The left almost never acknowledges the trade-offs associated with the policies it advocates. Its ongoing attempt to raise minimum wage is the latest example.
It would be nice if liberal politicians or pundits said, We understand that raising the minimum wage always reduces employment, but we are willing to make that trade-off in favor of a higher standard of living for those who keep their jobs. Instead, the left usually denies the existence of any trade-off (a New York Times editorial in favor of California’s recent law gradually raising the statewide minimum wage to $15 per hour sort of acknowledged some associated costs, but tried to explain them away via economic bunk) or resorts to demagogic attacks against the more productive.
Similarly, you almost never hear liberals make arguments like these:
- We understand that raising income taxes reduces economic growth, but we are willing to make that trade-off to redistribute resources to government services that benefit some subset of the population in the short-term.
- We understand that Obamacare will result in healthy people, and taxpayers, paying more for inferior health insurance, but we are willing to make that trade-off so that everyone will have some minimal level of health care coverage.
- We understand that tariffs and other protectionist measures hurt consumers and overall economic growth, but we are willing to make that trade-off to protect certain workers who have good jobs. (This stance has become more bipartisan lately.)
- We understand that carbon taxes, regulations that shutter businesses, and other mechanisms that we propose to reduce the effects of “climate change” will seriously harm the economy and jobs, but we are willing to make that trade-off to prevent more catastrophic consequences–which would result in much lower levels of economic activity and human welfare—in the future.
These are legitimate philosophical positions to take and defend in a democracy, and they might win the day in today’s America. But it is a striking feature of our culture in the last half-century or so that debate is rarely cast on these terms.
Why don’t liberals mention trade-offs? One factor is that they think that such arguments are too sophisticated and would make it more difficult to sell their policies; it’s much easier to promise everyone a free lunch. In some cases, they probably don’t understand that a trade-off exists in the first place (most liberals lack appreciation of basic free-market principles). In others, they don’t see the trade-off as a cost at all: when it comes to “climate change,” the massive reduction of industry, redistribution of resources from innovative capitalist societies to retrograde third-world countries, and the creation of supranational bureaucracies to centrally plan the economy are features, not bugs.
The essential problem is that the left has universalized its ideology that government is the solution to all problems. Whenever there is any unintended consequence—and the consequences are almost always unintended, because the left’s first principles simply don’t understand that their good intentions have costs—they can simply enact another government program to solve the problem.