The Rena’s striking of the Astrolabe Reef is certainly a bad news story, although as Stephen Franks and others have pointed out, it’s not as bad as some would have us believe. Nevertheless, it was sufficiently serious to push the Rugby World Cup off the front page of some newspapers last week, which is something of an achievement even when there aren’t any games on.
Predictably, it has resulted in cries from the usual quarters about the privatising of profit and the socialising of risk. And indeed, the Rena is a good example of why this is a legitimate concern. A key function of government to ensure that people pay for the negative externalities of their activities. However, that the (mandatory) liability insurance carried by the ship’s owners means that the costs are not, in fact, socialised, beyond the unpleasantness of having muck wash up on the shore.
Although I strongly believe that the risk socialising of risk from activities resulting in individual gain should be guarded against, what I cannot understand is why the Left feel that this only applies to productive (and therefore profitable) forms of behaviour.
In almost all other forms of human behaviour, the New Zealand Left actively encourage the privatisation of, for want of a better term, individual utility and the socialisation of the risks and costs associated with that utility-providing activity.
The most glaring example of this is the approach advocated by all left-wing parties in New Zealand with respect to procreation. If someone does not possess the financial wherewithal to support a child, but nevertheless decides to make one anyway, society foots the bill. If someone isn’t mature enough to be an effective parent, but wants a baby to fill some emotional hole, society will cough up for social workers to try to repair the damage.
Unlike useful activities, such as transporting goods to and from our country, the ongoing production of children by those without the money or patience to properly support them benefits no-one but the parent (or perhaps even parents). And yet the socialisation of the associated costs is not only acceptable to those on the Left, but is a key policy platform.
If those who provide the goods and services without which our lives would be infinitely less convenient must take responsibility for the negative consequences of their actions, then so ought those who perform no useful function whatsoever.