Confusing political economy with personal virtue

More

Apparently, a number of people in the comments genuinely did not understand the point of my last post. Okay, let's go over it again.

It is common to hear Democrats/progressives complain that Republicans/conservatives/libertarians are selfish because they want to cut taxes instead of spending that money on national health insurance or expanded welfare benefits or some other social program.

But this makes absolutely no sense. Democrats are not advocating spending their own money on the poor; they're advocating spending the money of a very small group of voters who lean Republican. One might argue that this very small group of voters is selfish, but they are not the majority, or even a plurality, of Republicans staunchly opposed to taxes. Or other people opposed to taxes. Of all of the libertarian bloggers out there advocating lower taxes and social spending, I'm hard pressed to think of one who wouldn't personally benefit more from the increased social spending than from the lower taxes.

The majority of people opposed to purchasing the higher-taxes/lower-social-spending combo pack may be wrong on some utilitarian basis, but whatever their sins, they are not the sin of selfishness.

Yet public debate often features an underlying moralistic current in which Democrats act as if they have captured the moral high ground on matters of the public purse--as if advocating public charity were some lesser form of engaging in private charity. It isn't. It may be necessary to take money from third parties in order to give it to other third parties, but doing so at absolutely no personal cost to yourself is not an act of virtue.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Why Are Americans So Bad at Saving Money?

The US is particularly miserable at putting aside money for the future. Should we blame our paychecks or our psychology?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In