Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Where will we get the cash?

In Need Money? Hey, Just Print It, Charlotte Hays says that the "only way to raise the cash for Medicare for All, full employment, and vast infrastructure work" is to "just print more money."

Well, it's not the only way to raise the cash, but it is a way, perhaps the best way. If the only thing we need is cash, then yes, we can indeed just print more money. The government needs neither to coerce, cajole, nor appease the people who have money in order to obtain money to implement its goals. The government can indeed just print it.

But of course we need more than just cash. We need to allocate labor and capital away from other uses and towards the vast infrastructure work that needs to be done. The question to ask is not where to get the money, but what do we have to give up to get Medicare for All, full employment, and the Green New Deal. And, of course, what do we give up if we don't get them?

Medicare for All is a no-brainer. We give up a bloated insurance bureaucracy that spends obscene amounts of labor to deny people health care. We give up monopolistic hospitals squeezing patients for every dime they have for routine treatment. Maybe a lot of physicians will no longer be extremely wealthy. I'm happy to let those assholes pay the cost of Medicare for All.

What do we give up to get full employment? By definition, nothing. If we give a person a job, we give up that person sitting at home doing nothing, when they do not want to sit at home doing nothing. The individual gains, and society gains by getting additional productive labor. (If a person is incapable of doing nothing sufficiently productive to justify their life, then that person is disabled, and we have a moral obligation to support them, unless you want to advocate for euthanasia for "undesirables".)

Which leaves the "vast infrastructure work". First, what do we give up by not undertaking the work, however vast, of reducing carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions? Everything, or nearly everything. We might at worst render the surface of the Earth uninhabitable and unfit for any kind of advanced civilization. A few nomadic hunter-gatherers might survive with stone-age technology, but nothing of civilization will remain. So if we have to give up anything less than civilization itself to fix global warming, the cost will be worth it.

But what do we really have to give up? I don't rightly know. It could be a lot. It could be that the industrialized nations have to give up a considerable standard of living. We might have to consume a lot less. Not the greatest, but better than drowning in our own shit. But it could be very little or even nothing. If vast infrastructure spending promotes long-run economic growth, it very well could pay for itself in increased productivity. Presently, long-run economic growth is extremely poor, and the returns to what little economic growth we have is primarily going to the ultra-rich. If infrastructure spending does nothing else but transfer wealth and income from the 1% and 0.1% to workers, I would count that a gain, not a cost.

Whether or not the government should take money away from ultra-rich people is a different question? I think so, yes. But the government should take money away from them not because we need that money to do something else, but because it is not in the public interest for the ultra-rich to have too much economic power.

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