Markets everywhere

The barking-at-the-moon lunatics who are against government provision of any goods and services that private citizens will buy themselves if they are put under enough duress, will be very pleased to see this latest privatisation in America. Marines’ families have been asked to provide service-people with equipment:

Besides the essential flak jacket with steel "trauma" plates, the shopping list for the young Marine included a Camelbak (water pouch), special ballistic goggles, knee and elbow pads, a "drop pouch" to hold ammunition magazines and a load-bearing vest.

For those of us who think that there are some things that Government should do, and that equipping their soldiers properly is one of them, this is a complete outrage. I don’t understand why politicians are not being held to account.

10 thoughts on “Markets everywhere”

  1. It’s a bit infantile to use this as an opportunity to slap your political enemies.

    The azcentral report looks fishy to me. Flak jackets, ballistic goggles and probably the other things are of course issued to Marines who need them. One suspects there’s something that report isn’t telling us (eg: Jeremy Tod won’t be going anywhere near combat).

    Owen replies:
    I don’t think so. They are at it again today, saying that the poor should pay for their own sewerage services. But I do agree that it would be interesting to know if the azcentral report is accurate.

  2. I hope you – and I guess Tim – will not take too much offense if I suggest that at times “you lot” (i.e. all the bloggers on the opposing sides in the right/left no-state/state debate) are just as bad as each other.

    It doesn’t strike me as barking at the moon mad to believe that there’s no call for the state to involve itself in funding the RNLI, but neither does it make you a totalitarian wonk to believe that a tax payer funded grant might be prefereable to reliance on voluntary fund raising.

    Likewise, (simplistically) there are two possible methods of delivering water and sewarage – either private profit-motivated investment followed by commercial charging, or tax payer funded investment followed by continuing tax funding. I see no a priori reason to believe either route is always and everywhere preferable to the other, and again I do not see that believing the former it usually a better route means you believe “the poor ought to pay for their water” or that supporting the latter makes you a sandal wearing 1960s socialist relic.

    On the question of aid, I think the hypothesis that aid may have (partially) prolonged odious regimes and inhibited the development of self-sustaining economies (which is surely what Africa needs) deserves serious consideration. But just because you believe that does not mean that you have to deny that the right sorts of aid (I don’t know – infrastructure grants, education and health services, soft loans (OH NO NOT THEM!)) can greatly help poor nations.

    Surely the sensible way to approach all these questions is to try and cash out the cost and benefits, identify the trade-offs and so on, rather than to choose your side, throw rocks at the other lot and build your own barricades?

    Sorry to sound so dreadfully self righteous, but to paraphrase Karl Popper, if you are seeking the truth then the right thing to do is try and identify the weaknesses in your own beliefs and the strengths in those of others. To my mind most of the blogosphere seems to occupy itself with doing precisely the oppposite.

    Owen please don’t take this personally because there’s no particular reason why I chose to grace your comments section with these observations (they would have been equally (in)appropriate on any other blog – the thought just occured to me here that’s all.

  3. Paddy: I agree that it is not totally mad to believe that there’s no call for the state to involve itself in funding the RNLI. What is mad is the fundamentalists’ response to someone who diasgrees. Roy Hattersely reasonably opined that the state, rather than voluntary donations, should pay for this essential service. To refresh your memory, Tim Worstall said: An article … has led me to want to hang the author, hang him high. If, that is, we could find rope thick enough to support the Tub O’ Lard while he tap dances on air. The question I asked – and continue to ask – is whether the fundamentalists believe that every service that can be privately financed should be, or if there are some things the government should do. I’ve had no answer to this reasonable question.

    I don’t think I am a left-wing or right-wing fundamentalist. I am in favour of trade liberalisation and smaller government, for example. But I am opposed to, and a little offended by, the “little England” xenophobia of the anti-EU, anti-aid lobby, especially when those same people come out of international isolation only to send the troops in to defend our economic interests abroad, but are unwilling to take risks or commit resources to protect the interests of millions of people who die each year of extreme poverty.

    I believe I have a more nuanced view of aid than you imply. I agree that aid has been used to prop up odious regimes such as those of Mobuto and Mengistu, and I am pleased that, between the end of the cold war and 9/11, there was much less of this abuse. I think aid is given badly and expensively, in ways which make it less effective and less easy to absorb. But I don’t reach the fundamentalist conclusion that it is useless, since this is neither supported by the evidence nor my experience.

  4. Owen I must have expressed myself badly, I did not mean to characterise you as a fundamentalist of any sort, and I’d presume that you know more about the actualities of development and aid than most, seeing as it’s your job.

    As I said, I wasn’t commenting on you in particular. I just meant to point out there’s a lot of mud slinging and characterising the other lot as loonies that goes on. Everybody seems determined to see the other side in the worst light, rather than taking the best of them. You are guilty of that on occassion (everybody’s at it – that was my point) and although the line from Tim you quote demonstrates that he doesn’t exactly go out of his way to appear moderate, I don’t reckon he’s a litte Englander xenophobe (for instance) and I’m fairly sure there’s plenty of things he’d think are best done by the state, not the private sector – just less than you. And that doesn’t make him a fundamentalist either. Likewise on aid, perhaps the people behind the so called GDI and the others that you see as being “anti-aid” nutters are more reasonable than you give them credit for.

    Although God for all I know you might all be swivel-eyed loons.

  5. As the fundamentalist being complained about:

    “is whether the fundamentalists believe that every service that can be privately financed should be, or if there are some things the government should do.”

    Yes to both. There are some things government should do. All those things and only those things that cannot be privately financed.

  6. Tim’s response is very interesting. All those things and only those things that cannot be privately financed. Including body armour for soldiers, which their family will buy for them if the government doesn’t?

  7. I find it very difficult to use the incompetence of a government at providing one of the services which it undoubtedly should provide, collective defense, as an argument in favour of the government attemtping to provide us with other services.

  8. Now I’m puzzled. You seem to be saying now that all services should be either provided by the private sector (eg water) or, where the Government should provide a service (eg defence) it should not rely on the private sector even where the private sector would make a contribution. Is that right? Are you saying that there should be no mixed economy services (eg schools) in which both public and private finance contribute?

    If you do believe some services should be provided by a mixture of both public and private sectors, then according to your principle that the Government should do all those things and only those things that cannot be privately financed the Government is justified in leaving purchasing body armour to the soldiers’ families, right?

  9. It’s obvious that Tim is not in favour of making servicemen pay for their equipment. It’s obvious that if the state is going to employ them and pay them well. You really do yourself a disservice sneering so much at libertarians.

    Owen’s reply: It seems likely that Tim (and all other sensible people) would be in favour of providing servicemen with proper equipment. But then it also seems obvious to me that there are some things that the state should provide, because there are some things which are more efficiently or fairly provided collectively than individually. But that is not what Tim professes to believe (see above) – his original post criticised someone for saying that the state might be asked to provide a public service which is currently being provided by private voluntary contributions. So I asked the reasonable question: when does he think it sensible for the state to provide goods and services? This was not a trick question. His answer was commendably crisp: the state should provide “all those things and only those things that cannot be privately financed”. But if I understand that correctly – which perhaps I don’t – this means the state should not provide body armour, as that can be (and apparently is being) privately financed. So either Tim does not think that the Government should provide body armour, or he has in mind some other, more nuanced principle about which things the Government should provide. I am trying to tease out what exactly that principle might be.

    Not only do I not sneer at libertarians, I think I have a strong libertarian streak myself. I am, for example, a sceptic about the role and size of government. But I realise that there are some choices which I cannot make as an individual; and some services which the market cannot provide. My freedoms and choices are in some circumstance enhanced by getting together with other people and agreeing to do things, or not do things, together. My freedom is reduced, not increased, if other people pollute the air or steal my belongings, so we need collectively to agree rules about pollution and about theft, and we need to put in place mechanisms to enforce these agreements. The provision of public transport as an alternative to cars gives me more choice, not less, so I am willing to be part of an agreement to provide it and to share the costs. So as an intelligent libertarian, I realise that we need to think carefully about where we draw the borders of the state: what should we do collectively, and what should we do as individuals, to increase our freedoms? A defensible libertarian view of the world needs to be able to give a good answer to this question.

    The case for a more free society is not enhanced by signing up to a knee-jerk prejudice that everything paid for by Government is bad; and everything paid for by individuals is good. There are some things Governments should do (and should do better than they do them now); and Governments should do some things which are not merely “those things which cannot be privately financed”. I am not sneering at Tim when I challenge him for espousing what appears to be a blanket opposition to state involvement in anything that can be privately financed. If this is his view, then it is not libertarianism, or indeed any sort of sustainable or coherent political philosophy (arguably it is closer to anarchism); and describing it as libertarianism does a disservice to real libertarians.

    And finally: I am challenging ideas, not sneering at individuals. It was Tim, not me, that called for a decent man to be hanged for saying that the provision of lifeboats should be a public service. So if you are really worried about bloggers launching personal attacks on individuals, I suggest you look elsewhere – I don’t see you reprimanding Tim for his repeated personal attacks on Polly Toynbee, George Monbiot and others. In the meantime, I’ll try to stick to a discussion of ideas and leave the sneering to you.

  10. Starting out by calling me a barking at the moon lunatic might be seen by some as a little extreme although, oddly, not by myself as I use, in jest, the same description of some of my views. Froth at the mouth, foam flecked, right wing lunatic, all have been used by me to describe me.
    Not quite sure how to describe it really, umm, satire? Irony? Sense of humour?
    As in the original Hattersley post. I cannot believe that anyone could read it and seriously believe that I want to hang him. The reference to John B should be sufficient for that, at the very least.

    I tend to think that Government should provide only those things which absolutely must be provided by that mechanism, those things which can only be done by the combination of exclusivity, force and collectivism that it entails. Roughly speaking, defense (and yes, that obviously does include the proper equipping of troops) and the legal system, with all of its appurtenances (so I am all in favour of legal aid for example).
    I am also all in favour of collective responses, assuming that such are voluntary, outside those that are governmental. So the RNLI, for example, which was the subject of the initial post, I regard as a wonderful and uplifting thing. Absolutely one of the finest expressions of the human spirit, that desire to sacrifice, whether it be time, money, effort or in extremis, life itself, for our fellow man.
    I just don’t get why people want such to be done at gunpoint, through the force inherent in the taxation system.
    Similarly, public transport. Wonderful things, buses, trains, ships, airplanes, I simply don’t understand why people confuse the concept of transport to be used by the public with transport that must be paid for by taxation, or provided by Government.

    There is, in fact, nothing very barking or lunatic about my ideas. You as an economist Owen, must have come across Coase. The fact that something is a public service (RNLI in this instance, Lighthouses in his research and also pollution in other parts of it)does not mean that it must be provided by taxation, nor that government is the only possible, or even the most efficient, provider of such.

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