Depratment of Huh?

Thomas Levenson cites me in a simply bizarre way when talking about the decision by Colorado Springs to slash its budget for many public services:

This, from the Denver Post, on the city of Colorado Springs' discovery that taxes actually pay for things that people, you know, need and use. (h/t Atrios).

This is, among other things, what folks like Megan McArdle never seem to get -- not merely that governments do things that (a) private entities won't and or can't and (b) that are necessary if you are, say, going to have thousands or millions of folks living in close proximity to each other, and (c)  those things that need to be paid for -- by the people in common, that is to say, by government -- include a bunch of stuff essential for a sound economy and any chance of achieving what is commonly thought of as the American way of life.

That is -- it might be hard to quantify the contribution of adequate street lighting to GDP -- but ask yourself what it would do to retail sales to have pools of darkness every thirty feet along a commercial street.

Or -- it may not show up on a a monthly report of manufacturing output, but ask yourself whether the long-tail consequences of a diminished police presence in a factory district might include an impact on that district's safety, and hence production -- or if a change in fire response times could translate into altered insurance costs.

And you don't even have to ask the speculative question about the value of investment in school facilities and in the quality of public schooling as discovered in very real dollars in the home valuations realized by property owners in the relevant districts.  That's on that answers itself.

I mean, it makes a certain amount of sense, insofar as I am one of the internet's leading advocates for getting rid of the police and fire departments, cutting spending on education, and eliminating street lights . . .

Oh, wait a minute, that was one of those anarcho-capitalists I once met at a cocktail party.  Like Thomas Levenson, I frequently confuse them with myself. 

It's easy to do, because we share so many policy preferences:  my support for the FDIC, my advocacy of a negative income tax, and of course, my belief that America should levy a stiff source-fuels tax on all fossil fuels.  Unless you actually see us standing next to each other, you'd think we were, like, identical octomilletuplets.

But here's an easy way to tell:  is Megan in favor of the existence of a government?  Why, yes, she is!  Which means she believes that some things are public goods, and is therefore not an anarcho-capitalist.  One over here, the other over there.  Like Kibbles and Bits--the same, but different.

The second way to tell if I resemble Thomas Levenson's description is a little more complicated:  have I ever advocated getting rid of the police, streetlights, or education spending?  Why no, I haven't!  Of course that way requires actually firing up Google, which means you could sprain your fingers. You can understand why Thomas Levenson didn't want to risk it.

So if you are a liberal with a similar dilemma, let me see if I can't undo some of your confusion regarding what those crazy libertarians might believe.  It all starts with a very simple proposition:  the existence of public goods does not imply, as a corollary, that all good things should be public.

If you can't understand why a libertarian is against your program, start with the possibility that they might not think it is a true public good.  That way you don't need to jump straight to the ludicrous conclusion that opposing your new boondoggle means they logically must also want to rip down the guard rails on the highway.