Wednesday, July 17, 2013

On "Libertarian Economics"

(The following is based on a response to a thread on Bruce Coville's Facebook page on the AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE's view on the House GOP's leadership and members decision to decouple the SNAP program funding from the 5-year authorization for the Farm Bill.)

 In a society where millions of Americans must rely on food stamps to feed their families, and it is estimated that over $100 Million dollars worth of SNAP benefits will be redeemed this fiscal year in the military commissary system, overwhelmingly by active-duty service people, this decision is bankrupt.

 The most repeated justification relies on the (thoroughly discredited) Chicago School of Economics, sometimes referred to as "libertarian economics." (BTW, how do you "discredit" an economic theory? By looking at what it predicts will happen, and seeing that that prediction has no relationship to what really happens)

Aside from its fundamental unsoundness (that is, it doesn't work), "libertarian economics" has another deep flaw, that shows from both a practical and a moral perspective: the "libertarian" aspect. The fundamental idea of the libertarian model is one of absolute independence from "forced" obligation and "forced" cooperation, in both the private and public spheres, and that the somehow (voluntary) cooperative forces of the unfettered "free market" will somehow lift all boats (or at least those boats that are somehow "worthy")

. The practical, and logical, examples of this libertarian "independence" can be seen in the utter failure of the austerity programs being forced into implementations as preconditions to monetary aid from either the World Bank or the IMF. They simply do not do the job of lifting those targeted economies for any but the well-heeled individuals and institutions that will be insulated enough to weather this imposed economic chaos, and, after a suitable waiting period, can buy up all the remaining assets at desperation fire-sale prices.

 The logical political extension of this Libertarian ideal of "small government" and "self sufficiency" can be seen in failed states like Somalia - and the society is dominated solely by those who have access to the biggest private armies, and an dictate allocation of resources on a whim. That is what happens when you have drowned the government in the bathtub.

 My objection to this brand of economics from a subjective moral standpoint stems from, I will admit, my personal upbringing as a Christian. The aforementioned fundamental Libertarian "independence" presupposes a degree of isolation and voluntary suspension of empathy that is, for a Christian, unsupportable. The forcible imposition of immense hardship on those least able to weather it, in the appeasement of any sense of righteous indignation that someone, somewhere, that is "not worthy" or "lazy" or "made bad decisions" might "get a free ride" doesn't, from a Christian moral perspective, float any boats.

 And that sense of indignation for those who are "unworthy" breeds a suspension of empathy that lets one ignore that these are real people receiving those food stamps, or that unemployment check.

The sense of outraged privilege that says that, because someone, somewhere might be buying a circle of shrimp with a SNAP card that children and families in another part of the country must be punished.

The sense of outraged privilege that thinks it makes good economic sense to have "anti-fraud" programs that cost twice as much to administer than they can ever hope to recover, because the touted excessive fraud is not there.

The sense of outraged privilege that seems to think that someone receiving unemployment insurance (UI) benefits must be denied the dignity of not being pauperized (and maker no mistake - the pay-rate of salary paid to an employee has the cost of UI premiums built into it -- that premium payment may be administratively paid be an employer, but it comes out of the employee's pocket)

 The whole basis for these "libertarian" ideals is, on a practical basis, unworkable in the modern world, where everything from the cost of gasoline to the yield of Palouse wheat or Aroostook Country potatoes are all interconnected and interdependent.

From the secular societal standpoint, the guiding corollary to Rousseau's social compact is that those who enjoy the benefits of cooperation and protection in that society owe a duty to others in that society to extend them the same benefits.

Or to put it more simply, especially for those who profess to be Christian: "Do not rob the poor because he is poor, Or crush the afflicted at the gate" (Proverbs 22:22)