Want to Spread the Power? Spread the Wealth.

March 6th, 2010

You’re forever hearing Republicans and conservatives saying that they want to put decision-making–political power–in the hands of states and localities. This post by Arnold Kling is a good example out of thousands. The reasoning is not crazy (though it is contestable):

Wisdom of the crowds. More people trying different policies results in succesful policies winning, hence better policies.

Greater equality. Because power is less concentrated, there is less disparity between the very powerful and the less so.

Less danger of government “capture.” Since government power is dispersed, it’s harder for corporations and other wealth concentrators to capture and control those governments.

But do the economic policies championed by Republicans and conservatives actually promote this dispersion of power? Are they actually promoting the principle that individual (market) choices, in aggregate, deliver the greater good? Not so much.

Let’s assume for the moment that money is power. (Because…it is.) Which end of the U.S. political spectrum does more to disperse money into the hands of individuals, whose collective choices will (theoretically) allocate resources efficiently and make everyone better off?

That’s the mantra that right-wingers proclaim. But do they walk the economic walk?

I would suggest that lefties think government spending should be more widely dispersed (i.e. more to individuals than to entities). Hence: money to public infrastructure, health care, education, and direct transfers to individuals, rather than defense and business.

The streams that lefties promote are less prone to capture because they’re not delivered in large blocks to singular entities. It’s a matter of degree, of course–infrastructure versus food stamps. But nobody can argue that defense spending is less prone to capture than welfare spending.

Righties believe that that dispersion (of money hence power) is achieved through market mechanisms, if government doesn’t create monopolies and other concentrations.

Lefties point out that that’s obviously not true: unfettered markets–especially given the spectacular efficiency of corporate capitalism–inevitably pump money (and power) to the top, which is inevitably used to capture government.

Lefties also believe that government is the only entity powerful enough to capture back the money (hence power), and disperse it.

Most lefties make these arguments on persuasive moral grounds, but in my view they are even better supported–in terms of rhetoric that will convince the other side, and independents–by the evidence for greater efficiency, utilitarianism, bigger pie, all boats rise, all that.

Comments are closed.