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Friday, July 08, 2005

Going to Market

I have recently been noticing how our cultural assumptions have been changing around the issue of government involvement in our society. Now, we have never been as centralized or socialized as England or France (or any number of developed nations). For complicated reasons having to do with our national mythology and self-identity, I don't think we ever would have been.

But it seems that since the 1980's we have been moving full speed away from the involvement of government in anything, such activity being decried as either "bloated bureaucracy" or else a function of "tax-and-spend liberalism." In place of such structures, privatization has been offered, in order to allow the free market to more efficiently manage whatever function is in question, from school to the military, and so forth.

I'm not going to argue for the inherent correctness of one setup over another, and the evidence is rather mixed. For example, France has universal socialized medicine and the best health care system in the world. On the other hand, some of the free-market oriented reforms of Margaret Thatcher in England (the trains, for example) were a positive development.

But I do think that the market (which isn't always free, but more about that another time) cannot bear all the weight that we place on it. For one, not everything can be profitable. Transportation, for example, is never profitable outside of massive public subsidy. Yet clearly we need roads and bridges, airports and rail lines.

And Paul Krugman contributed an op-ed essay in this morning's New York Times that also pointed to a difficulty with single-minded favoring of the market over government: public health suffers. He writes about obesity and the current defensive maneuvers by food companies to head off obesity-oriented lawsuits. In one line he sums up the gist of this entire post: "In today's America, proposals to do something about rising obesity rates must contend with a public predisposed to believe that the market is always right and that the government always screws things up." If we do indeed believe that, it is worse than an oversimplification, it is self-deception.

Read the whole thing here.

2 Comments:

Blogger Gaunilo said...

One of the most disturbing aspects of the cultural scene leading up to and following the Iraq war (oft remarked upon internationally) was the willingness of the media to give the Bush administration more or less a free pass with the war - that the narrative being told by the government wasn't challenged in the manner that it should have been, which constituted a major failure in the role it has come to play in modern American society.

It's interesting to ask how much the increasing corporate consolidation (as a result of deregulation) of news outlets comes into play in this. How can the media function in any reliable manner when the profit margin and the bottom line play increasingly determining factors?

Of course, it's a bizarre paradox if the freedom of the press has to be guaranteed by government regulation.

Sunday, July 10, 2005 12:23:00 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Gaunilo:
Yes, interesting. Also interesting (and paradoxical) is the fact that one of the finest English-language news sources in the world is the BBC, a state-funded broadcasting agency. (Not that they didn't founder a bit over criticism of a Blair memo a year or so ago -- but the fact that they needed to be brought to heel is significant.)

I wonder if we have also just been coopted into a "media=liberal" mindset, same as the "government always screws things up" mindset. Therefore, for the media to call seriously into question any move by a more "conservative" government can be ipso facto written off -- by other bits of the more conservative media such as Fox news and R. Limbaugh, etc.

What I take to be your larger point about the corrosive impact of the market on an enterprise which seemingly ought to be free from such influence (such as truthtelling) is solid, as well.

Monday, July 11, 2005 11:03:00 AM  

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