Well, it’s time to bring this overly long series on ethics to an end, for now. The previous six posts have gathered a total of 390 comments at last count, and undoubtedly this post will add significantly to the total — a clear demonstration that moral philosophy is as popular and as controversial as always.
I sincerely hope that readers didn’t — despite my clear warnings — expect to find anything like an exhaustive treatment of the various aspects of ethics, nor to be served with my own original moral system emerging at the end of the series. This was simply an exercise in clarifying my thinking about something I care a lot about, and — as the motto of this blog says — to nudge truth to spring from argument amongst friends.
Nonetheless, I promised, and fully intend to deliver, some summary thoughts that have been shaped while doing the background readings for the series and then writing the individual entries. I tend to do much of my thinking while having discussions or writing (which for me is a time-delayed type of discussion), so this was the perfect medium to probe my own intuitions about moral philosophy. Here we go, then.
To begin with, I return to the opening essay, where I suggested that ethics is neither about absolute moral truths nor about relativism. The only sense I can make of the idea of absolute moral truths is in Platonic terms, similar to the way some mathematicians and philosophers of mathematics think of numbers, theorems and the like as having an ontological status independent of the human mind. Pythagoras’ theorem is, in a counter-intuitive and non-trivial sense, “out there.” But this can only mean that wherever conscious beings capable of abstract thought think along certain lines (i.e., about geometrical figures in plane geometry) they will have to agree that the theorem is true; certainly not in the sense that there is a non-physical realm where numbers and theorems happily while the time away.
Even so, the case for Platonism has certainly not been clinched for mathematics, and it looks even less promising for ethics. In other words, I agree with M.L. Mackie’s famous “argument from queerness” that “If there were objective values, then they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe.” Not impossible, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, you know.
As for relativism, I simply find it preposterous, despite the fact that it is actually becoming increasingly popular among both the general public and professional philosophers. I think something is missing when someone says that moral rules are of a kind with rules of etiquette (if you actually act on such belief society will treat you as a psychopath, and rightly so), or that committing or not committing genocide cannot be distinguished from preferring vanilla or chocolate (chocolate is the objectively obvious answer, by the way). Yes, there is a significant amount of spatial and temporal cultural variation in what people value and what they consider moral or not. But the extent of such variation has been greatly exaggerated (see also here), and flies in the face of both a large number of human universals and of studies showing that even other social primates seem to share our sense of right and wrong about certain actions (intuitively, since presumably they don’t do philosophy).
In order to steer away from both the Scylla of absolutism and the Charybdis of relativism, therefore, I am convinced that the best way to think of ethics is as a set of tools to think rationally and instrumentally about how to achieve a society that is as just as possible, where people can flourish (in their varied ways) as much as possible. (Yes, I know, people keep asking what counts as well being: you’ll find a thorough discussion here.) Of course someone will immediately object that no such moral system can be “compelling,” and I honestly have no idea what they mean by that. Obviously, morality isn’t as “compelling” as, say, gravity. But neither is mathematics. You are perfectly free to disagree with the Pythagorean theorem, though that simply means you don’t understand geometry. Similarly, you can shrug off the entire idea of ethical reasoning and simply keep watching out for number one. Be my guest, but I’ll think of you as a psychopath or a pathological egoist, and I won’t invite you for dinner.
Okay, now what about the six central themes of this series? We have looked at the three fundamental theories of ethics: consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics. We have also looked at the concept of justice from the point of view of various social contract theories as well as of several — remarkably diverse! — ideas of what counts as equality.
To begin with, an important distinction is to be made, as we have seen, between consequentialism and deontology on the one hand and virtue ethics on the other. The first two are answers to the question: what is the right thing to do? The latter is an answer to the question: what sort of life should I live? The two questions are different enough that it really isn’t entirely clear to me why virtue ethics is considered an alternative to the other two.
Nevertheless, among these three, several readers have correctly picked up on my (qualified) sympathies for virtue ethics, properly updated and without the obvious stench of elitism that accompanied Aristotle’s version (oh, and no slavery; oh, and equal consideration for women). There are several reasons for this. First off, I simply can’t get past the fact that there are serious objections to consequentialism, and particularly to its chief mode, utilitarianism. Yes, I’ve read utilitarians’ responses to classic problems like the one posed by the doctor who is considering to cut up a healthy person in order to save five dying people. But I just don’t find them convincing enough. Utilitarians are forced to twist themselves into logical pretzels to avoid the obvious implications of an ethical system that cares only and exclusively about consequences. Consequences are important, but they are not the only or final arbiter of a moral life.
Deontology does incorporate directly ideas about rights, which are notoriously difficult to digest for utilitarians, but it does so at a high price. Without having to go to the extremes of Kant (who, as I mentioned, once famously said that it is “better the whole people should perish” than that injustice be done — one wonders, injustice to whom?) it just seems that a set of inflexible rules, and even more so a single all-encompassing rule like the categorical imperative, is far too blunt a tool to deal effectively with the variety of human experience. No, I think that if we followed either utilitarianism or deontology we would far too often arrive at monstrous ethical decisions with which we simply wouldn’t be able to live.
Which of course leaves virtue ethics as the last man standing. This is not an unproblematic option, because of the variety and complexity of human ways to flourish, and because it is about character, not about which particular actions are right or wrong. But it does capture the idea that there is something common to all human beings (and possibly other relevantly similarly social creatures), that life is better when people are fair to each other, refrain from violence if not absolutely necessary, act with integrity, respect other people’s civil liberties, have access to education and health care, and can generally pursue their interests with the utmost degree of freedom compatible with everyone else doing the same.
But virtue ethics is not a theory of society, it is a theory of individual behavior within society. Which brings us to social contracts and the various forms of egalitarianism. I tend to be sympathetic to a higher degree of egalitarianism than is materialized in the current state of affairs in the United States, but unlike Rawls I am not convinced that income and wealth ought to be equal except under very strict circumstances. I do, however, find the current level of income/wealth inequality in the United States appalling and indefensible except by a relatively small but exceedingly vocal horde of libertarians, Randians and Teapartiers.
I do find Rawls’ concept of a veil of ignorance to be by far the best way to think about a social contract, especially in multicultural societies. I especially like Rawls’ idea (embodied in his two principles of justice) that civil liberties ought to take precedence over economic advantages (precisely the opposite of what currently happens in the US). But it is certainly the case that Rawls’ ideas apply only if a society is guided by certain types of liberal values that have predominated in Western societies and in some non-Western ones (e.g., Japan). If you are into the lure of theocracies or totalitarian regimes you will be largely unmoved by his thought experiment. I wager that you and your society will be so much the worse for it.
Getting back to egalitarianism, however, even if we stay away from income and wealth it is pretty clear that much of the world (US included) is far from being anywhere near a just society. We still do not have complete formal equality of civil rights (think gay marriage), and arguably we are far from actual equality in that department (think about the conditions of a number of minorities, as well as persistent degrees of discrimination against women). We may say that all citizens have equal rights in front of the law, but the practice is such that we keep imprisoning a good number of innocent poor and uneducated people, while robber barons keep crashing the world economy and getting away with golden parachutes. We think that we live in a democracy where every citizen has one vote, but in fact the US Supreme Court has legally allowed corporations to freely buy elections, and we have a Congress occupied by a large number of millionaires (all currently serving US Senators are in that category) who make laws favoring their ilk. Not to mention the arcane two-Senators-per-State system which effectively means that the voters of Wyoming (the least populous state) are almost 69 times better represented than the voters of California (the most populous state).
So, I guess in the end I find myself to be a virtue ethicist when it comes to personal morality, with strong Rawlsian leanings in the social sphere, who would allow a limited amount of income and wealth disparity but is uncompromising about civil liberties, equality of representation and equality within the justice system. This is far from being a logically tight, perfectly coherent approach to ethics, of course. But, as Walt Whitman famously put it: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
While the veil of ignorance is certainly an interesting concept, it doesn't strike me as a powerful convincer/argument. Surely there are people who would rather play the genetic/economic/racial lottery and lose than give up on whatever ideal they are holding.ReplyDelete
Note my considered response about consequentialism under that portion of this long essay. It includes egalitarianism. It absorbs what is best about the others.The consequences of actions on people, other animals and the environment dictate rules and virtues and equality. This binds even any putative God Google the problem of Heaven to see His obligation to us and none from us for Him!ReplyDelete
What are the consequences of abortion? The foetus is not a person, so the consequences only touch the female. She has the right to abortion,that equality with other females. The rule is let abortions happen. The virtue is to affirm her life. The contract here is the Bill of Rights.
And religious ethics are just the simple subjectivism of those miserable, miscreant misanthropes of yore! Lord Russell and Michael Ruse's simple subjectivism is fine.
"Utilitarians are forced to twist themselves into logical pretzels to avoid the obvious implications of an ethical system that cares only and exclusively about consequences."ReplyDelete
Yes, this definitely happens. For example, you might dodge the transplant problem by exaggerating the odds of other people finding out about your actions, thereby setting a bad precedent. The problem is really deeper than this though, and has to do with the implications of your actions there, independent of what they will directly cause. The challenge, then, is to make matters of principle such as this commensurate with consequences.
Great series, Massimo. Thanks.ReplyDelete
BTW, Rawls has long been on my reading list, but this series helped to move it up several places. That said, I came across this line in Ch. 1 of Theory of Justice yesterday:
It should be noted that deontological theories are defined as non-teleological ones, not as views that characterize the rightness of institutions and acts independently from their consequences. All ethical doctrines worth our attention take consequences into account in judging rightness. One which did not would simply be irrational, crazy.
I must admit that I was under the impression that Kant's version of deontology did just that, as your "better the whole people should perish" quote above suggests. Yet Rawls (in the Preface) also describes his own theory of justice as "highly Kantian in nature."
I'm already aware that Rawls' theory accounts for more than just consequences (e.g. it also accounts for our intuitions re: what qualifies as fair), and may yet be influenced by Kant in some important ways. But would you agree (e.g. based on the quote above) that it is also contrary to Kant in some important ways?
"I think that if we followed either utilitarianism or deontology we would far too often arrive at monstrous ethical decisions with which we simply wouldn’t be able to live."ReplyDelete
It seams to me that if utilitarianism is about maximizing the good it would not arrive at "ethical decisions with which we simply wouldn’t be able to live" (assuming this is not good). If it did it would not be maximizing the good and the actions taken would not fit under utilitarianism.
the actions taken in utilitarianism must take into consideration all of the consequences of that action in the environment that the action is taken. admittedly I do not know of any mind that can take all consequences in to consideration but that is irrelevant in deciding if that is the best way.
It may not be best way for individuals to think about right and wrong in day to day life so we can make "rules" to live by that are short cuts in our attempt to do what is right. If we choose not to use these shortcuts or rules to live by we would not be acting in a utilitarian manner as we would never be able to get anything done.
"...between consequentialism and deontology on the one hand and virtue ethics on the other. The first two are answers to the question: what is the right thing to do? The latter is an answer to the question: what sort of life should I live? The two questions are different enough that it really isn’t entirely clear to me why virtue ethics is considered an alternative to the other two."
Well, they are not entirely different, right?
Doing the right thing you live the right live. Or living right you do the right thing. To me they are different point of views of the same problem. (Maybe I am very naive here)
"Without having to go to the extremes of Kant (who, as I mentioned, once famously said that it is “better the whole people should perish” than that injustice be done — one wonders, injustice to whom?)..."
Maybe here, you are taking Kant too seriously. I understand this sentence as an exageration to illustrate. If I know it properly, the categorical imperative is an ellaborated version of the golden rule. And if so, I think it is not bad at all and rather general.
"...Not to mention the arcane two-Senators-per-State system which effectively means that the voters of Wyoming (the least populous state) are almost 69 times better represented than the voters of California (the most populous state)."
Well, California and Wyoming are two states, so according to the territorial division they should have the same representation, otherwise one state would have more power than the other for an arbitrary reason. Of course, if this is the organigram in the United States of America. Probably, I am sliding here.
But if California and Wyoming are independent states, they should take care of the status, wealth, welfare, etc. of their citizens. Then, at the level of states, they have the same status to avoid unequalities in the discussions over state's affairs. Well, for some aspects, like money distribution, could be unfair depending on the system...(This is getting quite complicated...Oops, and that is another discussion. Probably, not for now)
Re: 'Not to mention the arcane two-Senators-per-State system which effectively means that the voters of Wyoming (the least populous state) are almost 69 times better represented than the voters of California (the most populous state).'
This is perhaps one of the most misguided comments of yours that I have read.
First, states are represented in Congress in proportion to their populations in the House (where all pecuniary related legislation must originate). Second, population also determines the constitution of the electoral college. Third, if the smaller states did not receive equal representation in the Senate, it is unlikely they would have consented to enter the Union in the first place. It is simply not rational for less populous states to consent to a political system wherein they are likely to be dominated by the more populous states.
In the past you have made comments which seem to indicate that you support a more direct form of democracy, an arcane political ideal if there ever was one.
I really like this series (and I love the blog by the way).ReplyDelete
I started thinking about ethics in these days.
-I'm not religious and don't believe we can accept morality as God given (even if God existed)
-Like you I can't accept relativism ("that committing or not committing genocide cannot be distinguished from preferring vanilla or chocolate" )
- Utilitarianism if followed strictly can bring us paradoxes as you said.
- Also following a deontological approach without regard for consequences I "feel" is wrong. One can find himself with the libertarian dogmas of property rights and the terrible ethics of Rothbard which I feel is wrong.
So your conclusion interested me very much, but I'm still left with many doubts. Many "feels" and contradictions.
I think in real life I follow some kind of utilitarianism with some deontological absolutes (the life, body and toughts of a person are entirely his property and should not be violated for example).
But I'm not sure.
Excellent series. I would love to hear your take on desirism, Alonzo Fyfe’s moral theory. As far as I can tell, it effectively answers all of your criticisms of utilitarianism, as well as Hume’s is/ought problem.ReplyDelete
When a person say, "But that's not compelling," they mean you can't give Scrooge an argument that would compel him to behave "against his nature" even if he were perfectly rational.ReplyDelete
The implicit argument is that such a thing exists. You haven't found. So your picture of morality must be wrong.
For more on this see:
Morality in the Real World 04: The Scrooge Problem
Massimo, quibbing about details and nuances aside, I'm probably in your general ballpark, though still not as convinced as you are that even non-Aristotelean virtue ethics can stand up to every question hurled at it.ReplyDelete
That said, in general, on matters philosophic, I'm an anti-systemetician.
> Surely there are people who would rather play the genetic/economic/racial lottery and lose than give up on whatever ideal they are holding. <
Surely. And surely they would be behaving irrationally.
> I'm already aware that Rawls' theory accounts for more than just consequences (e.g. it also accounts for our intuitions re: what qualifies as fair), and may yet be influenced by Kant in some important ways. But would you agree (e.g. based on the quote above) that it is also contrary to Kant in some important ways? <
Yes, Rawls' theories are of a Kantian type, but I don't think any modern deontologist actually accepts Kant's position that consequences never matter, as in his infamous phrase that I quoted.
> It seams to me that if utilitarianism is about maximizing the good it would not arrive at "ethical decisions with which we simply wouldn’t be able to live" (assuming this is not good). If it did it would not be maximizing the good and the actions taken would not fit under utilitarianism. <
And yet, if you read my essay on consequentialism, as well as the related links, you'll see that an exclusive focus on consequences does precisely that.
> they are not entirely different, right? Doing the right thing you live the right live. Or living right you do the right thing. To me they are different point of views of the same problem. <
They are certainly related questions, but a virtue ethicist is concerned with character, not with the morality of individual actions. The latter follow from the first. Consequentialism and deontology, on the other hand, are a-personal, they are simply not concerned with character, which I think is a major deficiency.
> California and Wyoming are two states, so according to the territorial division they should have the same representation, otherwise one state would have more power than the other for an arbitrary reason. <
"States: are not entities that should be allowed to vote. This arcane system is the result of a historical compromise that many people saw as bad from the get go. It's high time to revisit it, if the US truly wishes to be considered the best democracy in the world.
> First, states are represented in Congress in proportion to their populations in the House <
I know, thanks for the introductory civic lesson. How does that NOT make the Senate's system undemocratic?
> Second, population also determines the constitution of the electoral college. <
Again, thanks. Same question as above (remember that electoral colleges are private affairs arbitrarily managed by the parties, and that the citizens of a given state still end up with the same exact senatorial votes as those of any other state, regardless of either state's size).
> Third, if the smaller states did not receive equal representation in the Senate, it is unlikely they would have consented to enter the Union in the first place. <
Appreciate the history lesson, but how exactly does a historical compromise mean that the current state of affairs is fair and should not be improved upon? You know, at the time people also compromised on slavery, are you going to use that as an argument to bring it back?
> When a person say, "But that's not compelling," they mean you can't give Scrooge an argument that would compel him to behave "against his nature" even if he were perfectly rational. The implicit argument is that such a thing exists. You haven't found. So your picture of morality must be wrong. <
That's a pretty good example of non sequitur. It would be like saying that since I can't convince Scrooge that the Pythagorean theorem is correct then it must be wrong. Seriously?
Remember, I said Scrooge was perfectly rational. Unless you are a bad explainer, you will be able to convince him Pythagoras was correct.ReplyDelete
This is not an argument. It just what I mean by the words "perfectly rational". If you disagree with me after reading it, feel free to choose different words. I am not saying you will be able to convince all possible minds.
So when people say, "But that's not compelling," they're saying there's something different about your argument. The kind of mind that hears the Pythagorean theorem and says, "That is obviously correct," when hearing your argument says, "I still don't get it."
Please note, I am not making this argument. I am merely trying to explain what people mean when they say, "But that's not compelling."
>Surely. And surely they would be behaving irrationally.<
I don't grasp that last point. It would be irrational if you posit they should be following their rational self interest. But then aren't you begging the question?
Perhaps I'm missing something.
>"Also following a deontological approach without regard for consequences I "feel" is wrong."
Your use of the word 'following' caused me to realize that this discussion regarding morality includes many individuals with different goals that drive their exploration of this subject. Some, like you perhaps, are attempting to discover a moral system that you can "follow"...
some road map or set of rules which you can use to guide your actions and choices throughout your life. Others are interested in understanding the phenomenon of "morality", it's function, it's evolution, it's use, it's value.
So, there is a lot of talking past one another.
If I can ask you....because of my interest in the value of and uses of morality...why do you feel the desire to find a moral system that you can "follow"? Why do you feel that you must conform you life and actions to a moral system of some type. Thank you in advance for any light that you can shed on this subject.
>"as well as Hume’s is/ought problem."
No one has ever come close to finding a way to get past Hume's is/ought problem. Some believe that they have, probably because they have a strong desire to find a moral system that is rationally justified....so that they can either use it to guide their own lives or to further their ideological/political beliefs by persuading others. Also...some confuse the instrumental use of "ought", as in "if you want to cut down a tree, you "ought" to use a chain saw"....which is to say "a chain saw will work to cut down a tree"....with the moral use of the word "ought" which is an entirely different usage of the word. It contains an element of "compelled" or "obligated".
>"Surely. And surely they would be behaving irrationally."
I'm pretty sure that someone that believed that moral systems were simply tools for socialization and conforming and controlling behavior would say that anyone that believes that morality is anything more than that would be believing irrationally ....or anyone acting in ways that did not serve their informed self interest was acting irrationally.
>"When a person say, "But that's not compelling," they mean you can't give Scrooge an argument that would compel him to behave "against his nature" even if he were perfectly rational."
The only way around this problem is by "non-rational" means....unless one thinks of power and enforcement as "rational means". By "rational means" I am using the phrase to mean "by persuasive moral argumentation" .
My comment disappeared. I might not have posted it, I guess? It might be just as well since it was longer and I'm not looking for another tangle. But...ReplyDelete
ianpollock: >Yes, this definitely happens. For example, you might dodge the transplant problem by exaggerating the odds of other people finding out about your actions, thereby setting a bad precedent. The problem is really deeper than this though, and has to do with the implications of your actions there, independent of what they will directly cause. The challenge, then, is to make matters of principle such as this commensurate with consequences.<
I think it happens less often than people say. I for one think it's grotesque to have all those people die simply so you don't have to commit a "bad act" w/r/t one person (assuming there was no substantial risk that anybody would find out - if they did I'd lose my license and be unable to help other patients, so there's a real downside there and I don't understand your "precedent" comment). Nonetheless, if I were in a position of lawmaker I'd try to prevent such situations from arising so as not to disincentivize going to the hospital (nor to create moral hazard effects for taking care of your own organs), though that issue is hardly a "logical pretzel."
That aside, my real reason for commenting is that I don't understand you last two sentences here. I'm wondering whether they go to degrees of foreseeability.
Massimo, have you seen the latest from The Stone at the NYT? It is tangential to your presentation of different ethics schools/stances, probably most to virtue ethics:ReplyDelete
> I don't grasp that last point. It would be irrational if you posit they should be following their rational self interest. But then aren't you begging the question? <
I don't grasp the problem. If someone were to gamble without knowing the odds (i.e., accept an unequal society without knowing what his chances of landing an advantageous position are) that person would behave irrationally, even simply from the point of view of rational self-interest.
thanks for the link. I do read all Stones article, though not all are actually that good, unfortunately. But hey, philosophy regularly featured in the NYT? I'll take it.
>I don't grasp the problem. If someone were to gamble without knowing the odds (i.e., accept an unequal society without knowing what his chances of landing an advantageous position are) that person would behave irrationally, even simply from the point of view of rational self-interest.<ReplyDelete
But if you do not care about your rational self-interest, then the exercise becomes rather pointless. If you are only concerned about a society where science get funded, or god's will is done, or personal liberty is maximised then the veil makes no difference. It only serves to redirect pre-existing selfishness impulses to altruism. So one must posit selfishness.
This is of course a useful tool, but some people are simply pure ideologues, not many mind you.
It seems to me that insofar as you wish to maintain the Union, you cannot rationally gainsay the composition of the Senate, since if the Senate were not so composed, then it is unlikely the less populous states would have consented to join the Union in the first place.
Moreover, it is not rational to expect less populous states to maintain the Union if they do not have equal representation in the Senate. It is simply irrational, e.g., for Rhode Island to subjugate itself politically to the democratic will of New York, California, and Texas.
P.S. The three-fifths compromise is not comparable to the institution of the Senate. The former was an ad hoc amendment to appease (for various reasons and temporarily) a certain group of influential landowners. The latter was a deliberate construction to guard against the dangers of unabashed democracy.
you keep missing my points. Whether it is practical or not, it is undemocratic to keep things as they are. And we have changed things in the past even against the interest of large numbers of people, because it was the right thing to do (e.g., slavery).
Further, "states" don't have self-interest, they are not people, they are fictional and arbitrary constructs.
Of course the composition of the Senate is undemocratic; we have established that. The issue is whether the Senate *ought* to be more democratic. I assert no, because if it were, it is unlikely that you would have the Union, which, presumably, you want to have.
Of course states are political constructs. Even so, they possess identifiable interests (that is, the interests of those who comprise the state) all the same. Pennsylvania and Ohio, e.g., have greater interests in steel tariffs than does Florida, and Iowa has greater interests in tariffs in agricultural products than does Delaware, etc.
you are making precisely the same arguments that made it sound like slavery was never going to be abolished. And yet...
Besides, I frankly think that the US and the world would be better off if the current USA were divided up in 2-3 nations, so you are wrong in presuming that I care about maintaining the integrity of the Union. But that's another topic.
I frankly think that the US and the world would be better off if the current USA were divided up in 2-3 nations...
Sounds like an interesting future post.
On that note, if you haven't already read The Nine Nations of North America, I recommend it. It's not so much a prescription for dividing up the US as it is a description of the already distinct regions or "nations" that occur or overlap its area.
First of all, I got your point about the difference.
And about the senate's issue:
I was meaning that from the point of view of representation, namely, in a representative system the representators have to have at least up to some extent the same rights to decide about their common business, since it is assumed (or I do) that they take care of the ones they represent respectively, (even by definition).
It is from this point of view that I say that different states in a board composed by states should have the same rights, at least in principle. Always applying the common sense and with care. I did not want to talk about any particular system. Neither of the fairness or how appropiate is the existence of a senate.
DJD Well, I did not come to this blog thinking "I must find some moral code to follow".ReplyDelete
But I started wondering about the nature of ethics, how can we say something is right and something wrong and on which base we can say it.
As I don't believe in divine revelation nor in relativism I'm trying to understand what moral code I'm unconsciously following.
Because I know I try to do the right thing usually, so uncover the hidden working of my mind could help me discover something interesting about morality and about myself.
Well...this is a good place to start because there are so many voices pursuing different types of knowledge regarding morality, although some are talking past one another, perhaps without realizing it. Some are trying to discover or express something about whether there are any actually objective morals. Most here do not seem to think so. But....some are trying to replace that void by trying to discover some morals or moral systems that are 'rational'. Some will draw on their knowledge of evolution...and find universal human traits, such as empathy or caring.... and try to make the jump from "humans care...to humans 'ought' to care..or have an obligation to care....or, if you were a rational person....you would care.
Others start out with a utilitarian goal...along the lines of "whatever brings the greatest happiness to the greatest numbers"...but with a different twist..."whatever increases human flourishing". Then, they look at what behaviors have an instrumental effect of furthering or decreasing human flourishing. It rests it's case on being rational. ie..will 'work'. Then there are others that are more interested in asking questions about the phenomenon of morality itself. What explains it's existence? why does it vary so much from culture to culture or historical period to another? What is it's function....what value does it have for the individual or the social group? To what degree is it merely invented to advance some ideology or cause or faction of the society? It's origin probably resulted from a combination of our evolved traits, desires, needs, conflicts, etc. and our early life training and indoctrination, plus our later years of education and peer group membership. We must behave, at least to some degree in ways that our culture and peer groups approve of rather than condemn. Most of our values, virtues, what we admire or not...beyond just morality proper, likely come about (and change) due to all the forces mentioned. Some just accept...."that's where they come from....how the come about". For others...that's not enough. They want to know how they "OUGHT" to believe, behave, judge others behavior, be committed to, generate self-respect and identity by embracing and acting in this "moral" way.
Others, just accept who they are, how they became that way, and be glad that they somehow absorbed beliefs and ways of acting, internalized them, and are guided by them unconsciously....and generally in a way that serves others at the same time they serve themselves. For some reason...there are those that need to consciously choose among a variety of possibilities...or strive to make their existing beliefs rational....having grounds that justify them and can be used to persuade others that THESE are the correct morals. Others try to justify their existing political and ideological beliefs by developing or "discovering" a moral system that provides that justification. All of this goes on here. So, it's a great place to watch individuals discuss and debate morality.
>"No one has ever come close to finding a way to get past Hume's is/ought problem. “
But if morality is something real, then there must be a way to cross the is/ought gap. How about this, from Alonzo:
"Desires are the only reasons that exist" is not a commandment. It is a fact about the world. I do not see any evidence to support claims for the existence of any type of reason for action other than desires.
Also, desirism holds that "should" questions can only be answered by appeals to reasons for action. "Why should I do X?" No answer makes sense that is not a reason for action, or a fact that ties some consequence of the action to a reason for action.
If we tie these two claims together, we get the conclusion that all answers to "should" questions must, directly or indirectly, reference one or more desires. Where those claims appeal to facts, those facts are made relevant (or irrelevant) to the degree that they relate (or fail to relate) some state of affairs to desires.
DJD, here is another good article from Alonzo Fyfe on the subject of Hume’s is/ought:ReplyDelete
There is no mutually exclusive 'is – ought' distinction. The only mutually exclusive alternative to 'is' is 'is not'. This means that 'ought' either needs to find a comfortable home in the realm of 'is', or needs to be tossed into the realm of 'is not'.
A person comes to me and says, "Alonzo, you ought to do X."
I answer, "Prove it."
That person then says, "Well, as you know, an 'ought' statement cannot be derived from any set of 'is' statements . . . .”
"You can top right there," I say. "We're done. You have just told me that your 'ought' statement is a work of fiction – an artifact of the realm of make-believe. If your claim that I ought to do X is false, then why are you telling me I ought to do X?"
>"desirism holds that "should" questions can only be answered by appeals to reasons for action. "Why should I do X?" No answer makes sense that is not a reason for action, or a fact that ties some consequence of the action to a reason for action."
Many individuals confuse the instrumental use of the word "ought", as in "if you want to cut down a tree, you "ought" to use a chain saw"....which is to say "a chain saw will work to cut down a tree"....with the moral use of the word "ought" which is an entirely different usage of the word. It contains an element of "compelled" or "obligated". Desirism only speaks to the first usage. Of course it's rational....if you have a defined objective, such as trying to cut down a tree....to say one, in that case, should use a chain saw. That is simply instrumental reasoning. The moral use of the word "ought" is very different, even if the word is used in both cases...as many of our words have multiple uses.
The moral "ought" is about what one should do because it is the moral thing to do....not simply because science or experience has shown that using a chain saw is an efficient and easy way to cut down a tree. Two entirely different meanings.
>"That person then says, "Well, as you know, an 'ought' statement cannot be derived from any set of 'is' statements . . . .” This person is clearly wrong. You can go from is to ought....in the case of instrumental reasoning....."If you want to screw in that screw, a screwdriver will do the job...you ought to use a screwdriver or something similar IF your goal is to screw it in fairly easily.....our experience tells us this. Simple empirically informed "how to"....
Instrumental reasoning tells "how to"...how we can....not what we "must" Moral reasoning tells us that we "must" if we want to be moral. (according to that system of morality.
Another way of putting the problem: If one says "You can do X (use a chain saw) if you desire to cut down tree" and "You can do Y if you want to act morally". But, this is begging the question. The problem is what will be considered "moral" behavior and who is going to determine that it is moral. Just because something "is" does not allow one to say "That is moral"
Eamon, I love your "special pleading" for the Senate vs. slavery. It shows the level of your illogical and "motivated reasoning," as well as giving me more reasons to "discount" your discourse in general.ReplyDelete
As for "desire utilitarianism" (the full name, not a made-up), I don't see any significant new insights from it.
I made no special case for the Senate. The comparison between the compromises which led to the composition of the Senate and the three-fifths amendment is not apt (it is at best superficial). The latter was, per intentions, an attempt to appease temporarily certain influential factions in the South. The former was a deliberate construction to guard against the dangers of unchecked democracy, in general, and check the political force of the more populous states vis-a-vis the less populous states, in particular.
On guarding against the dangers of democracy, read Federalist No. 62. Madison's apprehension toward democracy (defined in the direct sense) is well justified. The Senate serves an essential role in the checks and balances outlined in the Constitution. If you would like to argue against the instituted checks and balances, though you would be wrong, you can do that, but you must recognize that the Senate is of a deliberate origin, while the various compromises regarding slavery were not.
On checking the political power of less populous states, consider that the states were (still are) independent political units and that it was determined in 1787 that the House should be constituted according to population. As an independent polity, Rhode Island, e.g., would have seriously compromised that independence, if not abdicated it entirely, if the bicameral system were determined completely via population. It would not have been rational for RI to take that course then, and it would not be rational to take it now.
While the three-fifths compromise possesses a resemblance to the compromises which led to the equally represented Senate, an honest assessment shows that the resemblance is superficial. What is shocking is your sychophancy on this matter; Massimo has, it seems, developed an opinion on this matter irresponsibly, and you bought in completely.
Eamon: Your historical arguments do not float with me, either (and that has nothing to do with "sychophancy" towards Massimo, to whom I often give a hard time - or try to, anyway).ReplyDelete
But I'll say this much in favor of the Senate: it's scaled in such a way (i.e. limited to 100 reps) that - in relation to the House - a more deliberative approach to legislation is feasible. It's been a while since I've read the Federalist Papers, but that strikes me as a worthy feature, whether it was given by Madison or not.
In theory, it's possible to preserve the Senate (and, by extension, the bicameral system), while fixing the problem that Massimo refers to (and which you apparently defend), by using a different political map than the states (and, of course, the congressional districts), whose regions are scaled in proportion to the population of voters. (This map is analogous to that of the Federal Reserve districts and the US District Courts.)
Of course, I'm not saying that this solution is politically likely (e.g. even today, it seems unlikely that the voters and politicians of the small states would willingly let go of their disproportionate influence on the federal legislative process). And, besides, I think there are bigger (and more plutocratic) threats to our representative democracy than this one (viz. the influence of money in politics).
I would like to read what exactly you reject in my historical argument. Do you contend that the composition of the Senate was something other than a deliberate construction? If not, do you contend that the three-fifths compromise was a deliberate construction and not an ad hoc, temporary stop gap?
On your proposed solution to the so-called problem, I should like to emphasize that there is no problem here which might necessitate a solution.
Eamon: Whether an historical decision was intended as a "deliberate construction" or as an "ad hoc, temporary stop gap" is only relevant if one accepts the dubious premise that the decision-makers were infallible and/or that their decisions are immutable - no matter how unjust they are deemed by contemporary observers.ReplyDelete
If you have a reason for why (to paraphrase Massimo) a resident of State A deserves X-times more influence in the Senate than a resident of State B (i.e. the problem), then I've not seen it. Simply providing a description of how this situation developed hardly qualifies as such (nor, for that matter, does a vague reference to Madison's warnings about mob rule, as if any change to the current representative structure and/or electoral process would necessarily qualify as such).
Any move to make the Senate into something closer to direct democracy would increase the likely hood of 51% of the populace from taking everything away from the other 49%. And if the desire is there....the moral justification for doing so will soon follow.ReplyDelete
Re: 'If you have a reason for why (to paraphrase Massimo) a resident of State A deserves X-times more influence in the Senate than a resident of State B (i.e. the problem), then I've not seen it.'
The Senate was created for the express purpose of providing equal representation to the states, not to the general population. The House was designed to embody the express will of the people, and the Senate was designed, amongst other things, to provide a counter balance to the House. This is precisely why we have a bicameral system, and not a unicameral.
Part of the purpose of providing historical details is to show that there was no 'special pleading' infraction, but rather that the analogy between the three-fifths compromise and the Senate fails as a matter of historical fact.
Re: 'Simply providing a description of how this situation developed hardly qualifies as such...'
I did not simply provide a description of the origins of the Senate. To come to terms with an argument it often takes care, so I suggest you invest a little and read again my comments above.
P.S. DJD, I agree entirely. Perhaps the primary motivation behind establishing the Senate was to provide a security against direct forms of democracy. Massimo's (et al.) underlying assumption is that a more direct form of democracy is desirable, but of course that is highly contentious and, I would argue, utterly misguided.ReplyDelete
I agree with your surmise of the primary motivation. Madison makes that quite clear...at least on his part.
I seriously doubt that making the Senate more democratic would imperil the rights of minorities (we have a Constitution, as you know). Moreover, it has nothing whatsoever to do with "direct" democracy. Senators would still have to be elected, we would still have primaries, etc.
Eamon: The House was designed to embody the express will of the people, and the Senate was designed, amongst other things, to provide a counter balance to the House. This is precisely why we have a bicameral system, and not a unicameral.ReplyDelete
Although the outcome of that decision was undemocratic, one need not be a democrat (with a small 'd') in order to recognize a problem with WY residents' having 69x more political influence than CA residents (assuming, for argument's sake, that's an accurate figure). One need only recognize and disapprove of its arbitrariness.
Also, I suspect that few people nowadays would agree that the House qualifies as "direct" (as opposed to "representative") democracy. After all, in neither chamber do I have an opportunity to participate directly in the legislation process, unless I am elected to represent a district/region/state.*
But I would grant you this much: If that were the only justification for a bicameral system, then a better solution would be to abolish the Senate entirely. However, based on my earlier comment (re: the advantage of having a more deliberate legislative chamber as a check against a more mob-like one), I hardly think that's necessary.
* I just noticed that Massimo just made more or less this same point.
PS: For clarity's sake, I have two corrections to my previous comment:ReplyDelete
"If the historical explanation you give were the only justification..."
"(re: the advantage of having a more deliberative legislative chamber...)"
Re: 'One need only recognize and disapprove of its arbitrariness.'
It is expressly NOT arbitrary. To re-iterate, the Senate was designed, amongst other things, to provide a protection against more direct forms of democracy. (Cf. the Seventeenth Amendment.)
Re: Direct democracy
With the exception of my last two comments, I have taken effort throughout to be clear that I do not meant to assert that the House is or has been an embodiment of direct democracy. Apologies for the imprecision.
James Madison has written that his biggest and most enduring problem he wrestled with....the one that kept him up at night...was ..How to create a true democracy, without, at the same time, granting the majority to vote to tax away the wealth of the minority. To this day there is nothing in our constitution that prevents this from occurring, or even speaks to this problem.
Madison had hopes that if there were enough conflicting factions....that they might cancel each others over zealous reaching for using govt to harm the minority. The other thing that he favored was checks and balances, along with a bicameral legislative body. The senate today, is a bulwark against majoritarian tyranny. Even Madison would likely not have anticipated that roughly 49% of the population pays any income tax. In fact, many of those 49% receive negative tax monies because they work in low wage jobs.
This certainly helps create a situation where nearly half of the population has little or no interest in preventing tax increases on those in the other 51%. Fortunately, there are many counter balancing forces right now. But, if those were not there....the senate might be the last stand against the tyranny of the majority. To think otherwise is to have, in my opinion, a naive view of human nature.
Eamon: It is expressly NOT arbitrary.ReplyDelete
All you're really saying is that the founders had their reasons. No doubt they did, but then that only begs the question of whether they were good reasons by today's standards. (I take that to have been Massimo's point in mentioning the allowance of slavery, which is offensive by today's standards - even on a temporary basis.) IMO, the perverse outcome described here raises doubts about that. But that's water under the bridge.
The point is that anyone alive today who accepts the principle of equal representation under the law (if only on a provisional basis*) must view the design of the Senate as flawed. For example, the residents of WY and CA are not (to put it mildly) represented equally in the Senate.
And since we agree that the House is not an embodiment of direct democracy, we already have plenty of "protection against more direct forms of democracy." That doesn't necessarily mean that there aren't still valid reasons for the Senate (like the one that I mentioned earlier) or bicameral systems, in general. But an historical reason may or may not still hold up today (if it ever did, except on a purely pragmatic basis).
* My last comment was meant to suggest that even a proponent of, say, aristocracy would recognize this outcome as perverse were s/he to assume democratic principles for the sake of argument.
>"But an historical reason may or may not still hold up today" But that is an important question.
IS it still needed today? Tradition often carries with it much insight that we do not recognize until after it has been discarded. The founders studied many different types of governments throughout history and recognized the strengths and weaknesses of each. What they settled upon was the result of their knowledge
about the reasons many previous types of government failed. One of the problems they found was that the tyranny of the majority was as much to guard against as the tyranny of a dictatorship.
>"The point is that anyone alive today who accepts the principle of equal representation under the law (if only on a provisional basis*) must view the design of the Senate as flawed."
What if the person alive today does NOT accept the principle of equal representation under the law?
This is a rationalistic argument that assumes a principle...and then advances to a logical conclusion....like a moral argument. So, in addition to not buying in to the principle, one can reject all our decisions being based upon morality or moral argumentation...rather than practical knowledge about the probabilities of the best outcome for the greatest numbers....or some other practical goal.
I feel I am at the arcade trying to hit the gopher as he pops his head up.
Re: The claim of being arbitrary.
If the framers had reasons to construct the Senate as they did, then by definition
their decision was not arbitrary, even if those reasons no longer hold. The claim of being arbitrary is frankly absurd: the Senate embodied an express and to this day important principle of checks and measures. The House is by its construction more susceptible to democratic whim (shorter term limits and proportional representation) than the Senate.
Re: 'The point is that anyone alive today who accepts the principle of equal representation under the law (if only on a provisional basis*) must view the design of the Senate as flawed. For example, the residents of WY and CA are not (to put it mildly) represented equally in the Senate.'
Absolutely not. This statement can be made only in light of a profound ignorance of the design and operation of the American political system (which is common amongst non-naturalized citizens; like Massimo, I am a naturalized citizen). U.S. Senators represent states, and thus the Senate embodies equal representation for states (50 states, 100 Senators, two a piece). The population en bloc receives representation in the House (where all important pecuniary legislation originates). Again I emphasize the counter balance between the two legislative bodies.
Eamon: I feel I am at the arcade trying to hit the gopher as he pops his head up.ReplyDelete
I know how you feel, except that in my case, I keep seeing the same gopher popping up, only dressed slightly differently each time.
No one here (as far as I can tell) has argued that a bicameral system is necessarily a bad thing. What is a bad thing, however - at least to those of us who accept the premise that citizens are entitled to equal representation - is the flawed design of the Senate, which discriminates against citizens based on the size of the state they happen to reside in.*
If you reject that equality principle, that's one thing (viz. a much bigger can of worms). But if you accept it, then I would expect that you would easily recognize the flaw in this design. I guess not.
* This is not to suggest that its consequences are necessarily all that bad, relative to other problems. But that would likely come as cold comfort to big-state residents (like Massimo).
PS: Note that I referred in my last post to "the premise that citizens are entitled to equal representation" [emphasis added]. In other words, states (like corporations) are not citizens (as in real people), nor should they be treated as such.ReplyDelete
The exchange has reached the point of diminishing returns, so, after this comment, I will leave any last words with you.
Re: 'What is a bad thing, however - at least to those of us who accept the premise that citizens are entitled to equal representation - is the flawed design of the Senate, which discriminates against citizens based on the size of the state they happen to reside in.*'
Two things here: (1) Citizens receive equal representation in the House, and (2) I was under the impression the Senate was being criticized because it fails to discriminate less populous states from more populous states.
Re: 'Note that I referred in my last post to "the premise that citizens are entitled to equal representation" [emphasis added]. In other words, states (like corporations) are not citizens (as in real people), nor should they be treated as such.'
States are the primary political units in the U.S. political system. (The Unites *States* of America.) Each state possesses various interests which are likely to be ignored or otherwise go unsatisfied if the Senate were not so constituted; the Senate safeguards smaller states from being politically bullied by larger states. It is not rational for smaller states to persist in the Union if the states themselves do not receive equal representation in the Senate.
If the Senate were changed to what you propose, you must realize that the rules of the game would then have changed and that it is likely that the game would come to an end. In other words, Rhode Island, Delaware, Alaska, Maine, Wyoming, etc., might as well leave the union.
I am honestly amazed you are advancing such a bad argument, Mufi (same goes for you, Massimo).
just saying that we are making bad arguments doesn't make it so, my friend. In my view you are either not getting or refuse to get the point. Considering that you usually write interesting things, I vote for the latter.
We know the history of how the Senate came about; we are not (necessarily) against bicameralism (which can be implemented in a variety of ways anyhow); and we are not saying that it would be feasible to change the system, at least in the short run. But to deny that this ia flagrant case of undemocratic representation is just bizarre.
I have no idea what the rant about taxes has to do with anything, so I'll ignore it. But the idea that the undemocratic Senate system protects Americans from the tyranny of the majority is entirely unsubstantiated. It is the Constitution that does that job. Of course, nothing in the Constitution says we can't raise taxes on the super-rich, and simple human decency says we ought to.
Massimo: But to deny that this is a flagrant case of undemocratic representation is just bizarre.ReplyDelete
I mentioned this thread to my wife last night and she could not (or would not) acknowledge the problem, either (even though we usually agree on political matters). In fact, she more or less recited the same arguments (re: "states interests") that Eamon did. So we may be in the minority here, Massimo, which is not to suggest that "common sense" cannot be fallacious.
In this case, the idea that a state (as an abstract entity) is not a person, and therefore (according to basic democratic principles) deserves no representation, probably does seem counter-intuitive to anyone who has acquired the concept that the US federal system is fair and just by design. They are not necessarily even conscious of that intuition, especially if it goes unchallenged.
Still, I admit that this design flaw (or kludge) is one that we will most likely have to live with so long as the US exists as such. Let's hope that's not the case for the other threats to democracy that you mentioned (re: the influence of money in politics).
>"I seriously doubt that making the Senate more democratic would imperil the rights of minorities (we have a Constitution, as you know)."
It is that very constitution that you cite in defense of your position that includes the protection of a bicameral system, which is part of the checks and balances written into the constitution, partly in order to keep factions from exerting too much power and abusing the minority. And accusing me of "ranting" about taxes, when all I was doing was pointing out that the biggest worry that James Madison had when creating all those checks and balances, was about the majority abusing the minority by voting to over-tax the minority, was a surprise.
Also....there is nothing in our constitution, to this day, that protects the minority from this type of abuse, other than the checks and balances that Madison and others crafted.
>"to anyone who has acquired the concept that the US federal system is fair and just by design. They are not necessarily even conscious of that intuition, especially if it goes unchallenged."
The founders were not concerned only with designing the federal system to be "fair and just". They were also concerned, after studying various systems from the past, about what will work, what will endure, what may not endure, Etc. as well as gaining support for ratification. They were empiricists as well as rationalists.
My arguments are not premised upon an unexamined intuition and I have not 'acquired the concept that the US federal system is fair and just by design.' To say the least, I find the tendency of so-called skeptics to psychologize unpleasant and unfortunate.
Again, we have established that the Senate is undemocratic, but one of the arguments advanced is that its undemocratic feature is a good thing (indeed, necessary in order to maintain the union) in that it presents an equal forum for the representation of states, the primary American political unit. To alter the Senate as proposed would be to alter fundamentally the American political landscape, which would (should) usher in the end of United States of America.
You gentlemen really must realize that your views on this matter are very much in the majority, especially amongst your epistemic peers, which should give cause to worry.
DJD: Do you detect even a hint of irony in the fact that the Senate is currently led by Democrats (and includes a self-labeled socialist) and the House by Republicans? Because I sure do, and the irony swings both ways.ReplyDelete
BTW, the founders also recognized that they were human, and thereby fallible, and were wise enough to allow that the system be amendable. Although I would agree that an amendment is not likely to occur in this case, the more generic hypothesis that checks and balances necessarily entail the perverse outcome that Massimo and I complained of seems like a relatively easy one to test (and, I suspect, refute), given enough time to research other extant systems - including those that were formed after the lifetimes of the US founders.
But (at least in the short run) I lack the time to do justice to that task myself.
>So we may be in the minority here, Massimo, which is not to suggest that "common sense" cannot be fallacious.<ReplyDelete
Fwiw, I think it's a remarkably strong claim to say that there are no possible less-undemocratic configurations of the Senate that could maintain the smaller states' incentive to remain in the US. It's possible but it'd take an equally strong argument to convince me of it. I mean, you can immediately imagine some number of Senators-at-large (voted on by a majority of all voters) added to the Senate that would dilute the Senators-from-states.
.\>"checks and balances necessarily entail the perverse outcome that Massimo and I complained of"
What is "perverse" about the outcome?
If the purpose of the Senate is to embody equal representation of states, then the addition of the Senators-at-large would not conduce to that end. The raison d'etre of the Senate is to provide a gentile forum for the equal representation of the independent states. The majoritarian fix is satisfied in the House, per original design. Unless you propose to abolish the states, then it is not rational to alter the Senate's design since it is not rational for smaller states to maintain in a political arrangement which affords the opportunity for political domination by the larger states.
Feel free to survey competing alternatives designs; we can discuss the relative merits. But the point is that if the Senate is so altered, the American union would be voided.
Eamon: My arguments are not premised upon an unexamined intuition...ReplyDelete
So you say, but then if I've learned one thing from cognitive science, it's that the "cognitive unconscious" is a lot more influential in our lives than many of us (especially us "rationalists") care to admit, and introspection is of little or no help here. But I, of course, am no more immune to that observation than you are.
Besides, I was partly referring to my beloved wife, who is not such a rationalist (or so detached from her feelings) that she minds admitting that she is emotionally invested in her state and identifies with its "interests." When framed that way, I was almost swayed by her appeal - until I remembered how absurd it is to personify these abstract entities.
Timothy: Fwiw, I think it's a remarkably strong claim to say that there are no possible less-undemocratic configurations of the Senate that could maintain the smaller states' incentive to remain in the US.
Although your comment quotes me, I hope it's clear that I agree with you (e.g. see my suggestion above).
the fact that mufi and I are endorsing a minority position says precisely nothing about the correctness or coherence of our (or your) position. Are you going to invoke a vox populi argument?
The real problem is that we think that to grant right to abstract entities - like states and corporations - makes no (logical) sense, though we understand perfectly well why it may make political sense.
I'd like you to mount a defense of the coherence of granting rights to such entities.
Your statement that changing things would unravel the Union is entirely unsubstantiated.
your rant about taxes seems such to me because you keep referring to that possibility as an "abuse," while it is no such thing.
I will offer a proof via common practice.ReplyDelete
We assign rights, moral duties, responsibilities, interests, etc., to abstract entities all the time. E.g., Scotland has property rights to the oil reserves off its northern coasts, the United States of America, via its government (which is of course an abstract entity), was held morally responsible for the internment of Japanese-Americans during WW2, British Petroleum was held morally and legally responsible for its recent disaster, West Germany was held financially responsible for the Holocaust and war reparations.
I take it that the onus is upon you to provide an argument as to why the above cases are instances of the illogical.
P.S. I was not making a simple-minded appeal to popularity (ergo my mention of epistemic peers). Rather, I was pointing out that the majority of relevant scholars and otherwise thoughtful people disagree with your view on the matter, which you should consider as an important bit of evidence when you assess your view; it seems to me you might want to count it as evidence against your view.
you've got to be kidding me. "Scotland" has no right to anything, nor does "West Germany" have any responsibility for anything. Those are shorthand for "the people of Scotland," "the West Germans," etc. Which goes back to my point that States don't have rights (or responsibilities) above and beyond those of the individual citizens that live in those states.
And I'm curious: on what sort of empirical data do you make the extraordinary statement that a majority or "relevant scholars" and other "thoughtful people" disagree with our position?
I am not kidding you. When West Germany paid reparations to Israel and Jewish families, the monies distributed did not come from erstwhile card carrying Nazis, but rather from taxe revenue from Germans, the vast majority of whom had absolutely nothing to do with the atrocities. Likewise for U.S. reparations to interred Japanese-Americans. Take another example. The United States of America invaded Iraq, not simply the concrete individual human beings who stepped foot in Iraq, and thus the U.S. is responsible for the consequences, not solely the men and women carrying out the operations.
Of course Scotland owns oil rights to its offshore; just like NYC owns Central Park. Have you become a nominalist now?
As for the data on the opinions of scholars, I don't have any on hand and I didn't base my statement on that. In that, perhaps I am remiss. But would you wager that your view is not the minority view amongst the relevant scholars?
DJD: What is "perverse" about the outcome?ReplyDelete
To recap: The outcome is the one we've been discussing all along (see Massimo's WY vs. CA example). We find it "perverse" (as in "unreasonable or unacceptable") because we accept the principle that all citizens (e.g. regardless of the size of the state that one happens to reside in) deserve equal representation under the law, which that outcome clearly contradicts.
If you want to launch a frontal attack on that basic egalitarian/democratic principle, then be my guest. I will almost certainly find it very creepy, but it will hardly be the first time that someone has creeped me out on the Internet.
>"your rant about taxes seems such to me because you keep referring to that possibility as an "abuse," while it is no such thing."
As I said...I was referring to James Madison's primary worry. Here is what I said:
"when all I was doing was pointing out that the biggest worry that James Madison had when creating all those checks and balances, was about the majority abusing the minority by voting to over-tax the minority,"
So...I guess Madison's concern is not a concern of yours? 51% taxing everything away from the 49% is OK with you? There is nothing in the constitution to keep that from happening except for the checks and balances that were included at Madison's urging.
> "The real problem is that we think that to grant right to abstract entities - like states and corporations - makes no (logical) sense"
If one says that "states" is shorthand for "people living in those states"...then it makes "logical" sense as well as political sense. At least the people living in those states that refused to join the union unless there was a bicameral system as we have now.
So...now we have the logical question out of the way, perhaps we can deal with what works. What kind of systems endure and what do not.
"We find it "perverse" (as in "unreasonable or unacceptable") because we accept the principle that all citizens (e.g. regardless of the size of the state that one happens to reside in) deserve equal representation under the law, which that outcome clearly contradicts." and
>"If you want to launch a frontal attack on that basic egalitarian/democratic principle, then be my guest. I will almost certainly find it very creepy, but it will hardly be the first time that someone has creeped me out on the Internet.
Well...I guess the Founders must "creep" you out. Have you ever read any of their writings that explain why they did not feel comfortable creating a constitution that created a "one vote one person" democracy....instead of a the one they devised? ( Creep you out by disagreeing with you....that's a good one.)
Eamon: Who knew that you were such a collectivist?! :-)ReplyDelete
But, seriously, I do not dispute these world facts any more than I disputed the ones re: the US federal system (which I've known since childhood, btw). I also admit that, to some extent, these arrangements may be practically unavoidable.
But I hope you would agree that such realism hardly justifies any and all outcomes, no matter how much they offend our ethical principles and sensibilities. Regardless, insofar as it's possible to tailor these arrangements such as to avoid the more negative outcomes, then I reckon that we ought to try.
DJD: What ever gave you the impression that I uncritically accept everything the US founders said or did (despite, as a native born & raised US citizen, having been raised to address them as "Fathers")? I prefer to leave the ancestor/hero worship to others, thanks.
>"What ever gave you the impression that I uncritically accept everything the US founders said or did (despite, as a native born & raised US citizen, having been raised to address them as "Fathers")? I prefer to leave the ancestor/hero worship to others, thanks."
Shall I take that as a "No"? That you have not read the founders' reasons for avoiding an out and out democracy?
DJD: Shall I take that as a "No"? That you have not read the founders' reasons for avoiding an out and out democracy?ReplyDelete
No, you should take that as a "the US founders are not the last and only word on the matter."
>If the purpose of the Senate is to embody equal representation of states, then the addition of the Senators-at-large would not conduce to that end. The raison d'etre of the Senate is to provide a gentile forum for the equal representation of the independent states. The majoritarian fix is satisfied in the House, per original design. Unless you propose to abolish the states, then it is not rational to alter the Senate's design since it is not rational for smaller states to maintain in a political arrangement which affords the opportunity for political domination by the larger states.<ReplyDelete
Eamon, before you were arguing from the state's self-interest. I agree it's not in the smaller state's rational self-interest* to let the larger states "dominate" them politically (for most senses of "dominate"). But again, I'm deeply skeptical of the claim that the Senate's configuration is the least-undemocratic one compatible with their self-interest, and your reply doesn't address that issue at all. Rather, your last sentence seems to beg the question; the Senate's "purpose" is just another thing altogether (unless by self-interest you mean something very different than I know the phrase as).
If by "purpose" you mean the Framer's original intent, then sure, but it doesn't make your case regarding their self-interest, nor your case that the smaller states would leave. If by "purpose" you mean teleology, then I flatly disagree and I'll simply have to keep it in mind when you use the word "rational" in the future since I'm not keen on discussing my extensive disagreement with teleology.
I'm still open to your claim, but I honestly don't think you're making your case. I appreciate you have that whack-a-mole problem you mentioned earlier; is it possible you were thinking of someone else's reply when you addressed mine with "purpose"?
*by which I mean the economic sense of the phrase, although I'm not sure anymore you mean it that way. It's just preference amalgamation, which on "economic" matters tends to be one-dimensional at least broadly speaking, allowing us to escape circular preferences to the extent the other econ-policy dimensions don't become salient (which I don't think they do). Judging by Massimo's most recent post, I think he and I agree it's a short-hand of sorts. Perhaps it's at the crux of our disagreement. You do cite legal rights they have, and I agree the legal system attributes them such things, but I disagree that it's evidence such entities can have interests unrelated to their constituent people. (So for instance, if a corporation's people (stockholders etc.) all died at once, the legal system would still recognize the corporate personhood, but that "legal fiction," to use the judicial phrase, would not evidence the corporation had interests in any realistic sense; if anything, it would just be that the judiciary had an interest in maintaining a legal and orderly treatment.) And if you don't mean they can, then I really don't see what you mean and would ask you to spell it out more expressly.
>Although your comment quotes me, I hope it's clear that I agree with you<
Yes, I was agreeing with you. I think Eamon's claim is surprisingly strong.
as mufi has already pointed out, of course for practical purposes we say that "Scotland" has a right to X, but the only way to make sense of that talk is to consider it a proxy for "the people of Scotland, through whoever represents them as their government." Scotland per se has no additional rights on top of that, and the same goes - a fortiori (since they are not even nation states) - for US states.
> So...I guess Madison's concern is not a concern of yours? 51% taxing everything away from the 49% is OK with you? <
I am concerned by the opposite problem: not enough taxation of the super-rich, which has clearly been the case historically, and especially in the past two decades.
> Well...I guess the Founders must "creep" you out. <
Again, as mufi pointed out, there seems to be some sort of "founder worshipping" going on here, to which I don't subscribe. The founders did a pretty good job in many respects, given the circumstances. But they screwed up royally when it comes to slavery and state rights. The first mistake has been fixed, time to start working on the second one (which, incidentally, is arguably a major source of inequality and misery in the US).
Timothy to Eamon re: states interests: I agree the legal system attributes them such things, but I disagree that it's evidence such entities can have interests unrelated to their constituent people.ReplyDelete
I'm reminded of Michael Sandel's Justice series (which I quite enjoyed, btw), in which he raised slavery reparations along with other issues that invoke collective traits (i.e. responsibilities, etc.).
My vague sense, which is bolstered by this interview, is that Sandel would support Eamon's position to some extent; e.g.: "Insofar as it’s possible to take pride in one’s country or one’s past or one’s people, it must also be possible to bear a moral burden for the wrongs of that people." and "membership of a particular community...makes a difference to one’s moral responsibilities."
This left me wondering: Of course, it's psychologically and socially possible for such acts to occur, and there is no doubt plenty of evidence that they actually do. But how do we judge if that's a good or a bad thing?
Sandel addresses that question (somewhat obliquely) by recourse to Aristotle and a virtue ethics approach, which is teleological. Even so, I'm not sure that that approach could necessarily make the case that states interests takes precedence over a citizen's entitlement to equal representation under the law. I suppose that would depend on how virtuous we judge the interested parties to be and on whether or not we judge the arrangement to benefit the common good.
In any case, I would hope that any conception of states interests is somehow "related to their constituent people" - particularly in a way that is truly to their benefit.
Massimo: But they screwed up royally when it comes to slavery and state rights. The first mistake has been fixed, time to start working on the second one (which, incidentally, is arguably a major source of inequality and misery in the US).ReplyDelete
I think that what you're suggesting here is that it is not in the best interests of the residents of small states - or of any US citizens, for that matter - for Senate seats to be apportioned the way that they currently are. If so, then that is a stronger claim than I am presently willing to make.
I say that partly because I believe that the policies of the current Senate leadership (read: Democrats) are better for the country than those of the current House leadership (read: Republicans) - despite the more democratic structure and electoral process of the latter chamber, and despite the fact that the political balance can flip in future elections.
But I also say that because I suspect that the basic design of the US legislative branch is as innocuous in its consequences (i.e. in terms of the actual impacts of legislation) as can be expected, given other political considerations (e.g. the influence of corporate money and the military-industrial complex), which pervade both legislative chambers and all branches of the government.
But I definitely still agree that there is something intuitively offensive (at least to those of us who respect the ideal of civil equality) about your WY vs. CA example. A better (i.e. less "kludgy") system design would have avoided that perverse outcome, while also producing comparable (if not better) outcomes.
"there seems to be some sort of "founder worshipping" going on here, to which I don't subscribe."
Nice going.Two birds with one shot. With one ad hominem attack you dismissed
the thoughts that I and others expressed, but, also the Founders thoughts. I am more interested in what Madison said and his reasons for his concern, than that HE said it. I suppose one takes seriously what he said about the tyranny of the majority based upon one's view of human nature and the effectiveness/tendency towards creative motivated development of political rhetoric...that advances a faction's self-interest. In my opinion, absent safeguards, the majority WILL attempt to heavily tax the
minority, effectively transferring wealth to themselves. And they will do it with good conscience. Because they can do so....and they can rationalize doing so in the name of fairness and justice. I suspect Madison may have held a similar view....after studying successful and unsuccessful forms of governments throughout history. He seems to have been more of an empiricist than a rationalist.
you keep talking about empirical evidence, but the empirical evidence clearly shows that Madison's worry was misplaced. Shouldn't we therefore be worried about something else?
>"the empirical evidence clearly shows that Madison's worry was misplaced."
What I have said about Madison's concern has been in the context of changing the constitution in a way that would give the majority much more power than they have currently. If the majority does, indeed, acquire the power that you seem to encourage.....do you know of anything that will prevent the majority from doing what Madison worried about... excessive taxation on the minority to the benefit of the majority.?
Make up your mind. You said that nothing in the Constitution prevents people from taxing the hell out of a minority. Now are you saying that there is such a provision? Where?ReplyDelete
>"Make up your mind. You said that nothing in the Constitution prevents people from taxing the hell out of a minority.
Now are you saying that there is such a provision? Where?"
I did not say that there was a "provision".
There IS nothing explicit that keeps people from "taxing the hell out of the minority."
Also....the empirical evidence that you cite ignores our history of taxing the higher incomes at extraordinarily high rates. The empirical evidence is the opposite of what you suggest.
I suspect you have not had time, which is understandable, to read what I wrote regarding Madison's construction of the constitution such that he hoped the checks and balances and a bicameral legislative body....would help blunt the force of a majoritarian faction. He also hoped that if enough different factions existed, they might function to blunt each other.
Turning the senate into another body that represents "one person, one vote" could have consequences which some....perhaps not yourself....might see as threatening to the durability of our form of government.
I'm sorry man, you really do want to have it both ways:ReplyDelete
> There IS nothing explicit that keeps people from "taxing the hell out of the minority." <
But you also said that the Senate plays that role, because of its Constitutional makeup (yes, I know, not explicitly, but surely substantially). So, did or did not Madison take care of the alleged problem?
As for the empirical evidence, tax rates for the rich in America have gone steadily down for decades, and they are among the lowest in the Western world. If that's not empirical evidence against your thesis I don't know what is.
You ignore that what I said was in the context that there would no longer be a senate, as we know it today, to play that role....if those that want to replace the current form to one man one vote body like the House of Representatives.
I don't ignore it at all. There is no reason whatsoever that the Senate plays the role of slowing down taxation on the rich. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't, but it isn't one of its functions. Nor, of course, is it related at all with what we are discussing: the radically undemocratic nature of the Senate itself.
Moreover, you keep ignoring or dismissing my references to the empirical literature, which you claim to be so respectful of: tax rates are lowest in the US than in most other democracies, and those for the rich have gone down for decades. Still worried?
What a curious turn in the discussion. Here's my 2 cents:ReplyDelete
If the rich want to protect their advantages, then just make sure that the masses perceive the system to be basically fair (possibly because it is, or as much so as can reasonably be expected, given the circumstances) and protect them against "the common hazards of life" (source).
But, if you're the cold and cynical type, then:
1) Don't worry about the welfare of the masses. Just be sure to dumb them down and keep them distracted enough so that the popular definition of "fair" makes no sense to anyone who happens to be wiser than average.
2) Arm yourselves well (e.g. maintain a private army as a fail-safe against the public one), because even a dumbed-down mob can only take so much misery and deprivation. And
3) If you can get away with jailing (or even killing) those wise exceptions, then by all means do so. The last thing you need is a critic.
> "As for the empirical evidence, tax rates for the rich in America have gone steadily down for decades, and they are among the lowest in the Western world. If that's not empirical evidence against your thesis I don't know what is."
A tax's movement up and down says nothing about how high it is...or how high it has been, or could be in the future. The fact that tax rate for the rich has recently dropped from 70% Federal plus 10% state, before Reagan era tax cuts, has nothing to do with the fact that there is nothing in our constitution
that can prevent a future administration and congress from increasing those taxes back to where they were before the Reagan presidency. And federal taxes on the rich have been higher than 70% during the decades before they were reduced to 70%.
Which is just fine with me. I'll vote for any Senator who wants to bring the tax rate on the ultrarich to 90%. Seems fair to me...ReplyDelete
> " I'll vote for any Senator who wants to bring the tax rate on the ultrarich to 90%. Seems fair to me..."
1)Are you serious that you would be in favor of this?
2)Are you serious that you think it's fair?
3)If you are able to "justify" it being fair....does that make a mockery of the whole idea of 'fair', by demonstrating that almost anything one desires to be the case, can be "justified as 'fair'?
> 1)Are you serious that you would be in favor of this?
2)Are you serious that you think it's fair?
3)If you are able to "justify" it being fair....does that make a mockery of the whole idea of 'fair', by demonstrating that almost anything one desires to be the case, can be "justified as 'fair'? <
yes, yes, no.
See? I was sure you hadn't actually read Rawls...
I assume that you guys are talking about marginal (as opposed to average) tax rates, which apply equally to everyone - even though only a minority of citizens earn enough income as to have that last share (i.e. that which exceeds the upper threshold) taxed at the highest rate (e.g. as per the table shown here). The average (or total) tax rate is merely a function of that schedule.ReplyDelete
> "See? I was sure you hadn't actually read Rawls..."
I have read Rawls along with numerous critics, that in my opinion, destroyed Rawlsian approach.
You are probably aware that there was more than one Rawls....as he responded to and sought to salvage his approach. Rawl's does not get us out of the dilemma of different individuals making different choices, even if they have no idea of where they might end up in the future (behind the vale.)
>"" I'll vote for any Senator who wants to bring the tax rate on the ultrarich to 90%. Seems fair to me..."
Have you considered the potential consequences if this occurred?
I think that the material you posted is good for everyone to understand. This particular example, however, is for 2011. It does not show what our legislators have done in the past, or what it may (and can) do in the future. Beyond questions of what is a "fair" tax level on the wealthy....there is the question of the potential (probable) consequences of taxing the upper incomes at higher rates. Most of the incomes of the wealthy comes from capital investments, dividends from corporations, small corporations, and businesses that they own and run, etc. Much of the increase lately has been has come from investments and stock ownership in start up high tech companies. Thus, the consequences of onerous marginal tax rates could be very deleterious for the country. And....there is nothing explicit in the constitution that will restrain legislation that raises those rates to 99%....the only thing in the constitution that would lean against that from occurring, is the current structure of our governing bodies...for instance....the form of our bicameral legislative branch. Oh...there is also the possibility of of the voting public becoming knowledgeable and well informed regarding the probable negative consequences that go along with high marginals tax rates that might be urged on on the basis of "fairness".
c'mon, first of all most of the investment stocks are not on startup companies. Second, I bet you dollar to donut that precisely nothing would happen to the country under this scenario, except a stronger lower and middle class, more prosperity for everyone, less social struggles, and so on. And the superich would still be left with enough billions to buy themselves a good number of villas and a Ferrari for every day of the week.
> "c'mon, first of all most of the investment stocks are not on startup companies."
c'mon, I didn't say anything like that. Here is what I said. Would you please explain how you got what you claim that I said from what I actually said.... To wit:
"Most of the incomes of the wealthy comes from capital investments, dividends from corporations, small corporations, and businesses that they own and run, etc. Much of the increase lately has been has come from investments and stock ownership in start up high tech companies"
> "Second, I bet you dollar to donut that precisely nothing would happen to the country under this scenario, except a stronger lower and middle class, more prosperity for everyone, less social struggles, and so on. And the superich would still be left with enough billions to buy themselves a good number of villas and a Ferrari for every day of the week."
With all due respect, you should spend a little time, if you can squeeze it in, to add knowledge of economics to the rest of your knowledge base.
There would have disastrous consequences for the country if we raised marginal tax rates on the wealthy to a level such as you are speaking of.
Thanks for the sarcasm (the bit about respect). Tell you what, I'll beef up on my economics as soon as you spend more time on actually trying to understand Rawls.ReplyDelete
You do mention startup companies in your previous comment, that's what I was referring to.
As for the alleged catastrophes, plenty of economists disagree, and so do the facts. When marginal tax rates were much higher (or are much higher, as in Europe) the US was doing just fine, in fact even better by a number of social indicators.
DJD: the only thing in the constitution that would lean against that from occurring, is the current structure of our governing bodies...for instance....the form of our bicameral legislative branchReplyDelete
Like Massimo, I strongly doubt that the design and structure of the government has much to do with determining tax rates. Lawmakers bring their own ideas about what's fair and reasonable to Washington (albeit, with advice from economists), and it really doesn't matter which branch or chamber they wind up in.
What's more, the American public tends to support tax cuts (e.g. see see here) - even when the benefits go overwhelmingly to the wealthiest few. This fact obviously poses a problem for progressives (insofar as their causes entail expensive government programs and the higher tax rates needed to fund them), but might also quell the paranoia that some wealthy might feel about a radical redistributive spirit.
And, like I said earlier, the current Senate is the chamber that would be more likely to approve raising taxes on the wealthy right now (i.e. given the current economic climate, the political philosophy of the Democratic Party, and the Keynesian prescription for more government fiscal stimulus) - were it not for the political obstacle posed by the Republican-led House.
So much for the "Senate as bulwark against wealth expropriation" meme.
One example from about the late 1970's. The top federal marginal tax rate was merely 70% at the time....and the typical state top marginal tax rate was around 10%....for a total of 80% tax on the last dollar a person in that bracket earned.
One consequence that was cited at the time was that doctors, dentists, and other professionals were advised by their accountants to not work one day a week. Play golf instead.....because Friday's income was taxed at 80%. So...the result was that there was a significant drop in available professional services hours. Less doctor hours/patients. This also caused a drop in the tax revenues paid by professionals. One can logically extend this to the idea that by changing the ratios of available professional hours (supply)...to persons in need of services (demand)...that the prices charged by these professionals would rise. There is growing evidence that it id the after tax income, especially the marginal rates, that effect the supply of highly professional services. It, sort of like corporate taxes....corporations don't really pay taxes....they raise prices....and the consumer is the one that actually pays the so called "corporate taxes". High corporate taxes raise their expenses....and results in them choosing foreign countries for any future expansion plans. Everything in our economy adjusts to after tax returns....and it is the worker and the consumer that pays the cost of high taxes....not corporations or wealthy investors and professionals. High taxes on the rich only work to increase tax revenues over short time spans....and have deleterious consequences over long time spans.
First of all, I'd like to see some evidence please. Second, by that token Europe ought to be a desert where one can't find a doctor most of the week. It isn't.ReplyDelete
Then why is it important to you that the senate be a one person one vote legislative body similar to the house?
Also....you are picking a moment in time rather than considering the nature of politics in general. I believe you already know that we are already at the point where a combination of factions that represent 49% of the population, pay zero income taxes.
When marginal tax rates were much higher (or are much higher, as in Europe) the US was doing just fine, in fact even better by a number of social indicators.ReplyDelete
Also known as Golden Age of Capitalism. Of course, if you get all of information from the Cato or Hudson institutes, then it just can't happen that way.
But DJD and I have already been down this road, and he should already know by now that the world's most flourishing countries (judged against those measures of health and social problems that Massimo alludes to) also tend to have higher marginal tax rates than those in the US. And, of course, they are political democracies and free societies (e.g. see here).
But, again, none of this fits that conservative/supply-side/libertarian narrative, so it just can't be. (Of course, it also doesn't fit a radical leftist narrative, but that's not at issue here.)
There is an abundance of evidence gathered and studied from our economic history. What do you think all the discussion and introduction of Supply Side Economics was about....and the confirmation of the theory when it was put into effect in the early 1980's. We experienced an incredible improvement in our economy after it was implemented.....with the effects lasting well into the 1990's. You should be able to simply apply reason to this question. What do you think would be the effect on individual behavior if they were taxed at 99% on what they earned on Friday? It doesn't take rocket science to reason that through.
DJD: Thanks for the zombie economics.ReplyDelete
Even Republican advisor Greg Mankiw admits that supply-side economics is controversial among economists (e.g. "Many believe that subsequent history refuted Laffer's conjecture that lower tax rates would raise tax revenue."). And never mind what Nobel laureates, like Paul Krugman say about it.
And so what if many people are exempted from income taxes (e.g. because they earn less than what they're exempt for)? These same people get caught by other taxes, which are regressive, like payroll and sales.
Missed this: Then why is it important to you that the senate be a one person one vote legislative body similar to the house?ReplyDelete
Civil equality is only one notion of fairness. It by no means guarantees protection against "the common hazards of life", which in this case the Senate is more willing than the House to see to.
You misrepresent supply side economics. Because of the debate in congress regarding cutting taxes...
the republicans objected to the static assumptions the CBO used to project the tax cuts effects on the deficit. The republicans insisted that a dynamic method, which takes into account the change of behavior by high income groups when their taxes are cut from very high marginal rate levels. The media represented supply side economics as a theory about only the question of revenues. They also represented, or at least many of the public and Reagan haters, represented a couple of years later that theory predicted a gain in revenues. That is not at all what the theory predicted. It predicted that there would be less loss of revenue than the static accounting predicted. But, there is more. Supply side economics is about much more than the question of revenues. The theory speaks to how repeated demand side economics causes demand to grow faster than supply of goods and services....resulting in a ratcheting up of inflation with each business cycle. This phenomenon was explained by the fact that the very high marginal tax rates were tamping down savings and investment....resulting in growth of capital machinery and plants not keeping up with the repeated s fiscal stimulation of demand.
I hope this helps.
Also....you should be able to think through rationally how high income investors would alter their behavior if you increased their marginal tax rate to 90%. What kind of changes do you think they may make. Use your imagination.
> "And so what if many people are exempted from income taxes (e.g. because they earn less than what they're exempt for)? These same people get caught by other taxes, which are regressive, like payroll and sales."
I am not commenting on the "fairness" or "unfairness" of 49% not paying income taxes. I was commenting on the fact that we already have nearly half of our population that has no direct interest in how high income taxes are raised. After all....many of the 49% gain from others having their taxes raised...for example...the public workers unions have been demonstrating against any attempt to cut taxes and support raising them....in many states...because their salaries depend upon those taxes. Again...I feel I must remind you that I am not judging their behavior or criticizing their behavior or making any type of "fairness" judgments regarding this phenomenon. There are some people who interpret curret events and policy choices, as well as other's behavior....always through a moral or fairness prism. Others view them through a practical prism..."If p, the Q" type of analysis..more along the lines of wondering about the consequences. So, having learned that....I often will try to make clear that I have no interest in thinking or speaking...or trying to convince others of the fairness of proposals. I prefer sticking to talking about and discussing the consequences and consequences for whom.
It is interesting that the discussion is purely around the political makeup of the U.S., when I would have expected some debate on the the most important issue of the post: whether chocalate or vanilla are objectively superior.ReplyDelete
Joking aside, this is one of those U.S. discussions that always mistify me as a non-American. Sure, the structure of House and Senate made practical sense 250 years ago, as did the reasoning of the founders. But that was 250 years ago, and we are living today, with very changed conditions. With 50 states, the federal system of the U.S. has become unwieldy - that's being polite, of course. Why on earth would the people of Wyoming want to leave the Union if the representation in the Senate became more democratic? And even the House does not have a one man, one vote system - the districts are first-past-the-post, after all. While this may lead to stable governments (the argument in the U.K.), in the U.S. it also leads to a two-party system with ideological rigor mortis...
One thing that always comes up when discussing the founders of the U.S. is that they learned from experience - yet that is precisely what many of those pointing to them refuse to do. For example from the current German political system. It has lots of flaws (and 18 states are clutzy enough), but it works and both houses are more democratic than the U.S.: the Bundestag (~House) is proportional (gets rid of gerrymandering immediately), and the Bundesrat (~Senate) has 2-5 votes per state, depending on the size of the state. I am pretty sure that if Madison came back today he would take a look and say "Hey, I never meant the Union to be one of 50 states. There are a lot of good ideas how to do democracy in Europe, nowaday" - let's start over..."
Same mystification here in the "right to bear arms" discussion: made sense 250 years ago, times have changed quite dramatically, makes no sense today. Maybe someone can enlighten me?
DJD: You misrepresent supply side economics.ReplyDelete
I think I'll take the word of respected economists (like Manikew and Krugman, even though only the latter's politics align with my own) over yours.
After all, I was responding in part to your admonition that Massimo needs to bone up on his economics. It's pretty comical (and easy) to find evidence that the economics profession does not share your alternate version of reality.
I would recommend John Quiggin's book Zombie Economics to you, but I doubt that you'll take me up on it (except perhaps with a prior agenda to find fault with it), since it's basically about how market fundamentalists keep sneaking thoroughly refuted ideas in economics (like supply-side and trickle-down) into public dialogue (like zombies rising from the dead). So I'll just put my recommendation out there for Massimo or anyone else who might be interested.
DJD: To paraphrase Eamon above, I think we've already surpassed the point of diminishing returns on this discussion, but I'll add one more comment and leave the last one to you.ReplyDelete
I was commenting on the fact that we already have nearly half of our population that has no direct interest in how high income taxes are raised.
Think Joe the Plumber - a working-class guy (and one who is periodically unemployed), who nonetheless expressed his concern to (then-candidate) Obama about a successful plumbing business that only existed in his head might be taxed at a higher rate, were Obama elected.
That's a good example of how Americans often think and feel about the system. (Did you read the Bartels paper that I linked to above?) They do take an interest in its rules - even in those that are likely (given actual social mobility statistics in the US) never to apply to them. Some of that approval can be tied to ignorance of the facts, but not all (as Bartels demonstrated).
chbieck: Good comment. At the risk of stating the obvious, I totally agree with you.ReplyDelete
> "whether chocalate or vanilla are objectively superior."
It all depends upon what you mean by'objectively', and the standards you are using for'superior'.
> "But that was 250 years ago, and we are living today, with very changed conditions."
Some things have changed, some have not....such as human nature. And, unless one argues argues that the founders were somehow smarter than we are today, then the only value to citing them is to raise issues that they raised that they raised, for our consideration in today's reality. Ideas and hypothesis are ideas and hypothesis, no matter their source. They are simply suggestions for consideration that we may not have considered.
> "I am pretty sure that if Madison came back today he would take a look and say "Hey, I never meant the Union to be one of 50 states."
I suspect that Madison would still have the concern that he was most concerned about in the 1780's. How to design a true democracy, while at the same time, preventing the majority from confiscating wealth from the minority for their own use or benefit. Human nature has not changed from his times.
> "Same mystification here in the "right to bear arms" discussion: made sense 250 years ago, times have changed quite dramatically, makes no sense today."
"Makes no sense"...because "times have changed"...is not an argument. One still must ask if it makes sense today.
> "I think I'll take the word of respected economists (like Manikew and Krugman, even though only the latter's politics align with my own) over yours."
That's a very revealing statement. I seems to suggest that you choose your voices of authority based upon your commitment and allegiance to your political ideology. Do you think everyone does this in their pursuit of knowledge?
> "It's pretty comical (and easy) to find evidence that the economics profession does not share your alternate version of reality."
You find what you look for. You apparently seek out "authorities" that reinforce what you "believe in". I say "believe in" instead of believe or suspect, because of your opening statement about your preferring the arguments made by those that share your ideological beliefs. Ideological beliefs are like religious beliefs. People don't just believe them....they "believe in" them. It's more than just a tentatively held belief. It involves commitment.
Joe the Plumber, most likely found Obama's politics (raising taxes) to be inimicable to his self interest (his income) I doubt if he was taking a position on political philosophy or the Laffer curve.
It's one thing to say the rich are getting richer....and the poor are getting poorer.
It's another thing to understand why that has been happening. Have you ever made an effort to understand this phenomenon, rather than just morally condemning it?
Here is a partial list of possible inputs that have been driving this development. It is from Wiki.
There are many reasons for economic inequality within societies. These causes are often inter-related. Acknowledged factors that impact economic inequality include:
>the labour market
>innate ability
>income tax rates and the level of their
>computerization/growing technology 
>economic neoliberalism 
>development patterns
>personal preference for work, leisure and >risk[citation needed
I looked into the book you recommended (The Spirit Level)....at Amazon. There were many reviews by by individuals of various political leanings. This one seemed to be the best at pointing out the ideological nature of the book....
By Retired computer engineer (Suffolk, UK)
This review is from: The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better For Everyone (Paperback)
The first page you see on opening this book has eleven short but positive assessments of it by writers and academics of the left-wing commentariat. You only have to look at the names (no need to mention them here) to see what's coming.
The book's authors are totally obsessed with equality, by which they mean economic equality, and this obsession has destroyed their ability properly to assess the evidence. It is full of charts showing various kinds of social ill plotted against inequalities of income for a number of selected countries, with regression analysis applied to produce a trend line. In every case the trend line appears to show that the more unequal countries have greater social problems than the more equal ones. This approach fails for several reasons:
(A) The authors are selective in choosing their data. Typically, countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore are omitted because they tell the opposite story. If they were included, the trend line would be reversed.
(B) The trend line is sometimes so obviously at variance with the pattern of data as to invite ridicule. See, for example, the chart on recycling (page 232). It is absolutely obvious that the countries shown fall into two distinct groups, the good recyclers and the less good ones. The reason is obvious too - the good countries have draconian recycling laws, the others don't. Social or economic inequality has nothing to do with it.
(C) Most importantly, a correlation is assumed to indicate causality. Any halfway competent statistician knows this is nonsense. It never occurs to the authors that there could be any other cause of the ills they examine than inequality, or that inequality may itself be caused by other factors.
The remedies they propose - heavily redistributive taxation, restricted economic growth or none at all, effective public ownership of everything (Clause 4, anybody?) are all full-blooded socialism. The fallacies with which this book is filled are well exposed in another book available on Amazon, The Spirit Level Delusion, by Christopher Snowdon. As other reviewers have said, Snowdon's book is essential reading alongside this one. If you're going to spend good money on Wilkinson and Pickett's book, make sure you also buy Snowdon's. This is important.
You often speak of Sweden and their high taxes.Have you ever taken the time to look into their tax structure? In the 80's they were quite high: Source:Greg Mankiw: "In Sweden in the early 1980s, for instance, the typical worker faced a marginal tax rate of about 80 percent. Such a high tax rate provides a substantial disincentive to work. Studies have suggested that Sweden would indeed have raised more tax revenue if it had lowered its tax rates. "In Sweden in the early 1980s, for instance, the typical worker faced a marginal tax rate of about 80 percent. Such a high tax rate provides a substantial disincentive to work. Studies have suggested that Sweden would indeed have raised more tax revenue if it had lowered its tax rates."
Since then the tax rates have been reduced. They only pay 26% tax rate..but they pay a sales tax (VAT)of 25%....which seems like a very regressive form of tax. As for income taxes, it is quite interesting. Here is the example from Wikipedia
"From a pay of "100", the Employer first pays 32% in Income tax (direct - 32%), on top of that the Employer also pays an additional %31.42 in Employers social fees (indirect - 31.42%).
Thus, from a pay check of "100", 63.42/131.42 (i.e. 48.3%) is paid as income taxes. This effective rate may be lowered by for example earned income tax credits and private retirement savings contributions." This 48.3% comes out of the workers waged, whether directly or indirectly.
Another site listed the combined total taxation...like federal, states, etc,
"Sweden has a very burdensome income tax rate and a moderate corporate tax rate. The top income tax rate is effectively 57 percent, and the corporate tax rate is 26.3 percent. Other taxes include a value-added tax (VAT), a property tax, and a capital gains tax. The wealth tax has been abolished. In the most recent year, overall tax revenue as a percentage of GDP was 47.9 percent."
>I suspect that Madison would still have the concern that he was most concerned about in the 1780's. How to design a true democracy, while at the same time, preventing the majority from confiscating wealth from the minority for their own use or benefit. Human nature has not changed from his times.
True - but wasn't the starting point that the Senate (today!) is an undemocratic institution? It seems you are saying Madison would agree, so why the "yes, but..."?
If democracy works so well in the U.S., why is listening to a political discussion there like watching tibet monks grind the prayer mill? At least in other democratic countries politicians look at reality and change their views - see e.g. nuclear energy policy in Germany. Or Norway's reaction to Breivick which shows a lot of democratic maturity.
>"Makes no sense"...because "times have changed"...is not an argument. One still must ask if it makes sense today.
I didn't mean to imply a "because" here, rather to negate the statement I often hear "it makes sense today because the founding fathers said it does". I just used the right to bear arms example because I thought it would be more obvious.
Fwiw, there was a study done a while ago on the effects of pay equality in teams. The study used MLB, because both pay and performance are completely transparent, and teams are comparable, i.e do the same thing.ReplyDelete
As it turns out, teams with more equal pay do better. In teams with higher inequality, even the players paid above average see a negative effect on their individual stats.
(Bloom, M., "The performance effect of pay dispersions on individuals and organizations". Academy of Management Journal. 1999)
I don't want to imply monocausality here, just show that the usual reflex reaction "economic equality = socialism = bad for performance" lacks in the reality check area... ;-) (another one of those things that mystify me about U.S. politics, how screaming "socialism" somehow seems to supplant actual reasoning)
I took a break from this thread and had planned to give DJD the last word (lest the back-and-forth go on ad infinitum). However, there is one thing that I feel obliged to respond to:ReplyDelete
That smearing review (by some anonymous "retired computer engineer") of The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett is misleading and inaccurate. Trying to explain this to DJD is a waste of my time, but in case anyone else is sincerely interested, I highly recommend, not only the book, but the web site, as well, which includes these responses to critics, as well as an FAQs page.
To quote the authors:
Almost all of the research presented and synthesised in The Spirit Level had previously been peer-reviewed, and is fully referenced therein. In order to distinguish between well founded criticism and unsubstantiated claims made for political purposes, all future debate should take place in peer-reviewed publications.
That said, even if the main thesis of The Spirit Level (re: a causal relationship between income inequality and health & social problems) were refuted, that still does not change the fact that many of the most flourishing countries in the world follow policies that today's market fundamentalists advise against (e.g. higher marginal income tax rates, social insurance, and tight market regulation). According to their narrative (promoted by well-funded conservative think tanks, like the Heritage Foundation), that's not supposed to happen. And yet, to anyone who cares to look, it clearly does.
DJD said:I suspect that Madison would still have the concern that he was most concerned about in the 1780's. How to design a true democracy, while at the same time, preventing the majority from confiscating wealth from the minority for their own use or benefit. Human nature has not changed from his times.
True - but wasn't the starting point that the Senate (today!) is an undemocratic institution? It seems you are saying Madison would agree, so why the "yes, but..."?
DJD :It is true that Madison would agree. He would continue to support it being less directly democratic than the house. That is just one of the sections of our constitution that attempts to lean against the possibility of raw majoritarian rule.For those that desire a true democracy....why not just rip up the Bill of Rights? That is the biggest stumbling block to a true democracy. Then there is the Supreme Court. Boy, it is really a road block to democracy. The senate and many other elements in the constitution undemocratic. The entire constitution is undemocratic.....by design.
> "Fwiw, there was a study done a while ago on the effects of pay equality in teams. The study used MLB, because both pay and performance are completely transparent, and teams are comparable, i.e do the same thing."
These were small teams....not 350 million people, most of which never come into contact with one another. Your analogy is the classic analogy regarding the romanticized vision of hunter gatherers that lived in small bands....and were highly egalitarian. From Rousseau on, this "man was happy and pure when he lived in nature" analog, has been compared to large scale societies by idealistic and Utopian liberals. It does not work in large societies.
Egalitarianism is not natural. It was not natural in hunter gatherer groups and it is not natural now. It had to be enforced then....and it would have to be enforced today with a massive, intrusive, and powerful government. It is also very unproductive. The enforced egalitarianism stifles any attempt to "get ahead". The others suppress "getting ahead". Those that stand out from others are envied and resented today....just as they are in primitive societies. Egalitarianism is a deadly, but alluring vision...Better for a society to nurture abilities and create safety nets. But, the pursuit of material equality, once enough people believe it "ought to be", can create a moralistic, envious , and resentful population.
No matter how many times I tell you....you keep repeating the same sentiment . ie. "equality is good"..."equality is better"...."surveys show equality makes happier,less stressful societies"....You seem to be trying to frame the issue as one where some people support equality and others are against equality. That is called "creating a straw man". Creating a phony position that is easy to destroy. I will say this again....the issue is not whether to be for or against material equality....I would love to see more equality...I know of no one that does not favor having more equality of incomes or any other types of equality. The differences of opinion in our society regarding equality are about what policies to employ to try to improve equality...how to raise up those in the lower incomes...without damaging our countries future. So, please stop with all the references to data that shows that equality is a good thing, or better than inequality. Only an imaginary enemy of yours is against equality.
. "That said, even if the main thesis of The Spirit Level (re: a causal relationship between income inequality and health & social problems) were refuted, that still does not change the fact that many of the most flourishing countries in the world follow policies that today's market fundamentalists advise against (e.g. higher marginal income tax rates, social insurance, and tight market regulation). According to their narrative (promoted by well-funded conservative think tanks, like the Heritage Foundation), that's not supposed to happen. And yet, to anyone who cares to look, it clearly does."
You have clearly separated the population into two groups. The good guys and the bad guys. You cite examples that only a "true believer" would accept without question or critical analysis.
The world is too complex to simply say "Look...it works in Sweden....therefore it will work in the U.S. We have been here before...Reread my comments regarding the difficulties with these simply analogies. In the mean time....take off your "good and evil" spectacles and try to view the world objectively....prior to any moral or ideological commitments.
You seem to be trying to frame the issue as one where some people support equality and others are against equality.ReplyDelete
That's right. As journalist Timothy Noah documented, some people (e.g. the usual suspects) do in fact argue that inequality is harmless, if not actually good.
Of course, even liberal thinkers (e.g. in the Rawlsian tradition) agree that some inequality is fair (let alone predictable). So it's a question of degree...and the USA is not only much less equal (and more fraught with health and social problems) than other advanced nations..it's also much less equal than it used to be (and for the reasons that Noah lists throughout his ten-part series on The Great Divergence, whose causes he summarizes here).
You continue to evade the question.....even after I told you explicitly, numerous times that I am in favor of equal incomes. That would be terrific if we all had equal incomes. Yet you keep offering me articles and books that try to prove that equality is better than inequality...Are you serious, or just pulling my leg. Are you really blind to the fact that the controversy around this subject is not whether it's a good thing....but, how to bring it about.
Most people that might argue on behalf of being careful about how we go about creating more income equality are not evil haters of equality....They are pragmatic...aware of the consequences of previous poorly thought about experiments....experiments that have proved costly for the very people that were being
"helped". It seems that you have a need to couch the disagreement you have with others in very ad hominem terms. Like not caring as much as you, as not being as moral as you, etc. Is that because you are incapable of engaging in a discussion about means and consequences. I know that there is a history of liberals pushing policies without considering the consequences. I guess that they think only with the moral module of their brains. Then when their policies don't work or have bad consequences....heck, they just move on and let the next wave of moralists repeat their mistakes. I am fascinated by this phenomenon of some people only using their moral modules and others, like scientists, empiricists, pragmatists, realists, tend to engage their explanatory and predictive modules as well as their moral senses. What are your thoughts about how to explain this dichotomy in human behavior?
> These were small teams...not 350 million people, most of which never come into contact with one another
Egalitarism is not natural.
That is a strange argument - you can't have it both ways. Democracy is not natural either - almost nothing about living in a modern society is.
Small groups with more egalitarian outcomes are also more successful, so the question whether it is natural or not for small groups is moot, isn't it? (Note that I am not saying they are more successful _because_ they have more equality.)
>Egalitarianism is a deadly, but alluring vision...Better for a society to nurture abilities and create safety nets. But, the pursuit of material equality, once enough people believe it "ought to be", can create a moralistic, envious , and resentful population.
Like Western European countries have a moralistic, envious, and resentful population? ;-)
Maybe it "can create", but in reality it doesn't. A large majority over here believes material equality ought to be - even conservative governments are raising taxes or refusing to lower them. Your "socialist" president Obama would be right at home in any moderately conservative party in Europe - that is those that generally get between 30 and 50 percent of the vote. I am one of the "victims" of progressive taxation - and I still think it is the right way to tax in a modern society.
I agree with your middle sentence - creating equality is about creating equal opportunity first. So why are American conservatives fighting safety nets, that are _provably_ working elsewhere? Of course there is a lot to critize in our European social systems, but at least we have them...
chbieck: Well said.ReplyDelete
If I may address your question:
So why are American conservatives fighting safety nets, that are _provably_ working elsewhere?
Because they are working with a fundamentally different moral vision than yours and mine, as per the Paul Krugman op-ed that I cited earlier (and just about any politics-related book or essay by cognitive scientist/linguist George Lakoff). What's more, these American "movement conservatives" (whether they self-label as Tea Partier, Libertarian, or what-have-you) are an especially radical and uncompromising sort.
To quote Krugman:
...modern conservatism is actually a deeply radical movement, one that is hostile to the kind of society we’ve had for the past three generations — that is, a society that, acting through the government, tries to mitigate some of the “common hazards of life” through such programs as Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.
Trying to reason with these folks is, in my experience, futile (or practically so). The best that you can do is to try to reach the fence-sitters (or those whom Lakoff labels "bi-conceptuals") by using framing that puts your values up front. The policies (like progressive taxation and social insurance) merely follow from those - and (as you suggested) they tend to work when the political will is there.
DJD said: Egalitarism is not natural.
> "That is a strange argument - you can't have it both ways. Democracy is not natural either - almost nothing about living in a modern society is."
So...Are you saying that you agree? Or that it does not matter? Why is it strange?
DJD said:once enough people believe it "ought to be", can create a moralistic, envious , and resentful population.
chbieck responded:Maybe it "can create", but in reality it doesn't."
DJD: Are you kidding? Look around you. Here in the U.S. on one extreme and the Soviet Union on the other extreme. And throughout Europe, they are continuously fighting among themselves over who is going to make more money that the other.
chbieck said: So why are American conservatives fighting safety nets, that are _provably_ working elsewhere?ReplyDelete
mufi said: Because they are working with a fundamentally different moral vision than yours and mine"
DJD said: Why do you assume that those that disagree with you do so because of moral beliefs.?
"And, if they do base their disagreement on fundamentally different moral visions than yours" How do you choose one moral vision rather than the other? Your Judeo-Christian upbringing?
> "So why are American conservatives fighting safety nets, that are _provably_ working elsewhere?"
They are not working elsewhere.
We have had "safety nets" for 40 years or more in the U.S. Over time,they became hammocks instead of safety nets. Pres. Clinton did away with part of that problem when he did away with what he called "ending welfare as we know it". Safety nets in the U.S. over time became more and more abused. Expecting a change of behavior that caused the need for welfare, etc. became politically incorrect. So, the aid ended up having perverse effects. More so in the U.S. than Europe in the 60's, 70's and 80's because Europe was much more homogeneous than the U.S. More recently, Europe has become less homogeneous and we have seen greater abuse of the welfare systems in most parts of Europe and Britain.
> "by using framing that puts your values up front"
Is that what you do...you put your fundamental values "up front" and let them frame the issue for you...and then dictate the types of policies you recommend? That tends to limit the data that enters your "frame" and filters out anything that disagrees....thus reinforcing your beliefs about what to be "for and against".
> "Of course there is a lot to critize in our European social systems, but at least we have them"
Where did you get the idea that we don't have them. Do you know anything at all about our social welfare programs and their histories?
Of course I agree that equality is not a natural state. Neither is a democratic society. What does that prove, except that you have to work to get it?ReplyDelete
I think we have different definitions both of "working" and of "net". We can shorten this: I will point to the recent poverty study which supports my view of "not working" and you will argue the definition of poverty (i.e. say the study is wrong). I will point to the vast number of medically un-/underinsured in the U.S. (of which we have a fraction e.g. in Germany) and you will say the number is wrong (and probaby quote the Heritage guys ;-) ). Never mind.
My original question is still unanswered: I am a (depending on the subject) moderately conservative European liberal (in the European sense of the word, not the American) economist who grew up in the Ordo-Liberal Austrian tradition of von Hayek and Eucken. Eucken is considered staunchly conservative, yet obviously far to the left of American conservatives, since he promoted what you consider socialism. In Europe, across the political spectrum we at least agree what the problems are - in the U.S., ideology seems to be so entrenched that you don't even agree on that. (You do know that saying "yes, but" is equivalent to saying no?)
Very few people over here would argue about whether 51% want to tax the socks off the other 49% (even if you are, like me, one of the ones being taxed).
Oh, I just realized I didn't reframe the question (I hadn't really asked one my original comment): why can't, in this type of discussion, Americans even agree on the facts without a "but..."?
At least everybody agreed with Massimo's statement that the Senate is undemocratic (with DJD's "but" that the whole constitution is designed to be undemocratic - which sounds weird but would explain a lot).
>DJD: Are you kidding? Look around you. Here in the U.S. on one extreme and the Soviet Union on the other extreme.
I understand the reference to the Soviet Union (although you could argue whether that actually was the population), but not to the U.S. Since the reference was to "moralistic, envious and resentful" I assume you mean the Tea Party in the US?
chbieck: I am a (depending on the subject) moderately conservative European liberal (in the European sense of the word, not the American) economist who grew up in the Ordo-Liberal Austrian tradition of von Hayek and Eucken.ReplyDelete
You may have recognized (if you didn't dig into that Krugman link) that "common hazards of life" quote as a reference to von Hayek, as in:
There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision. source
If such thinking were shared by movement conservatives in the USA, there would, no doubt, still be plenty for us to argue about with respect to economic policy. But at least we'd stand a realistic chance of improving our objective outcomes.
As the late comic John Belushi used to say: But nooooooooo!
If you had ever read Hayek.....You would not quote him....except very selectively. The two of you are polar opposites.
DJD: All I know is that I share the sentiment behind that Hayek statement (even if it was out-of-character for him), whereas the conservative voices that I'm familiar with apparently do not.ReplyDelete
chbieck: Here's another op-ed piece that speaks to your perplexity re: the extremity of conservatism in the US today.
It might seem naive for the author to suggest that "If those who assume government has never helped them could see how it has, it might help defuse our polarized political climate and reinvigorate informed citizenship." But the evidence from polls that she cites seems to offer some hope in that regard.
> "Of course I agree that equality is not a natural state. Neither is a democratic society. What does that prove, except that you have to work to get it?"
It might cause one to consider the difficulties that one might face...even the possible futility of fulfilling the ideal. It might also cause one to consider the potential, unanticipated consequences of their proposals...
and help explain previous failures to fulfill the egalitarian ideology.
> ".....and you will say the number is wrong (and probaby quote the Heritage guys ;-) ). Never mind."
How did you conclude what I would say. That is amazing....all the way across the Atlantic, and you know me well enough to predict what I would say...probably based upon your excellent knowledge of what I believe.
> "I am an ......economist who grew up in the Ordo-Liberal Austrian tradition of von Hayek and Eucken."
Well, that explains a lot. Your quoting Eucken suggests that you endorse much of what he thought and wrote. So, you are likely a person with strong moral commitments, commitments to egalitarian ideology, perhaps you are somewhat spiritual and and believe human's have a soul, etc. Ideology has in common with religion the idea and feeling of committment to a belief. A "believing in" rather than just "believing that"...being devoted to, etc.Perhaps not....but Euken was. I share little of those traits when it comes to intellectual pursuits or policy exploration and examination.
> " in the U.S., ideology seems to be so entrenched that you don't even agree on that. (You do know that saying "yes, but" is equivalent to saying no?)"
Actually, it is our individuals that are committed to ideologies that are the last to say "yes, but".They are committed. They push forward without letting any "butts" get in their way. Our liberals are famous for not wanting to consider the possible undesirable consequences that might occur if their policies are implemented. This is probably true of most people that are committed to a moral cause and only think about how to make it a reality. A non-ideologically committed individual will generally want to talk about the "butts". They may agree that "yes" that is a good goal or that is a fact. However, they will add, "butt"...there are additional facts, there are as yet unconsidered consequences. The fact that "X" is true often causes individuals to jump to implications that are not necessarily true...or are not complete. This difference may reflect the difference between a rationalist and an empiricist. Rationalists tend to take one big fact and then try to build a system from that fact. It can lead to linear thinking and a need to keep other facts and issues out of the way of their ongoing logical progression. Empircists tend to look at many, many facts and are skeptical of system building.
> "You do know that saying "yes, but" is equivalent to saying no?"
I don't know where you learned that. It is not true at all. How do you get from " 'yes', X is true, 'butt' perhaps we should also consider the other facts in the case before we make a final decision"... to " 'yes, butt' being equivalent to 'no' "?
> "At least everybody agreed with Massimo's statement that the Senate is undemocratic (with DJD's "but" that the whole constitution is designed to be undemocratic - which sounds weird but would explain a lot)."
For many, Massimo's statement that the senate is undemocratic is somehow significant. I guess because they draw the implication that "the senate is therefore a bad institution that should be changed" Well...who in the world does not already know that the senate is is an undemocratic body. Why does that even need to be said....if everyone already knows it? Because there is an unspoken pre-supposition in his meaning that others accept. Namely , that there is something wrong with the senate being an undemocratic body. Why else would he point out what is already obvious to those that he is addressing? The "butt" in "yes, butt" is...but don't automatically draw that conclusion. It is NOT a bad thing that the senate is an undemocratic body....it is a good thing....in fact it was designed to be an undemocratic body....and it is good that it is. Unbridled democracies can become tyrannical.
> "but not to the U.S. Since the reference was to "moralistic, envious and resentful" I assume you mean the Tea Party in the US?"
You apparently are not following our politics. Our president has launched a strategy that plays upon and preys upon our populist bent towards envy and resentment. He is, and has been for some time, playing the class warfare card...which only works because of the envy and resentment that it whips up in the U.S. among the lesser educated and lesser paid.
You should have read Hayek's entire quote. He rejects egalitarianism in the same paragraph you cite.
"But there are two kinds of security: the certainty of a given minimum of sustenance for all and the security of a given standard of life, of the relative position which one person or group enjoys compared with others. There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision. It is planning for security of the second kind which has such an insidious effect on liberty. It is planning designed to protect individuals or groups against diminutions of their incomes.
It's a pedantic point, but that's not how the quote appears on p.148 of this edition. See the paragraph that begins with "Nor is there any reason..." and ends with "Wherever communal action can mitigate disasters against which the individual can neither attempt to guard himself nor make provision for the consequences, such communal action should undoubtedly be taken."ReplyDelete
Even it turns out that disagree with every other statement that Hayek ever made, I could not agree more with that one.
> "Even it turns out that disagree with every other statement that Hayek ever made, I could not agree more with that one."
That's fine....but this is not at issue. I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. So does everyone I know. So why are you pointing out something that everyone already agrees with?
>Your quoting Eucken suggests that you endorse much of what he thought and wrote. So, you are likely a person with strong moral commitments, commitments to egalitarian ideology, perhaps you are somewhat spiritual and and believe human's have a soul, etc.ReplyDelete
Nope, I just subscribe to the factual economic system as is was implemented by German conservatives (!). I don't care about the ideology - that was my point... (which again brings us back full circle).
One last example for my point (and then I will really go back to just reading):ReplyDelete
In Germany (I use that as a comparison since Germany and the US are the only countries in which I closely ;-) follow politics) it doesn't matter which government brings in a new Supreme Court judge - there are no conservative or social democrat blocs on the court. There is nothing preventing them from being as ideologically set as the US Supreme Court judges - their term is 12 years without reelection and as highly respected jurists they will always get a good job afterwards. The left/right divide is simply not part of the picture.
And you can hardly call Germany an unbridled democracy - the main goal of our constitution was to prevent something like Nazi Germany ever happening again...
So why are you pointing out something that everyone already agrees with?ReplyDelete
Because they don't, as that Krugman editorial that I referred to above argues.
chbieck: I suspect that DJD was confused by your Eucken reference. Whereas you meant Walter Eucken (the economist and founder of ordoliberalism), his response to you only makes sense if he was referring to Rudolf Christoph Eucken (the philosopher, theologian, and ethical activist).ReplyDelete
Welcome to my world. :-)
I'm curious....Do you find any faults with that Krugman article that you cited? Do you find it to be an objective article that is an accurate and fair description of our medical care in the U.S. is really like...and the types of choice that this hypothetical man would really have? How about Krugman's attempt to tar republicans and conservatives by choosing a kook like Ron Paul as someone that typifies republicans? Or his statement about "just different moral visions"? You must agree with his "presentation" since you cited him in your defense.
>"Wherever communal action can mitigate disasters against which the individual can neither attempt to guard himself nor make provision for the consequences, such communal action should undoubtedly be taken."
Did you notice the "can neither attempt to guard himself nor make provision for the consequences" phrase in the sentence? How do you square this with the Krugman hypothetical?
Sorry to see you suddenly cut off the exchange.....it was educational.
Yes, I basically agree with Krugman (in large part because it jibes with Lakoff, whose analysis of US politics - based on his expertise in cognitive science and linguistics - makes the most sense to me).ReplyDelete
'Nuff said (which is your cue to post another succession of "last words").
PS: Of course, it also helps that Krugman is a Nobel prize-winning economist, who (to put it mildly) understands the economic implications of various policy proposals better than the average lay person, and therefore is better able to detect when a politician is working from sound economic data vs. ideology (or corruption).ReplyDelete
(Cue up the usual conservative anti-Krugman smears.)
You should really take time to review that Krugman article again and see if you still believe that it was an accurate representation.
Read it again. I think it's right on.ReplyDelete
Ok, I bite. DJD, your last comment does make me curious. What did you learn from the exchange?ReplyDelete
And yes, I mean Walter Eucken - I did say ordoliberal ... ;-)