In the alternate country of Slabobia, suppose I have this great idea for helping the poor: free beer. It’s delicious, high in calories, and gone should be the days when self-respecting Slabobians had to beg for their beer. So I contact my senator, who likes the idea, and, lo and behold, a bill gets passed providing free beer for everyone beneath a certain annual income. The streets are alive with drunken celebrations, and living in Slabobia has never been better (provided you’re making less than the certain income). Meanwhile people above the certain income start to feel jealous, especially those who are teetering on the line. They realize that, when comes December, if they were to just turn down that seasonal job, they’d more than make up for the difference with free beer. Plus they’d get a whole extra month of vacation!
So annual incomes drop, demand for seasonal jobs increases, alcoholism reaches an all-time high, drunken fistfights are everywhere, and the tax-payers’ completely fruitless expenditure on beer is tanking the economy. Free beer, it turns out, was a bad idea. So I call up my senator and ask him to try to repeal the act, but he responds, “No can do. The Free Beer Act guarantees millions of votes for me and my party.”
While it was an honest mistake, everyone knows that bureaucracy never dies, so rather than griping about the past, I’m just going to pick my battles and move on. Beer, I realize, was not a need. What the poor need is good, nutritious food. So I call my senator, who likes the idea, and once again, lo and behold, a bill gets passed providing free, healthy food for all Slabobians beneath a certain income level. By taking their vouchers to grocery stores, the poor are entitled to all the spinach, celery, and rutabagas they could ever want.
The only problem is that no one actually wants spinach, celery, and rutabagas, and when the grocery stores realize this, they also realize that they’re missing out on some serious revenue from government reimbursements, so they collaborate with local manufacturers to invent three new products that will technically meet the governmental standards: spinach ice cream, deep-fried celery chips, and rutabaga beer.
The products are a huge success, so much so that obesity among the poor reaches an all-time high. On the up side, this means there’s a major spike in the health industry, but on the downside, because these are the poor we’re helping, none of them actually pay for their services, so once again the economy is tanking.
My benevolent idea, it turns out, resulted in some unintended consequences. Perhaps it was due to loopholes in the text, and the senators should have hired better lawyers. Regardless, because passing a new bill is so much easier than repealing an old one, I decide it’s time to look at the bigger picture in determining what the root causes of poverty are. I decide that everyone, not just the poor, should have free health care and free college educations. So I call up my senator, and once again he likes the idea, and lo and behold, a bill is passed providing exactly what I wanted.
Though the lines get long … really long … everyone gets the primary care they need. Because of the government’s increased bargaining power (they’re flipping the bill for everyone, after all), they can get the lowest bids from medical professionals, so our taxes only rise by a bout 400%. The down side is that half of the doctors in Slabobia are no longer able to pay their bills, so they move off shore, and many of the high-tech medical developments and pharmaceutical research firms are dissolved due to limited funding, but that’s okay, because there’s all those other countries (like the U.S.) that haven’t turned socialist yet. At least they’re still producing good stuff.
And hey, free college! Now that everyone’s got a fraternity or a sorority to join, and the minimum university class size is in the hundreds, campus life has never been more packed with parties and free from education. Of course, we’ve effectively inflated the education system, making the high school diploma beyond worthless and the bachelors degree a prerequisite for flipping burgers, but at least everyone now has the chance to flip burgers. But then there’s the other down side: now that it takes seventeen years of education to qualify for burger flipping, young adults aren’t expected to move out of their parents’ basements until well into their thirties, an unpleasant reality that leads to an even faster halting of the Slabobian population growth. With fewer and fewer people to pay into a welfare state that doesn’t pay back, the economy is once again tanking, and the general quality of life is looking dismal.
For a moment I wonder if government intervention could have had something to do with Slabobia’s problems. I decide that it has. So I call up my senator with a great new idea for a social program to help people who has suffered from the effects of government intervention. And until that bill gets passed, at least there’s still free beer.