Do Social Democrats Believe In Free Lunches?

I have a question for Brad DeLong. He has semi-jokingly created membership cards for various versions of lefty economics, including this one for Social Democrats:

“Many” free lunches? I’m not saying Brad is wrong—that would be foolish since he’s a PhD historian of economics while I’ve read only one book about the history of social democracy—but what are these free lunches?

Here’s my own guess: lefties in general are a little too willing to sucker themselves into believing that various kinds of welfare pay for themselves. This is frequently based on a few questionable studies and some strong confirmation bias rather than hard thinking. So you get folks who claim that broader health care coverage will pay for itself by reducing emergency room use, or that free college will pay for itself in higher GDP down the road. There are some cases where this is true, but not nearly as many as a lot of people would like to believe.

However!

As near as I can tell this rarely affects policymaking in a serious way. For the most part, Social Democrats want things like universal health care and free college because, as Brad puts it, equality is beautiful for its own sake. We believe in a decent safety net because we believe in treating people decently, and we believe in going beyond that because we want everyone to live their best possible lives regardless of how much money they happen to grow up with. The business about these things paying for themselves is a minor bit of flim-flam that helps to sell the case.

But it really is minor. It’s nowhere near the massive belief in the free-lunch fairy that conservatives routinely haul out to defend their tax cuts for the rich or their belief that self-regulation works a treat. It’s a small self-deception that has a small effect, and I don’t think it deserves to be one-seventh of a postcard summary of social democracy.

But maybe I’m missing something big. Anyone care to chime in?

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest