A Common, but Weak, Argument

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I have been thinking a lot about the pitfalls of placing too much stock in the idea of government inefficiency when it does economic tasks outside its proper scope. For example, Republicans sometimes warn that some statist proposal they don't like will end up making whatever new government "service" is being proposed "like the post office". One problem is that there are examples of things even the government has managed to get right on some levels, like the 1960's space program, and some that it does, or seems to do, reasonably well, like highways. (In many such cases, however, such factors as: near-monopoly status of the government, the fact that most people aren't used to thinking about how things could be done differently, and "things unseen" might be making it look better (or less inept) than it is.) This is not to say that the there can't be merits to the argument, but it should not be used as a substitute for -- or a way to avoid -- pointing out that some proposal is a misuse of government, and will violate individual rights whatever the merits of its execution.

That said, a quick reading of a John Stossel piece reminded me of this type of argument a couple of times. I'll discuss one of them:

Every year, government gives the group Family Expectations $100 million to teach couples how to have "healthy relationships." Family Expectations gives parents "crib cash" if they follow certain rules and advice.

Does this preserve marriage? No. The government's own study found that couples who attended Family Expectations workshops were no more likely to stay together.

So did politicians stop the funding? Of course not. They're politicians -- they never stop throwing your money away. This year they gave Family Expectations another $100 million. [links dropped, bold added]
Regarding the handing-out of government loot to Family Expectations: That shoudn't be done even if that outfit preserved and perfected every marriage it touched. That money had to come from somewhere, and it wasn't from paying customers or voluntary donations. (And profitability is often a blind spot among those who merely ask how well the government does things. Failing to consider the relationship between the moral and the practical can lead to such blind spots.) Thus, even if Family Expectations lived up to expectations, its source of income would have to be considered in any discussion of, say, how well the government promotes marriage, including the idea of it contracting out such a service. Finally, Stossel is right to note the obvious waste of money, but the fact is that the money should have been cut off long ago on the grounds that preserving marriages is beyond the proper scope of government.

-- CAV

No comments: