There’s so much that is wrong about Thomas Frank’s column today, trying to get a handle on it all is like trying to pick up a piano by yourself from the light end. Fortunately, Ross and Peter Suderman cover many of the points I would make, with better details and links than I could muster. But a couple other points worth making or expanding:
If Frank thinks these beltway non-profit libertarians are doing such a boffo job holding off the soft-socialist economic tide he aspires to, why on Earth aren’t they better paid? If such inside-the-beltway activist are doing such good (or evil, in Frank’s view) work keeping the government from making this a good and decent country, shouldn’t corporate America being doing a better job subsidizing their pave-the-planet and boot-the-poor agenda? Surely, Big Business can see these issues as clearly as Frank can. Indeed, that’s the whole point of Frank’s schtick — that he’s one of the few people who can see what Big Business is up to as clearly as Big Business itself.
Ross dilates on what I assumed to be true: The rise in productivity and prosperity has fueled a huge spike in non-profit jobs (and Peter makes a similar point as well). But what I find hard to understand is how Frank thinks it could be otherwise. I mean statist government doesn’t create non-profits precisely because it doesn’t allow for the creation of a lot of profit. In Europe, even the Churches are state-funded and non-profits in socialist countries are non-existent, or omni-present, depending on your point of view. (It would be interesting to know the correlation between the existence of civil-society non-profit institutions and the size of a country’s welfare state. We know that in communist countries it reaches absolute zero and in anarchic countries it approaches 100%).
Meanwhile, windfall profits (God love ‘em!) create non-profits with, duh, profits. Museums, public libraries, zoos, foundations, conservation groups et al. are all funded by the profits of living or dead “greedy” people. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are giving billions to projects that the working class proletariat Frank lionizes would in all likelihood not vote to help. The more non-profits, the greater the demand for skilled labor. The greater the demand for skilled labor, the better the skilled labor gets paid. At least that’s my guess how it works.
Oh, and just for the sake of mentioning it, it seems like at least a few times a year, I hear about some liberal museum, foundation or university president getting paid a bazillion undeserved dollars, while at the same time using foundation or university funds to pay for some pasha-like office or home or whatever. It’s almost like the leadership of the “good” non-profits are as likely to indulge their greed as those diabolical CEOs the libertarian kids are defending.* Maybe, there’s a lesson about human nature in there, not a lesson about the evils of the market.
* And, it’s worth pointing out that those libertarian kids actually don’t defend most of those CEOs that much because there is no libertarian principle that defends corruption nor do most libertarians deify (often rent-seeking) CEOs a fraction as much as people like Frank demonize them. The only CEOs libertarians really defend are those who create vast amounts of wealth without bilking the taxpayer or hiding behind the skirts of the state, and those CEOs end up paying for a lot of non-profits — alas, not too many libertarian ones.