Patterico's Pontifications

6/12/2015

Why Progressivism Has Won: Even “Conservatives” Can’t Imagine Market Solutions to Problems Any More

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:30 am



How does the Leviathan of the federal government grow in size and power every year? One reason is that, when government “solutions” are offered to a problem, it apparently becomes impossible for most people (including conservatives) even to imagine addressing the problem in a different way.

Take health care for poor people. We used to have a well-developed system of charity care, premised on the principle that doctors were expected to do a certain amount of work without compensation, simply because it was needed and the patient could not afford it. LBJ came along with Medicaid and largely destroyed this centuries-long tradition.

Now, it is taken for granted, even by “conservatives,” that if we were to restrict or eliminate Medicaid, we would not be advocating a market solution (i.e. a better, more efficient, higher quality soluion) to the problem of health care for the poor. No, we would simply be against health care for the poor. Period.

Again: even “conservatives” can no longer imagine the market handling these issues. Take John Kasich, who advanced this very notion in 2013:

In 2013, Kasich lectured a state legislature on God’s interest in his Medicaid expansion. “I…happen to know that you’re a person of faith. Now when you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not gonna ask you much about what you did about keeping government small, but he’s going to ask you what you did for the poor.”

You see? Already, Kasich can’t imagine health care for the poor unless the federal government handles it. If you are against Medicaid expansion, you are against poor people. And you probably going to hell.

Your choice is Medicaid expansion or eternal hellfire, you guys. Which is it gonna be?

Et tu, Bill Kristol? The answer is, sadly, yes. Kristol’s 2017 Project assures us that we can’t simply do away with ObamaCare without some kind of comprehensive and apparently centrally (meaning federally) designed alternative:

While most Americans would personally like to see Obamacare repealed, they are not likely to yank newly obtained insurance away from millions of their fellow citizens. It is therefore crucial for conservatives to advance a winning alternative that alleviates this concern and leads to Obamacare’s ultimate defeat.

There are three reasons why advancing an alternative is so important: (1) politically, one cannot expect to beat something with nothing; (2) policy-wise, our health-care system already needed to be fixed pre-Obamacare, because the federal government had already broken it; and (3) if Obamacare continues to unravel but conservatives offer no viable alternative, liberals will seize the opening to push for the government monopoly over American medicine (“single payer”) they have always desired.

What is Kristol & Co.’s “winning alternative”? Get government out of the way and allow the market to address the problem? No, stupid, of course that’s not the “winning alternative.” The winning alternative is to agree with progressives to place the responsibility for delivering health care squarely in the hands of the federal government, which will issue “refundable tax credits” to allow people to pay the inflated prices for health insurance — inflated, of course, because of government intervention to begin with.

So, just like education, government intervention (through subsidies and other controls) causes the price of an important good or service to skyrocket, and the solution — even for self-labeled “conservatives”! — is still more government intervention and subsidies.

And the Leviathan marches on.

I read a quote this morning from Thomas Sowell that I can tell is going to stick with me the rest of my life.

Once, after giving a talk, I was confronted by a lady in the audience who asked what some people regard as the ultimate question:

“What is YOUR solution?”

“There are no solutions,” I said. “There are only trade-offs.”

There are no solutions. Only trade-offs. It is a simple insight, yes — but a brilliant one, because it is so often forgotten.

We assume that, because the market does not provide a good or service perfectly, that the government can impose a “solution.” We assume, in other words, that the government “solution” will be better than the market solution — usually without even stopping to consider the question at all — simply based on the fact that the market’s provision of the good and service is imperfect. (Often, the reason that it is imperfect is because of government intervention.)

But all we are doing by getting government involved is substituting one set of trade-offs for another. But the trade-offs commanded by the central planners are not trade-offs chosen by the people affected by those commands. And decisions made by those who are not affected by the decisions are notoriously less reliable than decisions made by those with a stake in the outcome.

There are no solutions, you guys. Only trade-offs. And the trade-offs of the marketplace are almost always going to be better than those provided by central planners.

The inability of conservatives to see these simple truths consistently are why progressivism has won.

30 Responses to “Why Progressivism Has Won: Even “Conservatives” Can’t Imagine Market Solutions to Problems Any More”

  1. Ding.

    Patterico (3cc0c1)

  2. (1) politically, one cannot expect to beat something with nothing;

    Actually, if we taught our children better, this IS the right goal.

    The simple question: “Is this something we should be doing at all?” should be sufficient to ask. Because, in the end, that SHOULD BE the first part of any decision about government.

    IGotBupkis, "Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses." (225d0d)

  3. In a sense, the problem is related to the attitude towards religion and how religion should operate.
    Growing up I still had the benefit of relatives and (parochial) school teachers teaching that when praying to G0d often times the answer is “No”.

    Most of the time when the marketplace’s “invisible hand” does not provide an answer to a problem it is due to the correct answer being “no”.

    Government has replaced Church for most people as the place for religious institutions. The way to to get that back is for those of strong Conservatives to get into government *and* into bully pulpits. Yet even on this forum we read people complaining about GOP candidates who preach the Conservative Principles running for office (ex: Nevada, Delaware senate races).

    It is too late, society in the USA is already going down the drain and history shows that there is no stopping the draining .

    seeRpea (0cf003)

  4. You give up too soon. If market solutions were the old idea and Progressive Totalitarianism was the New Way you might have a point. But Progressivism is nothing but what Kipling called “The Old King” in slightly modern dress. It has always been the tendency to look to the Chief, or the King, or Caesar to Do Something. The idea that government is not The Father and Mother but a service of limited actual utility is the really revolutionary notion.

    We need to keep hammering on the failures of government intervention. The answer to that nonsense about St. Peter is “And I’m going to tell him “I moved Heaven and Earth to keep the State from treating the poor like brain damaged farm animals. Can you say the same?”

    We need to always be ready to say “That sounds like such a womderful idea, but you know it HAS ben tried elsewhee and somehow it never really works.”

    C. S. P. Schofield (a196fd)

  5. I’m reading Liberal Fascism now and Goldberg would so agree with Patterico. The inherent goodness of government being the foundation of the good life for all is rarely even questined by our political class, even though this meme has been used to such terrible ends by the Nazis, Communists, etc.

    My favorite Leviathan failure is the SEC. They ignored Madoff and never saw the 2008 debacle coming, despite the warnings of many. What good is it all?

    This will not end well. I think it will end in a strong man scenario.

    patricia (5fc097)

  6. patricia@5 – I think that you’re constructing a straw man by suggesting that there’s a sizable number of people (presumably liberals) who think that “the inherent goodness of government” is somehow the “foundation of the good life for all.” Patterico makes the same mistake when he writes as if people who advocate for “government intervention” don’t understand that everything in life involves trade-offs.

    The truth is much more simple – the people who think that government regulation or intervention is necessary or preferable in a particular instance understand that it won’t be perfect, but instead simply think that such regulation will make things better (in general) than an unregulated situation. The most obvious example concerns the history of Blacks in America. The intervention of the federal government in the 1950s and 1960s (opposed every step of the way by conservatives in both parties) helped create a better America. That intervention came with costs, one of which is that there are far too many unsupported lawsuits claiming unlawful discrimination, but overall things are better, thanks to the federal government getting involved.

    Another less-politically-charged example is drunk driving. In the 1970s and early 1980s it wasn’t regarded as a big deal to drive drunk (at least in the circles I ran in). But increased penalties, along with a lot of propaganda, have changed the culture, resulting in a drastic reduction in drunk-driving fatalities since the early 1980s.

    That’s not to say that government intervention is always good, or that it can’t “over-intervene,” but it’s simply not true that less or no intervention is always better.

    Jonny Scrum-half (50c7a6)

  7. Jonny Scrum : In the 1950’s & 1960’s, the problem was previous government intervention, mostly on a state & local level but with some federal action also.

    Michael Keohane (414173)

  8. You would think that there are better sources of professional IT in this country that what is available in the Office of Personnel Management.

    Suppose the OPM had hired Google, or Oracle or even Microsoft to design and run their data depository. At the very least, if there was a breach, you know that heads would roll at those companies. But they would also give a damn. While there are back-office government employees who actually do give a damn (and I have met and worked with some outstanding people in those roles), most of them know exactly the day they will retire and collect their pension, avoid doing the (very) few things that could get them fired (this breach is probably not one of them), and otherwise could care less if the building burned down.

    Put government IT up for bid and fire the lot of them.

    Kevin M (25bbee)

  9. For whatever it’s worth… doctors who accept Medicaid patients do still practice charity care. Medicaid reimbursement does not begin to cover the actual cost of seeing and treating the recipient.

    CrankyBeach (736ed9)

  10. Michael Keohane@7 – I assume that you’re referring to the Jim Crow laws. First, are you suggesting that somehow those laws didn’t enjoy the full support of the white community in those places? That they were “imposed” on whites by their State and local governments?

    Second, what about the discrimination against Blacks in the North, where there were no such laws?

    Jonny Scrum-half (50c7a6)

  11. In a field of strawmen, Johnny half-sack wields a flamethrower.

    JD (3b5483)

  12. 6. …The truth is much more simple – the people who think that government regulation or intervention is necessary or preferable in a particular instance understand that it won’t be perfect, but instead simply think that such regulation will make things better (in general) than an unregulated situation.

    Jonny Scrum-half (50c7a6) — 6/12/2015 @ 9:51 am

    This is simply not true. If it were true, then programs that flatly don’t work would be eliminated and liberals would try something else. Btu no program goes away. Why? Because liberals maintain them as monuments to their own moral superiority. That’s the purpose of the welfare state. It doesn’t matter the moral harm it inflicts on the people it ensnares in its web. Or Medicaid; it doesn’t matter that it produces no better outcomes then simply leaving people uninsured and treating them for free at the emergency room (hospitals lose more money on Medicaid patients then the uninsured).

    So, no, liberals do not go through any sort of rational process. They do simply believe by voting to take money from third parties in order to throw it at a problem makes them morally superior to people who would go through a rational process of cost benefit analysis.

    Look how rabidly they reacted to Paul Ryan, whose budget proposal was just that. Why, he was going to throw grandma off a cliff! Government programs, once enacted, are sacred cows. They are monuments to liberal vanity. They are perfect, in the eyes of the liberals who believe in their own sainthood, and if anything they simply need more mountains of cash dumped into them.

    They always need more money, and anyone who even wants to pause and think about it, perhaps look at results, is demonized as an uncaring monster. Because, again, the point is to preen about how much of someone else’s money liberals are willing to spend to show they care.

    Steve57 (48418e)

  13. I’ve written about this before.

    In 2013, Kasich lectured a state legislature on God’s interest in his Medicaid expansion. “I…happen to know that you’re a person of faith. Now when you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not gonna ask you much about what you did about keeping government small, but he’s going to ask you what you did for the poor.”

    Kasich is no conservative and not yet a Christian. Did God tell him to rob the people of his stat to no benefit to the poor. Did God tell him to make a big show about helping the poor while not actually helping them?

    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+18:9-14&version=NIV

    Luke 18:9-14New International Version (NIV)
    The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

    9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

    13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

    14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

    Kasich needs to quit the holier-than-thou act and leave God out of public policy. He’s not better than the religious leftists who selectively quote the Bible to prove Jesus was a socialist.

    That’s the problem with the oxymoronic “big government conservatives;” they are in fact liberals.

    “I have to confess that it’s crossed my mind that you could not be a Republican and a Christian.”

    When these people talk about twisting religion, they don’t say so much about terrorists as they do about themselves. That’s exactly what they are doing. The fact is it is not a tenet of Christianity to aggrandize government. Which is all these programs do. They do not exist to help the poor. They exist to grow government and feed egos.

    Free markets work. See the peer reviewed papers for evidence.

    http://www.freetheworld.com/

    Free markets don’t work for control freaks who want to feed their egos, though, and not the poor.

    Steve57 (48418e)

  14. Kasich is just hard to look at

    what happened to his face

    he’s ugly

    happyfeet (831175)

  15. Disagree, Jonny. the Civil Rights laws have been good for blacks; the welfare state, the liberal Great Society has been a disaster. Laws represent the will of the people, the other, the will of the little dictators in the leviathan.

    And In addition to the example of the SEC I add the GM bailout to illustrate my point. GM should have been reorganized in accord with existing bankruptcy law. But because of politics our Executive usurped that role. Hardly a ripple of protest. He was helping people!

    One overreach always seems to lead to another, as our founders warned. Hillary says we must have a politics of Meaning. Sorry, my meaning is private, and I stand with the founders.

    patricia (5fc097)

  16. “There are no solutions,” I said. “There are only trade-offs.”

    Just as in war, there are no good choices, only ones on a scale of bad to worse.

    askeptic (efcf22)

  17. 15. …Laws represent the will of the people, the other, the will of the little dictators in the leviathan.

    patricia (5fc097) — 6/12/2015 @ 12:29 pm

    Concur wholeheartedly with your comment. The little dictators in Leviathan feel absolutely no guilt about twisting the words “public service” into self-service. If you want to see the model the welfare state is actually build on, look no further than the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. 15% of the money they take in goes to charity work. The other 85% goes to overhead. In other words, to the Clintons.

    Similarly, our overlords at HHS or whatever “government charity” (another oxymoron) deserve those high six figure salaries and million dollar McMansions in DC. Because, they tell themselves, they do so much good for the people.

    You can’t actually point to any good, but don’t you dare question it or ask for an accounting!

    They just know, “The sheep gotta take care of the sheepdog, baby.”

    (That was an actual quote in a sexual harassment complaint filed by a female staffer against her very liberal and very impressed with himself Congresscritter, who had done so much good for the sheep that the sheep owed him a little rack time with their daughters).

    It’s the same mentality that the party bosses in communist countries have. They deserve those dachas or beach front villas and their Benzes and Zhils (and special lanes to drive them in) because without them (they tell themselves) their enslaved people wouldn’t have bread on the table. The fact that their enslaved people often didn’t have bread on the table wasn’t the point.

    Joe Biden illustrated this mentality when in 2012 he acknowledged Mitt Romney’s “personal charity” on the way to condemning Romney for not being “publicly charitable” enough.

    Again, Joe Biden gave at the office, so that makes him a better moral being than Romney. In his own mind. Biden didn’t give his own money, he ripped everyone else off, but in his twisted moral universe that’s generosity. As is taking the lion’s share of the cut for himself and the other self-servers, and giving crumbs to needy in the name of whom they extort the danegeld.

    Again, look at the Clintons to see how this scam works.

    Steve57 (48418e)

  18. Free market solutions like germanys final solution only work with a disarmed victim.

    gun owner (5d6d68)

  19. Get help, Perry.

    Steve57 (48418e)

  20. 18.Free market solutions like germanys final solution only work with a disarmed victim.

    Congratulations Perry. For the 57th week in a row you win the dumbass statement award. Your consistency is underwhelming.

    Hoagie (f4eb27)

  21. I’m sure Perry is a staunch contributor to JPFO.

    askeptic (efcf22)

  22. With health care Kristol is in a bit of a bind. Heritage designed the market solution to universal healthcare. The problem is Kristol can’t really advocate that because it’s basically Obamacare.

    stir (0f3b82)

  23. plasma rifle in the forty watt range, JD,

    narciso (ee1f88)

  24. The simple question: “Is this something we should be doing at all?” should be sufficient to ask. Because, in the end, that SHOULD BE the first part of any decision about government.
    IGotBupkis,

    I kinda like to start with: “Is this something that the Constitution allows the government to address?” Followed immediately by: “Really? Show me.”

    in_awe (7c859a)

  25. If you understand California’s water difficulties, you understand the natural laws of economics as well as, or better than, any economist. Just substitute “wealth” for “water” (or “water” for “wealth”). If you can design a system to solve California’s water problem (if you find that there is a problem, of course) you should get the Nobel Prize for Economics. I suggest, though, that you will encounter great difficulties if you work backwards, trying to fit a particular “solution” to the problem such as government or market, the same as if you tried to “solve” gravity by picking a parachute, or a handrail, or Dr. Scholls Comfort Insoles as your starting point.

    nk (dbc370)

  26. The inability of conservatives to see these simple truths consistently are why progressivism has won.

    Patterico, your take on (and sympathy with) same-sex marriage — which impacts the core of a stable society, namely its families and the normative, non-dumbed-down standards they immediately adhere to and embrace — is a window into the phenomenon of the squish-squish sound one hears while traveling on that road paved with good intentions.

    Mark (a11af2)

  27. We assume, in other words, that the government “solution” will be better than the market solution — usually without even stopping to consider the question at all — simply based on the fact that the market’s provision of the good and service is imperfect.

    So you’re saying that “conservatives” now believe that a government solution to any given problem is necessarily better than a market solution and this despite the fact that empirical evidence states quite clearly that this is not the case?

    Thus, a question arises: why, in the face of facts and reality do “conservatives” believe this?

    I don’t have time to explain fully, I’m afraid, but it comes down to the notion that conservatives and liberals, while differing somewhat in their politics, actually share the same ethical base. In particular, “conservatives” (largely religious) buy into the notion that “We are our brother’s keeper”, while liberals take the secular Marxist position, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” I submit that, on a philosophical level, this is the same thing. That is, they both believe in some form of the moral code of collectivism. As Rand put it:

    In spite of all their irrationalities, inconsistencies, hypocrisies and evasions, the majority of men will not act, in major issues, without a sense of being morally right and will not oppose the morality they have accepted. They will break it, they will cheat on it, but they will not oppose it; and when they break it, they take the blame on themselves. The power of morality is the greatest of all intellectual powers—and mankind’s tragedy lies in the fact that the vicious moral code men have accepted destroys them by means of the best within them.

    J.P. (cc46f4)

  28. That’s the problem with the oxymoronic “big government conservatives;” they are in fact liberals.

    “I have to confess that it’s crossed my mind that you could not be a Republican and a Christian.”

    I forgot to attribute the quote. That was Hillary! in 1997, per the Richmond VA Dispatch.

    Sounding much like Kasich, who I will now never vote for.

    Steve57 (48418e)

  29. Sounding much like Kasich, who I will now never vote for
    Which Ohio folks have known for a while. My Ohio Tea Party friend has been dissing Kasich since before he was governor, and undervoted last election by not voting for anyone in the gubernatorial race.
    This opinion of his, btw, extends to almost all the Ohio GOP establishment.

    kishnevi (91d5c6)


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