It’s Complicated…

by Jon Rodriguez

Interventionism is a very dirty word for some. Whether it be in the market or overseas, intervening in conflict or creating conflict seems to be what governments are best at. Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Before WW1, the U.S. government’s involvement in both the market and foreign affairs was looked down upon by the American people. The war changed everything.

FDR New Deal

First came the war boards, responsible for setting prices and rates of production, and eventually the precedent of government intervention in the economy was created. First Hoover, running partially due to his popularity as head of the U.S. food administration during the war, created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation as a means of easing the effects of the Great Depression, then came the game-changing New Deal from FDR.

Hoover and King Tut

Regardless of whether you believe these measures were beneficial or not, they ultimately created a more complicated situation in both foreign relations and the economy. No longer was it a matter of intervening in foreign politics only when American interests were at stake. A crusade had launched, driven mostly by FDR’s rhetoric, to establish a global policy of “self-determination” which loosely translated to America determining that all new countries would be “democratic” and their leaders would be hand chosen by U.S. politicians or “elected”. The economy transformed and grew in complication as well. The SEC was established, ensuring infinite prosperity so long as a firm obeyed their policies. Though I have been half-hearted in my explanations, these new interventionist policies that were now being embraced by the state led to complications. Complications can lead to things becoming both better or worse, but usually both.

Complication often leads to misunderstanding. Misunderstanding often leads to mistakes and undoubtedly mistakes result in unhappiness. But Rome wasn’t built in a day! (Very loose reference) Just because something is hard does not mean it isn’t worth doing. But then again, something isn’t worth doing just because it’s hard.

The importance lies in the goal that the intervention and subsequent complication is supposed to achieve. If the goal is to end war, there is more than one way to suggest reaching that goal. Some goals are easier to meet due to their relation to mathematics and science. If I want to save 100$ and I get a job that pays 10$ per hour, in 10 hours I will have met my goal.

Other goals are much more difficult due to their abstract nature. I want people in my community to eat healthier. Though there are a multitude of ways to  meet this goal, some are more complicated than others. When I commit to achieving this goal on an individual basis, that is without the use of the state, I have far less power to reach my entire community, but the individuals that I do reach can be assisted according to their specific needs. Some may not know what foods are healthiest for their specific body chemistry, others may be trying to eat healthy and just need an accountability partner. Some people may not want to eat healthy at all. I can either choose to be persistent in trying to make them eat healthy or let them face the consequences of their choice. Possibly the most effective attribute of this method versus a state run method is my ability as an individual to recognize who in my community needs my help the most. In my community, I may have individuals in perfect fitness as well as individuals who need to improve their health. I can prioritize my efforts so that the individuals who need the most help receive the most help.

On the other hand I can use possibly more effective, in regard to population, but definitely more complicated measures in my attempt to intervene via the state. I can create a tax on all foods containing ingredient x. The tax will affect everyone in the community equally, regardless of whether it achieves its goal equally among all individuals. Some may benefit from this tax due to their decreased intake of ingredient x. Others may not benefit at all, as their health is unaffected by ingredient x. And still, some will continue to buy the same amount of products containing ingredient x despite the tax. Even still, there is a possibility that some individuals, dependent on products containing ingredient x, will not be able to afford these products after the tax increase and will subsequently become less healthy due directly to the tax. The complications, or unintended consequences, make evaluating the effectiveness of the tax extremely difficult. The tax sets a precedent of inequality of benefits or results, unless, of course, you reimbursed those who benefited least from the tax by giving them the tax money of those who benefited most from the tax. But in that scenario it may seem more beneficial to an individual who received the health benefits to have the monetary benefit of the tax instead creating unhappiness. Furthermore, the presence or absence of ingredient x in one’s diet is a single factor among many that contribute to one’s overall health. Rather than having a smaller amount of willing individuals, voluntarily trying to better their health, the tax marginally affects, much less improves, the over all health of the community.

While both set out to achieve the same goal, some methods result in more complication than others. The variables associated with complication and, by association, state endorsed methods often result in less quantifiable outcomes. The question becomes: On whom should the emphasis be –the individual of definite need and willingness, or the collective of varying degrees of need and willingness?

What I’m reading about today: Paternal Legislation