Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Responsibilities of Economics

There's a Mitchell and Webb sketch where they discuss the value of the local water safety measures taken by the city. One is proud that the city has done so much work to keep children safe from drowning, but the other points out that every dollar spent on water safety is money taken away from direly needed police, fire prevention, road safety, and so on. So the city should only spend exactly enough to prevent anyone from drowning? No, you can't know that you've spent just enough to prevent any deaths, so the optimal solution is to prevent most drownings every year. Yes, some people will die, and it's preventable, but there's a finite amount of money for the city, and other uses would save more lives.

It's played as comedy, but the point is entirely valid. The state has an immense power to determine who lives and who dies.

I think that's why Libertarians don't like the power of the state. Even though the state saves lives, the fact that it gets to choose which lives to save gives us a lot of cognitive dissonance. How can we conscience spending money on a stadium when that money could have meant a child is fed? Libertarians choose to reject the whole idea instead of thinking about that issue. Unfortunately, it's actually the worst solution to do nothing at all.

It just makes them feel better to blame the victims.

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