Whence Profit? Whence Philanthropy?

Monday, June 08, 2015

I can't speak to how much of the "outrage" reported in an article about a proposed garden bridge in London might be due to egalitarianism or envy of the wealthy, although both are plainly at play. That said, we can blame the welfare state for at least some justifiable anger.

Actually, they have pretty good grounds. As Gizmodo's Chris Mills so aptly pointed out back in December, London is in the midst of a critical housing shortage, and its transit system is rapidly aging. This 1,200-foot bridge, which was originally supposed to be paid for with privately-raised funds, will cost roughly $300 million to build -- about $91 million of it from the government.
Everything the government might spend money on listed above -- housing, transit, and recreation -- is beyond its proper scope. The fact that the government has customarily been involved in these areas muddies this issue in two ways. First, the potential involvement of the government in what should be a purely philanthropic or for-profit endeavor becomes all the more galling. Second, it gives the egalitarian/envious aspects of the reaction false legitimacy. Were government limited to its proper scope, a billionaire who wished to open or operate a park in a city would be free to do so -- at his own expense or that of other donors or paying customers. Not one cent would be expropriated from anyone else. The undertaking would injure nobody else and the government would no longer, through other illegitimate behavior, perpetuate the illusion that the undertaking is somehow depriving anyone of what he deserves or needs.

-- CAV

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