Photo: Nick Hall via Flickr
Anytime you hear someone make an economic argument based on “sustainability” they’re actually making an argument based on morality.The most obvious example of this comes from the left. There are scads of folks working towards so-called “sustainable development” in the non-Western world, and in every case all that really means is that they’re working to prevent third-worlders from having Western luxuries that they find objectionable.
Oh, the horror if people in Brazil don’t grow sustainably, and want to drive SUVs, too! We must make sure that growth is sustainable!
Or take people who talk about sustainable agriculture. Again, there’s nothing “sustainable” about growing expensive strawberries on small plots of land, but advocates of it tend to have a moral opposition to large-scale, industrial farming. Or maybe they don’t like the way animals are treated.
And so it is with people who talk about the “unsustainability” of the debt. It’s a canard. There’s zero evidence in the marketplace that we’re reaching some kind of crucial level, or that the US is about to be Greece or anything like that. The real motive behind the deficit hawks is that they have a moral problem with the direction of a lot of spending. That’s why so few are eager to touch military spending, or the entitlements, but freak out at unemployment benefits extensions that really don’t end up costing all that much.
There is a good reason to shrink the government: The free-market works better on its own, and the distortions caused by government spending have lead to all kinds of bubbles and investment misallocation.
But deficit hawks, who talk about “sustainability” — just like their counterparts in sustainable development and agriculture — are motivated by morals, and not actual arguments or effects.
So don’t trust any of them, and don’t ever buy that totally loaded word.
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