Friday, August 9, 2013

Democracy and Economics

Yes, I am well aware that this blog has become moribund to the point of extinction.  But it is not quite dead just "pining for the fjords" to borrow a phrase, it has not ceased to be.  My sabbatical in Brasil has caused severe disruption in the content of the blog but I hope that normal programming can resume once the fall term begins.

But here in Brasil I do keep track of the goings on on the The Oregonian blog (as this appears to be what the O is quickly becoming, the hallmarks of the blog species are all there: typos, fluff and opinion mixed in with a bit of news) and this caught my eye, apparently someone has been going around posting flyers declaiming the fact that those that benefit from government handouts are also allowed to vote:

I wonder what dear Artemis believes a government by, for and of the people is all about?  We all benefit from the work of the government - that is the entire point of the exercise.  Pointing out one small population is absurd.  Ranchers get federal grazing rights, farmers get subsidies, the timber industry gets to cut on federal land and then counties receive payments when these timber revenues dry up.   All of these folks vote.  The poor get assistance in the form of tax subsidies, food stamps and healthcare, and they vote.  But it is not just these particular groups, we all benefit from government provided roads, parks, fire and police protection and so on.  And we all vote.  Many of our kids go to pubic schools and still we vote.  We are all beneficiaries of government spending and we all have a say in that spending.

The whole point of a democracy is for us all to figure out together the proper limits of government.  But the point of government itself it that it makes out lives better, it takes care of public goods, it controls and regulates activities that have externalities and it promotes the advancement of the citizenry and the economy through investments in human capital, research and infrastructure.  If it didn't we would not have it.

It has been known since the beginning that voters in a democracy will have a say in the benefits that accrue to them, that is the very point of democracy.  And to complain about a subgroup is simply absurd - it is precisely because such groups are relatively small that they cannot decide for themselves the amount of benefits they receive.  Their votes (nineteen in one neighborhood!) are too few to matter, it is the votes of the rest of us that will determine their fate.

Now I realize that arguing with a flyer-posting crank is a bit silly, I do think it is important to understand the point of government.  


Kamila Paluszek said...

I've always dreamed of traveling to Brazil. I envy.

Patrick Emerson said...

The reality of my time here - many hours in a small office and home to a tiny apartment and then dealing with all of the traffic, people, smog, etc. of São Paulo is not very romantic. Still, I am very grateful for the opportunity.