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Supply side transference of responsibility.

July 29, 2010

Clearly it is not my fault!

As a human tendency to avoid accepting responsibility, scapegoating has a long history.  One need look no further than Germany in the early 1930s for arguably the most nefarious example of blaming another group for one’s own circumstance.  Were the Jews really responsible for the economic turmoil that provided fodder for the rise of the Third Reich? No, but nonetheless the devolution of Jews to the “untermenschen” was a critical step in the evolution of the Third Re.htmich.  The Aryan nation could point to the Jews and say that the hyperinflation was “clearly not their fault”.. it is the Jews.

As a society we would like to think that we have moved beyond such transparent transference of responsibility but such a thought is at odds with basic human nature.  In some ways it reminds me of “supply side” economics, a term coined by President Nixon’s economic advisor, Herbert Stein in 1976 to describe the effect of increasing the supply of money by lowering taxes.1 It is tenuous to argue the analogy of supply side economics and scapegoating but I think it is appropriate to borrow the term “supply side” in considering how we as a society seem to search for ways to transfer responsibility for negative events and circumstance to others.

Evidence of supply side responsibility transference could be argued to exist as the basis for at least three contemporary problems that are “clearly not my fault”:
1) the oil-energy crisis
2) the illegal drug war
3) the obesity epidemic

There is a pandemic global energy crisis that has reached epidemic proportions in the United States.  We consume far more energy per capita than any other nation.  Can anyone argue that Americans are conservation minded when it comes to energy?  I am struck by this fact as I sit in traffic surrounded by trucks masquerading as SUVs consuming copious amounts of fuel to transport a few occupants.  Yet, a popular argument by some as the solution to the energy crisis is simply to increase the supply of oil.  Can anyone forget the “Drill baby, Drill” mantra that was intended to encourage drilling in the Gulf to increase the oil supply.  Of course that was a nonsensical concept since the oil from the Gulf was (and is) in no way committed to consumption by America. (See “Does the oil from the Gulf of Mexico belong to America?” Link).  But by their nature, supply side arguments are not required to make sense; they are required to absolve us of responsibility.  Would it not make more sense to simply consume less energy?  To do that we would have to accept that we are individually responsible for the solution.  The problem would have to be attacked on the demand side, not the supply side.

Both supply side and demand side arguments in the war on illegal drugs are well developed by their respective apologists. Why is it that supply side programs seem to get more funding and greater headlines?  Is it because interdicting a large shipment of cocaine from Mexico is effective in combating drug usage on American streets or is it that it makes good headlines?  I believe the former is false but the later is true allowing us to feel better because it is evidence that the problem is not ours.. it is the supplier of the cocaine.  It is clearly not our fault that the Mexicans are send us cocaine.  If only they would crack down and stop making it!  Sounds like a silly argument to me since illegal drug demand seems only loosely associated with supply.

Lastly, Americans are among the most over weight people in the world and it is “clearly not our fault”.  The ubiquity and variety of food in the United States is unparalleled anywhere else in the world.  Not only are we surrounded by food but we can not escape the relentless marketing of food through every form of media.  As American’s waistlines increase there is an increasing call for regulating the food industry to provide healthier food and less persuasive advertising.  Once again these arguments are focused on the supply side as demand side programs are sputtering.  I believe they are sputtering because ti is human nature to transfer responsibility to the supplier.  It is not my fault that I eat a Big Mac.  It is McDonald’s for making it.  They should be regulated.

The headlines are full of other examples where supply side transference of responsibility can be seen.  All problems have both a supply side and demand side component and we should accept individual responsibility and take ownership of the demand side.  Is this an Objectivist or maybe a Libertarian approach?  I am neither but I also know that selectively borrowing a few concepts from any philosophy in an attempt to solve a problem does not mean acceptance of those philosophies in their entirety.

1.  Atkinson, Robert D. Supply-side Follies: Why Conservative Economics Fails, Liberal Economics Falters, and Innovation Economics Is the Answer. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. Print.

mirror: http://confrontingmediocrity.com/Sbarefoot.nsf/dx/supplyside.htm

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