A Succinct Prescription

One of the things I enjoy about Facebook is my friends’ regular posting of cartoons, pithy sayings and thought-provoking quotations (some real, some highly doubtful…).

This morning, someone posted a photo of a sign held by a member of the “Occupy” movement. The sign enumerated the “demands” of the 99% –healthcare for all, jobs, good public education and a clean environment.

That really doesn’t seem to be too much to expect.

When we ask THE political question–what should government do?–most liberal democracies have answered that government is the collective mechanism we use to provide those things individuals cannot provide alone. Economists call this “market failure,” but the basic idea is that, in order to flourish as individual citizens, we require an infrastructure. To use a local example, individuals buy their own cars, but they need roads on which to drive them, traffic signals to direct them safely, etc. The over-arching question in free societies is always: what should government provide, and what should be left to the private and nonprofit sectors? What can people do for themselves through the market or through voluntary associations, and what must be provided collectively–i.e., “socialized.” (Yes, Tea Party people, that’s what that word means.)

The list on the placard, while not exhaustive, seems pretty reasonable to me. Individuals acting alone cannot protect the environment. Health and education are not consumer goods, they are public goods–and leaving them to the vagaries of the market leads to huge inequities and inefficiencies. As for jobs, I’m one of those throwbacks who thinks we ought to seriously debate the merits of government as the employer of last resort.

Health, jobs, education and clean air and water. What will the ungrateful masses demand next?


  1. Don’t be fooled! Give ’em that and they’ll expect free roads and highways, police and fire protection.

  2. Thanks Sheila, In these polarized times, so many people only react to social issues with the knee-jerk impulses fed to them by their chosen media outlets. Unfortunately, far too many have Fox News as their only news source, and don’t understand that they are getting their information from a right-wing zealot, who isn’t even an American citizen. That person of course is Rupert Murdock.
    On the other wing of public opinion is MSNBC, and while it’s true that they lean left, I don’t feel that they are intentionally creating emotional reactions in their audience, except when they give undue coverage to sensationalized non-issues, like the Trayvon Martin fiasco in Florida. Those kind of stories are the price we pay for the 24/7 news cycle. All those highly paid talking heads have to have something to talk about when Air-time rolls around.
    Your mention of the tea-party reminded me of something I saw on Politico the other day. One guy’s signature line said, “Tea Parties are for Little Girls, and their imaginary friends “. I got a chuckle out of that, hope you do too !

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