Concentrated pain and dispersed joy in Madison
By Mencken’s Ghost
Feb. 18, 2011
Hallelujah! As seen by the demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin, true social justice is finally beginning to prevail in the nation.
The country’s longstanding political system of concentrating benefits, or joy, on special interests and dispersing costs, or pain, across all taxpayers is being turned on its head in bankrupt states. Now pain is being concentrated on special interests and joy is being dispersed across all taxpayers.
In Wisconsin, the special interests are greedy public-sector unions, including teachers, who are demonstrating in Madison because they are now on the receiving end of the pain that they have been inflicting on taxpayers for decades. Taxpayers are joyous.
The Achilles Heel of the nation’s political system, especially as it became unmoored from the Constitution, has been the practice of concentrating benefits and dispersing costs. It is the primary cause of our $200 trillion in deficits, debt, and unfunded liabilities for entitlements. Unless the system is overturned and replaced with a system that protects individuals from being preyed upon by special interests, the nation will go down the rat hole of history.
The system works like this: Those who want benefits from the government join an existing organized interest group or form a new one. Sometimes, interest groups are created by the government, as was the case with Social Security and Medicare. The groups become powerful lobbies and voting blocs. They are almost impossible to stop because it is almost impossible to form a political counterforce. That’s because the cost of the benefits they receive are dispersed across all taxpayers. For example, a benefit of $100 million to one group becomes a cost of 50 cents to each of 200 million taxpayers. Few people are going to go through the expense and trouble of organizing a counterforce over a measly 50 cents.
Of course, when multiplied by thousands of interest groups, the 50 cents adds up to big money.
The media enable the system to operate. Almost without exception, their coverage is concentrated on special interests instead of taxpayers. They typically feature a member of an interest group sniveling about having a benefit cut, but don’t feature a taxpayer who has to foot the bill. After all, why should they empathize with someone who has to pay only 50 cents?
One of the most irritating examples of this unbalanced coverage is the empathetic media coverage given to college students complaining about tuition increases at state universities. No empathetic coverage is given to the dispersed working stiffs who have to pay the bill, many of whom are blue-collar workers who do not attend college but have to subsidize the tuition of college students so that the students can earn more than them. Indoctrinated in leftist propaganda about social justice, the crybaby students don’t have the maturity, wisdom, education and intelligence to see the inherent unfairness and selfishness of their demands. Naturally, their teachers aren’t going to educate them in a different way of thinking, because college faculties are members of an interest group with the same goal of dispersing costs across all taxpayers.
The problem of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs becomes even more intractable with such huge socialized systems as Social Security and Medicare. Much of the costs of the systems are borne by future generations, or, in other words, by people who aren’t old enough to vote or aren’t even born yet. How do you organize the unborn into a counterforce? Unsurprisingly, a recent Pew Research Center poll showed that only 12% of Americans support cuts in Social Security and Medicare. The remaining 88% aren’t about to vote to inflict pain on themselves.
Oh, well. As we go down the rat hole of history, we can at least enjoy watching the Madison demonstrators writhe in pain.
“Mencken’s Ghost” is the nom de plume of an Arizona writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.