The Spectre of Math

August 24, 2009

Why be a pragmatic socialist?

Filed under: Economics,Politics — jlebl @ 5:08 pm

Ever since coming back from Brazil, I thought a lot about pragmatic reasons for socialism. Brazil is pretty extreme in the inequalities department. Coming back here to the US, I notice this a lot more. And with the healthcare shoutfest going on in the news, it’s hard not to think about it.

There is a good pragmatic reason why a rich person who doesn’t care about the plight of others might want socialism out of pure selfishness. Walking around Sao Paulo (and even Serra Negra) you could see that those people that have something live behind big walls with barbed wire and electric fences. The fact that there is an inequality of that magnitude means that there is more crime. If there are many people that have nothing, then as a rich person you are far more likely to get robbed, killed, or kidnapped.

The question is: If I have a choice (all else equal) of having say $1 million dollars in the bank and living in a country with very low crime rate, and $5 million dollars in the bank but living in a place with high crime rate, what would I pick. The trouble is of course the “all else equal,” but if those were the choices, I’d rather take the safe country. How much would you give for the safety of your kids?

There is similar thing with health care. See

I would hardly call the CIA to be a bunch of liberal loons, but US is 50th on the list of life expectancy. Right up there with Albania. Even Bosnia is better off, at 43rd place. Canada is on the 8th place, and they live about 3.1 years longer than americans do. Would you pay higher taxes to live 3 years longer? Also, I bet canada can’t do anything about pollution coming from its neighbors, so if the whole world ran like canada, I bet we’d live even longer than that. The 1st place Macau people live more than 6 years longer. Now that’s definitely worth it.

The real point of the above is not if 3.1 years of life is worth the tax money. It is about the notion that american health care system is “the best in the world”. No it is not. By a very objective measurement it is the 50th in the world.

But you say: who cares, that’s all those poor shmucks that don’t live long because they can’t afford health insurance. It doesn’t affect me. Sure it does. when something happens, you go to an overcrowded emergency room. All the people who are sick are not productive and that’s a drain on the economy. All those people who are sick will get even poorer, and then they’ll go and rob you and shoot you.

Another fun stat is the murder rate:

US is not doing terribly good on murder rates either. Rich countries with socialistic tendencies usually are better off. US is wedged between Bulgaria and Armenia. If you live in the US you are about 3 times as likely to get murdered than if you live in canada (to keep picking on the canadians). Only 62 countries were compared. So I guess it is about 3 times safer to be a rich canadian than to be a rich american. Is it worth their taxes?

Anyway, we’re pretty far from being the “number one.” We don’t even have the lowest taxes. Actually our taxes are on the higher end. See In total tax rate we are 102 out of 178 countries. So we pay a lot, but we get diddly squat in return. Wonderful job. Could we at least get some socialism for that price? I mean other countries seem to manage universal health care and lower crime rates with lower taxes. What do we get?



  1. At one point I did an assessment of the “efficiency” of the US health-care system. For money put in, how is life expectancy (the simplest, ultimate test of the quality of the the health of the people). Yeah. Not great. Worst in the OECD by a long way.

    FWIW, I’m not sure that rich Americans fare very well in the life expectancy stakes. I think everywhere poor people live shorter than rich people, but in the US that life expectancy is shifted down.

    I’m sure corn syrup & trans-fats don’t help.

    Comment by Ian McKellar — August 25, 2009 @ 8:48 pm | Reply

  2. Not sure this logic really is valid. In Brazil the poor people are robbed too at very high rates. The crime rate amongst the poor is very high. So taking money from the rich and giving to the poor will probably not decrease the rich individual’s crime rate. So they give up their better lives for some unknown possbible decrease in crime? Sounds like a hard sell.

    Comment by Anton — October 6, 2010 @ 1:10 pm | Reply

    • You didn’t get the point. As a pragmatic rich person looking out for my own interest, I’m not worried too much if the poor are stealing from the poor. But I am worried about crime pointed towards me, of which there is obviously quite a bit in Brazil.

      You seem to think it’s a Robin Hood type scenario, whereas it is simply a scenario where the wealthy live in a social contract where they pay some amount of their money to make sure that there is some basic level of living for everyone thus reducing crime. Plus you don’t “give up your better life.” It’s simply a balance. The more appropriate choice would be something like: Do you live on $1mil a year behind an electric fence fearing your kids will be kidnapped, or do you live on $800k a year in country with a lower crime and a higher standard of living.

      Plus note that if the poor are not living in poverty, they are probably buying whatever is it that you are selling that made you rich. Western world got rich on the rise of the middle class, which resulted from the redistributive nature of most modern governments. So with no redistribution, you will probably be making much less than you are now to begin with.

      I don’t think of the government taking my money when I pay my taxes. I am simply paying for everything that the government provides (and it provides quite a bit mind you, despite tea party cries). If you want the government to take nothing, move somewhere without a government. Somalia may be a good bet. No taxes there. No big government.

      Comment by jlebl — October 6, 2010 @ 1:56 pm | Reply

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