April 15, 2012

"Whether competition among governments is good or bad comes down to the philosophical questions of what you want government to do and how much you fear government power."

Econprof N. Gregory Mankiw explains a really basic point about federalism for NYT readers:
If the government’s job is merely to provide services, like roads, schools and courts, competition among governmental producers may be as good a discipline as competition among private producers. But if government’s job is also to remedy many of life’s inequities, you may want a stronger centralized government, unchecked by competition.
A really basic point, as I said, but it's a point everyone should have down pat.

32 comments:

jimbino said...

And if you want undeserved Affirmative Action, taxing of the industrious to support the indolent, theft of income, wealth and opportunity of young men in order to support women, their hypochondria, their longer lives and their breeding, you need a strong central government, not to mention the claimed right to tax the income and wealth of expatriates.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

That article should be required reading in every high school civics class.

rhhardin said...

He leaves out misallocation that comes with centralized control of money flows, regardless of tax rates.

Knowledge is more distributed and power is more centralized, which drives down the standard of living of the entire nation.

That makes it cover borrowing as well as taxes. Anything big that can't fail is a sinkhole.

Chase said...

What jimbino and Tyrone said.

When you are young and college aged, you have to go along to get along, even if you are conservative to begin with, because the academic institutions are stacked in favor of the political left and liberalism. Most young people do not have the backbone or (yet) intelligence to think with reason or and foresight. Almost all higher education institutions are contemptuous of real open thought and free, truthful exchange of ideas. Academia today is far worse than any religious culture in it's encouragement to conformity of thought and actions within the liberal parameters.

THAT is what has been destroying the fabric of American society. It is a neverending fight of actual reason against the totalitarian thought tactics of today's American Higher Education.

Can you imagine what 5 million college age voters thinking reasonably could actually mean to the future prosperity and freedom of the United States?

cubanbob said...

If the government’s job is merely to provide services, like roads, schools and courts, competition among governmental producers may be as good a discipline as competition among private producers. But if government’s job is also to remedy many of life’s inequities, you may want a stronger centralized government, unchecked by competition.

The founders already made the choice for us: it's called the Constitution of The United States. All we have to do is abide by it.

YoungHegelian said...

Mankiw makes some interesting points about competition between governments.

No doubt future historians will see the EU as a deliberate attempt to reduce the competition for inter-governmental capital flows.

EDH said...
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EDH said...

High tax states hate competition.

Their response has been to try to foist their anti-competitive policies on unsuspecting state tax payers in other states by using the federal dollars, like a heroin dealer giving out "free" samples.

Their hope is that eventually feckless politicians elected in other, more competitive states are so opportunistic and short-sighted that in exchange for a few federal dollars granted today they will lock their states into a perpetual obligations that will hobble their competitive position forever once the federal grant dollars dry up.

Obama and his blue state allies tried to use "stimulus" and other federal dollars for this purpose with respect to several programs including unemployment, high-speed rail and Obamacare.

wyo sis said...

The choice Mankiw mentions in the last paragraph is one every voter should consider carefully. It's really the only choice that matters in this election. All other discussions are side issues.

Ann Althouse said...

Some things need to be done at the national level to work properly. But what are those things... and do we want them done?

jimbino said...

It's pretty easy to things that should NOT be done or supported at the national level:

R&D: better left to folks in bicycle shops, garages and college dormitories.

Education: not even provided for in the Constitution and for good reason--how can we even think of entrusting the education of our youth to STEM-ignorant, bottom-of-the-college-class unionized government hacks when the government can't even deliver the mail, run rail systems or clean up after disasters?

n.n said...

No, the question to ask is how much do you value individual dignity. The government is a social structure organized to preserve individual dignity, principally of the citizens it serves. It does not, or should not, exist to conduct progressive involuntary exploitation, arbitrary reduction of liberty, and to normalize behaviors which devalue human life, including promotion of evolutionary dysfunction. The civil servants should not seek favor from special interests, including: "minority" groups, unions (especially public) and other cooperatives, illegal aliens, foreign sovereigns, etc. They have only been granted an authority to preserve our Creator-given rights.

The American left is exactly the same creature as every other left-wing ideological group throughout the world. They either fear or distrust individual dignity. Their ideology does not serve the best interests of humans, but of some abstract collective and their own selfish interests. In this they denigrate individual dignity and devalue human life. There is a reason why the worst human and civil rights violations have been (e.g. 20th century) and continue to be committed by powerful centralized cooperatives. The lack of competing interests predisposes their members to progressive corruption.

The New York Times offers a false choice. There are reasonable compromises, but they are not specified by their criteria. They are specified by the establishment document, The Declaration of Independence, and the organizational document, The Constitution.

I suppose that certain adults, as most children, must personally experience the challenges of life. It is insufficient to know our history in order to avoid repeating it.

jimbino said...

It seems that our Constitution pretty much spells out what the Feds should be messing with: defense, maritime rules, border control, immigration, disputes between the states and interstate commerce.

Not managing drug wars, wildlife and forests, sex, pornography and contraception, energy, education, health and welfare or generally choosing winners and losers in life.

Unfortunately, the historic misinterpretation of the Commerce Clause is the cause of innumerable current problems. Once was, when a Texan needed a 3-pill treatment for helminths or giardia, he could cross the border and buy it for $2. Now with Plan D and Obamacare, he will be faced with paying a fortune in insurance premiums or penalties, enduring a doctor's office visit, and a high price at the pharmacy for 3 pills.

Adding insult to injury, he might actually be in Thailand, India, Brazil or Mexico or even Canada where medical care and drugs are cheap--all the while still burdened with paying both US income taxes and Medicare Part B and D premiums, or Obamacare premiums or penalties, and enjoying absolutely NONE of their purported benefits!

A good look at our what our posture toward government in general and the Fed in particular should be will no doubt be provided by Atlas Shrugged, Part II.

ALH said...

Mankiw says: "But if government’s job is also to remedy many of life’s inequities..."

It should say "But if government’s job is also to ATEMPT TO remedy many of life’s inequities..."

Government can ATTEMPT TO do lots of things, many of them not well.

Bender said...

I watched Ronald Reagan's first inaugural on Comcast On-Demand the other night. Wow.

Remember what it was like to feel good about your country, with real hope for the future because here was a guy who "got it," who understood?

For decades, we have piled deficit upon deficit, mortgaging our future and our children's future for the temporary convenience of the present. To continue this long trend is to guarantee tremendous social, cultural, political, and economic upheavals.

You and I, as individuals, can, by borrowing, live beyond our means, but for only a limited period of time. Why, then, should we think that collectively, as a nation, we are not bound by that same limitation?

We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow. And let there be no misunderstanding--we are going to begin to act, beginning today.

The economic ills we suffer have come upon us over several decades. They will not go away in days, weeks, or months, but they will go away. They will go away because we, as Americans, have the capacity now, as we have had in the past, to do whatever needs to be done to preserve this last and greatest bastion of freedom.

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government IS the problem.

From time to time, we have been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden. The solutions we seek must be equitable, with no one group singled out to pay a higher price.

We hear much of special interest groups. Our concern must be for a special interest group that has been too long neglected. It knows no sectional boundaries or ethnic and racial divisions, and it crosses political party lines. It is made up of men and women who raise our food, patrol our streets, man our mines and our factories, teach our children, keep our homes, and heal us when we are sick--professionals, industrialists, shopkeepers, clerks, cabbies, and truckdrivers. They are, in short, "We the people," this breed called Americans. . . .

So, as we begin, let us take inventory. We are a nation that has a government--not the other way around. And this makes us special among the nations of the Earth. Our Government has no power except that granted it by the people. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed.

It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the Federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal Government and those reserved to the States or to the people. . . .

Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it is not my intention to do away with government. It is, rather, to make it work-work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it. . . .

The crisis we are facing today does not require of us the kind of sacrifice that Martin Treptow and so many thousands of others were called upon to make. It does require, however, our best effort, and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds; to believe that together, with God's help, we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us.

And, after all, why shouldn't we believe that? We are Americans. God bless you, and thank you.

John Lynch said...

I had a poli sci prof make this point. If conservatives really believe that the country is almost beyond saving, shouldn't they want a strong government that can set things right?

Fen said...

stronger centralized government, unchecked by competition

Oh you mean like Public Education...

Bender said...

I had a poli sci prof make this point

Clueless, utterly clueless. And such is "educating" so many young people to equally be without any clue whatsoever.

Hagar said...

After 50 years of working with government agencies, it is my observation that the level of incompetence varies inversely to the level of government the agency belongs to.

You want to keep government action as close as possible to the people the action is supposed to serve.

Hagar said...

Woops! Did I ever state that wrong!

Of course I meant to say "... the level of competence varies inversely ..."

edutcher said...

jimbino gets it right.

The Constitution enumerates very few things for the Feds to do, everything else is left to the states (and most to localities).

We go back to that model and things would work better. The finer the granularity, the better the control.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

That article should be required reading in every high school civics class.

I thought William Ayers and the rest of the distinguished educators who dumbed down our schools got rid of that stuff.

craig said...

"I had a poli sci prof make this point. If conservatives really believe that the country is almost beyond saving, shouldn't they want a strong government that can set things right?"

The Ring of Power is not safe if entrusted to anyone. To 'set things right' is always how it starts, but it never ends there.

Fen said...
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Fen said...

If conservatives really believe that the country is almost beyond saving, shouldn't they want a strong government that can set things right?

Things are wrong because of a strong federal government. And its not the taxation, its the out-of-control spending.

Also, your question has some irony. When Republics fall, they are usually replaced by Fascism. The Leftists that "need a strong hand" will certainly get one (someone like me).

But then, I'm rooting for radcial Islam in the ApocaWatch (Intrade?) If we're going down, I want to watch the people who caused it get punished by the *real* Taliban. I want to see Sandra Fluke walk up to the Imman and demand he pay for her birth control...

Fen said...

The mandate fundamentally changes the relationship between citizens and the federal government - Kennedy, 2012.

Paddy O said...
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tim maguire said...

It's a fine effort, but he presumes too much in presuming that NYTimes readers will admit to any purpose of government other than to make all the things we don't feel like doing ourselves free and easy.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

John Lynch said...

I had a poli sci prof make this point. If conservatives really believe that the country is almost beyond saving, shouldn't they want a strong government that can set things right?


This quote is in the Urban Dictionary next to the definition of "strawman argument." First of all, red flags go up at the mere mention of "poli sci prof" but let's leave that aside. Perhaps you can provide us with some kind of documentation for conservatives believing the country is "almost beyond saving"? If that is so, why are conservatives trying so hard to save the country from the depredations of liberal poli sci profs and their ilk? All time dumbest argument ever.

Writ Small said...

Competition means some will be on the losing end, and so the Left will always be suspicious of federalism and the free market.

Progressives simply prefer systems that achieve outcome equality: affirmative action, single-payer health care, extremely high and progrssive marginal tax rates, etc.

John Lynch said...

Hey, I didn't say it, my prof did.

It was in response to Borkian predictions of doom. To expand, the argument went like,

If,

1. Society is really out of hand- families are collapsing, fiscal deficits are exploding, and morals eroding. Our cultural elites have not only completely failed- not only are they watching disaster happen they are actively encouraging it. We seem to be in a death spiral.

2. So how to stop it? If government is weak, then no matter how many elections conservatives win nothing will stop the decline in the culture. So, what then?

That's what he meant. He was making a point about the tension of believing that society needs to be reformed while simultaneously wanting to make government unable to do it.

I don't agree, personally, because government in America is very bad at solving most of our problems. It seems to me that government is there to solve problems that are both serious and cannot be solved any other way.

Stuff like defense, courts, and making sure the other parts of government stay honest.

To reform the culture we need to reform the culture. A lot of that is a speech issue- being able to say when things are wrong, and not "respecting" bad choices.

Nathan Alexander said...

@John Lynch
You got fooled.
The professor made an assumption that was false, but presented it as a fact.
If someone trying to con you says, "look what's in my right hand," always watch his left hand.

Here's where you went wrong:
So how to stop it? If government is weak, then no matter how many elections conservatives win nothing will stop the decline in the culture. So, what then?

The false assumption is that govt can fix cultural decline.

The problem is that a strong govt causes cultural decline. If conservatives won 20 consecutive elections and the federal govt shrank to pre-Civil War levels, that would solve 99% of the cultural problems.

The professor was vocalizing the 21st century equivalent of a medieval doctor: "If you want to solve the anemia, you just have to bleed them. If the anemia gets worse, bleed them more!"

Beldar said...

If government's job is to remedy life's inequities, then the governor's choices as to what is and isn't inequitable become law, ultimately binding upon us at the point of a bayonet.

Only an idiot could believe that to be a good thing, but there are lots of idiots.