What We Really Learn About America From a GoFundMe Border Wall Campaign

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The Atlantic treats us to a discussion of what we learn about America from a GoFundMe campaign to fund the border wall – that, well, something, blather. And the article entirely manages to miss the main point – Americans aren’t willing to spend $5 billion of their money on a border wall. Therefore, presumably, $5 billion shouldn’t be spent upon a border wall. This being something that you’d think would accord with The Atlantic’s extant prejudices – with mine too but that’s another matter – which makes it a slightly odd thing for them to miss:

What a Border-Wall GoFundMe Campaign Says About America
A far-fetched online fund-raiser shows the lengths to which Americans will go to circumvent the country’s broken systems.

People spending their own money on their own desires is a circumvention of a broken system? Rather than being a desirable system in and of itself?

With control of the House of Representatives set to switch to the Democrats in the new year, the odds that Trump will secure money for the wall in the near future have been dwindling. In an effort to fill that gap, several crowdfunding campaigns have popped up to collect money for the wall directly from Trump supporters online, with the purported intent of passing that money to the White House or the Department of Homeland Security. The most successful one, a GoFundMe started by an Iraq War veteran with a background in Facebook accounts that trafficked in conspiracy theories, has raised more than $14 million. It aims to raise at least $1 billion.

Well, OK, people are sending their money to build what they desire. What’s the problem here?

Whether or not raising money directly from Trump supporters can fund the entire wall misses the point, though.

Ah, no, that is actually the point.

Taxation is the art of taking money from those people over there in order to provide something for these people over here and thereby purchase, or at least rent, their vote. Something we need the power of government to do – in the absence at least of private sector muscle and violence. Much of what does get built and done with such cash isn’t of any great interest to those the money is taken from. But, you know, that’s politics.

This brings us to our favourite economic point, the difference between expressed preferences and revealed. People say they want all sorts of stupid stuff. They say this more when they think someone else is going to pay for it. They want very much less stuff – stupid or not – when they themselves have to cough up for it. At which point we can say that the things people really do want are only those things which they themselves are willing to pay for. Revealed preferences rather than just what people say.

So, now, here’s a $5 billion bill for a wall, we find that $14 million is what people are willing to pay for it. We’re, umm, 99.8% short? 99.7%? That is, some people want the wall but not very much and in aggregate we don’t want it at all. So, you know, don’t build it.

Which is an interesting lesson in real voting, isn’t it?