27 January 2011

That Little Inconvenience Called Reality

There’s nothing like wanting things you can’t have:

We have a safety net, but I wouldn’t call it “strong” by 21st-century standards. Some elements that are inadequate or altogether absent:
The 2010 health care reform, even if fully implemented, likely will leave millions of Americans uninsured.
Early education (preschool, child care), beginning at age one, is a very good idea. Not all states have full-day kindergarten; few have preschool for four-year-olds; none have much in the way of public funding of education for kids age one to three.
Paid parental leave is available in only a few states and covers a relatively short period.
Sickness insurance: ditto.
Unemployment insurance covers too few of us.
Unemployment insurance should be supplemented by or folded into a new wage insurance program.
Social assistance benefits have been decreasing steadily over the past generation.
If markets are now structured in such a way as to severely limit real earnings growth for those in the bottom half of the distribution, we may need to massively expand the EITC.
We ought to do more for children, working-age adults, and elderly persons with assorted physical, cognitive, emotional, and social disabilities. (HT Tyler)

Well, these are laudable goals, and will probably have a lot of support from lots of people.  They all just sound so good, so noble!  Allow me to pour some cold water on them, Socrates-style.

Do you really think that people don’t want these things? Obviously people want these things.  These things are great and wonderful and awesome and all the fawning adjectives people use to describe utopic wonderlands.

Why don’t people demand these things?  Because there are limits to what we can have.  People always want more than they can ever hope to have.  It’s what people do.  Since people can’t have whatever they want, they must prioritize what they get.  Thus far, the average American prefers having an HDTV to having early education for their kids.  The market tells us this.

If people want these things but haven’t acquired them due to placing low priority on them, what does acquiring these things entail?  Obviously, getting all the wishes on the checklist will require government intervention in the economy to realign it to attain these stated desires.  The free market has obviously failed to attain these goals.  The reason for failure is pretty obvious:  as much as people claim to want these things, there spending habits belie reality.  People really don’t want these things as much as they claim to.  After all, actions speak louder than words.

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