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Brendan Saloner

It's uncanny that you write about this tonight, because I was just a moment ago thinking about a related issue. In any case, from the passage you quote it seems to me like Friedman could either be arguing (1) that state action solves a public good problem because it induces participation in a scheme that virtually all people might want to participate in but wouldn't participate in on their own, or, (2) state action allows for better coordination of resources that makes it the most efficient actor to address an altruistic motivation, even if the sacrifice for the efficiency is some amount of coercion. I take him to be saying (2), but it seemed like you were leaning on (1). (2) seems like a coherent position to hold -- if everyone on our block enjoys Christmas decor which we could either provide (badly) on our own, or put in the hands of our bossy but talented neighbor Martha Stewart, we might be willing to suck it up and submit in advance to a coercive scheme that takes our decorating money and allocates it to Martha to spend. That's how I think of it. In any case, it's interesting because conservatives and libertarians often make the case that the state is not very efficient at doing altruistic things (like job training, social services, food assistance), and so it should get out of the assistance business and leave it up to private individuals and private charities.

Paul Kelleher

B, Your Scenario 1 has "virtually all people" wanting to participate, but needing some push; and your Scenario 2 has "everyone on our block" wanting nice Christmas decor. Each of these shares with Mankiw's scenario the feature of a unanimous charitable desire. Friedman, for his part, refers to the charitable desires held by "the great bulk of the community." But at least Friedman's characterization acknowledges the clear truth: that there will be at least some (a probably a sizable sum) of individuals who explicitly do.not.want the government in the business of "taking from some to give to others." (Indeed, many of these people dislike that idea for many of the very same reasons Friedman expresses elsewhere in his book.) So what I find puzzling is the quick and unexplained overriding of their objections, and the quick and unexplained embrace of a policy that Friedman claims would be unjust if it were pursued in the name of justice rather than charity. Why is the "great bulk of the community" justified in riding roughshod over the freedom of those surely many people who do not agree with forcible transfers?

That is the instability I do not understand. And if pressed, I would say that Friedman and Mankiw realize that it's unseemly to forbid all tax-and-transfer schemes, but they can't figure out how to justify that in a coherent way. So they handwave and hope we won't notice. Or maybe even they don't notice their own handwaving. I really have no idea.

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