Thursday, November 23, 2006

The road to hell is paved with you know what

When a debate kicks off about whether a government has a right to collect taxes in order to administer, manage and fund some public goods, the biggest critics of the welfare state talk about all the wasteful spending, the bureaucracy and the ineffectiveness of such a strategy. But all too often, the bleeding hearts who take the side of defending taxation will fall back on one key principle - that you need to have good intentions and try to help the needy. This includes giving welfare, funding public hospitals and schools and universities, all part of trying to "guarantee" that everyone has a certain level of health, education and income.

Now if you have zero understanding of how markets and commerce function, these good intentions seem reasonable enough to justify public education, health and welfare/social security.

Those who oppose these socialist institutions are usually accused of not having good intentions, of being selfish and hedonistic, and not caring about the poor. Even if they suggest that people should only voluntarily donate their time or money to welfare or charity, they are accused of "not doing enough".

So in the end, the side of the debate in favor of welfare rests smugly and arrogantly on the principle that government has a right to confiscate a fair chunk of your income, all to achieve some grand objective of helping the poor and defeating inequality.

If the people pushing this argument had any integrity and honesty, they would be satisfied with spending their own money or time on charity, welfare and social work, or whatever it is that they value the most. If you really have the good intentions, then why not put your money where your mouth is ?

I suspect that all too often, the hidden motive behind supporters of welfare is envy and jealousy, and they wish to drag down the successful and those that contribute the most value to the economy, by taxing them more heavily as they earn more and more.

If these people had any integrity and honesty, they would not be cheering as billions of dollars are handed over to government to administer, regulate and fund certain public goods and welfare, even if some of it goes to help the poor. They would try and donate their own money and time to what they believe to be are the best priorities. But you see, its not their concern to see that problems are fixed and that help is given to those most needy and deserving, and to alleviate the most suffering.

(whether it is moral to reward need alone is another question altogether)

Milton Friedman summarised the concept best with this statement:

There are four ways in which you can spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you're doing, and you try to get the most for your money.
Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I'm not so careful about the content of the present, but I'm very careful about the cost.
Then, I can spend somebody else's money on myself. And if I spend somebody else's money on myself, then I'm sure going to have a good lunch!
Finally, I can spend somebody else?s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else's money on somebody else, I?m not concerned about how much it is, and I'm not concerned about what I get. And that's government. And that's close to 40% of our national income.