Smarter ducks

Over on the New York Times economix blog, an argument for high taxation and robust government spending using data from, of all places, the Republican-supporting Heritage Foundation in response to those who think that those who pay low taxes are ‘lucky duckies.’ As an example of the cute analysis:

Equatorial Guinea: According to the Republican-leaning Heritage Foundation, those who live in this small country in sub-Saharan Africa are lucky duckies indeed. Because of recently discovered oil deposits, the citizens of Equatorial Guinea pay less than 1 percent of the gross domestic product in taxes. The comparable figure for the United States is 26.9 percent of G.D.P., according to Heritage.

However, Equatorial Guinea doesn’t seem to be a very pleasant place to live. The people are poor and have little freedom. Heritage says that “persistent institutional weaknesses impede creation of a more vibrant private sector” and “the rule of law is weak.” This sounds suspiciously as if government is too small to do its job properly. But I’m sure that the citizens of Equatorial Guinea don’t mind having a dysfunctional government; after all, they’re lucky duckies.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this short piece – one of the clearest, quickest arguments for the idea that working markets requires a strong, effective government – is that it comes from Bruce Bartlett, a former policy advisor to Reagan, Bush Sr., and Ron Paul. It demonstrates that even someone who has worked with a headstrong libertarian type sees the need for effective government presence in any good society.

The conclusion of his article demonstrates another point however. Bartlett believes that high taxes and low regulation (like Denmark) are preferable to lower taxes and less ‘business freedom.’ So it’s worth keeping mind that, even convincing people that government is important and necessary to a functioning economy doesn’t mean they’ll be convinced that it should be on the side of a functioning society. Still, if you can lead a duck to water…