So far, the tension between public policy and private entities has been made out to be an ideological issue. People are asked to make value judgments on issues like healthcare and education, deciding which groups they can trust on sensitive problems. While this is a valid lens through which to view the various fights through, it also helps to consider the cold hard facts—the economics.
In this paradigm, purveyors of capitalism see the global economic landscape and tout the success of America as evidence of the success of privatization. After all, America is doing pretty amazingly, and it owes all of its influence to the innovators and entrepreneurs in the private sector. Meanwhile, the government acts as a necessary evil and foil for business, and as such should be used as sparingly as possible to ensure health and safety.
Needless to say, I’ve always felt this perspective was a bit incomplete. In fact, I take issue with pretty much every part of this viewpoint. At best, it’s misleading and does not credit the role of public policy in economics. At worst, it’s a flat-out lie meant to pit people against their own interests by conflating taxation and theft.
Firstly, while America is obviously doing well worldwide by pretty much every economic and quality-of-life standard, this benchmark is riddled with asterisks. I won’t raise any doubts about America being great (after all, this has been shown to be a dangerous move politically), but I must bring up the ephemerality of this system. In this case, I question the United States’ long-term success flirting with big business. It’s been shown time and time again to be an imbalanced relationship, with the people generally getting less than the incentivized corporations. What’s more, it seems like another challenger to America is stepping up to the plate: China. Because China is in a period of explosive growth, it’s hard to keep up with its rise in the global scene. To make matters worse, China’s businesses are almost certainly propped up by its government, which is a slap in the face to those promoting a laissez-faire approach.
I also feel reluctant to accept the infatuation America has with “innovators.” While America has produced businessmen, engineers and developers with very impressive resumes, to claim their creativity is especially cultivated by the competition of American business seems reductionist. This theory’s focus on individualism, for example, does not credit the efforts of all the researchers, workers and assistants to the more well-known innovator. In the modern era especially, problems are often not solved by a single genius but by the collaboration of hundreds across different disciplines and groups. In this way, a free flow of ideas can be just as effective for innovation as capitalist competition. Consider the state of academia, for example: While companies often fund and contribute to projects, it is through the open conversation and sharing of ideas in papers and conferences that helps researchers extend human knowledge. This process does not require the stress that corporate interests bring; our curiosity and societal values are enough.
Finally, the idea that public policy should be reduced as much as possible makes my blood boil. The recent government shutdown is evidence enough of how much the public sector provides for us: Food safety, travel and security for millions were all in danger in just a month of reduced government. Alternatively, consider how strong government action and regulation has historically been needed to rescue the country from economic recession and depression. Beyond that, though, the government directly impacting businesses and the economy is okay! Consider how much American agriculture is propped up by federal subsidies, or how the public funds the first half of the military-industrial complex. Now weigh this against the failures of more local governments in trying to vaguely attract businesses with various incentives. The government best serves the people and the country when it is allowed to make some strong decisions.
I realize this seems like an argument against a strawman. However, I implore readers to investigate the mission statements of various politicians. Both Donald Trump and the Republican Party stress a reservation towards government overreach, and America’s third-largest political group’s core mantra is “minimal government.” These views are not fringe by any means, but they are dangerous. To continue the success that America’s greatest policymakers have set us on, we must accept the well-intentioned power of government.