Do Social Democrats Believe In Free Lunches?

I have a question for Brad DeLong. He has semi-jokingly created membership cards for various versions of lefty economics, including this one for Social Democrats:

“Many” free lunches? I’m not saying Brad is wrong—that would be foolish since he’s a PhD historian of economics while I’ve read only one book about the history of social democracy—but what are these free lunches?

Here’s my own guess: lefties in general are a little too willing to sucker themselves into believing that various kinds of welfare pay for themselves. This is frequently based on a few questionable studies and some strong confirmation bias rather than hard thinking. So you get folks who claim that broader health care coverage will pay for itself by reducing emergency room use, or that free college will pay for itself in higher GDP down the road. There are some cases where this is true, but not nearly as many as a lot of people would like to believe.

However!

As near as I can tell this rarely affects policymaking in a serious way. For the most part, Social Democrats want things like universal health care and free college because, as Brad puts it, equality is beautiful for its own sake. We believe in a decent safety net because we believe in treating people decently, and we believe in going beyond that because we want everyone to live their best possible lives regardless of how much money they happen to grow up with. The business about these things paying for themselves is a minor bit of flim-flam that helps to sell the case.

But it really is minor. It’s nowhere near the massive belief in the free-lunch fairy that conservatives routinely haul out to defend their tax cuts for the rich or their belief that self-regulation works a treat. It’s a small self-deception that has a small effect, and I don’t think it deserves to be one-seventh of a postcard summary of social democracy.

But maybe I’m missing something big. Anyone care to chime in?

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate