Why doesn’t the government give money to charities? We all know how this work.
The difference between the two cases is that the second involves a public-private partnership and not a private venture. As noted in the following paragraph, the government is not in a position to “determine how” to spend its money (although it may, of course, attempt to influence it, or decide that doing so will reduce the impact of a given program).
A few months ago, a group of economists and philosophers asked if the government should be allowed to use federal resources to subsidize social programs. Here I agree that this should not depend on the government’s determination that the program is needed (though perhaps if it can demonstrate that the funds would actually benefit society, that would change the situation). If the latter had to be proven, then surely we should be willing to pay the costs (in terms of lost productivity and increased waste) rather than a fraction of the cost. But in the event that it seems that the government is more interested in making sure that the benefits will be shared, while the cost is shared out, I think there is some justification for such a policy. So I am willing to accept the cost-sharing argument for a public-private partnership than the cost-spitting argument for a private venture.
It is worth noting that this second issue is in some ways a different question. When the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was founded in 1994, it was originally envisioned as a model for how states could fund public policy. As the economist John T. Flynn notes, ALEC created a “bureau” that was not a government agency, but a private organization that spent public dollars that its corporate members might not have chosen to contribute to, but whose “membership fee” was paid by corporate groups. ALEC’s membership fee was not paid in dollars, but instead as a “member fee.” As we have noted, “membership fees” are the equivalent of taxpayer dollars.
The reason that corporations get special privileges when government funds their “research” (and lobbying) is that they spend many of their own resources promoting public policy that they do not support (such as restricting women’s rights, or reducing the rights of gays and lesbians). They are not “independent” entities, the way private firms are, or that would be able to refuse to work on policies that they view as socially and morally damaging.
Now, what about tax cuts and other tax breaks that are supposed
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