Recently there was some excitement when Ron Paul told Wolf Blitzer a view that everyone who knows Ron Paul knew he had, and that every Ron Paul fan knew a lot of other people disagreed with. Specifically, Paul resisted the idea that an uninsured 30 year old who was dying ought to get any sort of public support. This view isn't exactly a news flash, of course.
Robin Hanson responded in this way:
"But a great many ill, collapsed, etc. folks in the world are largely left to die, at least if curing them costs anything like a US hospital stay. Ezra argues above for “decent” national care, not global care. And even libertarians wouldn’t leave family members to die. So everyone agrees that we heroically help some, and leave others to die. We only disagree on who falls into which category."
And Arnold Kling said much the same thing:
"What most non-libertarians favor is some form of collectivist policy at a national level. National socialism, to coin a phrase. People are naturally collectivist at the level of family and others in their immediate vicinity. And that's fine. But to libertarians, national socialism is a mistake. The way to behave ethically with distant strangers is to trade honestly with them and don't steal their stuff. There is no reason to treat distant strangers that live within one political boundary differently from distant strangers that live inside another boundary."
These both seem quite wrong and to ignore what seems to me to be the major point. The allegation is that non-libertarians are nationalists, and that they want to divide people up by national borders - that those within a border are in the "tribe" and those outside aren't. Libertarians, it is argued, are tribal creatures too (we all are) they just have a more reasonable tribe - the immediate family.
However, if you asked the average non-libertarian and Ron Paul a different question - whether public funds should be used to help fight AIDS in Africa or other relief efforts - you'll likely get the same difference in response. So despite the effort to smear non-libertarians as "national socialists", it's not clear to me this holds water in describing the difference in preferences.
Economists talk about demand for goods and services (of which medical care is an example) as "ability and willingness to pay". It's worth sorting through exactly which of these two constrains Ron Paul from suggesting we provide free health care to the world and which constrains the average non-libertarian from providing free health care to the world.
There are a lot of things on our plate. Clearly we can't provide high quality health care to several billion people without cutting into other priorities. There's also the collective action problem - that paying for other countries' health care is less sustainable of an arrangement if it's a free lunch for them. For these two reasons, a lot of public health spending does get spent at the national or sub-national level. The constraint here, though, is clearly the ability to pay. Our dollar doesn't go nearly as far, and dollars are less available, when we start providing health care globally. But there's just as clearly a willingness to pay for global public health for most people. As we've gotten richer there has been more of a sense that we ought to put public funds towards these sorts of efforts. Certainly because we all think people should take a certain amount of personal responsibility, our willingness to pay for health care globally isn't infinite, but the major constraint seems to be ability to pay. As we get wealthier and our public budget constraint expands, most non-libertarians want to pay for more health care at the local, national, and global level.
Is this true of Ron Paul? I think it's safe to say "no". Whereas ability to pay is the biggest thing standing between the average non-libertarian and providing public health care globally, willingness to pay is the biggest thing standing between Ron Paul and this goal.
This seems obvious to me. Everyone knew this, right? His position may be controversial, but the fact that he holds this position doesn't seem controversial.
In light of that fact it seems wrong for Robin Hanson and Arnold Kling to say libertarian critics see that nation-state as the relevant "tribe".
The difference is in whether libertarians are willing to pay for certain goods publicly and whether non-libertarians are willing to pay for certain goods publicly. It shouldn't be a newsflash that Ron Paul distinguishes himself by his unwillingness - not by his transcendence of nationalism. Most non-libertarians are willing to pay for some sort of public health care. How extensive the actualization of that willingness is is going to depend on a lot of institutional, budget and resource constraints (ability to pay), and the nature of those constraints is inevitably going to lead to a lot of national-level policies. Extrapolating from that "ability to pay" issue that somehow non-libertarians see the nation as a tribe seems very wrong to me.
Libertarians regularly express an unwillingness to pay for certain things through government. This is not a news flash. Only the most illiberal non-libertarians express the view that we should treat people who live in our nation-state tribally. So I'm not sure why Hanson and Kling come to the conclusion that they do, except that perhaps they find the libertarian position hard to defend. I don't know - but I do know I'm no national socialist and no non-libertarians I know are either.
Chesterton spinning in his grave
9 hours ago