Friday, September 3, 2010

If Only Rugged Individualists Would Keep to Themselves

If you asked me what single thing I'd want every damned person in the world to learn about, it'd be the economic notion of the negative externality: that economic decisions have consequences to people other than those who make the decisions, and those consequences aren't necessarily thought of, or, even if recognised, given the slightest import in the decision.

One of the things about the right that drives me crazy is their refusal to even consider that economic decision making which doesn't account for negative externalities--often even denying their very existence, and, at that, often mendaciously--can produce every bit as much loss of freedom, economic cost, limitation of human potential and progress as any act of even a far less than ideal government. And that, in consequence, action to hold decision makers accountable for the consequences of their actions, provide incentives to prevent them and disincentives for creating them, moving them onto a balance sheet that the Magic of the Marketplace will transform into an instrument for social good thereby--or define some of them as crimes against individuals and society--is not only an appropriate function of government, but a necessary one. Some might even argue it the central one.

Those on the right, too, oft see a lack of personal responsibility as the source of all social ills. When they don't hear, or refuse to listen to, the cries of those external to decisions for mindfulness of consequences, they reject the very personal responsibility for themselves that they so stridently demand of others. And, in doing so, they embrace the notion that society's problems are someone else's fault and, therefore, require no sacrifice or even contribution from the virtuous. Convenient, self-serving, counterproductive, morally bankrupt. And wildly dissonant with their stated beliefs.

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