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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Regulating Smoking in China: A Socialist Conflict of Interest

Government ownership and control of a means of production is the standard definition of socialism even if some linguistic revisionists want to redefine the term as merely the control of a business or industry. In short, a government must own the economic enterprises to meet the definition of Socialism rather than merely government regulation of private businesses. Socialism, I contend, involves a structural conflict of interest that a government that both owns an controls an enterprise, industry or even an entire economy may be tempted to exploit for its own ends rather than the public good. The key here is the regulating of that which is owned. Specifically, where a government as owner enjoys the benefit of profit or surplus, that government has a financial interest that can be against the restriction of the produced product. Such a monopolistic restriction could admittedly be warranted by public health or safety, but the gain could also be private in the sense that it is limited to the government and even the personal financial interests of government officials. In other words, the public good can be distinct from a government’s own financial (and related political) interest even as that government is charged with acting in the public interest in part by owning and regulating state enterprises. It is the pivot between the public and private interest that sets up the conflict of interest because the human urge is to go with a narrower, private interest at the expense of the public good. In other words, the very possibility, even likelihood given human nature, that a government would exploit the wider distribution of benefits for the narrower one (i.e., to the government itself) is the basis of a conflict of interest. I argue elsewhere that even the mere possibility renders even an as-yet unexploited conflict of interest inherently unethical. Here, I examine the matter of public health in China as a case of a socialist (in part) government that has had a conflict of interest. 

The full essay is at "A Socialist Conflict of Interest."