Inequality and Political Remedies

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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142 Responses

  1. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    > But this isn’t an economy. It’s a puppet melodrama.

    That is the best single line of the symposium so far.

    P.S. -> I’m onboard with a negative income tax.Report

  2. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    The reason why I’m not onboard with a negative income tax is simple – not everybody in poverty needs the same solution to poverty.

    Some people need college grants, but live along, so they can eat ramen. Some people need food stamps because they have two small children, but can get a scholarship to community college to get the AA degree they need. Some people didn’t plan for their retirement well, but don’t deserve to live in abject poverty.

    A NIT sounds good in theory, because it lets people say, “Oh, I care about poverty, I’m just against the inefficiencies and bureaucracy of the welfare state.” Which is fine. But, just as say, nationalization of all major industrial production in the US would be horrible, but taking over GM was the right move, I’m OK w/ the EITC (which is basically a NIT) as part of a larger social welfare state that takes care of specific problems.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

      The reason why I’m not onboard with a negative income tax is simple – not everybody in poverty needs the same solution to poverty.

      And yet this is the very reason that economists cite when they prefer a negative income tax.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

      I’ve generally been fond of the idea of a NIT but I’m not getting your point Jesse.

      Sure, everyone’s needs are different. Wouldn’t that be why an NIT is a good solution? Some people can’t buy college education with food stamps, some people can’t buy food with college education grants; an NIT would solve this problem by giving people money which of course people can use to buy what they need on their own.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to North says:

        It’s only a good solution if they use the money on the things that are keeping them in poverty.

        I leave it up to the reader to decide if this is not likely to be the case. But if anyone were to vote against a NIT, I imagine it would be a anti-welfare stater for the same reasons.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

          It’s only a good solution if they use the money on the things that are keeping them in poverty.

          I would actually disagree with this. Suppose someone is in poverty, and they are given the means to exit poverty, and they have the knowledge to use those means.

          If that person doesn’t actually exit poverty, I don’t consider it my duty in any sense whatsoever to help him. That’s not misfortune. That has to be a lifestyle choice.

          There are good arguments to be had all along the way, mind you: What counts as poverty, and what’s an exit from it? What means are sufficient? What means are optimal? What means are properly supplied by society (if any)? What counts as the relevant knowledge? But at the end of it all, if someone chooses to be poor, well, okay. It’s their life.Report

          • If that person doesn’t actually exit poverty, I don’t consider it my duty in any sense whatsoever to help him. That’s not misfortune. That has to be a lifestyle choice.

            I get this in the abstract, but in the main I don’t think that we’re all going to agree on this. Thus, we have EMTALA. I don’t think we, as a society, are willing to say “you blew it” and make a point of not moving to action. And I think a realization of that has to be reflected in our policies.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            i agree, so long as the lifestyle choice is not used for tax evasion purposes.Report

          • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            And yet — that poor person is still cluttering up the streets, the hospital, and digging around in your garbage.

            Which is kinda the point, I suppose. “Oh, he made bad choics let him suffer” — no man is an island, and very rarely are one man’s consequences confined solely to himself.

            One of the biggest, most important lessons I’ve learned from my job is NOT to change something until I understand:

            1) What it was meant to solve.
            2) How it solved it.

            and…most importantly…

            3) Why it has changed over time.

            Complexity is a pain in my butt, but more than once I’ve gone to replace a complex system with a more elegant solution only to find that the complex solution is there because the elegant one vomits all over itself in real life. (Mostly because people do stupid stuff, and “You should stop being an idiot” is rarely a good design choice — nor a good selling point to your customers).

            So before I go replace the complicated mess of the modern welfare state with a negative income tax, I’d like to understand both how the modern welfare state came about, what it was designed to fix, and if similar solutions to the negative income tax had been tried and what the real world (political and economic) results were.

            All the elegant theory in the world means jack when the rubber hits the road.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Morat20 says:

              Heh. Said it before. Every time I start in with new coders I give them this little Dutch Uncle speech.

              “Nobody sits down to write ugly code. When you encounter a kludge, you are looking at the results of bitter compromise. Your first reaction is to trot that code through a formatter and comment every line of it. Then you will write a host of unit tests to exercise it. It is the hallmark of the idiot in this business that he encounters what he does not understand and says he can simplify everything. Don’t you be that idiot.”Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to BlaiseP says:

                think ya missed this last time I asked it… what compiler do you use?Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Kimmi says:

                Well, sometimes you do. 🙂 I’m currently wading through what is very clearly someone’s “My Very First Large Scale Object Oriented Project”. (it’s b een neglected for years, so the guy wasn’t that far behind the eight ball when he started).

                It’s got all the mistakes I would have made the first time I went to write something OO. So I’m gently, as part of the maintaince and fixing of a lot of old bugs and isses, slowly teasing the thing into proper shape. I’m not changing a whit of functionality (unless it is clearly broken), but I am changing it’s internal structure to reflect an OO philosophy correctly.

                Which will in turn allow me to fix a LOT of issues later down the line.

                Although some of it is just BS that I shudder at trying to fix. (There’s an on-exit crash in the destructor code caused by the current design allocating memory in…less than optimally efficient ways….which causes the default destructors to crap all over themselves in one of the libraries we use. Because the thing which they’ve gone to delete has already been freed but the internal pointer count not incremented. Thankfully I can catch the crash and the user doesn’t see. Still offensive to me).

                Anyways, back to the point — the real world is all like that. I don’t trust elegant theories. They’re a starting point. The tangle down the line? That’s a solution. Sometimes you do have to burn it and start over with what you’ve learned. But you better have handy a list of “things I’ve learned”.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Morat20 says:

                I’ve done… questionable things.
                Also extraordinary things; revel in your time.
                Nothing the Gang of Four wouldn’t let you into heaven for.

                Them what invokes Foo::~Foo() should be tied to crosses and whipped for a good long while. On second thought, they should probably be taken out and buried alive. “::~” is the first thing I grep for in someone else’s code.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Someone else’s libraries are throwing up deep in the code.

                I’m almost certain it’s the result of an idiotic use of pointers in the code I’m using. (Memory is being freed, but counters for a list in the library or pointer arrays or vectors aren’t).

                In short, if I was programming in something with garbage collection it’d probably work. I went through and wrote proper destructors, but I suspect the culprit is one of a handful of god-awful violations of object integrity.

                As I said, someone’s first OO project.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I’m sick of fixing other people’s busted shit. After all these years of doing it for the money, I finally gave up and started my own consulting practice, where I don’t have to any more. If I don’t have the source code for it, I no longer use it.

                For a good long while, I worked with this horrid SOA product. The demos worked great! Nothing in the real world did. So I went off to Monrovia CA to train on it. None of the examples in class worked either. I sorta had a Bad Feeling about it, but what the heck, I’d been in Java since day one, so I figured I could just use what worked and avoid what didn’t.

                So the first gig they send me on, we had this SWIFT interface which would periodically crash, with millions of dollars in each transaction set. The minute I walk in the door, the project lead pulled me into a conference room and stared at me like the Ancient Mariner. “They hate us!” he cried at me in no uncertain terms.

                And he was right. The bank was irate. I stuck around with them for about two years, each time I’d come into a new gig, I’d just throw out all their interfaces and code my own from scratch, using only their ESB.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kimmi says:

                I use a variety of compilers. A quick check of this machine reveals targets for ARM TS7000 over a cut-down Debian, a VxWorks gcc, six different Android releases, a Vala compiler and this box itself,

                gcc version 4.6.3 20120306 (Red Hat 4.6.3-2) (GCC)
                javac 1.7.0_03Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Nobody sits down to write ugly code.

                Sure they do — people who value micro-optimization over readability, maintainability, and testibility. In Redmond, there’s thousands of them.Report

              • Avatar Rod in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Good Christ! Is everybody here a developer??!!Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Rod says:

                I developed film once, but that’s all.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                ‘We took some pictures of the native girls, but they weren’t developed. But we’re going back again in a couple of weeks.”Report

              • Avatar Plinko in reply to Rod says:

                I occasionally type things into an Excel spreadsheet.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            The tricky part here is that there’s no real way to put an exit clause on a NIT.

            If you buy booze and don’t shower and don’t look for a job, you’re still going to qualify for the NIT, unless you start writing those nanny state clauses North talks about below and which don’t generally work.

            So, yeah. From a societal standpoint, if we have some finite N people in poverty, and we give them some finite sum on an annual basis to keep them above a baseline, and N-M of ’em work at getting out of poverty and M of them don’t… well, it might be worth it and it might not.

            But at the end of the day, you’re not getting rid of poverty. You’re just making sure some baseline level of subsistence living is free.Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            As other people have said, no, a lot of people don’t know how to get themselves out of poverty. Because buying a decent car and good food will make them happy temporarily, but by May 15th, they’ll be back in the same cycle.

            In a perfect world where people act like rational actors in a market, yes, a pure NIT would work fine. But, since people don’t act rationally, a partial NIT works fine to help out with poverty. But, you also need to make sure that people also have access to programs specifically that only pay for food, education, and so on.

            I know this is the equivalent of going into Pat Robertson’s backyard and pissing on a statue of Jesus, but yes libertarians, we need a nanny state. It can go overboard, just like deregulation and privatization can go overboard, but surprisingly, sometimes people who have actually studied an issue for their entire lives know how to fix a problem than ya’ know, the person with the problem.

            Saying a NIT is the best way to fix poverty is like saying a system of self-diagnosis is the best way to make people healthy. No, we need doctors who knows the cough means you’ve got a bacteria in your throat, just like we need social workers who can help poor people develop a plan to get out of poverty.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

              Jesse:

              > As other people have said, no, a lot of people don’t
              > know how to get themselves out of poverty. Because
              > buying a decent car and good food will make them
              > happy temporarily, but by May 15th, they’ll be
              > back in the same cycle.

              I submit for the record that a NIT is functionally the same, if not better than having numerous support programs for people like that.

              Because anyone who isn’t interested in exiting poverty won’t take those support programs, anyway.

              And people who *are* interested in exiting poverty will be better off with the flexibility of changing options on the fly. A negative income tax enables them to have money that they can use this month to take an EMT course at the local community college. But if they need to get a sitter to watch the child for three weekends so that they can do a ride-along to further their practical interest and also start networking, they can do that with funds from an NIT.

              They can’t do it with funds dog-eared for subsidized education, typically.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                No, it’s not the same thing. After all, look at what people do with income tax refunds. They spend it, usually on vacations, “big ticket” items, or paying down the debt they just spent on Christmas. Not that many people use it to pay for their education or basic necessities.

                Because for the most part, people consider that tax refund “free money.” Now, as it’s not usually a massive amount, that’s probably a good thing, since it’s an injection in the economy and all that. But, when all you get is “free money,” they’re likely to only spend it on consumer goods or other basic goods.

                Instead of destroying the social welfare state, you expand the funding for that state, along with pushing outreach to impoverished areas to advertise that such programs are available.

                As for your example, in my perfect world, we’d have fully-funded easily available child care and expanded college education as well.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                By the way, the middle class and rich make the same mistakes. It’s just they’re starting from further down the road so if they fail, it’s not so great a fall as if a poor person does.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                No, it’s not the same thing. After all, look at what people do with income tax refunds. They spend it, usually on vacations, “big ticket” items, or paying down the debt they just spent on Christmas. Not that many people use it to pay for their education or basic necessities.

                So what we need is a state that dictates how people spend their money? Who, exactly, are you to tell someone else how to live their life?

                Frankly, I find thid the most disturbing thing you’ve ever written. It’s the seed of totalitarianism, the urge to make others do the “right” thing with what is their own; it makes everything public, wholly denying that any aspect of our lives can legitimately be deemed private, because it is the state’s interest and duty to ensure we do what is best for ourselves (as defined but someone who is not us).Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                I have zero problem with people spending their income tax refund on hookers and blow if they want too. Or large sodas and XBoxes for that matter. Even if in effect it’s a NIT because the amounts being given are negligable and whether or not they spend the $1,000 or $2,000 bucks they get back on their credit card bills or a new HDTV isn’t that big of an issues.

                On the other hand, it is a reason why I’m against a NIT as a public policy solution to poverty and inequality. Because yes, if we’re going to give people a whole bunch of money via the coercive government action known as taxation, it should be for a decent reason, not just with the “hope” people will do the smart thing with it.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                > No, it’s not the same thing. After all, look at
                > what people do with income tax refunds.
                > They spend it, usually on vacations, “big ticket”
                > items, or paying down the debt they just
                > spent on Christmas.

                Citation needed.

                > Not that many people use it to pay for their
                > education or basic necessities.

                Hold off for a second on the citation. Assuming that you are correct, there are two factors at play here:

                A $N tax return (usually in the ones of thousands of dollars) is going to look very different to the consumer from a negative income tax (in the tens of thousands of dollars). You have no real grounds to assume that they would treat them the same way.

                Even should they “waste” some of that money, the real question is: given that there is a question of availability, the “waste” matters only if it is *worse* than the status quo. I’m unconvinced that it is (I expect it is not).

                > But, when all you get is “free money,” they’re likely
                > to only spend it on consumer goods or other basic goods.

                If they need a basic good… doesn’t that mean a free higher education is going to do them any good at the moment? Shouldn’t we take care of the food thing, first?

                > Instead of destroying the social welfare state, you expand
                > the funding for that state

                Jesse, this sounds an awful lot like, “The social welfare state should exist because it itself is a quantifiable good.” Not, “The social welfare state should exist because it solves a particular problem that cannot be solved any other way.”

                > along with pushing outreach to impoverished areas to
                > advertise that such programs are available.

                Outreach programs are highly ineffective if the program which is the focus of your outreaching is already a bad match for the audience to whom you are attempting to outreach. My children’s school is almost 50% free/assisted lunch. I’ve talked to quite a few of the parents who are in the lower socioeconomic rungs; there are lots of support programs in my community. They can’t take advantage of them due to time, transportation, child care, or any one of a large raft of other reasons. In order to provide access, the programs would have to be enlarged by a high degree, and in order to provide coverage, they’d be enlarged very inefficiently, because only a sub-section of the needy population would be served by each attempt to enlarge the program.

                If a third of the needy can only go to your professional development class at night, and a third can only go on weekends, and a final third could only go after a graveyard shift, you’d have to have a 24/7 provisioning of that class to provide that class to everybody. There’s huge waste, there.

                A free health clinic that operates on a day they can’t get there is a useless health clinic – to them. An NIT would give them money that they could use to get to a for-pay clinic when they could actually schedule it. Opportunity costs for lower socioeconomic status people are enormous.

                If someone is working two jobs to support their three kids, they don’t give a flying rat’s behind about professional training. They can’t take advantage of it anyway. They don’t have the time. Giving them *money* instead of access to a *program* means that they have the ability to pick and choose which economies to leverage, what programs to use, etc. You empower them. They can leverage the fungibility of money in way that they cannot leverage the lack of flexibility of a raft of programs that may not suit their needs for a number of different reasons.

                Yes, this occasionally means that you’re empowering people who are going to just sit in dependency. This is the case with anyone on any form of public assistance.Report

            • First, I second what Pat says above.

              Second:

              I know this is the equivalent of going into Pat Robertson’s backyard and pissing on a statue of Jesus, but yes libertarians, we need a nanny state. It can go overboard, just like deregulation and privatization can go overboard, but surprisingly, sometimes people who have actually studied an issue for their entire lives know how to fix a problem than ya’ know, the person with the problem.

              There are a number of problems with this. Experts can tell us that performing action “x” will, on average, cure problem “y” in “z” percentage of the cases. They cannot, however, craft a policy that is tailored for individual cases, and they can only say whether action “x”will, on average, cure problem “y” more frequently than actions “a,” “b,” and “c.” Further, they cannot tell us which individual cases will be cured by which action, and there will be an infinite number of actions that will cure the problem in at least one individual case but are too obscure to even warrant a comparison with “x” in the first place.

              Moreover, the experts cannot tell us how an individual values the tradeoffs necessary to solve the given problem or even views the problem as a problem.

              It also seems certain that even in those cases where action “x” really is the best and surest way of solving the problem, a sizable percentage of persons for whom that is true will pursue action “x” as long as they have the resources to do so. Some, surely, will not; on the other hand, there will be others for whom action “x” would have been a solution, but for whom some other unanticipated action will provide an even better solution. And that says nothing about the number of persons for whom action “x” would have been useless but for whom some other unanticipated action will be a solution.

              Finally, your assumption is that the persons making the policy mandating that monies be spent on action “x” will be benevolent, independent experts. They will not be, for the reasons stated in my comment above, at least not for more than a brief period of time.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                Yes, in any system, there will be people who the system doesn’t work for. It’s in my opinion that a better-funded, more well-run (and those two things go together more than you think – it’s hard to run a decent child welfare department when each social worker has 40 cases) social welfare state will work for more of the population than a straight NIT will. You’re free to disagree with that position.

                As for the final part. Nobody is a benevolent independent expert. Not even me or you. But, yes, I trust people who are willing to start a career in the civil sector for all right pay with no expectation of ever striking it rich who want to help people more than those whose main motive is profit. Is that a bias on my part? Of course it is. But, most of the time, it’s turned out to be true when it comes to the matter of social welfare in this nation over the past 300 years or so.Report

              • Put it this way- is there a practical difference between prohibiting welfare recipients from using illegal drugs and restricting what welfare recipients may purchase to a narrow range of goods, while also making it illegal to sell their food stamps for cash? I find the former onerous and unacceptable. But as a practical matter, the latter would seem to have the same effect, just magnified dramatically.

                As for your point about trusting bureaucrats, you’ve missed my point, which is that even those bureaucrats won’t actually be in a position to make the decisions that matter for very long, if ever, even if they’re the most lovely, wise, and benevolent people to ever walk the earth. The actual contours of regulatory policy, rules, etc. are by and large the purview of political appointees, not career agency staffers.

                Let’s also not romanticize government employees. Their motives are no more or less pure than any of us, and I’ve known no shortage of ex-bureaucrats who cashed in on that experience first chance they got. For most federal government employees, as with most of the rest of us, their career path was just a function of finding the best job for which they were qualified at the time they last hit the job market.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

              Jesse,

              If I read you right, the problem of poverty is not so much , or at least not just, the market, but the incompetence of poor people?Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

                Randomly:
                I know this is the equivalent of going into Pat Robertson’s backyard and pissing on a statue of Jesus, but yes libertarians, we need a nanny state.

                I like this idea. Anyone for a trip to Pat Robertson’s place?

                Real Point:
                James, the problem is not “the incompetence of poor people”, but a necessary disagreement over what “rational behavior” really means.

                A middle-class individual may very well look at a lower-class individual who wears a hoodie, $300 tennis shoes, and drives a rusted-out shitbox of a vehicle with gleaming gold rims and a $2000 sound system. To the middle-class individual, this signals that the lower class person has made bad choices. But it may not be “bad choices” so much as an entirely different set of priorities and an entirely different set of expectations leading to different “rational” decisions.

                For instance: if I receive a monetary bonus of some sort, my reaction is to take a little bit of it for recreation money, and use the rest to pay down debt or save in my rainy day fund. But I have certain things to protect, certain things to replace, certain things in maintaining my lifestyle to plan for.

                Now, take a lower-class person. Personally perceived life expectancy, relatively shorter. Amount of possessions, probably less. No home to worry about – an apartment, or living with relatives or friends. What are this person’s priorities? Probably signaling to social peers and potential girlfriends. And for his income bracket and racial/ethnic/social sub-culture, it’s entirely possible that $300 tennis shoes and gold rims on a car are more of an indication of desirability than a more modest appearance and an unseen, generally unmentioned (for fear of social peers demanding loans or handouts) backup stash of money.

                Am I being unreasonable in this? I highly doubt it. In his position if I had $300 to use and no expectation that I would have that kind of largesse to spend with regularity, I might indeed go for the extremely comfortable, status-flashing shoes.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to M.A. says:

                M.A.

                I agree wholly with your penultimate paragraph. Utility is subjective. You’re not being unreasonable at all…unless you then say, “so we should nanny state the dumb motherfisher for his own good.”. I don’t know if you’re suggesting that or not, but Jesse seems to have.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                If the choice is give him a bucket of free money or a smaller bucket of free money plus programs tailored to help him in specific areas, then yes, I’m taking door number two. If that makes me a horrible statist who wants run peoples lives, so be it.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                No, the incompetence of people in general. The rich and middle class, as I said, can make the same mistakes, but they don’t have the same cushion. If a middle-class kid gets hooked on drugs, well, he can go back home and crash with Mom and Dad while he cleans up. If a poor kid does, he’s likely to either end up on the street, in jail, or on the frontlines of the drug war.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                No, the incompetence of people in general.

                Not to worry; I’m assured that it washes off the moment you join the bureaucracy.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Nah, but there are years upon years of studies, best practices, and peer-reviewed papers than a random person probably doesn’t know about. I never said the government is infallible.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                So really are arguing that the government can run all of our lives better than we can do ourselves. Astonishing.

                Did you read David Brooks today? I bet you two would get along great, just as long as you could agree about who was on top.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                In some cases, sure.

                Before the coercive government came through, took a percentage of everyones wages and set it aside, there was a consistent problem with severe elderly poverty. Not just Grandma having to live in a cheap apartment and budget carefully, but Grandma dying because her family couldn’t get food out to her.

                Now, the elderly population is a whole another sector for our sainted capitalists to sell for and outside of the weird story file and small parts of the Appalachian mountains, the kind of endemic severe elderly poverty that used to be common has disappeared.

                So, when it comes to “providing basic retirement security,” I’ll score one for the common good and the government running that better than society was.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Providing basic subsistence is not running our lives. Telling grandma what she can spend that money is. Let’s not confuse separate issues.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                P.s., I’d like a link to one of those best practices analyses for telling other people what choices in life to make. It’s sort of my field of study, but somehow I seem to have missed them, which is kind of professionally embarrassing.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                First, many, many, many libertarians think we should dissolve Social Security and let people invest their own money in whatever retirement scheme they want. Hell, say Social Security isn’t a way the government controls people on a comment thread on Reason.com and see how that goes over. 🙂

                Second, I don’t know where you say I don’t want people to spend their money however they want. If a NIT passed, I’d think it’d be horrible policy, but I wouldn’t want any “nanny-state” provisions on top of it. But, my policy would be an expanded EITC along with expanded funding of the welfare state in general, paid for via a higher tax rate for most people and a severe decline in the defense budget.

                I don’t know where the control of people is in there. Yeah, I want tax revenues spent on x and y instead of b and c. That’s the basis of political argument. 🙂Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Well, you said people use their money badly, then you said we need a nanny state. It sounded like the nanny state would be there to correct people’s bad spending. Would it just be there to make up for their bad spending by giving them some “make up” support, carefully controlled so they can’t fuck it up, to?

                As to S.S., yes, lots of libertarians say that. I’m sorry to be a bit dense, bit I don’t follow your point there.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                To your first point, when an NIT bombs horribly, I don’t want it blamed on the nanny-state provisions. If we’re going to have an experiment with society, let us fucking experiment with society.

                To your second point, a fair number of libertarians out there on the Internet would call the modest FICA contribution we’re coerced at the point of a gun to make the government controlling us and telling us how to spend our money like you claim I want to control people and tell people how to spend their money.

                Now, we may both laugh at that crazy Internet commenter (since those type of people only tend to exist on the Internet), but my point is, you and I call Social Security ‘basic subsistence.’ That crazy guy calls it ‘the government running our lives and telling us how to spend our money’. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Also, this is probably my last post on the Symposium. I’m actually heading on vacation for the next few days to Austin, which is largely the reason (aside from procrastination) I didn’t get anything in as a larger post.

                So, unfortunately, the rest of the league liberals and socialists will have to point out how you want to sell poor people into slavery while crashing the global economy, James. 🙂Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Jesse,

                Since the negative income tax was conceived of as an explicitly non-nanny state approach to octal welfare, you’re preemptive assumption that it’s potential failure would be blamed on the nanny state shows just how ready you are to demonize your opponents. You apparently can’t allow yourself to grant that they could possibly have ny decency.

                That’s a piss poor basis for conducting any discussions, and doesn’t reflect well on you own character.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Grr, again, I’m waiting for clothes to dry so I can pack, but I really need to respond to this since you completely misunderstood my point.

                I was explicitly saying I wanted a “plain” NIT with no “nanny-state” provisions because after years of conservatives and libertarians blaming regulations for Wall Street crashing, unions for education failing, and government involvement in health care for costs and premiums rising, I have zero doubt there’d be a cadre of libertarians and conservatives blaming say, a requirement that a NIT was 80% straight cash and 20% Food Stamp-style benefits on the 20% Food Stamp part. So, instead, give them what they want – a straight-up NIT w/ no strings and if it fails, they have no boogeyman to point too.

                The whole point about “when it fails” was supposed to be a little more light-hearted than saying, “IT WILL FAIL BECAUSE LIBERTARIANS ARE POOPY HEADS WHO KNOW NOTHING!”Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                OK, I misunderstood. Thanks for the clarification.

                Have a good vacation. Relax and don’t think about these debates.Report

              • Avatar A Critic in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                “But, my policy would be an expanded EITC along with expanded funding of the welfare state in general, paid for via a higher tax rate for most people and a severe decline in the defense budget. ”

                And what would happen to people who didn’t “contribute” the sums you would demand of them? What would happen if they didn’t “cooperate” with the punishment for not “contributing”?

                I could be making quite a bit of money…instead I make less than 5000 a year. This way I don’t pay taxes and I don’t support your evil reign of terror.Report

              • Avatar A Critic in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                “Before the coercive government came through, took a percentage of everyones wages and set it aside, there was a consistent problem with severe elderly poverty. Not just Grandma having to live in a cheap apartment and budget carefully, but Grandma dying because her family couldn’t get food out to her. ”

                Source please. I have read of hype and propaganda of such a problem, but I’ve never read of an actual case in America of people starving to death due to the absence of the welfare state.Report

              • Avatar Annelid Gustator in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                “Since the negative income tax was conceived of as an explicitly non-nanny state approach to octal welfare,”

                Hehe. Hilarious typo.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                I’m curious: if you explained the NIT to 100 Tea Partiers, how many would reject it as Marxism? How much higher would that number be if you described it as an Obama proposal?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                I’m curious: if you explained the NIT to 100 Tea Partiers, how many would reject it as Marxism? How much higher would that number be if you described it as an Obama proposal?

                A lot depends on how it was pitched.

                If I explained that Milton Friedman liked it, they might get on board. I couldn’t honestly describe it as an Obama proposal, because it’s not, but if it were, I’m sure they would oppose it in any case.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                *shrug*. Problem:

                1) People lack food.
                2) Question: Should we let them starve, whether it was bad luck or bad choices?
                3) Society as a whole: No.

                Subquestion:
                1) How do we fix it?
                1a) Give them money and hope they use it for food and to better their situation so they can stop needing us to pay for their food?
                or
                1b) Give them food?
                1c) Offer programs tailored to help them better their situation so they can stop needing us to pay for their food?

                It’s kinda a flowchart. We don’t want them starving on the street. So we, as a society, are gonna spend money. Do we just want to throw it at them? Do we want to restrict it? What rules are going to be attached?

                However, in a more specific response — actually, people who are dealing with a problem dispassionately generally DO make better decisions. You know, because they’re not directly involved with the problem. Not always the best decisions, not even always better decisions, but in generally better than the starving guy. Or the guy currently jonesing for a hit.

                It’s nothing special about bureacracy, although I find it funny insofar as any business is one after a certain size, and certainly we’re all about how efficient the free market is here. 🙂 It’s just special about the class of people who currently aren’t suffering the problem.

                The real question, once you answer the “should we let them starve and die on the streets” one is more a matter of how we pay for it. And to be honest, I suppose I can’t help but distrust the ole’ profit motive.

                You can blame Aetna. And UHC. And Blue Cross.

                I’m not poor, I’m not starving, I’m not on drugs. But I HAVE had to deal with the free market when it came to a problem I couldn’t solve or ignore on my own. And you know what? Those guys seemed more interested in making money than fixing my problems. In fact, I got the distinct vibe that if possible they would have thanked me for all my premium money and politely told me they were terminating our whole “insurance contract” thing if they could have.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Morat20 says:

                If I explained that Milton Friedman liked it, they might get on board. I couldn’t honestly describe it as an Obama proposal, because it’s not, but if it were, I’m sure they would oppose it in any case.

                Yeah, that’s my answer too.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                As I asked on another thread, Jesse, if people are incompetent to run there own lives, how can they be competent to run others’ lives? And supposing there are such people, how do we devise a system that will enable incompetent people to reliably select competent people?

                Although it’s a bit misanthropic, I’m OK with your “everyone’s incompetent” thesis. Rather sympathetic, to be truthful. But you can’t apply that analysis only to our actions in the economic realm. You have to follow up by applying it to our actions in the political realm as well.

                What happens to your hope for redemption through politics if we’re incompetent there, too?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                I look at election results and see that we’re very incompetent in the political realm as well. 🙂

                But regardless, here’s an analogy. A tortured one, but it’s the best I can think of. In the time I worked in the service industry, I knew cooks who ate horrible crap, didn’t really care about cleanliness in their own homes, and had personal lives that were a mess. However, once they stepped into the kitchen, because they knew that the best practices of a kitchen were cleanliness, quickness, and quality, they followed those rules.

                It’s the same thing with civil servants. And I’m not claiming in any way the public sector is perfect. But, I find it kind of weird that it’s accepted knowledge that a doctor knows the best way to take care of health issues, a lawyer knows the best way to take care of legal issues, but there’s no way a social worker would know better than a random person how to help somebody in poverty.

                I’m probably one of the weirdest people here because I have a hell of a lot more faith in the people in the bureaucracy who are there for life than the political appointees and apparatchiks at the top.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Jesse, actually I have a lot of respects for bureaucrats, too. But er’re not talking about how to design a highway system or figure out what pollutants are really a hazard in our drinking water. We’re talking about the nanny state–about telling people how they should live their lives. Which ultimately is about teling them what they shouldwant in life. Do you really see that as the same?

                And, since the bureaucracy takes its orders from the political class, who are elected by the incompetents, aren’t they really just using good techniques to implement incompetent policies?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                No, I really don’t see the difference in saying, “this social worker who went to school for a long-time to learn about poverty, society, and ways to help people is offering some suggestions, so if you want some help to get out of poverty, you should probably listen to them” is so horrible, but saying, “this engineer who went to school for a long-time to learn about wiring, beams, and steel is offering some suggestions, so if you want to build this skyscraper, you should probably listen to them” would get a, ‘duh’ from people. I truly don’t see the difference. Neither are perfect, but neither are superfluous either.

                Actually, you’d be surprised how often the bureaucracy finds way to ignore the political class and what they want. Sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad, but yes, sometimes incompetent policies get put in place and civil servants have to work around them the best they can. Thank Jebus we pay them well and offer them decent pay packages to put up with the politicians we send.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Thank Jebus we pay them well and offer them decent pay packages to put up with the politicians we send.

                What is it with people making statements like this that make me spit soda at the screen lately? Wow, that was a howler.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                offering some suggestions,

                I haven’t noticed anyone here objecting to offering suggestions. If that’s all we’re talking about, there’s really no area of disagreement.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Actually, you’d be surprised how often the bureaucracy finds way to ignore the political class and what they want.

                Jesse, I teach public administration and public policy courses. You’ll have a hard time surprising me. You might, or might not, be surprised at the ways the political classes can retaliate against those bureaucracies (once again, Congress is threatening to deny the NSF authority to give grants to political science research, which I find amusing). It’s an on-going back and forth struggle, as I’m sure you know. There is no ultimate victory because the game never ends.Report

              • Avatar Rod in reply to James Hanley says:

                I think this is related to the admonition for lawyers and doctors not to treat themselves or their close relatives. It’s why people seek counselors. To get an unbiased outside opinion.Report

            • Avatar A Critic in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

              “I know this is the equivalent of going into Pat Robertson’s backyard and pissing on a statue of Jesus, but yes libertarians, we need a nanny state. It can go overboard, just like deregulation and privatization can go overboard, but surprisingly, sometimes people who have actually studied an issue for their entire lives know how to fix a problem than ya’ know, the person with the problem. ”

              Why do we need a nanny state? Let stupid and foolish people suffer the consequences of their own actions.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

          Well yes Pat, and thus are all of the innumerable nanny clauses that flutter around the safety nets like bats around a dark tower born. You can’t use assistance to buy drugs, or watch movies or eat trans fat rich foods etc etc…Report

  3. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    How very true, in the real economy, the rich don’t buy up all the subsistence goods, for in the real world, Lazarus eats out of Alice’s dumpster. He also eats out of Burger King’s dumpster. Clearly both Dives and Lazarus are alive. We can therefore conclude they are both eating something.

    It is also true market economies alleviate hardship by generating wealth. But that’s not all they create: they create dumpsters full of nutritious and perfectly edible food for the poor.

    I am glad to see someone else observe pity is no basis for public policy. Yeats observed:

    “for the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand”

    The story of eflornithine is a bit more complex than your pleasant fiction. I support MSF with donations, I’ve been following this since eflornithine was first applied to trypanosomiasis.

    Eflornithine comes in two formulations, only one of which is of any use in the treatment of trypanosomiasis, the intravenous form. Aventis stopped making the latter because there was no profit, but would not allow others to make it, patents and suchlike.

    MSF and the WHO shamed Aventis into manufacturing intravenous eflornithine again. Bayer is also contributing its drug nifurtimox, as you can see under the link provided. It wasn’t Good Press, Jason. It was Bad Press.

    Perhaps you could clarify what seems to be a contradictory position. First you make the entirely cogent argument:

    The rich tend strongly to help out by investing in the process, unless of course they can get their hands on the government (in which case, yes, they cause lots of mischief).

    — but then tell us

    A billionaire can urge you to quit smoking, but a politician can ban it. And a billionaire can buy goods in the market, but a politician can confiscate them in broad daylight, with the full blessing of the law.

    Could the mischief you describe in the first argument be seen in the second? The rich do run the government. Their power and influence is seen everywhere. Our politicians have become their whores. Assholes are what assholes do: if Bloomberg views NYC as his own little fiefdom, he bought it fair and square. If elections have consequences, they also have their predicates. Among those predicates is the Golden Rule, wherein those who have the gold make the rules.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Appeals to pity, again. Perhaps the remedy to all those terrible dumpsters full of food is to prevent anyone from ever getting rich at all. But you should already know how that works.

      Regarding eflornithine, I see my darker suspicion was more or less right; it was some chicanery with patents that kept the drug hard to get. Just not exactly the sort that I had imagined. The good effects of living in society cut both ways; bad press can encourage good behavior just as much as good press. So much the better.

      And as to the contradiction you think you’ve found, it’s no contradiction at all. Michael Bloomberg is rich. He’s relatively harmless when he’s not armed with a government. Exactly as I said.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Well, to continue your quoted analogy, perhaps we could include Lazarus eating what comes out the ass end of Dives’ transparent machine. Call it trickle-out economics.

        Michael Bloomberg is a nasty little schoolmarm. He is mayor of NYC at the cost of $206 per vote.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

          I spent possibly more time than I should have making fun of that story. It’s clearly causing you to make incorrect inferences about what I think.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Your promises of a glittering faeryland of Laissez-Faire Economics fascinates me greatly for I have seen Laissez-Faire in action and find it quite horrible. Perhaps you might help me along here, for I am no fan of plutocracy or any other -ocracy or -ism.

            I know, I know, mention the Third World and eyes roll up to heaven and I shall again endure the jeers and expectorations of the Godwin Crowd. It’s all true, as you say, pity will not help the poor. I find well-spent money does make a difference in their lives, trips to Costco followed by a visit to the food bank down at my church figure large these days, for the poor grow more numerous and the rich are few. Yet it is my continued observation the poor continue to frequent the dumpsters.

            Your research into the matter of eflornithine was deficient. You would conclude the Government is a real-world Dives because Aventis hid behind its patents. That Aventis stopped making it because poor Africans cannot pay for it never entered your mind and certainly did not enter your argument. I grow increasingly vexed by facile conclusions wherein governments are always the villains of these little Libertarian fables.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

              You would conclude the Government is a real-world Dives because Aventis hid behind its patents. That Aventis stopped making it because poor Africans cannot pay for it never entered your mind and certainly did not enter your argument.

              If patents were relaxed (or just ignored), either Aventis would start making it after all, or some other company would. This has actually happened with HIV drugs, and I’m in favor of it. No, it’s not a perfect remedy, but it’s also certainly not a defense of our patent system.

              Yes, some diseases are rare enough, and some cures are costly enough, that the market will not provide them. But in the event that someone finds out a way to economize on these problems, the market will reward them. It’s not utopia, but I never promised it anyway.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Now I will tell you about Conceptual Artistes, the sort who believe the market shall solve our every problem. There are no Ifs in the facts surrounding eflornithine. Aventis was shamed into making it.

                It seems impolite, somehow, to bring up real stories like eflornithine while fictional Lazarus is starving.

                Indeed it does seem impolite, Jason. Most exceedingly impolite.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

                You may certainly accuse me of being less than thorough in my research. I’ll even admit to it.

                You may not, however, say that the facts as they are undermine my thesis. Not when I wrote in the original post that the high cost of eflornithine was “probably” due to a patent issue, and when shortening patent terms is precisely the kind of limitation on government-granted privilege that I have always supported, in part because it clearly helps the least well-off.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                You may certainly accuse me of being less than thorough in my research.

                J’accuse!

                Not when I wrote in the original post that the high cost of eflornithine was “probably” due to a patent issue, and when shortening patent terms is precisely the kind of limitation on government-granted privilege that I have always supported, in part because it clearly helps the least well-off.

                The “markets” are not always workable. Corporate buyouts often come at the cost of destruction of regional art, culture, and favorites. For instance, NECCO (they make those little wafer candies that taste like boiled chalk) has bought out several other candy companies in their time. Each time, their goal was to acquire only one recipe; the recipe’s production was moved to their New England factory, and all of the other regional favorite lines were eliminated.

                There was definitely a market for the regional-favorite candies, and enough purchasing power regionally to support a small company, but NECCO decided that the candy was not “nationally viable.” So, a part of the USA lost a small part of its culture, many workers lost their jobs, and all so that NECCO could have a valentine hearts recipe or a chocolate bar recipe.

                If you’re willing to say that copyrights, patents and trademarks must expire within a much shorter time period if not used – as in product being placed on the shelves or otherwise made commercially available – in order to grant the public a real return on the investment they made granting the company or person a limited-time monopoly in the first place, then that’d be a delightful about-face to see from you.

                I propose the window should be 3 years. What say you?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to M.A. says:

                No, it would not be a delightful about-face. In the past I’ve expressed skepticism that there should be any copyright at all.

                I think patents are a necessary evil as long as the government implements a costly and time-consuming regulatory process on consumer goods (and I’m not at all willing to dismantle all of that, not by any means).

                Three years for copyright? Deal, though maybe I’d like to talk you down a bit. For patents, I might want a bit longer, unfortunately, but only for reasons that I trust you find defensible.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Look, I only develop for Open Source platforms. I’m no fan of patents. But let me push this a bit farther and revisit another paragraph, one which followed the erroneous, grotesque and effulgent praise of Aventis.

                Politicians do these things not because good remedies don’t exist, but because politicians don’t like good remedies. The political elite isn’t stupid. They want what everyone else wants — power. Unlike most of us, they already have a power base to build on. That’s also why they need to be stopped. Concentrations of power are dangerous, particularly when they can’t be punished by customers walking away.

                If we must speak of power which can’t be punished by customers walking away, that might lead us to conclude, as did Aventis, that since no customers could pay for their intravenous product, they should not only stop making it but prevent others from doing so. This is not a patent problem. That might just undermine your thesis at its core.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

                followed the erroneous, grotesque and effulgent praise of Aventis.

                You really did misread me if you thought I was praising Aventis.

                They wanted to look good — or at least not look bad — but that doesn’t mean that they actually were good. Now that I know how callous they were, I certainly would not have written the paragraph in the same way. More likely I’d have quoted Adam Smith on how it’s not through the benevolence of the butcher that we get our dinner. And then noted a remarkably un-benevolent example of the same, aided by political privilege in the form of patents.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                What shall we make of this, if not praise?

                But there’s some leftover eflornithine, so Sanofi-Aliceventis takes it to Lazarus Africanus. He’s dressed in rags and dying of sleeping sickness. Sanofi-Aliceventis cures him. For free.

                This isn’t fiction. This actually happened. Why? Good press.

                It is true, as you say, Aventis did not want to look bad. MSF was begging for eflornithine and were willing to pay for it. Not until this issue reached The Lancet did anything happen.

                It is not through the butcher’s benevolence but the farmer’s care that we get our dinners. The butcher at least has the decency to humanely kill his product ere he cuts them into steaks and roasts. Aventis knew its drug could save the lives of millions and walked away from them, allowing them to die slow and miserable deaths. It only changed its mind when enough Bad Press built up on the other side of the scales, for it was not human lives which mattered to the marketing weasels.

                As for Adam Smith, he once said the government of an exclusive company of merchants is, perhaps, the worst of all governments for any country whatever. Avarice and injustice, he also said, are short-sighted.

                And that, it seems to me, Jason, is the heart of the matter.Report

              • Avatar b-psycho in reply to BlaiseP says:

                How is preventing others from making it not a patent problem? Without the patent protection how would they stop them?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

                And that, it seems to me, Jason, is the heart of the matter.

                What do I think is the heart of the matter? It’s that you like to gin up disagreements where none exist. I’m struggling to disagree with anything you’ve written, or to find fault anywhere, except for the parts where you imagine that I’m promising utopia.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Jason, am I ginning up a completely specious argument here? Have I not backed up my assertions about Aventis?

                Also in the real world, I can tell a true story that pushes in exactly the opposite direction.

                This is the real world, Jason, a story which pushes in exactly the direction you did not want this argument to go. I have no idea who told you about eflornithine / Ornidil. You went out on a limb and dragged that heartwarming story in here and put icing on the cake telling us of Adam Smith’s Butcher. There really is no convincing you of the facts in this matter.

                And it is strange how so many assume that state intervention promises a decrease in inequality. In fact it always increases an inequality of a different kind — the inequality of political power.

                This we know of market and political inequalities: the currency of power is money, not human lives in both forms of inequality. The Libertarian would tell us dark tales of Gummint Inequality but when push comes to shove, it’s not the government abandoning millions of people with trypanosomiasis to lingering deaths. That would be your precious All-Solving Market-Based Solutions in which you have so obviously placed your trust.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Have I not backed up my assertions about Aventis?

                What you said confirmed a suspicion that I aired in the post itself.

                Have you backed it up? I’ve read the article you linked, and it doesn’t exactly say that Aventis acted merely out of shame (it says nothing at all about patents), but I’m willing to believe you. So sure.

                This is the real world, Jason, a story which pushes in exactly the direction you did not want this argument to go…

                In the real world, public pressure inclines people and corporations to stop acting like Dives. That remains true even granting everything you’ve said.

                it’s not the government abandoning millions of people with trypanosomiasis to lingering deaths. That would be your precious All-Solving Market-Based Solutions in which you have so obviously placed your trust.

                ….aaand I’l just repeat my standard utopia disclaimer. I’m not promising it.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Since you obviously glommed those molecule images out of Wikipedia’s entry on eflornithine, you might at least have read the entry for sleeping sickness:

                Sleeping sickness treatment

                The drug was registered for the treatment of gambiense sleeping sickness on November 28, 1990.[6] However, in 1995 Aventis (now Sanofi-Aventis) stopped producing the drug, whose main market was African countries, because it didn’t make a profit.[7]

                In 2001, Aventis (now Sanofi-Aventis) and the WHO formed a five-year partnership, during which more than 320,000 vials of pentamidine, over 420,000 vials of melarsoprol, and over 200,000 bottles of eflornithine were produced by Sanofi-Aventis, to be given to the WHO and distributed by the association Médecins sans Frontières (also known as Doctors Without Borders)[8][9] in countries where the sleeping sickness is endemic.

                I haven’t even gone into your facile condemnation of melarsoprol. It’s still the indicated drug for East African sleeping sickness: eflornithine doesn’t work on it any more, if it ever did. Melarsoprol is the only remaining treatment for the New World variant of trypanosomiasis, Chagas Disease in its chronic late phase, a particularly horrifying condition. Eats your heart. And your guts. I’ve seen Chagas in clinics in Guatemala and in a few refugees here in the States. Chagas is resistant to pretty much everything but melarsoprol still works in combination with nifurtimox.

                Bear with me, there’s a point to introducing Chagas to this discussion.

                As you say, melarsoprol is dangerous. But there’s another drug for treating Chagas Disease. It’s benznidazole. Interesting history to this drug. Hoffman-LaRoche invented it and gave it to the government of Brazil. Don’t get ready for a happy ending though. The government of Brazil outsourced the manufacture of its active ingredient to a private firm… yep, you guessed it, they stopped making it! And now MSF is once again out there fucking grovelling trying to get someone to make it. Go Free Markets!

                So there another little Market Based Riddle for you to solve. There are no utopias. When I was editing Cahalan’s essay, I came across a great little zinger. Though a problem may not resist definition, sometimes it resists a solution.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                There are no utopias.

                Again, exactly where does Jason disagree with you?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Well, let’s just start here.

                Politicians who complain about economic inequality tend to achieve two things: First, they extend political inequality. And second, they make it harder for market forces to raise the living standards of the least well-off.

                I would, and have, disagreed with Jason on this subject. If I am to be told market forces will raise the standards of the least well-off, allow me to quote the wonderful Adam Smith again, something along these lines: Money, says the proverb, makes money. When you have a little, it is often easier to get more. The great difficulty is to get that little..Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Blaise,

                Are you willing to stipulate that Jason isn’t claiming markets lead to utopiaReport

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                James, quit playing at Priam begging for the body of Hector. I have dragged poor Jason’s embarrassing Aventis story around the walls of Troy for a while now and even I’m getting tired of it. I have demonstrably proven, in the case of drugs which might cure millions of poor people who cannot enrich the drugs firms, market forces have not raised the living standards of these least well-off. Quite the opposite. Those who would talk of the hypocrisy of politicians and tell us of heroic market forces which might better the lot of the poor should not now Eat Cheeze and mumble something about No Utopias.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Blaise, I’m not asking about the aventis story. Jason claimed he wasn’t arguing that markets created utopia, and you yet again utter the word “utopia.” I’m simply asking whether you are willing to agree that he’s not making a utopian argument, or whether you think he is.

                Why is it hard for you to answer a simple yes or no question?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                James, I will not be schoolmarmed by you or anyone else around here. I’m tired of you attempting to reduce this to a Yes or No. I rather like and respect Jason at a personal level. His conclusions are disturbingly wrong and based upon fallacious evidence. He manifestly did say politicians kept markets from lifting the poor from poverty, that much cannot be denied. If I point out this is not so and has never been so in the history of the world, that market forces have kept the poor in poverty and demonstrably closed off remedies to the poor, I will continue to stand by that assertion.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Blaise, it’s a real simple question. You implied Jason is arguing that markets create utopia; he denied it; you repeated the word utopia again. So do you think he argues for utopia or do you take his word that he doesn’t?

                No schoolmarming about it–the question is about what kind of man you are, and your response, even when non-responsive, says something about that.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Since I hate to see two of my favorite commenters fighting, can I jump in?

                Jason said he’s not promising utopia. BP responds with there are no utopias. JK and James criticize BP for misrepresenting JK’s views. Seems to me – could be wrong – that not promising utopia implies that utopia is possible. BP is asserting that utopia isn’t possible.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Stillwater,

                I’d accept that response from Blaise. Problem is, he seems unwilling to deal with the issue, and I can’t see a good reason for it.

                As you know, one of my biggest beefs is folks who say, “you believe X,” no matter how many times the target of the statement repeats that they don’t believe X. I’m trying to discern whether in fact Blaise is doing that (and asking if he is, not asserting that he is), and he seems unwilling to simply say that, no, he isn’t doing that.

                That makes me suspect that he is, but knows that it’s not a good thing to admit. I hope I’m wrong about that, and he could quite easily persuade me I’m wrong, as I’d take him at my word. But he seems to prefer to play his usual game of “I’ll insult others, but don’t you dare to voice any criticism of me because you’re not worthy to question me.” It’s tiresome, and it’s why I don’t take your comparison of the two of us as much of a compliment, although I am aware it was not intended to be derogatory toward either of us.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                That is, I’d take him at his word. Taking him at my word would be exactly the problem I’m complaining about.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                As the worthy Stillwater observes, neither Jason nor I have any truck with utopian ideals. He did say all this talk about Inequality aims for the gut and not the head, a particularly obtuse observation which might lead me to conclude my own sensibilities on the subject of Inequality are not based on solid reasoning. The trypanosomes, they go for the gut, too but especially they go for the heart.

                If Americans no longer suffer from protozoal infections, the market did not solve the problems. Civil society demanded and got the government to intervene. We eliminated malaria in the lower 48. We instituted hygiene regimes. We now drink chlorinated water.

                If most of the world continues to suffer from these diseases, we may thank the lack of good governments in such places for these continuing scourges. Why haven’t the markets solved the problem of poverty in such places in the absence of government regulations? Because they goddamn well can’t, any more than the markets eliminated the scourge of slavery. We hear much from the Libertarians about how they’d eliminate government interference in the workings of the market. These guys don’t have a clue what they’re saying. Perhaps in their zeal to eliminate regulations on markets, we should quit inspecting fruit for assassin bugs, the primary vector for Chagas Disease.

                It remains my opinion that those who most wish for government to get out of the way of markets would benefit from living at the terminus of unfettered capitalism and contracting a case of amoebic dysentery down there. Along with losing a few kilos, they might lose some cranial fat which currently prevents them from thinking clearly about just how good they’ve got it here in the USA, where the mean ol’ government continues to get in the way of market forces intent upon Improvin’ our Lives.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I have dealt with each such “Issue” as it arose. I try to put considerable thought into what I say here. You, James, have played at Priam long enough. The gods might have saved Hector’s body from destruction but you have not saved Jason’s argument. I have quoted Jason at length. If he does not really believe these things, this might come as some surprise to both Jason and myself, for I take him quite seriously.

                Jason does believe the politicians are the great obstacle to progress, that markets would better the lot of the poor if only government would let them. That is utopian thinking of the most facile, ridiculous, demonstrably unprovable sort. It is also classic Libertarian thinking. It’s worse than Flat Earther-ism or Creation Science. The Flat Earthers might have been forgiven, what with their lack of perspective but the tender mercies of the market have recently crushed our economy and many people, even in our ranks, lack solid employment.

                I make no pretence of comity. I don’t call people poopy-heads, either. When I am wrong, and I have been, often enough around here, I’ve said “You’re right”. But those stipulations and retractions were based on facts in evidence. How dare you put words in my mouth and troll-quote me, as if I didn’t think these folks were worthy. What the hell do you think brings me back here? Free snacks? Airline miles? I’ve been pecking away, editing Pat Cahalan’s essay, not because I agree with his conclusions, but because there’s a lot of good thinking in there. And there’s a lot of good thinking going on all round this joint. If I am not the politest soul around here, I make no apology for that fact. I write what I know and remain supremely unashamed of my belief structures, all of which emerged in the course of being convinced by the evidence at the cost of dearly-loved fantasies.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

                On the Aventis story, I’ve been trying as hard as I can to stipulate to the exact set of facts you have described. It would be glorious if you’d let me.

                After that, we could argue about little things — like whether there is a moral difference between acting to secure good press and acting to avoid bad press. And whether that difference matters very much to people who are dying.

                But these are very, very little things. They are also things I anticipated in the original essay. I explicitly raised the possibility that Aventis might have been up to some shenanigans with patents. I even said that this was “probably” the case. So what we’re arguing about here is… nothing.

                Still, I’m happy to go another round if you like, because I’m not all that ashamed of what seems a very, very minor objection. There were some facts I didn’t know, but they weren’t inconsistent with anything I was saying. (Over in your part of the country, there’s a word for this, I gather, and that word is “utopian.”)

                It remains true through all of this that living in a society of more than three people can often have civilizing effects that a three-person model completely misses. That was the point of the story, and it’s still true. It’s true even if Aventis was dragged kicking and screaming into civilization, with no help at all and much disincentive from the state.

                As to Chagas, I’ll stipulate to all your facts once again. But I’m also ahead of you here. I wrote that eflornithine is used to treat one form of sleeping sickness. Not all forms. One form. I wanted to keep the example clear and limited.

                Not that I mind looking at Chagas here. Three observations. First:

                Hoffman-LaRoche invented [benznidazole] and gave it to the government of Brazil.

                On your view of the market, this is inexplicable. On your view, they should keep it to themselves, whimpering softly because they can’t make a profit.

                Two:

                The government of Brazil outsourced the manufacture of its active ingredient to a private firm… yep, you guessed it, they stopped making it!

                This again reveals a problem with governments, not markets. (If there is a problem with the private company here, it’s that Hoffman-LaRoche would maybe have done better to give the patent rights to MSF, but at this point it’s neither here nor there.) The right policy solution is to drastically shorten the amount of time that any entity is allowed to sit on a drug patent without offering it for sale. When the window closes, anyone should be allowed to make it.

                But then, I’m afraid that if I offer any policy solutions, you’ll just call me a utopian again.

                Third, from the article you linked:

                The Brazilian state laboratory LAFEPE (Laboratorio Farmaceutico do Estado de Pernambuco) is currently the only pharmaceutical company producing benznidazole tablets. Responsibility for producing the active pharmaceutical ingredient, API, was recently transferred to a private company, Nortec Química. Right now, there is not enough API available for LAFEPE to produce the tablets needed, and Nortec has yet to validate API production. In addition, LAFEPE has breached its promise to publish and fulfil a manufacturing schedule that would ensure availability of the drug.

                Free market failure? Hardly. This was a cooperative screwup, with the government of Brazil leading the way. If the government had allowed others to compete with it rather than licensing to just one company, I might hope for a somewhat better (but, no, still not utopian) outcome.

                Finally, Nortec Química appears to be held up not because it can’t make a profit, but because the state-run laboratory LAFEPE can’t or won’t get its specifications right.

                You must have known that I’d read that article, and you must have known (I trust) that it didn’t say what you were claiming. So why did you link it? I’m puzzled.Report

  4. Jason: I wholeheartedly agree with your conclusion on this, and I’d have written some more on this particular part of the issue in my own post were it not already too-long.

    While I increasingly agree with the diagnosis of inequality as a problem, to expect that it can be cured by increased regulation, at least in a pluralistic and heterogenous society such as ours (I will stipulate that in a more homogenous society, an opposite result may be attainable) is a fool’s errand. The fact is that in any political system ever conceived short of (perhaps) a young dictatorship*, those with the most wealth will always be very close to power. They may on rare occasion temporarily fall out of power, but only temporarily, and when they return to power, they will have the ability to permanently undo whatever little good was achieved in the interim. Even when they are out of power, they will still be able to retain most of their influence.

    To provide the government with the authority needed to closely regulate those with the most wealth is to provide those with the most wealth with the authority to use those regulations as an inequality-enhancing sword the moment that they succeed in capturing those regulations.

    Any solution to inequality must of necessity be a cultural solution to have any staying power or long-term effect. This means ending the culture wars; it also may mean organized use of what market power the lower and middle classes possess, most likely through boycotts and that sort of thing. [Gets on hobby horse] Unfortunately, due to one of the quintessential examples of “the authority to closely regulate those with the most wealth” resulting in a sword for those with the most wealth, many of these types of boycotts are illegal. Without the Wagner Act, you can’t get the Taft-Hartley Act.

    *In an old dictatorship, the dictator and his inner circle will actually be the wealthy class.Report

    • Avatar Scott Fields in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      Mark –

      This is an excellent comment. Thank you.

      I suspect there are people who reject the diagnosis of inequality as a problem in large due to their skepticism toward government’s ability to solve the problem rather than make it worse. You’ve demonstrated that one can hold both those views. Kudos!

      I agree that a cultural solution is what is needed and I’ve always thought that the power of numbers needs to be the countervailing force to the power of money. If with the politics, we could focus less on regulation/deregulation battles and more on removal of the constraints on the market power of the middle and lower classes.Report

  5. Avatar clawback says:

    Is it possible that some inequality is due to the corporate political rent-seeking you decry? If so, am I allowed to regret that part of the inequality? Or is that just more “appeals to pity”? Just trying to understand the rules.Report

  6. Avatar CK MacLeod says:

    I could sign on to that, and I don’t understand why more people don’t agree.

    Mostly because it violates the no-free-lunch moral perceptions drilled into them over around 200 years, which also dovetails with the formative Puritan-colonial ethos, and with the more or less universal experience of the (planned and coercive) institution and maintenance of the so-called free market. Haven’t you heard of Paul Ryan’s “hammock”? The NIT is just a (or an initially) less bureaucratic hammock. However, since most employed Americans aren’t really doing anything authentically value-creating and productive anyway, and making the (huge) assumption that the general profits problem can be solved by other means, we might be able to sustain a negative income tax arrangement in advanced capitalist countries indefinitely, but only at the cost of continuing to enforce the lethal coercive threat against authentically value-creating, profit-producing, and quite utterly hammock-less labor elsewhere.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      Mostly because it violates the no-free-lunch moral perceptions drilled into them over around 200 years

      Oh, but that ship’s already sailed. Decades ago. I’m just suggesting that it might sail more efficiently, with more dignity to the recipients, less power to bureaucrats, and possibly with more philosophical rigor.

      I might dispute the idea that “most employed Americans aren’t really doing anything authentically value-creating and productive anyway.” But what’s a casual slur on the the working class between friends?Report

      • That’s no “slur” on the workers. It’s a technical characterization of service employment and other sectors whose main systemic function is consumption and re-distribution of social-economic surplus.Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to CK MacLeod says:

          There is a sense in which service work is unproductive, but it’s a very specialised sense that is a long way away from the way we normally use the word “productivity”. And not value-creating? That’s crazy talk.Report

          • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to James K says:

            Call it “crazy talk” if you want, but the fact remains that the institution and maintenance of an NIT, or of measures of social democracy intended to achieve the same effect, or of a large in-a-specialized-sense “unproductive” service sector, under existing economic assumptions and relations – mode of “production” – depends on the continued realization, distribution, re-distribution, and consumption of surplus values that are in-a-specialized-sense “produced” elsewhere.

            How we “normally” use the word productivity – and concretely go about realizing the ideology of production – is central to the problem, and linked to the function of “inequality,” as self-reinforcing and extending inequality, in effect the other side of the coin, within a global system, as we are perhaps beginning to discuss on the other thread.Report

  7. Avatar Kimmi says:

    >As long as he was just a billionaire, Michael Bloomberg couldn’t stop synagogues from delivering bagels to >homeless shelters.

    Are you sure about that? I am rather under the impression that he could in fact… via subtle or unsubtle ways.

    >And a billionaire can buy goods in the market, but a politician can confiscate them in broad daylight, >with the full blessing of the law.

    You should go south. the full blessing of the law extends mostly to those rich enough to bribe the politicians.Report

  8. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    Would getting bureaucrats out of welfare provision really make it more likely patent protections for drugs would become weakened and/or loosened? Concentrations of economic power allow all sorts of distortionary effects into democratic decision making. Unless we’re talking about abolishing democracy in favor of some robotic reason state, I’m not entirely sure how you could prevent the economic power disparities from eventually seeping into political power disparities.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      Would getting bureaucrats out of welfare provision really make it more likely patent protections for drugs would become weakened and/or loosened?

      Of course not. But the privileges granted by patents often seem help the more fortunate while hurting the less fortunate. They seem an area where social democratic thinkers and libertarians could and should agree.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Given that libertarians don’t agree on the how’s and why’s of intellectual property protections, I’m not sure that social democrats have much of an in, either. Especially when some libertarian solutions involve “get rid of antitrust laws to let private powers enforce IP protection rather than the state”. Which is the sort of solution that would get social democrats running for the hills.Report

  9. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    When asked how much the rich should pay in taxes, we are primed to think of figures like Dives, and the answer is always more.

    Huh? For at least a decade, the answer has been “less”, regardless of how much they pay now or have paid in the past, and purely imaginary virtues and powers are ascribed to the rich to justify “less” as the only possible answer. In fact, if there has ever been a time when the rich were more coddled, petted, praised, and pitied, I’m unaware of it.Report

  10. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Jason, this is a good post and it’s got me athinkin. I’ve long harbored the idea that libertarian principles cannot emerge from the ground up, or out of the state of nature so to speak (for a variety of cultural and structural issues), but rather are logically and causally dependent upon institutional structures shaped and maintained by the coercive power of the state. It’s only when social interactions are complex enough, sufficiently interrelated, and relatively open that many libertarian principles can be realistically implemented. So, on this view, the realization of libertarian ideals must necessarily climb the ladder thru the state in order to eventually kick it away.

    What are your thoughts?Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Stillwater says:

      I don’t know. It’s an interesting question. It’s a whole lot easier to grab power than it is to let go of it. That doesn’t mean that concentrated power is right. It just means it’s easy. I’m uncertain whether utopia would have a state at all, but if it doesn’t have state, I think it would have to avoid having one through social and technological advancements that aren’t yet known to us. We’re an infant species, I think.Report

  11. Avatar stuhlmann says:

    “As long as he was just a billionaire, Michael Bloomberg couldn’t stop synagogues from delivering bagels to homeless shelters. As mayor, he can. A billionaire can urge you to quit smoking, but a politician can ban it. And a billionaire can buy goods in the market, but a politician can confiscate them in broad daylight, with the full blessing of the law.”

    A billionaire can also buy politicians and get the politicians to ban smoking, confiscate goods (e.g. eminent domain abuses), etc. At least Michael Bloomberg is doing all these things in the open where we can see and criticize him. If he was instead using his billions to pull political strings from behind a curtain, then we wouldn’t know what a control freak he is. We wouldn’t be blaming the right person.Report

  12. Avatar A Critic says:

    @

    “I could sign on to that, and I don’t understand why more people don’t agree. ”

    It’s impossible. Henry Hazlitt, the economist, was once a proponent of the NIT until he realized his error. Please see “The Conquest of Poverty” available at Mises.orgReport

  13. Avatar trizzlor says:

    I’d love to see a post about the NIT in detail as it’s both often referenced and rarely discussed, especially for a policy that seems to bridge the gap between the left and the libertarian right. I think a fundamental question is weather or not we should see services for the poor as utilities (e.g. the way we treat water, power, and roads). If so, then the government has tremendous collective leverage to bring down per-unit costs and the market isn’t really offering any competitive advantage that makes up for it’s redundancy and overhead. I don’t think it’s a stretch to consider housing projects and food-stamps as having some similarities to roads such that a market solution isn’t ideal, but it would be great to see some analysis.

    Also, I think it’s also worth noting that the vast majority of federal welfare spending goes towards children, elderly, and the disabled – a class of people that is uniquely difficult to fit into an open marker system like the NIT. In light of that, it seems like the NIT would mostly be federal spending on top of Medicaid and Medicare or just more low-income tax cuts …Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to trizzlor says:

      Children are a problem for a NIT, granted. Their parents would be the ones receiving the income, and it’s doubtful that this would be equitable.

      For the elderly and disabled, I don’t see the same problem. If they are adults, they will receive the basic income even if they don’t work at all. They may also consider working up to their abilities, whatever they may be, even if those abilities wouldn’t nowadays be worth hiring someone for at minimum wage.

      It’s one benefit of the NIT that there is no longer any good reason to keep a minimum wage; lower-paying jobs can be taken or left with much less urgency and much more discretion on the part of the worker. Employers can craft jobs with very low hourly value added, without fear of offending anyone’s sensibilities.Report

      • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        The minimum wage point is a great side-effect I haven’t thought about; I imagine it would result in many more greeter-type jobs that just require sitting at a desk or standing at a door and some people would be glad to do it just to stay busy. I guess I see the elderly and disabled as people for whom welfare becomes even more like a utility; if 90% of their NIT money went to insurance and housing would it not make sense to just skip the middle-man and switch back to Medicare and Section 8 (and the leverage advantage large programs provide)?Report

      • Avatar A Critic in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        “lower-paying jobs can be taken or left with much less urgency and much more discretion on the part of the worker. ”

        Why work at all with a NIT? Why work a crappy low paying job when you can make almost as much for no work and possibly make additional money working under the table or in the black market?

        Since our economy is now a “service economy” in which many jobs are crappy low paying jobs…wouldn’t a NIT mean that many folks would quit their jobs and take a small paycut or get a raise even?Report

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