The Fantasy Of The A La Carte Society

Jan 2, 2017 · 7 min read

By David Grace (

Now that the Election Season is over I decided to drill down to the bedrock beliefs of the people on the right.

Basic Right-Wing Beliefs — No Laws, No Taxes

The farther you move down the line from Republican to Conservative to Tea Party to Libertarian to Anarchist the farther you move through the spectrum from the idea that there should be few laws to the theory that there should be no laws, from few taxes to no taxes.

The farther you go the closer you get to the idea that laws are slavery and taxes are stealing.

The Market = God

The right wing has invented a world in which laws are unnecessary and in which their God, The Market, will automatically and efficiently allocate all wealth and resolve all problems without any laws being needed at all.

The right wing’s idea is that The Market will create all needed goods and services at a price determined by supply and demand, and that safe, effective and high-quality goods and services will be offered, bought and sold without the necessity of any laws or rules, that the prices people are willing to pay will be balanced against the costs of the products and services produced and that this system will automatically and dynamically provide for all needed high quality goods and services at the lowest prices.

The other side of this coin is the idea that any goods or services not provided by The Market are unnecessary.

The Only Metric Needed To Judge Human Activity Is Short-Term Profit

One of the flaws in this theory is the belief that a single metric, short-term profit, can define everything a society should have.

It asks one and only one question of any activity: Will this activity generate a short-term profit?

This theory assumes that everything that is good for people is financially profitable and that if something is not profitable that the society doesn’t need it.

To Be Useful An Activity Has To Be Salable

Of course, to be profitable the good or service must be able to be monetized, that is, salable to a specific group of customers.

If there is no way to sell it for enough money to pay the costs of production and make a profit then in their view it doesn’t need to exist.

This “one metric fits all” notion fails to understand that there are many things that people need which

  • cannot be monetized to an identifiable set of buyers, or
  • are not profitable in the short term or even profitable at all.

The Environment

Clean air and clean water are both extremely important and hugely expensive.

It is very profitable to discharge manufacturing pollutants into the air, soil, rivers, and lakes.

Environmental laws, a favorite target of the right wing, require manufacturers to spend great amounts of money to neutralize or safely dispose of toxics.

The Market, on the other hand, strongly encourages pollution because it is uncontrolled dumping is profitable and clean practices are expensive.

The libertarian philosophy holds that a society is better when the happiness of a few people — investors, shareholders, and executives — is increased by allowing them to turn the land, air, rivers and lakes into toxic waste dumps than it is if those few people are restrained by laws and forced to make a bit less money and leave the air, land, rivers and lakes clean.

If short-term profit is the sole metric for differentiating activities that are encouraged from activities that are deterred then it is “good” that a few people get even richer at the cost of poisoning the many and “bad” if the few make a little less money at the cost of everyone else not breathing tainted air or bathing in poisoned water.

National Parks

The government forces citizens to pay taxes to acquire, maintain and operate the national parks.

If the sole metric for determining socially “good” activities from “bad” ones is short-term profit then the redwoods would long ago all have been turned into patio decks and the San Francisco Bay filled and covered with apartment houses.

If you believe that taxes are stealing and that the only metric for judging what should and should not happen in a society is profit then Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the like would today be long gone because it would have been far more profitable to allow them to have been exploited by commercial and industrial developers becausing taxing citizens to create and protect national parks would be stealing.

Transportation Systems

If left to private developers today’s interstate highway system would never have been built. Some highways might have been constructed as toll roads but they would not be a fraction of the system as it exists today, and those that were built would be far more expensive to use because every mile would have to pay for itself.

How much would a loaf of bread cost if every truckload of wheat had to pay a toll, every truck of eggs and milk had to pay a toll, every loaf moved between the oven and the supermarket had to pay a toll?

Consider the NYC subway system. Even assuming that some private company would have been willing to fund it and even assuming a private corporation would have been able to acquire the rights-of-way without the power of eminent domain, the amortized costs of building it, maintaining it and operating it would raise the cost of use to at least ten or twenty dollars per ride which would have made the number of customers unsustainably small.

Something like the NYC subway system can only exist as a subsidized enterprise yet the value to NYC of having it is huge.

Basic Research

The National Institutes of Health spends over $31 Billion dollars a year. How many diseases does that money help cure? A great deal of the NIH money is spent on basic research with no specific drug or result that can be predicted leastwise monetized.

The fact that this research does not generate a short-term profit does not mean that it has small value to society. In fact, it has a huge value.

The Military

The one activity that cannot be monetized and which is not profitable but which the right wing wholeheartedly supports is the military. A million people can starve or die because of their lack of access to medical care and that’s fine because in the view of the right wing collecting taxes to provide food or medicine is stealing. On the other hand, collecting $600 Billion a year in taxes to pay for weapons is an excellent activity.

The A La Carte Society

When you begin with the idea that there should be no taxes, that everything should be 100% paid for by each individual who uses it, then clean air, national parks, public schools, public roads, municipal sewer systems, basic research, fire and police protection and public health all go away.

The right wing’s philosophy is that each person should only get what they individually pay for, that there should be no tax-supported common services, that no one should be taxed to pay any part of the cost of any services that benefit any other person.

If taxes are stealing and can’t be used to subsidize schools, or transportation, or medical care then everyone will have to pay the full cost of what today would be a municipal services or do without.

The right wing’s goal is an A La Carte society.

The Philosophy Taken To The Extreme

At the extreme, this philosophy holds that there should be no municipal fire or police departments.

If you don’t want your house to burn down then you need to subscribe to a private, for-profit fire service.

If you want your human waste to leave your house then you need to subscribe to a private sewer company.

If you’re concerned that your house might be burglarized or you might be attacked then you need to subscribe to a private, for-profit police service.

If you want your children educated then you must subscribe to a private school.

If you want to drive on a highway then you must pay a toll.

Each Man Is An Island

Inherent in this philosophy is the idea that other people’s lives don’t affect you and that your actions or inactions don’t affect theirs.

It’s the idea that a fire in your neighbor’s house won’t spread to your house; that sewage on your neighbor’s property won’t contaminate your land; that criminal gangs that prey on people who don’t subscribe to a police service won’t bother you; that diseases that infect people who don’t have access to medical care won’t sicken you; that masses of poor, illiterate, unemployed adults won’t cause you any problems.

It’s the idea that if you’re intelligent and/or born to a family that can support you and can afford to educate you then you morally deserve everything you get and that taxing you to educate other people’s kids is stealing.

On the other hand if you’re not intelligent or if you’re born to a family that cannot support you and cannot pay to educate you then morally you deserve to be ignorant, untrained and functionally unemployable.

The idea behind the right-wing philosophy is that except for the military there are no overhead costs inherent in maintaining a prosperous, healthy, free and clean society.

It’s the idea that it is unfair for you to be taxed a to pay for any services that benefit someone else.

It’s the idea that any activity that cannot be monetized isn’t worth doing.

It’s the idea that you can have a workable, prosperous and free society where a substantial percentage of the population has no ability to earn enough money to obtain medical care or feed, clothe, educate or house themselves.

It’s the idea that taxes are stealing, that laws are slavery and that the actions of each person have no effect on the quality of life of anyone else.

In the right-wing philosophy there is no such thing as the public good and that there are no overhead costs in building and maintaining a prosperous society.

–David Grace (

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Graduate of Stanford University & U.C. Berkeley Law School. Author of 17 novels and over 200 Medium columns on Economics, Politics, Law, Humor & Satire.

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