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Tag: Edward Kleinbard

Why Bother With Government?

On Friday, a federal Court of Appeals heldĀ unconstitutional a central feature of the new healthcare law-its requirement that almost all Americans obtain healthcare insurance through private insurance markets. This ruling came only days after the debt-ceiling debacle — a “tempest in a tea party” — during which our country’s credibility for honoring its debts was held hostage to the conviction that tax revenues should regularly ratchet down, but never up. Both the subtext of the majority’s opinion in the healthcare case and the anti-tax fervor evident in the debt-ceiling debate share a common underlying philosophy: the belief that government activity is largely hostile to prosperity and the pursuit of happiness, and therefore the less of it, the better. But this view of government is incorrect.

Government, to paraphrase Congressman Barney Frank, is just the name we give for the things we the people decide to do together. And taxes in turn are just the amounts we chip into the collective pot to buy whatever package of goods and services that we have agreed to purchase collectively.

In ordinary commercial settings, the private sector is more efficient at allocating scarce resources than is the government, which is why the United States relies so heavily on private markets. So why should we bother to do things together through the mechanism of government? One answer is that only government can address an “incomplete” market, which occurs when the private sector cannot or does not provide a market solution to an economic problem. Healthcare insurance is a classic case of an incomplete market that results in real economic burdens.

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