Recent healthcare debates reminded me of a personal question about all the services that are difficult to quantify with money. How much does our society value the health and wealth of it’s people? What percentage of society should have access to warm homes, clean water and food? My libertarian instincts are that the above have to be earned. Any systematic support to make survival and health a government cost, only sustains the problem and delays the real solution. As a (marginally) capitalistic society we believe in individual effort and reward, and access to the best healthcare should cost us. We believe the few shouldn’t have to work harder to support the many. As a people, those who embrace the free market* believe access to the best education, to the best homes, to the best neighborhoods, and extravagant luxuries should cost us and we’re willing to pay. It’s deeply comforting to believe that hard work, and focused effort pay off.
There’s a danger in associating the value of an effort, a product, or piece of art with an equivalent social cost. But in a free market we cannot control the values of others (beyond long winded blog posts). How many sick and hungry neighbors are we willing to stomach? What’s an acceptable amount of poverty? Throwing money at these systemic social issues doesn’t make them go away. We have long believed that access to education can alleviate the symptoms of societal decay. But caring teachers aren’t getting in line to work in school districts where the mortality rate of students and fellow teachers is horrorfyingly high. Entire communities grow and learn that crime is the norm, continually eroding the efforts of those who struggle to make a positive impact. These social problems must be confronted and chipped away by convincing one person or family at a time. Even massive law enforcement cost and action does little besides gel the community together against law officers. Honest salesmen^ and courageous acts of altruism can sway whole communities and remind us of our right to dream of a brighter future.
*= there are some who enjoy the rewards of “gaming capitalism” by exploiting systemic financial flaws and trends. In an ideal free market costs are balanced by supply and demand. The cost of goods or services is whatever price the market will bear. It’s a pure balancing system. But in the presence of vast collections of real capital the movement of perceived value is exploited for disproportionate gain. I struggle with understanding what lasting social value and wealth hedge funds and traders create that it’s manager’s are so richly rewarded.