But What If "Public Goods" Don't Help the Poor?
how to cut gubmint out of the loop
In a piece on appreciating John Stuart Mill, professor emeritus Philip Kitcher advances an argument for “public goods.”
A poor but talented black American child may dream of becoming a lawyer, perhaps even a judge, or a Supreme Court Justice. But if that child is being raised by a single parent, sometimes homeless, often hungry, and sent to a dangerous and underfunded school staffed by a rotating corps of disillusioned teachers, he may in principle have a chance to realise the dream of giving eloquent speeches in a courtroom, but, even with the most determined effort, his chances of success are slim. What the law allows is negated by the facts of the child’s life. In the absence of public goods — education of the quality available to their more fortunate contemporaries, or a “safety net” that protects against severe poverty and homelessness — the odds are against success for even the most gifted and diligent of children.
But what if a century of “public goods” has Made Things Worse?
For instance, we spend a ton of money on government schools for the poor, but the results are pathetic.
We spend a ton of money on government welfare — a “safety net” — for the poor, but the result seems to be fatherless boys.
Now, my view is that getting government into the provision of “public goods” was a fatal error. Government-run schools? You gotta be kidding. Government-run welfare? Please.
Why is that? It’s because the political is about gifting your supporters, and shafting the enemy. Ask Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt about that.
Oh yes, you can create wonderful narratives about educating a talented, but poor, black child to be a Supreme Court Justice. But the fact is that the folks that work at government schools are just in it for the salaries and the pensions. That’s what Michelle Rhee found out as Chancellor of the underperforming District of Columbia Public Schools from 2007 to 2010.
[Rhee proposed a]"grand bargain" with teachers under which "greater accountability, including an end to tenure," would be traded "for a nearly 100-percent increase in salaries."
No thanks, said the teachers. We want our tenure.
Same with government welfare. I was talking to a friend who was in the military with a black guy back in the day. What was that black guy going to do after he got out of the military? Live off his girl-friend on welfare.
Whatabout government pensions? Don’t ever try to cut benefits, even though the program was developed decades ago when the life expectancy was much less. “I paid in for 40 years!” That’s what the average punter says. And that’s why there are riots in the streets in France right now as the government is trying to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
Now, the way I understand all this is that when you deliver a “public good” through a government program the “public good” has nothing to do with the case. A government program is just delivering benefits to the recipient, who is hopefully a government supporter. That is all.
Now, we can understand that back in the day, dear old John Stuart Mill didn’t understand this. He lacked the experience with 100 years of gubmint social programs that we have. But the fact is that you can’t deliver “public goods” through the government, because the only thing that government can do — the only thing it knows how to do — with money is play the loot and plunder game and gift its supporters.
But we have a bigger question. How is is possible to reform any government program at all if some of the recipients are going to experience a decrease in benefits, or salary, or pension, without riots in the streets?
It’s easy to imagine another system of “public goods.”
If education were something run by churches (like the Catholic schools) or by the Masons or by corporations or by the moms in the neighborhood, then everyone would put their shoulder to the wheel and make it work.
If welfare were run by the world’s Karens then welfare recipients would be quick to get off welfare somehow to avoid the hail of invective from the said Karen.
If pensions were private, even if everyone were forced to pay 7 percent of their wages to an account at Vangaurd or Fidelity, then everyone would retire when they could afford to. And no riots in the streets of Paris.
But how do we get there from here?