Give it away for free

I once read an entire book on giving, or givenness, or something, by Jacques Derrida.  The point was, so I seem to remember, that you can't ever really give anything, even anonymously, because it all gets rolled into an economy.  Now of course "giving" in that text means a lot more than just giving stuff.  But nonetheless, the point is clear.  It seems a local op-ed columnist has had a similar idea.  She writes of his encounter with some girls who have a lemonade stand:

The three young girls — under the watchful eye of a nanny, sitting on the grass with them — explained that they had regular lemonade, raspberry lemonade, and small chocolate candy bars.

Then my brother asked how much each item cost.

"Oh, no," they replied in unison, "they're all free!"

I sat in the back seat in shock. Free? My brother questioned them again: "But you have to charge something? What should I pay for a lemonade? I'm really thirsty!"

His fiancee smiled and commented, "Isn't that cute. They have the spirit of giving."

That really set me off, as my regular readers can imagine.

"No!" I exclaimed from the back seat. "That's not the spirit of giving. You can only really give when you give something you own. They're giving away their parents' things — the lemonade, cups, candy. It's not theirs to give."

I pushed the button to roll down the window and stuck my head out to set them straight.

"You must charge something for the lemonade," I explained. "That's the whole point of a lemonade stand. You figure out your costs — how much the lemonade costs, and the cups — and then you charge a little more than what it costs you, so you can make money. Then you can buy more stuff, and make more lemonade, and sell it and make more money."

I was confident I had explained it clearly. Until my brother, breaking the tension, ordered a raspberry lemonade. As they handed it to him, he again asked: "So how much is it?"

And the girls once again replied: "It's free!" And the nanny looked on contentedly.

No wonder America is getting it all wrong when it comes to government, and taxes, and policy. We all act as if the "lemonade" or benefits we're "giving away" is free.

And so the voters demand more — more subsidies for mortgages, more bailouts, more loan modification and longer periods of unemployment benefits.

Other than the obvious fact that this person is a massive tool for lecturing three girls in this way (she says it's a true story), the analogy makes no sense.  Presumably the parents have given the girls permission to give away free lemonade.  In a similar fashion, people who support public benefits, etc., give their permission to distribute their goods (tax money). 

And I don't remember voters clamoring for more bailouts and other versions of corporate welfare (which oddly don't seem to bother the author here).

**Update.  the "he" above is a she.  And I just saw her on MSNBC, which called her a "financial expert"–liberal media.  And speaking of liberal media.  No Markos Moulitsas (Daily Kos) on that channel!

4 thoughts on “Give it away for free”

  1. more subsidies for mortgages, more bailouts, more loan modification and longer periods of unemployment benefits.
    Subsidies come from taxes, which everyone but a select few pay. Loan modifications are not free — you just have to pay them differently. Unemployment benefits come from paying unemployment taxes. I haven't seen a whole lot of bailouts given to small businesses — just to the people who don't actually pay any taxes.
    The argument for giving tons of money to the failing banks was based on the prediction that the entire economy would collapse if they fell. Fine. Public benefits are based on the prudential and moral duty we have to care for those around us because we (supposedly) value having a stable and moderately wealthy population.

  2. Jem,
    Your argument is about as irrational as when right wingers oppose abortions.  It's entirely premised in others conforming to your morality.

  3. Andrew,

    Please read carefully before you comment.  That's not Jem's ARUGUMENT.  That's claim Jem makes in the course of making an ARGUMENT.  Please learn the difference.

  4. Andrew,
    I'm making a distinction between what type of judgments we are making about certain policy decisions. Bank bailouts are based on prudential concerns for the health of the economy. My claim is that public benefits are based on both prudential and moral concerns for the welfare of our society. Obviously, I didn't go into any lengthy argument to support that claim.
    But neither did I say outright what moral theory I'm basing these moral concerns on. Nor am I saying that public benefits are the only way to achieve what it is that I claim we as a society value. I'm just saying that we offer public benefits because many reasonably believe they are a means to realizing this value. Moreover, I think my value claim is relatively uncontroversial — just read any politician's speech on the state of the economy and I think you will find this value expressed. If you disagree that we as a society value having a stable and moderately wealthy population, then I'd be curious to hear why.

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