CNN-Fareed Zakaria Via Youtube: ‘Jeff Sachs and Niall Ferguson’

Sent in by a reader.  A bit heated.

I would humbly point out: There does need to be shared sacrifice and there are moral obligations that people have to other people, but defined and led by whom?  What is the social contract?

As Ferguson points out…it’s fair for individuals to be skeptical when they are obliged to enter into a contract with an entity that doesn’t necessarily look out for their interests (a wealth transfer from themselves to others in the name of greater justice).  As Sachs argues, the primary goal for all citizens (led by the State) ought to be providing some people food, shelter, a fair shot at learning, job opportunities, job-retraining at the moment in our post-industrial, globalizing, more and more technology-driven society (can we bring industry back, or will they be cottage industries?).  Perhaps the government has a role to help us get more competitive and maintain some social mobility in the long run.  There’s substance there.

Yet, we are currently promised programs that work for the public good that are often delivered inefficiently, fail regularly to meet the needs they address, fail fiscally to deliver returns, and can become ends for political and ideological gain in themselves.   There sure is a lot of entrenched self-interest involved and reason to be skeptical.

This does not excuse Wall Street of course, nor its obligations to Main Street, but it doesn’t seem to necessarily follow that more redistribution, more regulation and more State are necessarily the answers.

A fair summary?


This blog has been a place to remain skeptical of distributive and redistributive definitions of justice (for as many have pointed out, such definitions freeze in place an impossibly high standard of human behavior given how people and groups actually behave, thus limiting the effectiveness of our institutions in addressing the problems they are created and maintained to address…quite possibly making less justice and less freedom in the long run).

The blog has also been a place to remain skeptical of positive definitions of liberty.  Liberty and individual liberties are one of the hallmarks and triumphs of Western, post-Enlightenment thought, but liberty can clearly come with dangers of its own: excessive freedom and no responsibility, Rousseauian radical freedom, totalitarian impulses, group-think, scientism, Statism, fascism, theories of how the individual ought to fit into the whole etc.

I think we’re more likely to be led down the garden path toward more regulated markets, higher-unemployment, less social mobillity, more class-riven, bureaucratic/technocratic Europe (old monarchic Europe?) by such ideas over time.  Of course we’ll be promised the great art, good food, fine literature, justice/social justice, the more fair and equal society…

…but frankly it seems like a total-European package.

Related On This Site:  Fareed Zakaria BBC Interview: America In Decline?…Richard Lieber’s not necessarily convinced:  Richard Lieber In The World Affairs Journal–Falling Upwards: Declinism, The Box Set..

The State causes all poverty?  I’m not sure about that. Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’A Few Thoughts On Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: “Why Blue Can’t Save The Inner Cities Part I”

Samuel Huntington responded to liberalism and influenced generations from Fukuyama to Fareed Zakaria:  From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s Work

Statism and art/popular art and NPR?: From ReasonTV Via Youtube: ‘Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a “Yellow-Dog Democrat,” & Missing Walter Cronkite’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

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2 thoughts on “CNN-Fareed Zakaria Via Youtube: ‘Jeff Sachs and Niall Ferguson’

  1. In the video clip, Ferguson and Sachs reprise the familiar debate on the sources of our current economic dilemma and its impact on our civil society. Sachs sums up in stating that our economic system rests on two pillars, markets and government, implying that we need to recognize the legitimate role of the latter, presumably in the delivery of social goods that are not well served by markets and in protecting against threats to competitive markets, such as oligopoly. Unfortunately, these functions are under threat today, as Sachs points out in the case of the financial industry’s successful effort to socialize its risks while privatizing its gains, belying its own free-market rhetoric. That such anticompetitive efforts pay off handsomely in the case of other industries is demonstrated by the armies of lobbyists and truckloads of cash that arrive at the doors of power players in Washington. Those at the heart of such efforts are increasingly impatient with public support for social goods such as those mentioned by Sachs, which they themselves have little need of, or so they think. Devotion to free markets is used to justify the creation of market-based versions of virtually all public services. Now, gov. Scott of Florida reportedly wants to completely privatize public education. This would create an opportunity to make money and to be rid of those annoying teachers’ unions. If some folks are poorly served, it would presumably be their own fault for failing to earn enough to afford a good school. Wonderful!

  2. Charles,

    Thanks for reading and commenting

    Oligopoly can become a threat to markets and even to democracy itself, but it’s lessened with private gains and private losses because incentives and risk are more properly aligned. Some get rich, some don’t, but who you know politically doesn’t necessarily get you off the hook. This is good sense, and requires lawful behavior and the baser passions to be brought under better control (greed isn’t going anywhere). Laws require government.

    As to lobbyists, I would look at the Democratic party’s donor list to see where the money comes from (the hypocrisy is greater in that party at the moment). Some rich people have a lot of social and political influence. Sometimes they do good things with it, sometimes not.

    As to schools, I don’t think totally private is the way to go, but you’re seeing this reaction because of the ineptitude and failure of the current model (heavily unionized and down and politicized).

    Sachs best argument to my mind is saying that we are ALL better off adapting to the knowledge/technology economy by investing in programs to retrain people, to be more competitive and retain social mobility. But he also has a moral vision for EVERYONE which requires other people to oversee other people’s money and give it to yet other people, all in the name of moral obligation (his or mine?, does he presume his moral lights to be universal?) That’s why I bring up the social contract. Who is in charge on this vision…and why?

    In response, I’m simply asking where are the people who will deliver those programs for the social good who also don’t work for their own self-interest (private gains and socialized losses)?…where is the delivery system that runs as smoothly as any market and can respond to global pressures?

    …and more cynically, where is there a pot of public money that exists without politicans aiming for reelection with it, big city machine politics, and many fingers in the pie, some respectable, some even criminal?

    Your vision of civil society requires an enlightened or semi-enlightened group of people to properly and efficiently distribute and redistribute everyone’s wealth (likely because you agree with the deeper principles Sachs proposes). I have my doubts

    Personally, I have yet to see this work out very well, and never as promised. I”m skeptical.

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