Thursday, September 29, 2011

Free markets and free institutions are compassionate

In its "Notable and Quotable" today's WSJ compares the George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan responses to an April 28, 1980, debate question about immigration.  The editors are seemingly pointing to this part of Reagan's answer:
"Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don't we work out some recognition of our mutual problems? Make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit -- and then while they're working and earning here, they pay taxes here.  And when they want to go back, they can go back.  And open the border both ways by understanding their problems."
What do we know?  Reagan won.  Sad to say, he did not make much progress on this part of his stance.

Bleeding Heart Libertarians takes up the simple idea that free and open markets and institutions can be quite "compassionate".  I put the word in quotes because its free and easy use has become a rhetorical device and a conversation stopper.

Steven Landsburg recently took up this problem in his review of the Q and A between Wolf Blitzer and Ron Paul, re a hypothetical about turning an uninsured heart attack victim away at an emergency clinic.   Landsburg points out that the reflexive compassionate choice is the easy one.  In a world of scarcity, much deeper questions are involved.

Libertarians and free market types have something to contribute here.  But very few political candidates even try to make this case.  Reagan apparently tried and still managed to get elected.  If more tried, these ideas might even make some progress.