Sunday, January 29, 2012

Communitarian Liberalism as Zero Sum

Ross Douthat in the NYTimes sets up a strawman, communitarian liberalism, on his way to attacking the Obama administration.
But there are trade-offs as well, which liberal communitarians don’t always like to acknowledge. When government expands, it’s often at the expense of alternative expressions of community, alternative groups that seek to serve the common good. Unlike most communal organizations, the government has coercive power — the power to regulate, to mandate and to tax. These advantages make it all too easy for the state to gradually crowd out its rivals. The more things we “do together” as a government, in many cases, the fewer things we’re allowed to do together in other spheres.
Sometimes this crowding out happens gradually, subtly, indirectly. Every tax dollar the government takes is a dollar that can’t go to charities and churches. Every program the government runs, from education to health care to the welfare office, can easily become a kind of taxpayer-backed monopoly.
 His specific point is the rule providing that health care facilities which offer healthcare insurance must include contraception, etc. among the benefits.  This is particularly offensive to those facilities run by the Catholic church.

What he fails to acknowledge in his lead-in are the ways in which the government encourages those "alternative expressions of community".  For example, contributions to religious and charitable organizations are tax-deductible; property owned by such organizations is tax-exempt.  From my point of view, rather than there being a zero-sum game played between government and NGO's, there's a complex interweaving of interests, sometimes symbiotic, sometimes parasitic, among all the players.

His argument would be more effective if he offered an example of a government monopoly in education, in health care, in welfare.  I can't think of one.  

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