example of “Big Brother” telling us what to do, but of “us” telling us what to do. They are not a form of dictatorial coercion; but a form of mutual coercion, decided on in a democratic manner. Without these kinds of democratically generated rules, we would lack the social order necessary for us to be free to go about our business.1856
Note: Good example of rules that liberate. In choas, you are really not free to do anything. While rules don’t make things perfect, they make things better. You are free to move relatively safely among the nexus of drivers as it is. With unsafe cars on the road, people trying to get ahead of you in an arms race of speed, or failing to stop when it really is nessesary, positional externalities are placed upon everyone, making it harder and sometimes impossible to to the thing they currently take for granted.
As seen in the previous chapter, the vast majority of public programs do little to threaten the liberty of Americans. But it would be naïve to ignore the fact that democratic governments can sometimes step over the line and pass laws that do violate people’s basic rights and civil liberties.1900
Note: This is in general an excellent way to begin any conversation or debate on politics. Assert most of what government doesn’t isn’t an affront to liberty to get that on the table. Then however, grant that no one believes everything Governments do is good or nothing they do harms liberty. This allows them you to buy in, to lower their shield, so they will be receptive to conversation to even begin with.
In the end, then, we depend heavily on the tools of democratic government to protect people’s rights. When we want to limit the abusive activities of government – such as unreasonable searches or unfair appropriations of our property – we need to rely on the positive actions of another part of the government to do so. This is a point that anti-government conservatives consistently ignore. Yes, government can violate our rights, but democratic government also functions as the main protector of our rights and freedoms as well – and it has often done so very effectively. Certainly totalitarian and dictatorial governments are the enemies of freedom, but democratic governments have constitutions and institutions that enable us to effectively protect our rights and freedoms.1916
Note: “The Government” is not one evil discreet being that moves in such a way as the body follows the head. It is a complex Nexus or organizations, and if one is harming freedom you can appeal to courts to protect you
We often make the mistake of seeing our rights and civil liberties as merely the absence of some kind of governmental action. We believe that we have free speech or freedom of religion when the government does nothing to impede those freedoms. But in reality, our rights depend heavily on active government – on positive government actions. In fact, the very existence of rights depends on government. In a very real way, rights and civil liberties are actually political constructs – creations of government. Formal rights do not exist until they are created by law or established in a constitution. We only have the right of free speech because it is guaranteed in our constitution. If we didn’t have our constitution, or if we didn’t have government, our civil liberties would literally not exist. In the preamble of the Constitution, the founding fathers did not say that in order to “secure liberty for ourselves and our posterity” they were going to abolish government; they said that they were going to “ordain and establish” a democratic constitutional government to do so.1 They knew, as Benjamin Barber has explained, that “in democracies, representative institutions do not steal our liberties from us, they are the precious medium through which we secure our liberties.”21922
Note: Level 10. This we ought to memorize as an opener. It is largely why we are Democrat and against Libertarianism. Government is exactly why we have rights. One of the longest standing questions of our world and humanity, where do rights come from? Who grants them? The answer is us. Through Government. Period, We make a reasonable approximation of what Maximizes our well being and create rules to allow us these freedoms. Natural rights are largely a myth. To what extent does a right exist if no one recognizes it? Maybe something seems wrong about that but so what? It’s pragmatic reality. Jeremys most passionate argument was to ask what does he have the right to free speech! Because he has a mouth. He can speak and deserves to be heard. This is a non sequitur. Maybe he does have a right to speak but it isnt merely because he can. If someone punches him in the mouth every time he talks and nothing is done is it still a real “right?” It is Government through protection and stopping others from stopping you, that you get to utilize your rights. In short, we don’t get to exercise freedom unless we come together and come to some sort of consensus on what rules we will follow. Government is the protector of these agreements. You can say and believe you have the “right” to do something all day, but your life doesn’t change unless you can actually do it without being stopped. All you can do to get around it is argue some private construct, which only leads you into an ad!s race won by the highest bidder. And we don’t get a say on who wins that. Unless we throw in and fight for this person, which eventually serves to expe our rights anyway, us having effectively supported or “voted” for them, and doesn’t that sound like Government anyway? This way, you just get to the same result far less bloodier. Another good and important point is this insures fair, consistent, and equal rights to everyone. And if you believe in Natural rights anyway, you believe everyone has the same rights, not just the wealthiest. As it is, the richest have more privileges, but we still all have the same basic legal rights…as any of them.
Supposedly, negative rights, such as freedom of speech, simply require that the government not interfere with some activity. In this view, it is only positive rights, such as the right to health care, that require a government action to realize them. But Holmes and Sunstein argue that in fact all rights require government action. They all require an active and well-funded government to enforce them – to make them real.1936
Note: Well said interpretation of our previous point.
Personal liberty cannot be secured merely by limiting government interference with freedom of action and association. No right is simply a right to be left alone by public officials. All rights are claims to an affirmative governmental response. All rights, descriptively speaking, amount to entitlements defined and safeguarded by law. A1942
Note: Who does a person turn to when they are being raped and tortured? What good is claiming “I have a right not to be hurt” then? Your big brother? Hopefully you have one. Or can pay one, or rely on some good Samaritan. Of course I’m sure you have a gun. Too bad if they do too, or a bigger one. Or if you can’t afford one, don’t have one, hate them, or they get away. Jeremy was fond of saying “Why does it make it more noble if its the state with the gun?” Its a framing problem. Don’t answer the question. Its not the right question to ask. They frame it like that so they can set up the dominos. We agree that its more noble because they are paid, trained, or indirectly hired through voted government, to which they reply with some rehearsed argument from analogy, “Oh so if they are paid and voted to come murder us its okay?” No. The claim isn’t about nobility. It is that to have freedoms at all you have to have a system of personal protection and property rights enforceable by courts and law, not just every Libertarian thinking they are goddamn Rambo going to run down and shoot everyone that wrongs them. With ones safety and rights secured by government, their productive endeavors are free to be used elsewhere. Its a foundation of economic prosperity, securing safety and property rights, so that it runs in the background, and not something you have to stop and do every 15 !minutes when someone who thinks they have a bigger gun comes to the door.
Protecting and enforcing our individual rights in this way is no small job. Think of all the various rights we now take for granted: the right to a fair trial, the right to own property, parental rights, voting rights, the right to not be denied a job because of race or gender, landlord and tenant rights, the right to run for office, the right to practice our religion, mineral rights, consumer rights, the right to a minimum wage, the right to marry, copyright protections, the right to an attorney, the right to collect a debt, abortion rights, the right against self-incrimination, the right to free speech, the right to emigrate, intellectual property rights, the right to strike, the right to petition government, the right to privacy, child custody rights, the right to a safe workplace, the right to be free from illegal searches, and so on. Interpreting and enforcing all of these rights requires an extensive network of administrative and judicial organizations on the federal and state levels – courts, attorney generals’ offices, civil rights agencies, etc. These large governmental efforts cost billions of dollars a year money that must come from taxpayers. In other words, our rights depend heavily on an active and well-funded government. When governments find themselves in a position where they can’t effectively tax and spend – as has sometimes been the case in countries in the former Soviet Union – citizen rights and liberties become unenforceable and largely non-existent.1949
Note: Level 10 – And therein lies one of the most crushing rebuttals of Libertarianism seen in recent times. Tell me how your getting all this without Government? I know you’re gonna hire a company to do it for you or shoot someone, which leaves you either broke or in a state of anarchy.
Since the existence and protection of our rights depend so directly on a healthy and vigorous state, if we want to be pro-rights we have to be pro-government to some extent as well. Without the power and authority of a well-financed state, rights are worthless.1964
Note: And therein lies the point. Unenforceable rights and pointless.
Government not only protects our long-established constitutional rights and liberties, it has also enabled us to expand our freedoms significantly, especially during the last 75 years. As the power of government has grown, it has not resulted in significant losses in freedom for the average American – it has produced significant gains. In fact, government power has often grown precisely because citizens have demanded more rights and freedoms. Faced with harmful and debilitating social conditions, the American people have turned to government again and again to free themselves from these oppressive situations. And the government has come through and repeatedly expanded the rights and freedoms available to the average person. Social Security has liberated millions of citizens from destitution in their old age. Thanks to federal legislation, all Americans now have the right to vote. Our state and federal governments’ public health efforts have freed millions of Americans from devastating and deadly diseases like polio and smallpox. Because of laws banning housing discrimination, all families are now free to live in any neighborhood they want.1967
Note: Government protects from privately created oppression. Peoples taxes would be lower with the government of the 1800s but would be far less secure.
Millions of elderly Americans are freed from agonizing and worrying about how they will get medical care – thanks to federal programs like Medicare. Government-sponsored right-to-strike laws and workplace safety rules have freed countless American workers from oppressive and dangerous working conditions. Millions of minorities and women are now free to get jobs and receive equal pay, as a result of government anti-discrimination laws. Millions of handicapped citizens are now literally freer to move around their world due to passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. And we all now have the right not to be fired simply because we are getting old.1975
The Real Threat to Rights and Freedom Imagine for a moment a dictatorship where your rights and liberties are being constantly violated. There is no free speech and you can be punished for espousing your political views. Associating with groups that oppose official policy can invite reprisals. If you complain about the behavior of officials or blow the whistle on their illegal activities, you will be punished harshly. Privacy is non-existent. The authorities constantly spy on you. They tap your phone and use hidden cameras to monitor and record your daily activities. They know what you do on your computer and where you go on the internet. They open and read your mail; they routinely test you for illegal substances. Officials know virtually everything about you – your employment history, your financial situation, your medical problems, and even your genetic information – and will not hesitate to use this information to their advantage when necessary. This would be a totalitarian nightmare. It is just this kind of situation that many anti-government ideologues fear, and it is exactly why they so desperately want to limit the power of the state. But they are too late – we already have this situation in the United States. It’s called a corporation. Today, many of the main threats to our rights and freedoms do not come from the government – but come from the businesses we work for.1987
Note: Beautiful passage on who is the real threat to freedom. The corporation is guilty of more infringements to your freedom than the government it charges them to. Of course, you can be certain of the rebuttal of first response will be a high pitched wail “But you CHOOSE to work thereeeeee!!” in their best 15 year old girl whiney voice. This is a Mortan’s fork. Either you agree to starve homeless or you agree to whatever rules the company you eventually have to work for wants, no matter how invasive to your well being. Since productive work is the foundation of our society, we use government as a means of insuring baseline levels of privacy and freedom from ANY company, because you have to work for one of them, thereby serving to let us sleep every night knowing we have basic freedom. If they are fond of saying why is it note Noble when the state does it, why too then is it more noble if private power takes your freedom?
The larger point here is that when it comes to freedom, anti-government conservatives are wrong about how they portray both government and the private sector. Government is not nearly the threat they make it out to be and it is actually the mechanism that allows us to best protect and expand our freedoms. Moreover, the private sector is not the realm of natural freedom that conservatives depict it to be. Minimal-government advocates want us to believe that government is the only source of oppressive power in society, and that if we prevent it from exercising that power over us in our private lives, we are then free. But this ignores the large concentrations of power in the private sphere that can still coerce us – that can still greatly limit our freedom. The fact is that during those periods of our history when the government kept largely out of the private sector, this approach allowed such private abuses of power as slavery, corporate monopolies, child labor, deadly workplaces, and racial segregation. Democratic government is really the only source of countervailing power that is strong enough to rein in the abuses that can result from the concentration of power in the private sector. As Benjamin Barber has explained it: “Big government – or let’s call it strong democracy – is for the little guy; it’s how he and his neighbors can take on the big bullies in the private sector. Naturally the bullies resent competition and make war on ‘big government,’ ostensibly on behalf of the little guy.”92025
Note: Level 9 and magnificent summary of our views. Private power complete with examples is as much of a threat to your freedom as government power. But government is the force that allows us to fight back for our real freedoms.
In his book, The Freedom Revolution, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey defines freedom as “the ability and responsibility to control one’s own destiny.”10 There is much truth to this, but he is mistaken when he also maintains that we can best assert that control when government leaves us alone and stays out of the private sector. He forgets that even when the government leaves us alone, there are still many forces in the private sphere that make it difficult for us to control our own destiny. Powerful institutions and individuals, along with large economic and social forces, make it hard for most people to “do what they want.” As noted earlier, most of us work in strictly hierarchical institutions ruled by powerful superiors, and so we often have little control over our work life. More importantly, as private citizens, we are at the mercy of large, systemic economic realities: the ups and downs of the economy, the domestic impacts of globalization, the stagnation of wages, increasing income inequality, outsourcing of jobs, rising and falling stock markets, skyrocketing health costs, and so on. As Americans we no longer live in log cabins on the frontier, where it could be argued that our fate is in our own hands. We live in enormously large and complex economic and social systems – systems over which we can exert little control as individuals. In this context, the promise of Republicans to have government leave us alone sounds more like a threat – it amounts to abandoning us to larger societal forces over which we can have little influence. It’s like someone dumping you in the middle of the ocean in a row boat and telling you that you are free to go wherever you want. You may be the “captain” of your boat, but in all likelihood if the storms and the sharks don’t get you, the sunstroke and dehydration will.2037
Note: level 15. Jesus Christ and God wrote this. Possibly second to none on the most wonderful passage on why the Democratic Party, Progressivism, and at least a fairly reasonably sized Democratic Government is the best pathway to Freedom, prosperity, and well being and quality of life for a society.
In our world, being free to control our lives requires a great deal of power. If you happen to be rich, then you may have the economic resources to control your life as an individual. You have the luxury of choosing where you live, what job you have, whether you work at all, and what you do every day. But the rest of us do not have that kind of individual power. So we must rely on collective power – one major form of which is democratic government. If freedom really does mean exerting control over one’s life, then it is government and the public sector that are the instruments of freedom for many people. In fact government has grown in the United States precisely because the American people have realized again and again that they must band together politically to gain some control over these forces buffeting their lives. They have sought out government power to neutralize the private powers and social and economic forces that are creating oppressive and harmful social conditions for them. Only the government is in the position to try to control the economy and prevent prolonged recessions and depressions. Only the government has the power to ensure that workplaces don’t make people sick, or that you are not fired because of your race or religion. Only the government can provide a safety net that catches you after you have been laid off, allowing you to pay your mortgage until you get another job. Thus, to the extent that freedom has to do with controlling one’s own life, people working through a democratic and representative government is in fact one of the best ways to realize that freedom. In other words, we can often be freer acting collectively than we can be acting alone – exactly the opposite of what anti-government zealots are preaching.2050
Note: The book really has everything. The part about being laid off, and the Government being the only source of a safety net is susceptible to attack of course, they will say you should have saved. But in a world without government, you have many jobs with very low wages and no pragmatically possible way to save that much for many people, and you’ve always had hard working people playing by the rules who didn’t have enough to save after their bills were paid. its fantasy vs reality.
When we see all the various ways that government actions can actually enhance our freedom, it also helps us to see how narrow and stunted the anti-government vision of freedom really is. They refuse to acknowledge that government power can enhance our freedoms. Also, they see freedom as merely being protected from the detrimental effects of government power, not from the equally detrimental effects of private power. And finally, while minimal-government advocates like to portray themselves as the champions of the general principle of freedom, the freedoms they are actually most concerned about are often very particular and only benefit certain limited groups in society, such as people who want the right to own assault rifles, or companies that want the freedom to pollute.2068
Consider, for example, the issue of universal health care. Conservatives were able to block this policy for decades in part by convincing many Americans that it would bring a loss of freedom – that we wouldn’t be able to choose our medical treatments or drugs, and that government bureaucrats would be telling us what to do. Of course they ignored the fact that private sector health insurance bureaucrats already restrict our freedom to choose various treatments and drugs. More importantly, the passage of the universal health care bill will have an enormously liberating effect on the 45 million Americans who until recently had no health insurance. It will free them to choose to go to the doctor when they need to, and it will free them from the risk of a serious illness bringing on financial ruin.2085
Note: Obamacare – Universal Health Care.
Another problem is that critics of bureaucracy often lump together “fraud” and “abuse” with “waste” to come up with high figures for government losses. But does it really make sense to blame government when doctors defraud the Medicare program, criminals scam the food stamp system, or private contractors cheat the Pentagon? We usually don’t consider it the fault of business that they lose over $15 billion a year to employee theft and $10 billion to shoplifting. Most people blame the thieves for these losses and few consider these thefts to be an indication of something inherently wrong with capitalism. Similarly, it is unfair to consider the problems of fraud and abuse of government programs to be a product of inherently “wasteful” bureaucracies. Naturally, government should do everything it can to reduce these losses, but we should not be blaming the victim.2163
Note: A very good point addressing a longstanding objection to government. No one blames the private company when someone takes advantage of them. But when someone takes advantage of a government programs, why then by god that’s Governments fault. Why the double standard? Freedom or coercion isn’t the point this time, it’s principle. You have something that exists. One thing, when people steal from it they are thieves. The other thing they aren’t thieves, but instead the thing getting stolen from shouldn’t exist because it’s getting stolen from.
Studies of other services produced similar kinds of mixed results. Charles Goodsell is a professor of Public Administration and Public Affairs at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University who has spent much of his life studying bureaucracy. After examining these efficiency studies, he concluded: “In short, there is much evidence that is ambivalent. The assumption that business always does better than government is not upheld. … When you add up all these study results, the basis for the mantra that business is always better evaporates.”72181
Note: Well articulated way to say an argument has failed.
First, studies have found that the U.S. health care system is by far the most expensive in the world. We spend 13.6% of our gross domestic product on health care – the highest in the world. The average for the other 13 industrialized countries in the OECD is 8.2%.8 We also rank number one in terms of health care expenditures per capita, with U.S. spending $4,090 a year for every citizen. The highest figures for other industrialized nations are $2,547 per year for Switzerland, $2,339 for Germany, $2,340 for Luxembourg, and $2,095 for Canada.9 But while we clearly have the most expensive health care system in the world, it does not always deliver the best health care nor does it provide health care in the most efficient way.2194
Note: Healthcare. We don’t want to highlight everything, so just searching around this passage gives you all the broad strokes. no devastating one liners here, just the common arguments.
Why do Americans spend so much on health care but not get superior care? There are several reasons. One is that doctors tend to make more in the U.S. than in other countries, and another is that governments in other countries negotiate better deals with pharmaceutical companies on drug prices. But the other major reason is that our private, multi-payer system is much less efficient than the public single-payer systems in other countries. Consider this: the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that administrative costs take 31 cents out of every health care dollar in the U.S., compared to only 17 cents in Canada.13 Why is this the case? Private insurance companies spend much more on paperwork and administrative overhead. The sheer number of people that are working in these private insurance bureaucracies far outstrips those required in government-funded programs. In Massachusetts alone, Blue Cross/Blue Shield employs 6,682 workers to cover 2.7 million subscribers. This is more people than work in all of Canada’s provincial health care plans, which cover over 25 million people.14 Why do insurance companies need so many workers? One reason, as Paul Krugman explains, is that millions of health insurance personnel in the U.S. are employed not to help deliver health care at all, but to try to get someone else to pay the bills instead of their company.2209
Note: There is your “Economic Growth” right there. A scientist or teacher spending a career trying to get poeples health problems “not” covered. We have people, in fact entire departments that do nothing, but try to DENY payment of needed healthcare services to customers and patients. How does this add to well being? Social (Things that make our life better) and economic motives diverge.
Another source of administrative inefficiency in our private multi-payer health care system is the enormous amount of overlap between companies. Each insurance company must maintain its own records and develop its own billing processes. This is much more expensive than using a single government administrative structure. Moreover, our multi-payer system drives up the administrative costs for doctors and hospitals. They must deal with dozens of different insurance plans, each with their own coverage, payment rules, etc. We then need to add to all of this excessive overhead the need for private insurers to make a profit – something that government needn’t do. This makes our private system become more expensive. It has been estimated that higher overhead and the need for profit together add from 15% to 25% to the costs of private insurance plans, while the overhead for the government-run Medicare program is a mere 3%. Given all this, it should not come as a shock to find that a 2004 study by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Public Citizen concluded that the U.S. could save up to $286 billion a year on paperwork if we switched to a single-payer, national health insurance program.152219
This money saved from eliminating the private health care bureaucracy would be more than enough to offset the costs of extending coverage to the millions of Americans who now have no health insurance at all. (Unfortunately, this single-payer plan was blocked by Republicans and conservative Democrats in the 2010 health care reform bill.)2228
Businesses are obsessed with their bottom lines and are always looking for the cheapest way to make a product or deliver a service. But in many cases, we don’t want government services to be as cheap as possible. Often, with government, the main concern is the quality of the service, not its costs. For example, do we really want to spend the least amount of money possible on our air traffic control system? Obviously not – the main goal should be maximizing the safety of the aviation system. Also, do we want the cheapest possible workforce in charge of security at our airports? Again, of course not – and this point was even acknowledged by Republicans when they agreed to abandon private security companies in favor of a federalized system in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy. Private security had certainly cost less, but it is clearly better to have a federal program that spends more money on training personnel and pays higher salaries to attract employees who are more capable. Similarly, we don’t really want the cheapest system for dispensing justice in our society. We could certainly save a lot on court costs if we didn’t pay for lawyers for those who can’t afford them and if we got rid of jury trials and lengthy appeal processes. But this would undermine the main goal of providing justice. The point here is clear: unlike businesses, public agencies are not just concerned with the bottom line. We expect our government organizations to pursue a wide variety of important goals, and often cost is not the most important consideration.2237
Note: Best quick rebuttal of government as business argument
the assumption that we are plagued by an ever-growing federal bureaucracy. Figures show that federal agencies have not been growing at an alarming rate. If we go back to 1970, we find that 2,997,000 civilians worked for the federal government at that time. By 2009, that figure had actually gone down – to 2,804,000.16 So much for the constantly expanding federal bureaucracy.2256
Note: Government isn’t “growing”
One important clue can be found by identifying those periods in which government has expanded the most. For example, 70% of the growth in federal regulatory agencies occurred during three decades, the 1930s, the 1960s, and the 1970s.21 What these decades have in common is that they were times of enormous economic and social upheaval and increased political activism. In other words, government responsibilities increased because the public demand for social programs and economic regulation increased. During those eras, mass-based social movements – including the labor movement, the civil rights movement, and the environmental movement – insisted that the government address a wide variety of pressing social and economic problems.2284
Note: Government expanded because we WANTED it to expand. It was the will of the people. We wanted to address social issues the “private” sector could not. Summer things are important that cant be captured by the price mechanism
We have big government today primarily because citizens have realized that large-scale public programs are necessary to solve big problems – economic depressions, an elderly population mired in poverty, widespread racism, growing environmental degradation, a health care crisis, etc. As Nieman has concluded, “A substantial source of growth in government activity in democratic societies is driven … by citizens and other groups using government to improve their life-chances.”22 So it makes little sense to argue that growth in government has been something forced onto the American people by power-hungry bureaucrats. Government has grown mainly because we have wanted it to grow2289
Note: Why government has grown.
Of course, to really evaluate the quality of services being provided by public sector bureaucracies, we need to compare them to services provided by the private sector. Such a study was done by Theodore Poister and Gary Henry, who conducted a survey of citizen satisfaction with both public and private services in Georgia.24 They compared satisfaction with public services like the police, public health clinics and trash collection, to that of private doctor’s offices, fast-good restaurants, banks, etc. As they explained their findings: “Given the conventional wisdom about the poor quality of services provided by government and the general superiority of the private sector in delivering services, the private services included in this survey might have been expected to receive consistently higher ratings than the public services. But this was clearly not the case.”2313
Note: This is an important point. Use William Lane Craig here. Everyone likes to say Private does better than public. Why do we have to accept that? What good arguments do you have, to demonstrate that as true? Well private has the profit motive and public doesn’t. But that’s not evidence. That’s a theoretical reason for why Private might…provide a better service than public. It isn’t actual Evidence. Our study here is very narrow, but it provides a base to show their position isn’t strong. Where can we find actual evidence? Public health statistics seem to show Public is better. Min wage laws, countless things, we need to measure well being. not just an ideological wish.,
Source: Theodore H. Poister and Gary T Henry, “Citizen Ratings of Public and Private Service Quality: A Comparative Perspective,” Public Administration Review 54, no.2 (March/April 1994),2353
When things go terribly wrong in bureaucracies, it is often because they are not acting bureaucratic enough. We often hear horror stories about someone being caught in a government bureaucracy in some developing country, where nothing can get done unless you have the right connections or unless you offer a bribe to an official. But the problem in these situations is not that officials are being “bureaucratic,” but that they are not being bureaucratic enough. These abuses occur because officials are engaging in personal favoritism and not treating people the same according to a set of administrative procedures. The cure in these situations involves creating a civil service that is strongly committed to more impersonal, rule-based form of bureaucratic behavior.2377
Note: Rebuttal to the common horror stories about corrupt government. Yeah without oversight you get people flouting the rules .
Social Security has dramatically reduced poverty among the elderly should be counted as an achievement of this agency’s bureaucracy. The Environmental Protection Agency should also get much of the cr for our being able to breathe cleaner air and drink safer water.2391
Note: Simple but effective, you don’t want to forget the simple things. They are often the first to go when it matters. Clean water, often outside of market signals, and poverty, ignored by the sociopaths.
A good bureaucracy is indispensable to a free society, a democratic polity, and a capitalist economy. The freedom to wander the streets at night, for example depends on competent law enforcement. The ability to vote governments out of office without disruption requires a reliable administrative apparatus. A prosperous business community demands good schools, highways, health departments, post offices, and water and sewer systems.272414
Note: Our standard opener, rehashed dozens of times, but always good.
[We] should not let a week go by without celebrating a public hero, and not just the firefighters and the veterans. The civil servant at the Food and Drug Administration who fights drug-industry pressure and keeps a harmful drug off the market is a public hero. So is the SEC auditor who busts a corporate thief so a million people don’t lose their pensions, and the Environmental Protection Agency scientist who safeguards our water from some scofflaw mogul.292435
However, it would be a mistake to use the failures of FEMA to paint a negative picture of government bureaucracies. FEMA failed in New Orleans not because of something inherently wrong with government bureaucracies, but because of a policy of neglect by the Bush administration. First, the administration appointed Michael Brown to head the agency, a political crony with no experience in emergency response management and who was fired from his previous job for mismanagement. The agency was then downgraded and folded into the Department of Homeland Security, where its mission was re-oriented toward fighting acts of terrorism. Finally, FEMA’s budget was slashed, with Bush officials arguing that “Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into an oversized entitlement program…”30 As the Washington Monthly concluded, “FEMA was deliberately downsized as part of the Bush administration’s conservative agenda2461
Note: Bush and his anti government cronies gutted FEMA. Republicans are good at proving government doesn’t work
Jacob Weisberg, In Defense of Government (New York: Scribner, 1996),2495
Charles Goodsell, The Case for Bureaucracy: A Public Administration Polemic, 4th ed. (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2004), p. 52. This excellent and much underappreciated book is the basis for most of the arguments made in this chapter – and for its title.2500
Max Neiman, Defending Government: Why Big Government Works (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000),2526
Note: Get this.
Defenders of the public sector also point out that the benefits we enjoy as a society from these government regulations far exceed the costs to most businesses. These policies may have a negative impact on some businesses’ profits and growth, but they also produce a better society. Environmental regulations ensure drinkable water and breathable air for all of us. Consumer and workplace regulations protect millions of people from harm. Minimum wage laws help raise families out of poverty. And so on. In general, government regulation of business and markets has made Americans safer and healthier, and has created greater economic security and economic equality.2583
Apparently even a conservative administration cannot deny this. In 2003, George W. Bush’s Office of Management and Budget issued a report that summarized the cost and benefits from 1992 to 2002 of the most significant 107 regulatory rules implemented by eight main federal agencies. As Table 5 clearly shows, the benefits that Americans enjoy from these regulatory programs far outstrip the economic costs. The benefits of these regulations are from $147 to $231 billion versus $37 to $43 billion in costs – so the net benefits to society are huge. And what makes this study’s result even more impressive is the fact that it comes from an administration generally hostile to regulation and uses traditional cost-benefit techniques that are notorious for underestimating social and environmental benefits. In any case, the record clearly shows that Americans are much better off for having these rules and regulations.2588
Note: Regulation helps us. One may question the methodology behind this, and that is another debate, but it certainly informs us that it is likely true, and those that maintain against regulation have their work ahead of them
Government rules that ensure the safety and efficacy of products function to maintain consumer confidence in those regulated industries. The peanut company involved in the salmonella scandal chose to use private inspectors – who were poorly trained and who rarely pushed companies to correct unsanitary conditions. Undoubtedly this saved the company some money in the short run. But the resulting scandal and loss of public confidence drove that company into bankruptcy and severely damaged the entire industry. In the long run, then, many industries can actually benefit from strict enforcement of regulations designed to ensure that their products do not harm the public. This is clearly one way that more government can be good business.2632
Note: Instead is using the argument that it hurts others, we see that it actually helps the company and industry.
The direct economic payoffs to businesses of this kind of research have been immense. If we only consider the commercial spin-offs from military research done during the Cold War, we find such things as supercomputers, advanced microprocessors, computer-controlled machine tools, advances in metallurgy and materials science, and optical fiber cables.5 Spin-offs from research for the space program are also numerous. In medicine: cool laser surgery technology, body imaging systems, infrared thermometers, cardiac monitors, and digital mammography. For the airline industry: lightening protection, wind shear predictors, and collision avoidance systems. The pay-offs of NASA research also find their way into many products like scratch-resistant eyeglass lenses, sports protectors, golf balls, infant formula, ski boots, firefighters’ breathing systems, smoke detectors, home insulation, cordless power tools, and many others. One business sector that benefits tremendously from government R&D is the drug industry. Our government conducts fully half of the research and development of new drugs – the economic benefits of which are then largely captured by pharmaceutical companies. The National Institutes of Health alone spend about $20 billion a year on research, a good portion of which is devoted to developing new drugs. One study found that publicly funded research played a part in the discovery and development of 67% of the 21 most important drugs introduced between 1965 and 1992.6 Another found that all five of best-selling products of the drug industry for a recent period – Zantac, Zovirax, Vasotec, Capoten, and Prozac – were initially aided in their development by tax-payer funded government research.72673
Note: Some of Countless government contributions to our daily lives in everyday products
One of the most common and misleading economic myths in the United States is the idea that the free market is “natural” – that it exists in some natural world, separate from government. In this view, government rules and regulations only “interfere” with the natural beneficial workings of the market. Even the term “free market” implies that it can exist free from government and that it prospers best when government leaves it alone. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, a market economy does not exist separate from government – it is very much a product of government rules and regulations. The dirty little secret of our “free” market system is that it would simply not exist as we know it without the presence of an active government that creates and maintains the rules and conditions that allow it to operate efficiently.2708
Note: Opener – Free Market. Markets are designed. they do not simply appear. The government you want to stay out of “markets” would result in the non existence of the market.
Markets, like governments, are very much social constructs. The market is a set of behaviors that is structured by rules, and many of the most important rules have been developed and enforced by government. Without these rules, our prized free-market economy would be a stunted and feeble version of what we see today. To see how this is the case, lets looks at these essential “rules” – the vast infrastructure of laws and policies that make a modern capitalist economy possible.2716
Note: Opener – Free Markets. Just copy and past everything beyond here as the evidence. Its all relevant.
Law and Order. A market system cannot work well without a functioning criminal justice system. Otherwise, organized crime would easily take over large sectors of the business community. Extortion, bribery, kidnapping, and murder would become the reigning corporate model. Without the rule of law, our economy would resemble the “mafia capitalism” that Russia has suffered from in its transition to capitalism.2728
Note: While its all important – Use Russia as an example.
To see how just how essential these government contributions are to the workings of a free market system, you merely have to imagine what it would be like if these measures didn’t exist. Or if we didn’t enforce these laws. Imagine that investors were liable for all debts of a company, that there were no patents, copyrights, or property rights, that contracts couldn’t be enforced legally, that there was no official and stable money supply, and so on. In such a world, markets would be very limited, and economic growth severely stunted. It would hardly resemble the economic world we now live in. Conservatives would like us to think that there can be a strict boundary between public and private in modern economies. But this is impossible. As the points above make clear, markets and capitalism are quasi-public entities – made possible by a myriad of government rules and laws that establish many of their basic inner workings. We may think of the “private market” as existing separately from the public sphere, but it does not.2776
Note: Market Design – And why Obama was right when he said “You didnt build that”
These kinds of market relations are no more or less “natural” than those we have in the United States. There is no one natural form of market relations – just as there is no one “natural” form of football. This is simply an illusion that business interests and conservatives like to foster. Capitalism itself can take on different forms depending on the government rules that form it.2800
Note: Markets exist the way they do because of how we define them.
Clause 1: The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States; Clause 2: To borrow Money on the cr of the United States; Clause 3: To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes; Clause 4: To establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States; Clause 5: To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures; Clause 6: To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States; Clause 7: To establish Post Offices and post Roads; Clause 8: To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;2811
Note: Here are rebuttles to everything from Magie saying we used to be laissez faire, to Jon bitching about the Fed and taxation, to states rights, to Chris’s bitching about the postal service – all addressed in the constitution – which the libertarians hold supreme.
So as far back as the 18th century, American government has been working hand in glove with business interests to promote economic growth. In the 19th century, this government effort to aid the economy intensified and took on new forms. As seen earlier, numerous laws were passed on the federal and state level to protect investors and entrepreneurs from excessive risk and to give an artificial boost to economic growth. In addition, the key infrastructure development of that century – and one that fueled rapid economic development in the entire country – was the railroads. These were extremely risky ventures that had to be heavily subsidized by state and federal governments through loans, crs, and land grants. Government also greatly strengthened and increased farm production through its establishment of agricultural colleges and agricultural extensions services. Further, research and development in public universities and land grant colleges were largely responsible for giving U.S. industries technological leads in areas such as metallurgy, and mechanical, electrical, and chemical engineering during the latter 19th century.32830
The problem with market fundamentalism is the problem with all forms of fundamentalism – the faith of the adherents blinds them to significant portions of reality. In the case of market fundamentalism, it blinds them to most of the serious problems inherent in a capitalist economic system – the problems that necessitate government action. If pressed, most conservatives will admit that unregulated markets do suffer from a few “market failures,” such as a tendency to ignore pollution. But they see such failures as episodic and limited. For them, these problems only occasionally interfere with the smooth operation of markets to produce the public interest and thus only necessitate a modicum of government interference to set them straight. But they are wrong. The failures of markets are many, serious, widespread, and ongoing. This is not to suggest that capitalism is “bad” or to deny the many economic advantages and achievements of markets. It is simply to acknowledge that when left on their own, market economies will inevitably produce a whole host of economic and social problems.2876
Note: The simple reality is that these things just matter. And the wording is brilliant. Market Fundamentalism is indeed faith that blinds them from very important portions of reality. If you really believe the market can do no wrong, you’re not going to be open to a solution to solve a problem when one does arise. The tendancy to blame everything on the victim himself is faulty – if people are always at fault, why can we trust the aggregate of their decisions any better? Market Failure is one of the most important and pervasive problems in all of economics. Addressing them, and limiting the scope of their harm, is one of the most important pathways to increasing societal well being.
Exploitation of Workers. Corporations and their employees have conflicting interests. Businesses want to pay their employees as little as possible and not give benefits like health insurance and pensions. Also, businesses do not have an incentive to invest in safety measures in the workplace, which would lower profits. Owners of sweatshops, mines, and other businesses found out long ago that it is cheaper to replace injured workers than to improve working conditions. Given that corporations are often in a position of power over their employees, only a countervailing power on the side of these workers – in the form of unions or the government – can protect them from exploitation.2895
Note: We get it, Sociopath Libertarians, it’s their own fault and they can find another job. We learned long ago that real living people with families simply can’t change jobs and lose income every time something goes wrong at work. Children have to be fed, bills have to be paid, the car to get to work isn’t free. We get it, they “choose to work there.” No, they choose to work somewhere, based on assymetric information becaues the vast majority of the 300 million people need to make a living. It’s a hobbsian choice against a background of starvation or misery. The “freedom” for a business owner to keep slaves is not a freedom we value in this society. So if they don’t like it, they can choose to find something else to do. More people enjoy more well being this way, than a few people at the top paying slave wages with no benifits in unsafe conditions. “Whos benifits if a business goes out?” Well if the rule sare applied uniformly, then no business gains a reletaive advantage or disadvantage over another by following them – and every worker enjoys higher standards of living. It’s simply a better country.
Neglect of Public Goods. Another classic example of market failure. A public good is something that is hard or impossible to produce for private profit – primarily because once it is produced, you can’t limit who enjoys or consumes that good. The classic example is a light-house, because you can’t prevent any ships from using it. More important examples are national defense, law enforcement, and clean air. Such goods are inevitably under-produced or neglected in a market economy and we must produce them collectively through government.2923
Neglect of Social and Public Investments. Typically, businesses will not invest in large public projects that are necessary for the long-term health of our economy or society.2927
Note: This at its core, is what’s wrong with Libertarianism. Short sightedness. You may, get more freedom now, for less later. The long term growth, prosperity, and well being of an society, and thus the individual members in it, is greater is some wealth and freedoms are paid now in taxes so that they can become investments in infrastructure, education, research and benefits that allow more growth and prosperity in the long run.
Inability to Plan. Markets cannot plan. Capitalism is basically an anarchical economic process. Economic development is a function of the activities of separate and uncoordinated businesses and customers – all largely oriented toward the short-term. While this arrangement produces great economic efficiencies, it has the disadvantage of disallowing any coordinated planning to make our lives better. Planning is essential if we want to have cities with livable neighborhoods, to create an efficient interstate highway system, to have an energy system not so dependent on foreign oil, to save rare ecosystems for future generations, and so on. Only government can provide rational, long-term plans for the development of society.2935
Lack of Markets. Not everything we need for a good society can be provided by markets and business – especially things such as justice, fairness, equality, or basic rights and freedoms. Even if markets were possible for these things, we would not want them. For example, when the well-off are able to buy more justice in our court system, we consider that illegitimate and unfair. Only government can properly supply things like justice and freedom to all Americans.2945
Taken together, all of these failures and problems totally undermine any notion of the “perfection” and “self-regulating” nature of the market. Virtually all of these problems are built-in to a capitalist, free-market system. They are systemic problems – products of the normal operation and the inherent attributes of this kind of economic system. This means that they occur irrespective of who is running our businesses. They are not the product of greedy owners or evil corporate CEOs; they are a product of the systemic priorities that all companies must adhere to if they are to stay in business and prosper. It is the internal logic of capitalism that forces firms to pay low wages, ignore the environment, devalue the future, and hide information from consumers.2978
Note: The nature of market failure. It isn’t necessarily a result of evil greedy people, but a systemic manifestation of natural incentives of self interest. Ethical egoism, or the idea that everyone pursuing their own self interest is alway results in collectively good outcomes is almost perfectly exactly the opposite of reality. Systemic problems are emergent properties when individual agents pursue only greed without a coordinated plan.
Being systemic also means that these problems cannot be cured from within the economic system itself. These problems can only be addressed from the outside by coordinated collective efforts – the efforts of people acting through their governments. This doesn’t mean that the government cannot at times utilize the forces of the market to help solve these problems – such as when it creates a market in pollution rights, or when it auctions off a limited number of licenses to harvest lobsters. But these are not “market solutions” as conservatives like to trumpet; these are “government solutions” that utilize markets to achieve their goals.2984
Note: Very good point, private forces are meant to address localized problems. Many problems in our society and market system are systrmic, and so outside of the range of private market signals or private companies. Market Fundamentalists are asking an internal problem to be taken care of internally, when it was the internal nature of the system that was at fault to begin with. External forces are needed to correct problems arising from inadequate price signals. Relying on more price signals is futile.
Once the extent and severity of the shortcomings of a market economy become obvious, it becomes much clearer why we have big government in the United States. The public has repeatedly turned to government to provide important things the market cannot – such as clean air, retirement security, equal access to a good education, city planning, and health care for those who cannot afford it. Nor can we rely on markets to provide a more just, free, and secure society. Government is also necessary to make sure that market economies don’t hurt people in a variety of ways, including cars that blow-up or rollover, or mines that collapse. That is exactly why most Americans say they do not want to see consumer or workplace regulatory protections dismantled.2989
That, then, is the traditional justification for government regulation of business and market: only government can address the many serious problems caused by laissez-faire capitalism. Even if government rules decrease somewhat corporate growth and profits, they promote important things that Americans care about – like better health care, safer workplaces, a cleaner environment, and more economic security.2999
Note: Isn’t the most important thing freedom? Sick poeple who cannot receive treatment are not free, they are waiting to get worse or die. You cant do as many things when you are sick as when you are healthy. People at safer workplaces are more free than those mired in injury and sickness. You can’t do as much when you are hurt. People who can’t go outside because the air is not breathable aren’t free. They are confined inside. You can’t do as much when you can’t go outside. Freedom means you can do more things when you can when you are not free. Sickness, injury, disease, confinement, or lack of education means you can’t do as much. Education, healthcare, environmental protection, safety and work regulations let you do more. That is freedom.
Many people today wonder how anyone could have become such a radical, anti-capitalist revolutionary. But they are forgetting the horrendous conditions that many people were living under in unregulated capitalist economies – the grinding poverty, the enormous economic inequality, the lack of adequate health care for most people, the absence of old-age pensions, the widespread unemployment, the unchecked and abusive power of monopolies, the environmental squalor of the cities, the dangerous and often lethal working conditions, the inevitable and hugely destructive economic depressions.3019
Note: So the next time someone posts that horseshit about us having roads, bridges, this and that and all sorts of supposed public goods back before the 20s, or when someone like Magie wants to claim how well off we were before, post this little passage and see how they like it. Also be sure to add in child labor and lack of universal education for children. Throw in the horror of growing old because lack of ability to work meant death, and you’ve got a real gem. Yeah things were so much better before.
Today, the corporate community and anti-government conservatives fail to see this point as well. They fail to understand that government policies that protect consumers, make workplaces safe, provide economic security, eliminate poverty in old age, provide health care to the poor, and prevent and repair environmental damage are what “humanize” capitalism and make it tolerable to people. In this way, businesses are a lot like sulky teenagers. They resent their parents’ rules – such as no drinking and driving, no unsafe sex, no experimentation with hard drugs – which they simply see as constraints on their freedom and their fun. They refuse to see that these rules are for their own good, their own long-term health and welfare.3051
Note: A great insight once again, that regulations allow us to do more. And isn’t the ability to do more what freedom is? Nanny State? That implies treating us like children. But we can’t do it all can we? We can’t have all information can we? Government is just a service we hire to do the things we cant. We can’t research and know every ingredient that goes into every piece of food. We can’t perform an assay on every medicine we would take to know how safe it is. We can’t tell our employer to make the factory safer or we may get fired. Government does this for us. Or rather we do it it for ourselves by coordinating coordinating and banding together. Markets are like evokution. They evolve into an emergent result but you don’t know what you’re gonna get. Government is for things that we need a coordinated plan for. Big things like social problems, defense, environment, law, or things of design.
Frustratingly, then, it has been the government’s triumphs in addressing the many problems inherently caused by a free-market economy that has allowed conservatives to argue that markets are naturally benign and largely problem free – and so we do not really need much government.143072
In the end, anti-government conservatives get it wrong about both markets and government. In their zeal to justify shrinking the state, they intentionally misrepresent both of these institutions and how they interact. The market is not God and the government is not the Devil. Despite their enormous advantages, markets are not benign and self-regulating. They create numerous social, economic, and political problems that only government can correct. Government is also not the sworn enemy of business and capitalism. Conservatives can only promote this misleading caricature of government by deliberately ignoring the myriad ways that government aids business and makes a market economy possible.3076
Note: A good basic opener, diplomatic and balanced.
Of the more than sixty areas examined, the efforts of the U.S. government were below average in two-thirds of the cases, and at or near the bottom of the list in more than half. Among the areas where we have under-performed other democracies: Growth of per-capita income. Gender earnings gap. Reducing pollution. Income inequality. Cost of health care system. Health care system coverage. Life expectancy. Affordable long-term care. Infant mortality. Job-related illness or injury. Effective job training. Safeguards for laid-off workers. Ability to establish unions. Crime rates. Severity of poverty. Number of families in poverty. Affordable rental housing. Affordability home ownership. Segregation in cities. Child nutrition. Availability of child care. Student performance in math. Children in pre-school. Availability of parental leave.3147
Note: So really? The private market is going to take care of all if these? A mechanism relying only on self interest and greed and responding only to private purchasing power will do better at providing all of this, better, and better than any other country, than any government can or will? What proof or evidence, or examples do you have to demonstrate libertarian governments or countries in Anarchy succeed at a greater degree on all of these than the countries with large government provided services and insurance? None? Oh it “would?” How do you know? Why should someone believe this?
Today, over 43 million Americans continue to suffer severe economic hardship. Conservatives consider our failure to reduce poverty as evidence of the inherent limitations of government. They conclude (wrongly) that since our current anti-poverty policies have failed, that there is nothing the government can do and that it should get out of the business of trying to eliminate poverty. It is this attitude that has animated Republican attempts to cut back on programs for the poor, such as welfare and job training. For them, our failures in poverty policy only contribute to the case they are making for a more limited government. But the record of fighting poverty in Europe clearly demonstrates that governments are quite capable of addressing poverty much more effectively. Anti-poverty policies in the U.S. only lift 36% of people out of poverty, while government policies reduce poverty in Germany by 76%, by 83% in the Netherlands, and by 89% in Sweden.2 Not surprisingly, all of these other countries end up with much lower rates of poverty. While our poverty rate continues to hover around 12%, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden have reduced their poverty rates to 4%, 4% and 2% respectively. These are very impressive differences. And it is not a mystery how these other countries have been more successful in addressing poverty. First, these countries simply spend more on helping people out of poverty – welfare payments are higher, unemployment benefits are more generous and last longer, and so on. Spending more money helps lift more people out of poverty. In addition, social welfare policies in these other countries are much more universal – they include everyone, not just limited groups. Everyone has national health insurance; everyone qualifies for day care subsidies, and so on. Because of this, the social safety net is much more complete and effective than in the U.S., and this means that fewer people are likely to slip into poverty because of personal disasters such as a serious illness, a divorce, or the loss of a job.3172
Note: It would be interesting to see how they even could attack this. Oh we haven’t done well against poverty so government fails? Look at this then. Their remaining argument would rely on population size. Well a larger country will have commensurate larger tax base and larger ability to expe policy.
Note: But I thought that helping people only robbed them of the incentive to work and stripped them of their dignity by not allowing the spur of poverty to do its fine job of getting them out to work! Or it could be that helping people actually just really works, and allows them to get on their feet so they can be productive.
Today over half of all income in this country (50.3%) goes to the top fifth income class of families. The income going to the top 5% of richest families is actually more than the combined income of the bottom 40% – the 110 million Americans living on low and moderate incomes. The inequalities in wealth are even larger – with the top fifth richest families owning a staggering 84.7% of all the wealth of the country, the next 40% owning only 15.1%, and the poorest 40% owning less than 1%.3222
Note: So I don’t want to hear you bitch that the wealthy pay most of the taxes. That makes sense since they make all the damn money.
Looming Retirement Crisis. Social Security is in good shape at least for the foreseeable future. But the other two forms of support that retirees hope to rely on – private pensions and private savings – are in terrible shape for most people. Fewer and fewer companies are offering fixed benefit pension plans, and it is estimated that U.S. companies are underfunding current pension plans to the tune of $350 billion – a disaster waiting to happen. Stagnant wages have made it difficult for many workers to save any money for retirement: 36% of workers contribute nothing to their retirement and 43% have less than $10,000 saved for their “golden years.” As a result, many Americans will be facing poverty – or at least a much lower standard of living – when they retire.3242
Note: But markets and making everything “private” will fix all thus you see. If it did, why aren’t poeple building all their retirements in the stock markets and investments? They would if they could. Take away social security and what are they supposed to do? “Save and invest!” Well they don’t have enough and they don’t know how. But I know, it’s your own fault. Pretty strange how all this “freedom” just results in misery and being blamed for it. Is it really better to be miserable and constantly blamed for it because you are somehow supposed to be more “free?”
In the last decade, we have seen one food safety problem after another, including contaminated spinach, E. coli infected beef, and salmonella tainted peanut butter. These problems have sickened tens of thousands of Americans and in some cases have led to death. Many food businesses have little incentive to adopt costly safety standards, in part because they know that in many cases it is difficult to trace the sources of food-borne illnesses.3276
This may sound good to some people, but the record of these kinds of programs does not inspire much confidence.3307
Note: As kind as you can put it.
Today, of course, the situation for 401(k) accounts is even worse. In the stock market collapse that followed the mortgage loan crisis, workers lost billions of dollars in these accounts. Many people had to put off retirement. Those already retired were threatened with poverty and many were forced to try to find work again. And imagine how much more dire this situation would be if the Republicans had had their way and we had privatized Social Security and allowed people to invest this money in the stock market. Clearly, as companies rapidly retreat from providing people with reliable retirement plans, individual efforts, like 401(k) accounts, are not going to be able to provide the kind of economic security that most people need as they grow old.3324
Note: How are we supposed to want to rely on all private means when we saw the only reliable method of retirement is social security through the recession? Poeple would have been ruined. Let me guess? Its their own fault. Government is good for the majority of poeple. – Social Security, retirement, security,
As Hacker makes clear, social insurance programs are one of the greatest inventions of modern democratic government and they have gone a long ways toward making all of our lives much more secure. We could be doing even more with social insurance programs, as they have done in Europe, but it is this proven approach that has been directly under attack by conservatives. They want us to move from a “we are all in this together” society to a “you are on your own” society. But this individualistic, anti-government approach cannot provide the kind of economic security that most Americans need and want.3362
Note: Hey Libertarians. Poeple don’t “want” the insecurity of your plan. Without security there is no freedom, and government provides security,
George W. Bush pushed through a number of enormous tax cuts during his administration. These tax cuts cost the federal government over two trillion dollars in lost revenue from 2001 to 2010 alone.53562
Note: Bush tax cuts, often they will say our revanue increased. But we suffered a shortfall of two trillion over 8 years. Don’t frame it in the short term for them. Frame it in the long term – over two years we lost 2 trillion in revanue. If your worried about debt you should have been worried about this.
In debates about health care reform, these businesses and their conservative allies have constantly raised the specter of “government bureaucrats controlling your health care decisions” as a way of scaring people away from reform plans that might cut into their corporate profits.3699
Note: Health care for profit
This anti-government spin on conservative policies works to obscure the fact that an attack on government is often an attack on those Americans who are least well-off. In reality, reducing government takes away power away from those in society who most need the government to protect their interests – those who are most vulnerable to job layoffs, those who need to protect themselves from workplace discrimination and dangers on the job, or those who need government to ensure equal educational opportunity or a fair minimum wage.3713
Note: The poeple at the bottom are most harmed by the loss of government, which is why the rich don’t give a shit about it. It doesn’t hurt them as much to lose things they can just buy. But it’s not just about rich poeple. Also if everyone were rich no one would be, so you’re gonna have so excited inequality. Less government is guranteed to hurt a lot of poeple who need it.
Of course, all of us have probably said at times that we “hate” the government. But what we mean by that is usually very different from what these anti-government crusaders mean. We usually mean that we detest the particular politicians in power and/or that we hate the policies they are pursuing. So liberal Americans hate it when conservatives are in charge of government, and vice versa. In other words, we hate a particular government. But the anti-government right hates government in general – government itself. This is a very different and much more extreme view.3779
Note: It’s important to have a moderate view. The balanced approach is hard to attack.
There is not, and has never been, a widespread public demand to drastically reduced government in the United States. This movement has not been an example of democracy at work. It has been an example of special interest politics at work – it has been an attack on democracy. The demand for smaller government has come primarily from those wealthy individuals and powerful business interests who would most directly profit from lowered taxes and less regulation.4015
A series of massive tax cuts during the George W. Bush administration revived this strategy and implemented it in a much more extensive way. These tax cuts cost the federal government over two trillion dollars ($2,000,000,000,000) in lost revenue from 2001 to 2010 alone.5 As economist Paul Krugman observed at the time, “‘starving the beast’ is no longer a hypothetical scenario. It’s happening as we speak. For decades, conservatives have sought tax cuts, not because they’re affordable, but because they aren’t.”64103
Note: “Americans chose debt” was Chris’s complaint when Obama was reelected. Americans chose debt with Bush. His tax cuts weren’t paid for with spending cuts. Again, Republicans are hypocrites about the debt.
In essence, this proposal amounted to nothing less than fundamental effort to dismantle the basic programs of the social welfare state that were established in the New Deal of the 1930s and the Great Society of the 1960s. For example, the Republicans wanted to end Medicare and Medicaid as we know them. The successful Medicare program would be phased out and instead the elderly would be issued limited vouchers to help them buy increasingly expensive private health insurance. As the years went by, the vouchers would have paid for less and less of the cost of medical care. It has been estimated that by 2030, the vouchers would have covered only a third of the cost of health care currently provided by Medicare.12 So once again, seniors would have to make tragic decisions about whether to spend money on health care, rent or food.4142
Note: Health care, medicaid, medicare
The Ryan budget plan also required massive cuts to virtually all social and regulatory programs. Take, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency. The Republicans wanted to reduce funding for the EPA by a third – $3 billion – in 2012 alone. This would have crippled the ability of this agency to enforce pollution regulations. Polluters would have been able to flout regulations needed to protect the quality of our air and water. The agency would also have been unable to fund needed projects like replacing broken and ineffective water treatment facilities. Illnesses and deaths caused by pollution would have inevitably risen. In a similar vein, the Republican plan also called for tens of billions of cuts to other regulatory agencies whose job it is to protect workers, consumers, and investors.4153
The Republican budget plan also mandated severe reductions in public investment efforts in the United States – cutting them by $1.4 trillion in the next ten years. A report by the Center for American Progress found that the plan would have cut money for education and job training by 53%, transportation infrastructure by 37%, and science and technology research and development by 28%.14 These kinds of public investments are important for economic growth. They create a more talented workforce, spur technological advances, cut costs for businesses, and increase productivity. If we want a healthy economy we need to be investing hundreds of billions of dollars into improving education, replacing and improving our infrastructure system, encouraging clean energy technologies, etc. The Republican plan would have sharply reduced these crucial investments at a time when we needed to be increasing them.4159
Note: Infrastructure, Republican cuts
[Ryan’s budget plan] proposes a dramatic reverse-Robin-Hood approach that gets the lion’s share of its budget cuts from programs for low-income Americans – the politically and economically weakest group in America and the politically safest group for Ryan to target – even as it bestows extremely large tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans. Taken together, its proposals would produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history, while increasing poverty and inequality more than any measure in recent times and possibly in the nation’s history.184191
Note: Conservative Sociopathy
A recent report by CNN found that in 2001the United States was ranked 6th in infrastructure in the world by the World Economic Forum. Ten years later we were ranked 23rd and falling. Clearly this failure to invest in our infrastructure is a very serious problem – one that can only be addressed with higher taxes and more spending on the state and federal level. But as was noted earlier, the Republican budget plan for the next decade actually calls for hundreds of billions in cuts for highways, bridges, mass transit and other infrastructure developments.4290
Schrag laments what he has termed the “Mississippification” of California. He has nothing against Mississippi, but is simply referring to the reputation that state has for stingy social programs, abysmal schools, inadequate health care programs, and a poor quality of life. This is what could be in store for all of us if government is reduced to an emaciated state. If the anti-government and anti-tax crusaders have their way, we will all be living in Mississippi, whether we want to or not.4336
Note: Why hasn’t “free markets” jumped in and fixed everything like magic?
And it would inhibit us from making the crucial public investments in education, technology, energy, and transportation that are necessary to improve society and lay the foundations for future economic growth.4409
(1) Republicans only care about deficits when the money is being spent on liberal programs; (2) our current large deficits have not been caused by overspending by the Obama administration; (3) deficit spending is an essential tool for combating economic recessions and depressions; (4) public debt can fuel vital public investments in education, technology, and infrastructure that lay the groundwork for future economic expansion; (5) the inflated and misleading right-wing rhetoric about deficits and debt is distracting from a more rational and helpful discussion of the financial problems that we do face as a nation.4430
Consider the evidence: most Republicans in Congress did not become deficit hawks until after President Obama was elected. During the previous administration they were busy helping President Bush turn the budget surpluses of the Clinton era into large deficits. Most conservatives did not see this rapid increase in the national debt as a problem at all. Vice-President Cheney blithely dismissed those issues at the time by saying, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.” So clearly many Republicans think deficits are just fine when they are spending the public’s money on their own political priorities. It didn’t bother them to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by massive deficit spending. And they were all too glad to add hundreds of billions to the national debt by passing several enormous tax cuts – money that went largely to the wealthy. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has estimated that those wars and tax cuts will eventually contribute a whopping $7 trillion to federal deficits by 2019.14437
Note: They don’t give a shit when it’s a Republican
Many Republicans know – or should know – that almost all the projected deficits in the coming years have nothing to do with “out of control and irresponsible spending” by the Obama administration. Consider, for example, the projected deficit for 2013 of $962 billion. A study has shown that 42% ($402 billion) of that deficit will be due to the Bush-era tax cuts. Costs of the Bush initiated wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will account for 16% ($153 billion). Another 41% ($395 billion) of the deficit will be caused by the economic downturn that began in 2008.2 This last figure includes lost tax revenues, money for the bailout that was necessary to prevent a complete economic meltdown, and money for an economic stimulus package to speed economic recovery. All these factors together will amount to 99% of the deficit in 2013! But this reality is being ignored by Republican politicians who continue to erroneously claim that Democrats and their policies are the main cause of our deficit problems. Further evidence of Republican hypocrisy about deficits can be found in the way they ignore obvious ways of addressing this problem. If they really cared about reducing deficits, they would be enthusiastic about letting the Bush tax cuts expire. This would be the single most immediate and effective way to help rein in deficit spending. But instead, in 2010 they refused to extend unemployment benefits to millions of Americans until the Democrats agreed to extend all of these tax cuts – thus adding hundreds of billions to the national debt. Apparently, preserving low taxes, especially for the rich, is the real number one priority for Republicans, not cutting the deficits.4446
Note: This is what we needed for deficits and debt
As their behavior indicates, many Republicans are not in principle against deficits, only deficit spending they don’t agree with. It is only when the Democrats want to spend money on things like making health care more accessible, improving education, or extending unemployment benefits that suddenly deficits matter and we are “broke” and “can’t afford” these “irresponsible” expenditures.4458
For example, most economists agree that deficit spending during a recession, especially a severe one, is a very good thing to do. Even though tax revenues are decreasing, the best thing for the economy is for the government to keep spending money, and even increase spending. When consumer and corporate spending are swooning, only the government is in the position to spend money and stimulate economic activity. The market will not take care of this problem, so the government must step in. Government spending has a multiplier effect that provides a large economic boost during recessions. If it spends money on building schools and roads, for example, that money first helps constructions companies. These companies in turn will hire more workers who will then spend more money on goods and services, thus helping other businesses. The construction companies will also purchase more tools and materials from other businesses, who will then hire more workers, and so on. In this way, deficit spending spreads through the economy, lessening the impact of recessions and helping to speed economic recovery. And as the economy rebounds, this produces higher tax revenues, which eventually lessens the need for deficit spending.4478
Contrary to the wildly erroneous claims of the political right, most economists agree that the deficit spending and economic stimulus programs of the Obama administration provided enormous benefits. A 2010 study by Alan Blinder of Princeton and Mark Zandy of Moody’s Analytics found that the combined effect of the fiscal stimulus package, TARP, and the actions of the Federal Reserve Board raised real GDP 11% over where it would have been, saved an estimated 8 million jobs, and probably averted deflation and a depression. They concluded: “It is clear that laissez faire was not an option; policymakers had to act. Not responding would have left both the economy and the government’s fiscal situation in far graver condition.4488
Note: While it isn’t an empirical fact there is good evidence to suggest this is true.
The worst thing the federal government could have done was to listen to the deficit hawks and curtailed spending in the face of a severe recession. To see why, you simply need to look at state governments that did this in recent years. As their economies were tanking, many state governments – which are constitutionally required to balance their budgets – had to lay off workers, cut benefits to individuals, and curtail purchases of goods from the private sector. This simply made a bad economic situation worse. It created a kind of reverse multiplier effect, taking money and jobs out of the economy and lowering demand for goods and services in an already weak economy. Instead of speeding an economic recovery, this kind of frugal spending policy actually slows it down. It hardly makes sense to kick the economy when it is down, but this is what happens if governments are forced to balance their budgets every year.4494
Note: Republicans and Libertarians.
predictions that extend out several decades are extremely unreliable and depend entirely on the assumptions one uses.4511
Social Security is a good example of just how questionable Peterson’s alarmist analysis really is. There is clearly no immediate crisis and not a likely long-term problem either. The Social Security payroll tax was hiked in the 1980s to handle the increasing number of baby-boomers retiring now. As a result, the program’s trust fund is projected to grow steadily, with a surplus lasting until at least 2027. After that, some very small modifications in income or payouts could return the system to surplus. Even if that wasn’t done, the program will still be able to pay 100 percent of benefits until 2041.5 The only way that Peterson can make Social Security look like a problem is if he projects the program out 75 years, and assumes very low rates of economic growth and wage increases. Slightly more optimistic economic assumptions would mean that Social Security would be quite viable for the foreseeable future. So to whip up public panic about the Social Security system, as Peterson and his allies have done, is simply irresponsible.4522
Note: Good social security in a nutshell
Conservatives are also wrong when they argue that deficit spending and a large national debt will inevitably undermine economic growth. To see why, we need to simply look back at times when we have run up large deficits and increased the national debt. The best example is World War II when the national debt soared to 120% of GDP – nearly twice the size of today’s debt. This spending not only got us out of the Great Depression but set the stage for a prolonged period of sustained economic growth in the 50s and 60s. Massive investments were made in science and technology, American workers were re-trained and re-employed, private investment was encouraged, and consumer purchasing power was increased. That 25-year post-war economic boom, with the most rapid increase in living standards in our history, would not have happened without the stimulus of all this deficit spending. History also shows that balancing the budget does not necessarily ensure a spurt of economic growth. In fact, in most periods when we have not had deficits, such as the 1990s, this was followed by an economic recession.6 So there is clearly little historical evidence to show that deficits and debt inevitably hurt economic growth.4531
But what about the conservative argument that public spending “crowds out” private investment, to the detriment of economic growth? They maintain that if the government is borrowing a lot money, that is money that the private sector cannot invest to increase its production and productivity. This has to undermine economic growth, right? The answer is “No, not necessarily.” As most economists point out, government spending also has a “crowding in” effect that actually encourages more private investment. That is because much of the money that the government borrows and spends goes to the private sector. Private industry must then prepare to provide the various goods and services demanded by the government – such as weapons systems, green energy systems, new roads and schools, etc. In order to do this, these businesses must invest in new production facilities and greater productivity. This “crowding in” effect thus helps to mitigate any negative effects that public borrowing has on the private sector by indirectly encouraging more private investment and business growth.4541
Note: Crowding out. Address is one of the most common conservative argument seen in deficits. We may just need the entire chapter instead of a few highlights.
Recently the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that over the next five years it would take at least $1.6 trillion to bring our national infrastructure into an acceptable state. These are huge investments that the private sector is unwilling to make.4556
Note: Thanks Free Market.
We also need government to invest in emerging technologies that are vital to our economic prospects. We are falling behind many other countries in our public investments in high-speed rail, modern telecommunications technology, and an advanced electricity grid. Another area that will drive economic expansion in the future is green technology and alternative energy. Left to itself, the market has not been leading us in that direction. Several other countries, including China and Germany, have been spending billions in public funds to encourage consumers and industry to jump on the green technology bandwagon, and they are already beginning to reap the economic rewards of this strategy. We are trailing badly in this vital economic area and we are unlikely to catch up without substantial investments by our government.4559
One of the most common Republican complaints about deficits is that they will ruin our children’s future. We are saddling them with this enormous debt that they will have to repay – presumably to their great detriment. So if we care about future generations, we must severely cut spending to rein in this increasing debt. “Do if for the kids,” say the deficit hawks. The main problem with this argument is that it focuses only on the costs of deficit spending for future generations, and completely ignores how that spending would actually benefit them. Would you be a good parent if you considered only the costs of buying braces for your child and not the benefits they would enjoy for the rest of their lives? Similarly, we must not just think about the national debt that we are handing down to our children, but consider also all of the valuable assets, projects, and programs that could be financed by that debt. Those benefits could make future generations much better off. It all depends on what the deficits are spent on. If we are simply going into debt, as we did in the Bush era, to pay for tax cuts for the rich and wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, this will do little to help our descendants. But what if some of that deficit spending goes to make higher education more affordable? A study by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education gave the public college and university systems in 43 states a grade of “F” for affordability. This means that many kids who do go to college end up saddled with enormous student loans that will detract from their standard of living for years. More importantly, many low and middle-income students simply cannot afford college anymore – hundreds of thousands of kids are being turned away every year for lack of money. In contrast, public investment by many countries in Europe has made higher education there low cost or free. Whose kids are better off? In addition, we are not doing our offspring any favors if they inherit a country whose infrastructure is in disastrous condition. They will not enjoy balanced budgets if that means living in a world of bad roads, dangerous bridges, failing sewer systems, questionable drinking water, and congested airports. Future generations might also be thankful if we spend some money now on lessening the potentially disastrous impacts of climate change. Global warming is already beginning to do enormous harm with unusually intense droughts and floods. If we do nothing now, the impacts on our children and grandchildren will be much more severe.4566
The Republicans want to use fear-mongering over these alleged financial problems to advance their political vision of the minimal state. They promise Americans a future of balanced budgets, reduced spending, and lower taxes. But what they don’t tell us is that this would also be a future in which most people would be on their own to try to deal with serious economic, social, medical, and environmental problems that face our country. The jobless would be left to fend for themselves during serious recessions. Basic safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare would be cut back and/or privatized, and scores of other unmet human needs would be neglected due to lack of sufficient taxes and public funds. It would be a world where infrastructure would continue to crumble and we could not afford to make the necessary investments in education and growth-producing technologies.4630
Note: Cost cutting. There is so much it’s hard to know what all to highlight. But this is a quick rebuttle to the idea of going for as small of a government as possible, or low taxes and no spending. Like when Ricky said Gary Johnson spent almost nothing in Arizona or some state. Okay fine. But there are tradeoffs. You can always save money and have nothing. But there is usually a tradeoff in value. And these are some of the best off the shelf examples.
Consider this: it is usually much easier to calculate the costs of regulations than it is to quantify the resulting benefits for society. For example, one can easily find out how many millions it would cost a utility to install a scrubber on a coal burning utility plant; but how much is it worth in dollars to save a life, or to reduce disease, or to have cleaner air? There are no markets for such things, and so they are difficult to “monetize.” This means that many benefits will always seem less important than the costs of the proposed regulations.4798
Brown’s legal opinions are largely informed by a deep and abiding contempt for government and its role in modern society.4878
Note: Articulate – opinion formed by hate
Their main target has been the so-called “Commerce Clause” of the Constitution, the passage that empowers the federal government to regulate commerce between the states. Before the New Deal, the federal courts had a very strict interpretation of this clause that confined Congress to regulating only those activities that directly involved interstate commerce. However, a 1937 Supreme Court decision – Wickard v. Filburn – created a broader interpretation of this clause that gave Congress the power to regulate many activities located within states, such as factories and employer-employee relations.14 This has been the conventional interpretation of this clause for over 70 years and it is the constitutional basis for many modern federal laws, including environmental regulation and much of the legislation that protects the rights of women, workers, and minorities.5033
Note: This is it, your constitutional right to regulate business. Read as it is, we were never sure. But this supreme court decision is the one interpreting the clause in a way that can regulate regular business. This is highly useful. Not really level 10 because it’s not an earth shattering idea, but it’s an important fact we’ve always needed.
Thousands of dangerous products have been removed from the marketplace, thus preventing future injuries and the medical costs associated with them.5076
And in 1995, the Republicans passed the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, over the veto of President Clinton. This law severely restricted investors’ ability to sue companies for securities fraud. In doing so, it greatly undermined the ability of investors to hold corporate officials, accountants, and auditors accountable for such activities as deceptive bookkeeping, lying to investors about profits, and other forms of investor fraud. With little threat of investor suits, and with the SEC essentially asleep on the job, it is little wonder that more and more corporate officials soon felt free to cross the line over into illegal and fraudulent behavior. Eventually a whole host of companies, including Enron, WorldCom, ImClone, Global Crossings, Adelphi Communications, Xerox, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Qwest were caught engaging in just these kinds of investor frauds – costing their investors billions of dollars in losses.5091
Note: But this is somehow all governments fault. In a “free” market no one would defraud anyone.
When the Republicans took over Congress in the mid-1990s, one of their first priorities was to “reform welfare” along these lines. In a landmark 1996 bill, welfare was declared to be no longer an entitlement, and strict time limits and work requirements were imposed on recipients – all designed to discourage people from staying on welfare and forcing them onto the job market. This legislation has come to be celebrated by conservatives as one of the most successful policies coming out of that period. They point out that between 1996 and 2003, the number of people on the welfare rolls dropped by over 60%. This is pretty impressive. But unfortunately, the effect of this reduction of the welfare rolls on the poverty level was not what Republicans had predicted. If welfare was actually a major cause of persistent poverty, then we should have also seen a dramatic decrease in poverty as millions of people were forced off welfare and onto the job market. But this is precisely what did not happen. The poverty rate did not fall by 60% or 50%. Not even by 40% or 30%. Not by 20%, nor even by 10%. It fell by a measly 8% — from 13.7% to 12.5% from 1996 to 2003. How can this be explained? It is simple. Conservatives were wrong about poverty being largely caused by government welfare programs. First, they ignored the fact that most poor people aren’t even on welfare – and that many of them work already. Second, as many scholars of poverty have pointed out, the major causes of poverty in this country are mostly in the economic system. Most people are poor for two reasons: (1) there is a chronic lack of jobs, and (2) many low-level jobs pay wages below the poverty level.5255
Note: Welfare, poverty, – Absolutely wonderful way to address what might be the most common conservative argument of all time, with empirical data. It even addresses minimum wage. They tell us minimum wah results in lower employment and even more poverty. Well Fucking look, there are already not enough jobs. Wages aren’t what’s causing it.
If you can’t get a job, your chances of being poor are quite high. And there is a persistent lack of full-time jobs in our economy. The unemployment rate has traditionally hovered around the 5% to 7% in the U.S. – and of course it is much higher during recessions. But this does not count those who have become so discouraged they are no longer searching for jobs. Moreover, it has been estimated that unemployment would have to fall to around 2% for there to be enough jobs for everyone who wants one.8 So chronic unemployment in our economy remains one of the main causes of poverty.9 But beyond the obstacle of lack of jobs, there is the problem of the quality of jobs that many people do get – and that mire them in poverty. Many workers are trapped in part-time or part-year jobs that do not pay enough to raise them out of poverty. Millions more work at full-time jobs that pay wages so low that they also remain poor. An embarrassing large percentage of American workers, at least 25 percent, receive wages that do not allow their families to enjoy a decent standard of living. One poverty researcher, Mark Rank, found that almost a third of heads of families in the workforce in 1999, in the midst of a strong economy, earned less than $10 an hour, barely enough for a full-time worker to maintain a family of four above the official poverty line.10 In terms of poverty, then, the basic problem has been the chronic inability of our economy to provide the kinds of employment opportunities necessary for people to work their way above the poverty line. As Gordon Lafer has concluded: “There simply are not enough decently paying jobs for the number of people who need them.”115268
Note: It is simply too much of an oversimplification to say you are poor or struggling because you are lazy. There simply aren’t enough good jobs. Our economy just doesn’t provide enough jobs. The incentive for profit it just to outsource. Or use worker replacing technology. Support outsourcing if you want. But don’t bitch because people can’t earn a living then.
Given the real causes of poverty in this country are located in the economy, it is not hard to see why the Republican effort to slash government welfare rolls has had little impact on this problem. Since Republican lawmakers had the wrong diagnosis of the poverty problem, their policy prescription was misguided as well. Kicking people off of welfare does nothing to create the additional jobs or the better paying jobs that would actually enable people to escape poverty. Interestingly, poverty rates did dip a bit during the economic boom of the late 1990s, when unemployment declined and wages rose a bit. But since 2000, a sputtering economy has meant that the poverty rate has gone back up every year – ballooning to 14.3% in 2009, a result of the severe economic recession that began in 2008. This is just another indication that it is the failures of our economic system, not government welfare policies, that are at the heart of our continuing poverty problems.125281
Note: Welfare, poverty, unemployment
Mark Robert Rank, One Nation, Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004),5476
One of the most blatant examples of elite power occurred in 2010, when the Republican Party refused to allow the extension of unemployment benefits to millions of jobless Americans unless the Democrats agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich.5714
Note: Republican War on Poor
Our state and local governments should be sending out “annual reports” that inform citizens of all the good their tax dollars are doing. For example, our local government should tell us how many criminals it has arrested, how many supermarket scanners and gas pumps it has checked, how many fires it has put out, how many parks it has been maintaining, how many construction sites it has inspected, how many miles of roads it has cleaned and plowed, how many gallons of clean water it has provided, how many drunk drivers it has gotten off the roads, how many restaurants it has inspected, how many people have used the public libraries, how many children it has educated, and so on. As the old saying goes, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it” – and government is “doing it” for citizens every day.6077
Note: Just a quick and dirty list of the sorts of things government does for us everyday that we easily take for granted.