But I like wine and beer

In this election season, it’s good to remember a classic Walter Williams column from 2010, Conflict or Cooperation.

Different Americans have different and often intense preferences for all kinds of goods and services. Some of us have strong preferences for beer and distaste for wine while others have the opposite preference — strong preferences for wine and distaste for beer. Some of us hate three-piece suits and love blue jeans while others love three-piece suits and hate blue jeans. When’s the last time you heard of beer drinkers in conflict with wine drinkers, or three-piece suit lovers in conflict with lovers of blue jeans? It seldom if ever happens because beer and blue jean lovers get what they want. Wine and three-piece suit lovers get what they want and they all can live in peace with one another.

It would be easy to create conflict among these people. Instead of free choice and private decision-making, clothing and beverage decisions could be made in the political arena. In other words, have a democratic majority-rule process to decide what drinks and clothing that would be allowed. Then we would see wine lovers organized against beer lovers, and blue jean lovers organized against three-piece suit lovers. Conflict would emerge solely because the decision was made in the political arena. Why? The prime feature of political decision-making is that it’s a zero-sum game. One person’s gain is of necessity another person’s loss. That is if wine lovers won, beer lovers lose.

It seems with each election cycle we continue to shove things into the political decision-making arena that shouldn’t be there.

One such thing: what children eat for lunch at school.

I’ve been an opponent of the First Lady’s movement to control school lunches since the beginning. Recently,there has been a rash of news stories about students and parents who have become less appreciative of the First Lady’s school lunch efforts as they find their personal choices in conflict with what the government thinks best.

As the election draws closer, I encourage you to keep your eyes peeled for things that are being unnecessarily shoved into the political decision-making arena.

New York city is the innovator in this arena. They’ve placed smoking, salt and now large, sugary-drinks in the political arena. They are being placed there because the government, acting in the best interest of their taxpayers, claim these things drive up health care costs.

As Obamacare takes hold, watch for these trends to go nationwide. The rationale used by these nannies is, “If I’m paying for your health care, then I have a right to tell you not to drink Super Big Gulps.”

Watch out, if you lead what others may consider an unhealthy lifestyle. They may eventually use the above logic to seek to limit the choices you make — all for the greater good, of course — or deny you the generosity of ‘their’ funding.

What I find ironic, is how this super-nanny-ism is never compared to a free market. In a free market, you make choices and deal with the consequences.

Some find that objectionable because it appears to lack compassion. What about those who don’t have the means to handle the consequences?

But, it is rarely considered whether they could have made different choices leading up to consequences and if not having to deal with the consequences caused them to make less responsible choices.

But, once the ‘compassion’ of super-nannyism takes over, it surprises me how quickly the super-nannies lose compassion for those they judge to have not made responsible choices. Now that I’m paying for your health care, I have the right to tell you not to drink Super Big Gulps.

Are You a Rational Ignoramus?

More good stuff from this podcast on Public Choice with Don Boudreaux and Russ Roberts.

Are you rationally ignorant?  We all are in some sense:

Rational ignorance. First, the term sounds weird. Surely ignorance is always irrational. All it means is that knowledge is a scarce good. It’s not free. If it were free, each of us would be geniuses and fully informed of everything in the world. Huge amounts that we don’t know.

There is problem in some cases because that rational ignorance many people have about politics, government and political candidates effects us all.

If you vote like a moron, there’s no cost. You don’t even know if you are a moron. If enough people vote moronically, will get moronic candidates. The point is: at the time of voting, that act–and it’s the individual act of voting that we’re talking about–there is no consequence to anyone of voting A, B, or not voting at all. Therefore, people are quite unconstrained in being able to express whatever fantasies, romantic notions, anger that they feel.

Another underappreciated aspect of voting for candidates–understood by public choice scholars but underappreciated by the public–underappreciated because it’s called the people’s “choice”–we choose. By attaching the term “choose” or “choice” to candidates and the process of electing candidates we transfer to that choice process the same good feelings we have about choosing in a supermarket. Too much difference between those choices for the political process to have that good name.

Thomas Sowell addressed the same topic as the last paragraph in the three paragraphs I posted of his yesterday.

Some might respond to the “moron” paragraph, and say that if you make a bad choice in an election you’ll know and you’ll vote differently next time.  Maybe, maybe not.  Your bad choice may not directly impact you enough for you to notice.

There is not that individual feedback loop in the voting process. If you have a family of three kids and you buy a sports car, you are going to find out that that was a bad choice.

But in politics, you can keep buying the same flavor over and over again; it doesn’t achieve its goals; it impoverishes the people you think it’s helping, and you can be a proud supporter of that candidate forever. Even after they are dead. You can be oblivious, no incentive to look deeply into whether that was a wise choice. Part of your identity, your reputation, your self-esteem; very different process.

What’s the Comparison?

In the latest Econtalk podcast, Don Boudreaux on Public Choice , Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek and George Mason University points out a common error by critics of free markets.  The error is in comparing the functioning of the free market to an idealized perfection:

…compared to what? It’s not the merits of the market compared to some ideally-performing government, or ideally-performing dictator–it’s compared to government as it is likely to perform as the alternative to the market.  Also wrong to hypothesize a perfectly working market and assume that’s what’s happening in reality.

I hear this all too often.  The reasoning usually goes something like, if a market does not work exactly how I want, then we must rely on government instead — as if the government is perfect or can someday be.

Markets are not perfect, but neither is government.  Government has proven to be much less perfect because of the feedback loops and incentives.  Markets are self-healing, governments keep pumping in blood without attending to the wounds.

The next time someone suggests government as a means to achieve perfection, ask them which government program is the model on which such perfection should be based.