Sunday, August 20, 2017

Why Important Social Programs Should Be Government Funded

I often hear libertarians and "small government" types talk about how so many government funded programs like most social services, health care, etc, should be funded by private charity rather than taxpayer dollars. But even the most hardcore of them will insist that programs such as national defence must still be run by the government. But I will put forward that they might be being self-serving hypocrites.

We generally support government funded social programs (ultimately funded via taxpayer dollars of course), because people don't necessarily know where help is actually needed, and how much money needs to go to it. When you look at how different charities are funded, people are far too swayed by whichever ones have the most media attention, spend money on advertising, deal with the scariest and most sensational problems, etc. The boring but necessary things, and the problems that affect only small numbers of people but don't get much attention, will tend to be ignored. And it's almost certain the the correct amounts of money won't perfectly end up where they're needed. Some things will get over-funded, some will get nothing.

Sure you might save some money from inevitable government waste, but at what cost? Just because pharmaceutical companies are greedy and make mistakes doesn't mean we throw out producing medicine. Needing reforms to government run programs isn't in itself anywhere near a sufficient reason to say that we should throw them away.

But here's the interesting argument:

If the small government types are actually correct, and people can be trusted to give money to charities as much as is actually needed, then why couldn't national defence also be charity funded? A huge amount of current defence spending (in the US at least) is private contractors, with the government coordinating and doling out the money as needed, so for them the only real change is where the money is coming from. For the rest, such as actual soldiers, you can still have it be government run but funded via public donation.

If people truly will donate money sufficiently where it's needed, then surely the one case where this is most likely to work is the one that literally affects every person in your country, national defence. People can turn a blind eye to social programs that they don't directly benefit from, but no one can argue that they don't benefit from this. So if the charity model was ever to work, surely it would work in this case right?

But even the hardcore libertarians aren't willing to risk the safety and security of themselves and their families by trusting it to public donations to fund. When it affects them directly, they insist that the government must fund it and taxpayers must pay for it, because it's just too important. And this, in my opinion, is an admission that your charity-based approach to social services doesn't work, and that you don't believe in it enough yourself.

There will always be discussions to be had about how to distribute money to different social programs, how much to spend, how much tax is fair, and which things are enough of a public good or moral obligation that the government should fund them, rather than a "nice to have" that can be left to the whims of the people and how generous they feel. But if you're not willing to go all the way and say that the public can be trusted to voluntarily donate money where it's needed on everything, then when you only suggest charity for the government programs you personally don't care about, chances are you're being a hypocrite.