Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Free Rider class

Social science uses the term 'free rider problem' for individuals or groups that participate in or use something that others pay for. If you sneak into a show without paying for a ticket, you're free rider.

The Timmies anger crowd, free market fanatics, and Cons among us raise all sorts of noise about this. Free riders are welfare recipents or big government, receiving income and support from their taxes (my hard work you ungrateful bastard! Get a job!), universal healthcare, and all sorts of things where people or groups might be seen to benefit from the collective resources of a society. It's really easy to see how this appeals to the perpetually angry.

But see, here's where they get it wrong. They are compelled by their very existence to participate in the society they live in. They don't have to volunteer at a soup kitchen, but they at the very least must pay taxes and such that provide the basic infrastructure for the collective welfare.  The more they argue for lower taxes and this and that, the more they essentially argue for right to be free riders, because somebody still has to pay for all that. Just not them.

Same thing with defence. Common interpretation of the free rider problem suggests that all who do not serve are free riders on national defence. We benefit from the protection of the armed forces without ourselves having to pick up a rifle.

This class likes things like expeditionary military adventures against other peoples. And they're quite happy to see the government spend all sorts of money and energy sending the military on these missions. They get to wear red shirts and ribbons, and feel all something or other. But they, and many of us, fail to see that this preference amounts to using the lives of other people for their own personal emotional aggrandisement. But step back a little further, and these are the same people who create war veterans by supporting the parties and policies that produce them while avoiding participation themselves. They also angrily dismiss people and politicians that question the need for these adventures as soft and weak. They get to feel tough or something, but contribute nothing to the actual hard parts. Their rhetoric suggests that they wouldn't even pay the taxes if they thought they could get away with it.

This class also supports reducing benefits to society's most vulnerable people. Women, sexual minorities, Aboriginals, climate scientists, if they're disadvantaged, fuck them because they're lazy arses or milking the system in conspiracy. We've all heard it. But again we see this emotional gratification at the expense of others. They don't want to help, they don't want to learn, because to do so implies something like responsibilty and bursts their safe little anger bubble. Other people lose income support, suffer discrimination, and the planet burns so they can maintain their bubblelicious worldview. The only thing they have to do, if at all, is drag their carcasses to the polling station on election day, or the coffee shop to rant with their mates.

They free ride on other people's sacrifice, hardship, and misery, the future of the planet, for their own psycho-emotional needs.

If they advocated a different position we wouldn't need a Highway of Heroes, poverty would be lower, prisons would be emptier, police wouldn't kill with impunity and imprison a thousand people in cages. We'd have something done about climate change, we'd be doing something about the tar sands and our dying oceans. Without their objections, the future of all societies might look substantially brighter.

Society is a hockey came on pirated cable and they, well, they're sitting on the couch with a six-pack and a bag of cheet-ohs screaming at the other team.


Offroad Artist said...

Good insights. Maybe I'm not on the same wavelength, but I don't see how this: police would kill with impunity and imprison a thousand people in cages fits in?

Boris said...

Typo! Thanks for catching that, OA!

Alison said...

One of the most annoying tendencies among right libertarians is to shower themselves with praise for hitting a home run without admitting they were carried to third base in a chair.

Xerographica said...

You seem just as angry as you make them out to be. Nobody should have to fund public goods that they do not value. The solution is to have a division of labor.

Tax payers should be allowed to vote with their taxes. Liberals fund the public goods that they value and conservatives fund the public goods that they value.