Fair is fair: Kindergarten and the American Dream

Kindergarten showcases many basic principles which most of us learn there or at our parents’ knees:  take turns, share the toys, fair is fair, and so on.  Later on, “fair is fair” gets refined in many ways, one of which is “you get what you earn”.  You reap what you sow.  Hard work earns success.  Rags to Riches.  Horatio Alger.  We cherish this belief so strongly that it has a Title in Capital Letters :

The American Dream.

To an extent, all of this is true.  Work longer hours, or a better job, and holding all else equal, you’ll have more money at the end.

To an extent, it’s not true.  You can be brilliantly successful today and quadriplegic tomorrow, courtesy of a drunk driver or the rot in the basement stairs.

In an open thread awhile back, I pointed this out. (edited slightly for clarity):

Fundamentally, the assumption behind the American rags-to-riches ideal is meritocracy; everyone starts out equal and gets what they earn based on merit.

But that’s a legal fiction. It’s not true. American society is not a meritocracy. In fact, measuring by social mobility, it’s less of a meritocracy than many other Western nations. Americans, and especially “Conservative” Americans, don’t want to pay the price of a real meritocracy.

If Americans really wanted a merit-based system, they would advocate for universal health care for children. What is merit-based about a child receiving healthcare, or not, on the basis of whether her parents have work with benefits or oodles of money?

If Americans really wanted a merit-based system, they would advocate for a very large inheritance tax, even a 100% tax. What’s merit-based about getting money for free from parents whom you could not choose?

If Americans really wanted a merit-based system, they would advocate for health care for people who were injured through no fault of their own, like a passenger in a train which crashes. What’s merit-based about losing your hard-earned life-savings because a conductor was texting while driving?

We could come up with examples all day. Conservative Americans advocate against all of these things (and so do many “Liberal” Americans). They want to call it a meritocracy, and they want everyone to buy into that notion, while at the same time passing along every unfair advantage they can to their children.

I love my children, and I want them to do well, and have access to opportunity. But I want them to have it because everyone has it, not because resources are limited, I happen to have more, and I actively worked toward kneecapping the people who have less.

It’s all well and good to advocate for whatever you want: no inheritance tax, reduced public funding of education, minimal public funding of healthcare, etc ad nauseum. But if you do, you can’t then honestly turn around and say, “Our system is awesome because it’s not a lottery.”

It’s a lottery. Humans can’t control or compensate for everything, so to some extent it will always be a lottery. But there are plenty of ways in which we could make it LESS of a lottery, and we don’t do them, and then we praise ourselves for living in the land of opportunity.

And that’s hypocrisy.

Such was the force of my reasoning that our resident libertarians and/or conservatives were stunned speechless; my comment stands to this day as the pinnacle of that open thread, the very summit of its many achievements, the ne plus ultra of commentary on conservative political thought.

That’s right.  No one dared to reply.

More recently, Susan applied some magnification:

But let’s talk about vulnerable people. For example. Old people (which increasingly means anyone over 40) who need to buy health insurance on their own usually cannot afford it. This means, among many other things, that enterprising 45 year olds who would like to start businesses (remember, small businesses are responsible for the majority of job growth) cannot do that because they cannot afford health insurance on their own string if there is anything at all (including a hangnail) wrong with them or with anyone in their family. (Hint: don’t dispute me on the facts here, I really do know what I am talking about.) This is OK? This is hurting the economy big time, and I can prove it.

Then, the hopelessly disabled. You’d cut them off without public support? Good luck to them? Nice guy. They should have families to take care of them? What if they don’t, they should just die and get out of the way?

The 85 year old woman who took care of her family all her years, her husband is dead, no pension from the bankrupt former employer? Her only son died in a car accident? She’s just out of luck?

joe then pointed out that delving into her point would take the thread off-topic, and she agreed and dropped it.

I would like to explore her point, so I’m creating this thread to do it in.

Would anyone care to answer Susan’s questions?

Would anyone care to argue that the policies which conservatives advocate do, in fact, make the American social system more meritocratic and not less?

If there are no replies to this one, I’ll be forced to conclude that Robert, RonF, and others are saying to themselves, “Well, damn.  She’s right.  Can’t argue with that one.  Best pretend we didn’t see it and move on.”

Grace

This entry posted in Class, poverty, labor, & related issues, Conservative zaniness, right-wingers, etc., Disabled Rights & Issues, Education, Elections and politics, Social Security, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 

198 Responses to Fair is fair: Kindergarten and the American Dream

  1. 1
    Susan says:

    I’d like to expand on my position for a minute. Thank you, Grace, for opening this thread.

    I do not believe that any substantial proportion of my countrymen and women are bad people who simply do not care what happens to those who are less fortunate or less wealthy than themselves – often without any fault at all on their own part. There are always, in every society, a few sociopaths who only care about themselves, but they are a tiny minority.

    Contrary to what you will read on many liberal sites, I do not believe that any substantial proportion of my countrymen and women are stupid people who can be easily gulled by “the media” into voting for foolish things which they do not actually believe in.

    These beliefs of mine lead me inexorably into the conclusion that there must be reasoned answers available from Ms. Bachmann and her supporters to the post which this thread is discussing, answers to what we as a large family (that’s what this nation is, a family) should do about or for the people who fall by the wayside. Ms. Bachmann and her supporters have pointed out the (very real) flaws in what we are now doing; therefore, it is incumbent upon them, if they propose to take control of the political process (and of the nation) to offer alternative solutions.

    Finally, as Grace says

    If there are no replies to this one, I’ll be forced to conclude that Robert, RonF, and others are saying to themselves, “Well, damn. She’s right. Can’t argue with that one. Best pretend we didn’t see it and move on.”

  2. 2
    Geek says:

    Near as I can tell conservatives want a survival-of-the-fittest world instead of a real meritocracy – where advantages (genetic and monetary) are passed on to offspring, and the others die off. Good luck getting them to admit it.
    Because a super-genius with ultimate motivation will often succeed (if s/he lives long enough to do so), it is easy to point to endless examples of “he didn’t have health care and he made it.”
    And not even motivation is “fair”. You could take the identical twin test and put yourself in a rich household with “you can do anything” parents and all opportunities, and put your twin in a poor household with abusive parents, and most of the time you can guess who’d do better. (hint: the one with the nutrition, healthcare, educational, and parental advantages)
    But take one case where the opposite occurs, and conservatives would be quick to point out that obviously the poor twin pulled themselves up by their bootstraps because they were so motivated to get out of the situation, and the rich twin was a spoiled brat.

    It is a terrible thing to do hard work and feel that someone else might deserve what you got more than you do. Especially here in the US where we value work so much.

  3. 3
    RonF says:

    If Americans really wanted a merit-based system, they would advocate for a very large inheritance tax, even a 100% tax. What’s merit-based about getting money for free from parents whom you could not choose?

    This, then, advocates that people have no right to make life better for their children after they themselves have passed. They cannot pass on to their children the family business or the family farm. That’s most definitely NOT the American way. Being able to work to improve the lot of one’s posterity as well as one’s own lot is central to the American dream.

    Consider the case of the recent London riots wherein a luggage shop that had been in a family for 5 generations was burned down. They lost everything, for no reason other than a group of good-for-nothing fools desiring to engage in mindless destruction. It certainly would have been cleaner if the government had simply taken it and sold it off to the highest bidder, but the end result is similar from the viewpoint of the children who no longer could look forward to working the business.

    I love my children, and I want them to do well, and have access to opportunity. But I want them to have it because everyone has it, not because resources are limited, I happen to have more, and I actively worked toward kneecapping the people who have less.

    Resources are always limited. That’s why they’re not free, they cost money. And to say “I happen to have more” begs the question “How did that happen?” Did you work harder than others? Did you study when the other kids were out playing sports or going to the movies or the mall? Having more doesn’t just happen. Yes, sometimes it’s due to having the good fortune to having had parents willing to work hard and pass on money to their kids. But they have the right to do that. The fact that they worked hard to give their children resources that would outlast themselves != “actively worked towards kneecapping the people who have less.”

    It’s a lottery. Humans can’t control or compensate for everything, so to some extent it will always be a lottery.

    Glad to see you recognize that.

    But there are plenty of ways in which we could make it LESS of a lottery, and we don’t do them, and then we praise ourselves for living in the land of opportunity.

    Well, but we DO do a number of things to make it less of a lottery. We provide a publicly-funded education to all who will take advantage of it. There’s flaws and uneven quality to it in some areas, but we’re at least trying to do something about that. We have laws that forbid racial and sexual and religious discrimination. We have anti-corruption laws. There are plenty of other examples.

    Now, in your opinion we could do more. I imagine that we could. But you have to balance what we can do against the rights of people to gain and use the fruits of their own labor – which will never be equal from person to person because some people work harder than others or master skills that are in greater demand. You can only take so much from people to give to others before you are in the position of denying the people producing what you are taking their right to the results of their work. So you will never be able to give everyone what you seem to consider equal opportunity.

    We do live in the land of opportunity. We afford people the opportunity to work hard and enjoy the results without the fear that criminals or the government will take it from them. That’s why people flock here from all over the world, risking death in many cases – to take advantage of that opportunity. The fact that the opportunity is not as great as you think it should be does not make the statement “This is the land of opportunity” hypocritical. Tens of millions have voted with their feet saying otherwise.

  4. 4
    JutGory says:

    If Americans really wanted a merit-based system, they would advocate for a very large inheritance tax, even a 100% tax.

    Just to add on to what RonF said, there is a fundamental problem that conservatives have with the inheritance tax that I see few liberals acknowledge. One of the rights of owning property is the ability to give it away. The estate tax or the gift tax restricts that right in the way an income tax or a gas tax does not. So, a 100% estate tax not only “harms” the child (put in quotes because that appears to be an issue in contention), but harms the parent by saying, in effect, “you have no right to give away your own property.” That kind of makes it look like it is not really your property to begin with; if the government is completely free to take it from you, it really is not yours to begin with.
    -Jut

  5. 5
    Susan says:

    OK, the inheritance tax argument is taken care of. I don’t agree, but it’s a reasonable position. That wasn’t really the whole question. Wasn’t even an important part of the question.

    What about everything else? Are we skipping our hopelessly disabled who have no families, our impoverished widow, our prospective business-starters who cannot afford private health insurance, people who are hit by impoverished drivers running red lights but who have no health insurance (shouldn’t walk across streets, is that the idea?), the minor children whose parents cannot afford to feed them or get them medical care (what did they do wrong?), the long-term unemployed, even you if you stumble or get sick or some other horrible thing happens? (You’re immune, right?)

    The race is to the strong, is that the idea? And anyone who develops any sort of weakness, well, it’s probably their own fault? And in any case, let them get out of the way by dying?

    It’s a position, I guess. Is that really the conservative answer? That’s all I asked.

    (Please don’t tell me that private charity will take care of all this. They never have, never have been able to, and if past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, they never will.)

  6. 6
    Jake Squid says:

    And to say “I happen to have more” begs the question “How did that happen?” Did you work harder than others? Did you study when the other kids were out playing sports or going to the movies or the mall? Having more doesn’t just happen.

    It doesn’t happen solely because you work harder than others, Ron. For example…

    I have more because my grandparents or great-grandparents were able to get into this country. My paternal father was very successful and this allowed my father to get degree in law. My maternal grandfather was a successful accountant in his brother’s firm. This allowed my mother to get a degree at the university at which she met my father.

    My father had a successful law practice because my uncle – his brother-in-law – invited him into the practice that my uncle had established.

    My parents success allowed them to move to a town with one of the best public school systems in the country. I received one of the best K-12 (2-12 in my case) educations available. My father’s best friend hired me into his IT consulting business and taught me how to program computers. I was really good at programming and at the social interactions required by the job and have gone on to be moderately successful myself.

    So, I capitalized on the opportunity afforded me by my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents success. The opportunity that I capitalized on came from my luck in the lottery that Grace alludes to.

    For another example…
    A guy I went to school with graduated from Harvard, came home and said to his dad, “I’d like to run a hedge fund. I think I know how to be good at it.” So his dad went to a group of his friends and got each of them to invest several million dollars in his son’s hedge fund. The guy I went to school with has since gone on to be a billionaire. Yes, he worked hard, he worked long hours and he’s good at what he does. But! Would you have been able to do the same thing if you had all the attributes that my schoolmate had except for the father who could get 4 or 5 people to invest millions in your start up? Probably not.

    The question not being begged by your comment is, how do you ignore how much of success in the USA is the antithesis of “meritocracy”?

    I think that the force of your reason stands, Grace.

  7. 7
    JutGory says:

    The question not being begged by your comment is, how do you ignore how much of success in the USA is the antithesis of “meritocracy”?

    I think we may have some disagreement about the definition of “meritocracy.” First of all, I could agree it is not the best word, but I am not sure there is a better one.

    Part of “meritocracy” is that we are not an aristocratic or caste-based system. Opportunity to succeed is open to all; but, so is the opportunity to fail.

    It involves the freedom to do what you want, regardless of what you might be good at; the government is not going to fast-track you to certain careers or job because they decide what your merit is.

    And, yes, it can involve getting help from other people. I have been fortunate and have built upon the improvements my parents and grandparents have made. But, not everyone does. Coming from a rich family will not always guarantee success. You are free to fail.

    What conservatives do not believe is that meritocracy means equality. For that sort of meritocracy to happen, the government would have to become so overbearing that no one would be free and everyone would be miserable.

    -Jut

  8. 8
    Susan says:

    I’ve thought about this inheritance tax issue a lot, and I practice law in this area. Have done for 30 years.

    Let’s start with the obvious notion that this is (as to the kids) unearned money. Inherited money is not the result of personal effort; it is mere luck, to be born into the right family. (I am constantly, in my professional life, locking horns with adult children who have gotten the idea that Mom’s money (Mom being still alive) is “really” their money.) Inherited money is an insolent slap in the face to the whole notion of strict meritocracy. (The joke of course is that people born on third base come to think they hit a triple.) It is relatively harmless if modest in scope, my opinion; not harmless when huge fortunes accrue over generations. My opinion only. Working for your own money builds character: being what we call a Trust Fund Baby does not.

    To say that “if the government is free to take money from you then it isn’t really your money” is to deny the legitimacy of all taxation. Why are road taxes OK, then? Or taxes to build sewers? Or taxes for wars which I personally oppose? Or any tax at all? We cannot run a society above the level of individual mud huts without admitting the right of a representative government to tax for the common good, so please abandon this line of reasoning, it’s completely illogical, and you don’t even believe in it yourself.

    ________

    Can we leave off inheritance tax for now? RonF thinks the rich should keep all their stuff and hand it on; I don’t. We can at least agree that society need not wring its hands over people who inherit $10 million.

    However, I want to go back to my original question, to wit, what are we to do to or for those who, through no fault of their own, let us say, land on the bottom of the heap?

    A child is born with severe birth defects. This is his fault how? His parents are, shortly thereafter, killed in a car crash. So, what happens to him now? They didn’t have any money to leave him, and he can’t take care of himself anyway. He fails the meritocracy test on every level.

    What now? The government can’t help him because under the your-money-is-yours theory, they can’t even pave the roads, let alone do anything for this guy. He’d be better off, we’d all be better off, if he just died? That’s a reasoned position (though not one I agree with).

    Or let’s take RonF, or me for that matter. There’s a financial crash (again), we lose all our money, then he (or I) am in a catastrophic car crash, not our fault, and we need extensive and expensive medical care for which we cannot pay. There is no family left to care for us. (You think this can’t happen, Ron? It happens every day to people who thought it couldn’t happen.

    Perhaps some kind charity will take us in, but, under the Ayn Rand school of thought (or, contemporary American reality), probably not. Do Ron and I end up in the gutter next to the disabled baby? Society will be better off without the lot of us?

    In a John-Galtish kind of way, it makes sense. Is that the conservative position? Just trying to get some clarity here.

  9. 9
    Robert says:

    (Please don’t tell me that private charity will take care of all this. They never have, never have been able to, and if past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, they never will.)

    Please point to a place where state action takes care of all of this. They never have and never will, either. You cannot reject an alternative because it fails to do X, when your preferred choice fails to do X as well.

  10. 10
    Susan says:

    Or let’s take RonF, or me for that matter. There’s a financial crash (again), we lose all our money, then he (or I) am in a catastrophic car crash, not our fault, and we need extensive and expensive medical care for which we cannot pay. There is no family left to care for us. (You think this can’t happen, Ron? It happens every day to people who thought it couldn’t happen.)

    Do Ron and I end up in the gutter next to the disabled baby? Society will be better off without the lot of us?

    Robert, stop talking about everything else under the sun, please state your own position on these problems, I’m all ears.

    (PS, It could be you too, no matter how well you may think you’ve protected yourself from such a situation.)

  11. 11
    Joseph says:

    To say that “if the government is free to take money from you then it isn’t really your money” is to deny the legitimacy of all taxation.

    I do, in fact, deny the legitimacy of all taxation. How do you justify it, Susan? By what reasoning is it morally acceptable for someone to forcibly take my property, if I have not wronged anyone?

    I’d be interested in knowing your responses to the polls on this article: http://www.libertariannews.org/2011/08/17/at-what-population-size-does-taxation-become-legitimate/

  12. 12
    Sebastian H says:

    “Are we skipping our hopelessly disabled who have no families, our impoverished widow, our prospective business-starters who cannot afford private health insurance, people who are hit by impoverished drivers running red lights but who have no health insurance (shouldn’t walk across streets, is that the idea?), the minor children whose parents cannot afford to feed them or get them medical care (what did they do wrong?), the long-term unemployed, even you if you stumble or get sick or some other horrible thing happens?”

    Here’s my problem with this argument: it ends up being used to defend all sorts of things that have nothing to do with the poor. I’m all for anti-poverty measures. But I also think that we spend a stupid amount of social security on the rich. We hear arguments about insuring the uninsured for health care, but most of the bill ends up being about people who already have insurance. (And the federal government already spends enough money [about 6.8% of GDP] to pay for what nearly every other country does on universal health care). We hear that we need to spend more money on teachers, but they also tell us that they can’t be responsible for testable learning. The list of bait and switches goes on and on. If you want to tug on my heart strings for direct anti-poverty measure, fine. If you want to do it for things that end up mostly benefiting the middle and upper classes, I say they can choose and pay for things.

  13. 13
    Susan says:

    “I’m all for anti-poverty measures.”

    I’m glad to hear it. I’m not hearing it from the Tea Party. This forum is the opportunity for some of them to refute my impression here. I could well be wrong. They may have a plan to take care of the helpless. Do tell! Do tell! (My impression, subject to correction, of Ms. Bachmann’s position is not that she opposes waste or giving money to people who don’t need it, she opposes help to the helpless across the board. So someone set me right here, OK?)

    We collectively spend too much on health care? Ya think??? The United States of America, as a whole, public and private mostly private, spends TWICE (got that? two times) PER PERSON for health care what Europe spends – and we don’t even cover everyone!! And, can you dig it, our results are in the toilet, by any measure you choose. 48th in longevity? 32nd or 35th (depending on who you believe) on infant mortality?

    If you’re trying to say we should spend money more efficiently, am I ever on THAT boat!! If you’re saying that the hapless kid with cerebral palsy who has no one to defend him should just die and get out of the way, sorry, I’m not on board.

    Hear the ringing silence on that issue from the rightists on this discussion board. But I still have hope. They may well weigh in yet.

  14. 14
    Susan says:

    Sebastian, you’re ducking the issue. (“Deserving people should get help otherwise not.”)

    I don’t know how much money and family you have. Let’s assume you have a normal amount of money and a normal amount of family.

    One fine day you’re walking across the street and you’re hit by an indigent driver who ran a red light. Let’s further assume that your family is tapped out, perhaps by hard times, perhaps by catastrophies of their own. Let us further assume that your personal assets are…limited. Perhaps you are an artist, pursuing a dream; perhaps you are a high-tech start-up with stars and money in your eyes; perhaps you just got hammered in the stock market. You were OK before, so long as things went well. Whatever. (That’s most of us!) You don’t have much health insurance because you’re young, and you hoped to build something to make jobs for the rest of us. (So shoot you.)

    So now you’re seriously brain damaged (but maybe rehab would help) and without funds.

    As I understand the Tea Party’s agenda, you are SOL. If you have wealthy relatives, or you have money yourself, you’re good. If you can attract some kind of grant money (good luck on that one! You’ll need it!!!) you’re good. Otherwise, so sad too bad. I don’t know what happens. You die, probably.

    I think they think that’s for the best. A question of philosophy I suppose.

    If you think this can’t happen to you, you are a candidate for protective restraint.

    Me, I’m willing to pay taxes to help out. They aren’t. They think it can’t happen to them or something I guess. Or that you deserve what you get, even if it isn’t your fault.

    It’s their position I’m trying to get here. It’s kind of slim pickings. :(

  15. 15
    Susan says:

    Robert? RonF? The race (and life) is to the strong, right? The weak, disabled babies, people hit by cars….well, they’re not strong, so the life is not to them. We’re all very sorry, but we’re not going to help.

    Have I got this straight?

  16. 16
    Robert says:

    No. But you don’t seem educable, so I decline to make the effort.

  17. 17
    Susan says:

    Robert.

    What you have said so far is, “state action does not work.” Certainly you might be right. It’s an argument at least. (So, what would work? You conservatives don’t have any obligation to come up with an alternative? If so you’re unworthy of government. Even “let the weak die” is better than this!)

    Then you have said, I (personally) am not “educable,” so you decline to make the effort.

    That’s it.

    Man, talk about ducking the debate!! “The opposition’s answer doesn’t work, I don’t have any better ideas, but they are stupid people.” So elect me anyway???

    That adds up to “I don’t actually have a logical argument. That I’m not ashamed of anyway.” OK I get it. But why I should vote for anyone who takes that position, it escapes me.

    So I’ve learned something. Thank you.

    I continue to hope, in defiance of the evidence here, that someone somewhere can make sense on this. I fear though that it’s like the anti-SSM arguments: the fact is, there just aren’t any logical arguments, at least none that hold water.

  18. 18
    Susan says:

    Well, thanks for everyone’s attention! I’ve learned something: that the opposition doesn’t have any arguments that make sense.

    I intend to go off to other sites and try again, but this is not encouraging.

    Robert and RonF, your further posts on similar topics will be ignored by me. You had your chance.

    Best to all.

  19. 19
    Susan says:

    Robert, RonF.

    Cowards. Sorry for calling names, but when invited to stand and deliver, you didn’t. I hope you are not representative of your movement. Perhaps someone in your camp makes sense. Please refer them to this site.

  20. 20
    Robert says:

    Susan, nobody owes you a discussion or an explanation of belief. You’ve been rather rude and dismissive, and have regularly mischaracterized what I’ve said (I can’t speak for Ron) when I *have* responded to you – so why, exactly, would I be investing lifespan in having a discussion with you?

  21. 21
    Susan says:

    Robert, I asked a question. I thought it was a fairly simple one: what (if anything) should we as a society do to support the helpless needy indigent who have no one else to support them?

    You want to attempt an answer, or continue to tell be that I am “not educable”? Which is irrelevant. My state of mind is not at issue.

    No one “owes” me an answer. That said, I am entitled to draw conclusions from your refusal to engage in discussion. I’m trying to learn here. When someone from whom I am trying to learn blows me off on irrelevancies, I draw conclusions. As anyone would.

    You seem invested in discussing anything and everything, including my character (“rude and dismissive”) except an answer to the question I asked. So far, you’ve told me what doesn’t work. So, what would work, in your view? It seems a simple question.

    People who don’t answer simple questions, and who instead fall to name-calling (“rude”)….well, we can draw our own conclusions.

    That said, I remain interested in the foundational question: what is to be done to or for the helpless disabled, who have no one to care for them? Got any answers? Please don’t call me names, it’s not responsive.

    This is your chance to make some converts. Don’t pass it up.

  22. 22
    Ampersand says:

    Cowards. Sorry for calling names…

    Susan, please stop calling names. You know the moderation goals of this site as well as anyone.

  23. 23
    Susan says:

    Sorry amp, so have a word with Robert (“rude”).

  24. 24
    Susan says:

    You know what? There is no point in having a debate with people like this. I hoped for some kind of reasoned response. (“It’s OK that government will not or cannot step in to help the helpless because…”)

    What I get instead is being told that I am “rude” and “not educable” without any reasoning at all to support the underlying question, which was, “what do we do with the helpless among us?)

    The answer is important to me, not because I have any personal problems here, but in general.

  25. 25
    Joseph says:

    In case you didn’t see my earlier post, Susan, I’m willing to debate you in a polite manner.

  26. 26
    Susan says:

    Well, thank you Joseph. You are a gentleman.

    So, apparently you deny the legitimacy of all taxation. (Do I have this right?) So, how do you propose to finance roads? Like, the street in front of my house. Or streetlights? I can’t drive on it unless I kick in? I have to wear a blindfold? Police services? Firemen? Sewers? Schools? I’m confused.

    What about Interstate 80? I may not drive it very often, but I do occasionally. Should it be a toll road? Should it be there at all? What about the goods which I buy which are shipped on Interstate 80? I should pay a premium?

    How about national defense? We shouldn’t have any? No army? Only those people who want to be defended should pay for it? Only those people who fly should pay for air traffic control? Only the disabled should pay for medical care for the disabled. Wait, they can’t.

    Am I completely missing the point here? Surely.

    We so have the helplessly disabled. What, if anything, should be done for or about them? Nothing? Anything? They can’t pay. How about the long-term unemployed, same deal? It’s not their fault, remember, it’s the economy. How do we deal with that? Only people in trouble who happen to have money are taken care of? Doesn’t that present some problems?

    What about Congress, and the costs associated with that. Only those who vote pay? (Look for voting rates to go down!) This would be a poll tax, with which we do have some problems?

    I really am genuinely curious. I acknowledge that a lot of what we’re currently doing works only imperfectly, but I’m reluctant to abandon it if the only alternative is you had bad luck you starve too bad.

    I look forward to your answers.

  27. 27
    Joseph says:

    I think you’re getting a bit ahead of me. Various people have written about the ways roads and defense could be privatized (and I could certainly point you to their writings), but let’s consider the moral question first. As I said in my first post: By what reasoning is it morally acceptable for someone to forcibly take my property, if I have not wronged anyone?

  28. 28
    Erin S. says:

    Actually Joseph, I’m not Susan but I do have an answer for you. The taking of taxes is morally acceptable by virtue of the fact that the alternative is largely morally unacceptable.

    Now, not all taxes fall under that umbrella… but a lot do. And that is why I have no problem paying taxes, even for things (such as public schools for children I do not, cannot, and therefore will not have) that I will never directly benefit from. Could the tax code be tightened up and revised to ensure that more, or all, taxes are actually charged to everyone in a fair and equal manner, and that they all go towards causes which are morally necessary? Yes. But that argument is a different beast entirely from “it’s wrong to take my money for any reason”.

  29. 29
    Phil says:

    Joseph,
    Earlier, Jutgory said:

    That kind of makes it look like it is not really your property to begin with; if the government is completely free to take it from you, it really is not yours to begin with.

    Let’s assume that a government is of the people, such that saying “The government should legalize marijuana,” and “Society should legalize marijuana,” and “The people of this nation should legalize marijuana” are all reasonably interchangeable things to say.

    As such, what is so terrible about the concept that property is never really ours to begin with?

    We don’t have any problem with the idea that air is free, and that no one really “owns” the air that we breathe. We share it. The law prevents you from coming into my apartment late at night without permission and breathing my air, but that doesn’t mean that it’s “my” air. Air belongs to all of us.

    We’re fixated, however, on the idea that land belongs to people, but that’s just a legal fiction. You’re here, and the land that you purchased is here, and the government/society/the people have decided that it is reasonable to protect your rights to the land that you “own.” But that doesn’t really mean it belongs to you. All land ownership traces back to an arbitrary point at which society said, “Okay, this person gets to act like s/he owns this land.” But that’s not the only way to conceptualize the way that a society can share land, and there have been other systems throughout history.

    And so forth. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea that we should all get to act as if we own property, even though all we are really doing, to paraphrase an old Bloom County, is just “borrowing it for a while.”

  30. 30
    Ampersand says:

    As I said in my first post: By what reasoning is it morally acceptable for someone to forcibly take my property, if I have not wronged anyone?

    I’d challenge three implicit premises of your question.

    1) Where do you think the moral right for you to own property comes from?

    2) Who says it’s your property?

    If your annual wages are $100 and the tax rate is $20%, then only $80 of your year’s wages are your property; the rest is the property of the government. It’s your responsibility to give the government its $20 in a reasonable amount of time.

    You can’t have property rights without some enforcement mechanism. If you come and take my car without my permission, then it’s justifiable that government force be used to take my property from you. Similarly, if you refuse to pay the government its $20, then it’s justifiable that government force be used to take the government’s property from you.

    3) Who says you haven’t wronged anyone?

    When you refuse to give the government its $20, then you’ve wronged the government. You also wrong me and all the other non-freeloading, taxpaying citizens; it’s unfair for us to pay for the government services you consume, assuming you’re capable of paying your share yourself.

  31. 31
    Phil says:

    Joseph, as such, when you ask:

    By what reasoning is it morally acceptable for someone to forcibly take my property, if I have not wronged anyone?

    Well, here’s one answer: if society decides that the most reasonable and fair system is to say, “This particular portion of property is no longer yours, please release it from your possession,” and you choose not to do that, then the consequences that you face are not the force of someone taking your property.

    The discussion of how much property can or should be requested by society/government/the people is a perfectly legitimate discussion. But taking the stance that “Everything I think I own is mine forever, because thinking I own it means I own it” is childishly simplistic.

  32. 32
    JutGory says:

    Susan:

    We cannot run a society above the level of individual mud huts without admitting the right of a representative government to tax for the common good, so please abandon this line of reasoning, it’s completely illogical, and you don’t even believe in it yourself.

    I agree with the first part. I disagree with the second part. I do believe that line of reasoning. You see to treat taxes as one big undifferentiated concept. The income tax is different from the sales tax is different from the estate tax is different from the property tax is different from the gas tax is different from tariffs is different from excise taxes. Granted, they are all taxes. But some have a more logical justification than others. If we cannot agree on that, we cannot go any further.

    And this goes to your larger point: you want to talk about the safety net. Whether you admit it or not, the debate is more often about the size of it, rather than whether it should exist at all. Private charities should have a bigger role than they do; government should have a smaller role than it does. But, you cast the other side as being all or nothing and bring up cases that many might agree are appropriate uses of the safety net. But, what about the guy in Michigan who won 2 million dollars in the lottery and is still getting food stamps? Do you think he should still be getting free food from the Government? It is not the all or nothing position you seem to think it is.

    -Jut

  33. 33
    Joseph says:

    Actually Joseph, I’m not Susan but I do have an answer for you. The taking of taxes is morally acceptable by virtue of the fact that the alternative is largely morally unacceptable.

    Erin, could you explain to me how government employees not doing what most people would call theft if done by anyone else is morally unacceptable? I think there are some big assumptions behind that statement.

  34. 34
    Joseph says:

    Let’s assume that a government is of the people.

    Phil, this is only the case if a government imposes its will only on those who consent to it. Such a voluntary government would be fine by me. What I object to is the notion that a group of people has any more right than a single person does (none) to impose its will on a third party. See this video (4 minutes) for a more detailed explanation of my position: George Ought to Help.

  35. 35
    Joseph says:

    1) Where do you think the moral right for you to own property comes from?

    Ampersand, I believe the moral right for one to own property extends from the moral right for one to own their body and choose what they do with it, so long as they do not infringe upon others or their property. When someone puts their labor into making a good, they are morally entitled to that good. Likewise, when two people exchange goods or services, they are entitled to what they get out of said exchange.

    When one person forcibly takes the property of another, it is as if they have deprived that person of the part of the life that went into acquiring said property.

    2) Who says it’s your property?

    I believe this question is answered above. Let me know if you disagree. However, I will comment on the following statement:

    You can’t have property rights without some enforcement mechanism.

    That may be the case, but is it really the best enforcement mechanism to have a group of people who violently monopolize the market for enforcing property rights and furthermore have to tax people (which itself is a property rights violation) to do so?

    3) Who says you haven’t wronged anyone?

    As with your second point above, I believe this is answered above.

  36. 36
    Bear says:

    Joseph, our government is voluntary in that you are free to move to another country if you do not accept the terms under which you live in this one. I’ll go out on a limb, though, and say that you would find such a thing undesirable, since the countries you can move to that impose no tax are not really worth living in.

  37. 37
    chingona says:

    Is this where I should link to the “Somalia: Libertarian Paradise” video?

  38. 38
    Joseph says:

    Well, here’s one answer: if society decides that the most reasonable and fair system is to say, “This particular portion of property is no longer yours, please release it from your possession,” and you choose not to do that, then the consequences that you face are not the force of someone taking your property.

    Phil, I agree that defining property rights can be a tricky issue, especially when it comes to ownership of natural resources such as land. However, as I said in post 35, I believe there are better ways to do it by government.

    There was once a time in America when some people decided that slavery and other associated practices were reasonable and fair. These people used the US government to pass laws legitimizing said practices, thereby making them the decision of “society”. This, of course, doesn’t make slavery/etc morally correct. Refer back to my previous response to you for my thoughts on democracy.

  39. 39
    Joseph says:

    Joseph, our government is voluntary in that you are free to move to another country if you do not accept the terms under which you live in this one.

    Bear, if you were to have been born into a neighborhood wrought with gang violence, and gang members demanded your money as a condition of allowing you to live on “their turf”, would you apply your argument in that case? After all, you could just move off their turf.

    I’ll go out on a limb, though, and say that you would find such a thing undesirable, since the countries you can move to that impose no tax are not really worth living in.

    You are correct in saying that I remain in America because the actions of the US government currently don’t make doing so excessively unpleasant for me. However, this is irrelevant to the question of whether the US government’s actions are morally justified, as I have suggested above.

  40. 40
    Lara says:

    By what reasoning is it morally acceptable for someone to forcibly take my property, if I have not wronged anyone?

    Three words stood out to me in this question – “morally,” “my” and “someone.”

    By using “someone,” a singular noun, the question asks “by what reasoning is it morally acceptable for an unspecified individual person to forcibly take my property?” Phrased that way, the question is reasonable but also irrelevant – no one is arguing that property can be forcibly taken by any unspecified individual. The wording “By what reasoning is it morally acceptable for representatives of a democratic state to forcibly take my property” would be more applicable, if less incendiary.

    This brings us to the question of what makes property “yours.” Since as far as I know the IRS doesn’t accept payments in kind, let’s ask specifically what makes money “yours.” You worked for it, you were paid it – fair enough. But where did that money come from in the first place? Does your employer pay you in scrip, redeemable only at the company store? No (at least, I really hope not, for your sake :) ). If you work in the United States, you’re paid in currency issued and guaranteed by the United States government. That currency can be exchanged for goods and services almost anywhere in the world because it’s backed up by a national government’s full faith and credit. Governments allow individuals to use the currencies that they issue, but in return they ask for a share of the economic activity that results. Assuming that government leaders are selected through democratic processes, this seems like an eminently moral arrangement.

    Which brings us to the final concept. Like money, morality doesn’t exist free-floating in nature – it’s produced by the interactions of human beings, through a never-ending series of negotiations about which set of rules we should collectively follow in order to best achieve individual and societal goals. To call on the concept of morality, then, is to acknowledge that you participate in a society. And, as a participant in society, you have both rights and obligations. The exact nature of those rights and obligations has varied considerably over space and time, but it is the argument of liberals in general and Susan in particular that you should have the right to receive assistance if you become unable to support yourself, as well as the obligation to assist others if you are able to do so. I believe that this view fits within traditional understandings of morality far better than does its converse (you have no right to expect assistance from others, and no obligation to provide assistance yourself), but perhaps others may disagree. I look forward to hearing their arguments.

  41. 41
    Joseph says:

    The wording “By what reasoning is it morally acceptable for representatives of a democratic state to forcibly take my property” would be more applicable, if less incendiary.

    Lara, one can use all sorts of fancy language to describe the person taking the property, but the fact remains that they are still simply a person. That they happen to have other people encouraging them to do so has little relevance to the question of legitimacy. Refer to posts 34, 38, and 39 for more of my discussion about this.

    Governments allow individuals to use the currencies that they issue.

    Governments force individuals to use the currencies that they issue. Have you ever paid for a government’s services (which they require you to do) without using its currency? Do you think it would allow you to?

    Like money, morality doesn’t exist free-floating in nature – it’s produced by the interactions of human beings, through a never-ending series of negotiations about which set of rules we should collectively follow in order to best achieve individual and societal goals.

    I entirely agree with you here. Everything we are discussing is just an abstraction on top of the physical reality of “might makes right”. As such, I’m arguing that my abstraction is a better one than those commonly believed.

    you should have the right to receive assistance if you become unable to support yourself, as well as the obligation to assist others if you are able to do so.

    This is where I disagree. I posit that no one is entitled to goods and services from anyone else, merely because they happen to exist. Let me explain. There are many people in the world living lives far worse than ours. Would you say that we are obligated to help them, just because we are able to?

  42. 42
    Sebastian H says:

    Susan, I’m not sure why you think I have to defend the tea party. The post was addressed to libertarians and conservatives. The tea party is a sub-set of conservatives (maybe), not the whole.

  43. 43
    Myca says:

    Taxes are a user fee you pay for access to the support infrastructure we call America.

    You’re free to pay. You’re free to choose not to utilize the support infrastructure and not pay. What you can’t do … and what most libertarians seem to want to do … is utilize the infrastructure without abiding by the membership agreement. You’re not allowed to be a thief or a free loader, in other words.

    Bear, if you were to have been born into a neighborhood wrought with gang violence, and gang members demanded your money as a condition of allowing you to live on “their turf”, would you apply your argument in that case?

    Sure, I would, if the gang in question had built the neighborhood, provided ongoing services, security, utilities, education, and structural support and was supported by a majority of the residents, who had the option, periodically, to vote to force gang members to step down in favor of other members whose policies they favor. That’s the difference between a gang and a government.

    Let’s turn it around … you’re a member of a residential co-op. Rent is $450 a month each, but the members of the co-op hold a vote and agree that all residents will pay $500 a month each, with the extra $50 used for upkeep, repairs, and support for any members who fall on hard times. Are you saying that the members of the co-op don’t have the right to make that agreement? Are you saying that residents ought to be able to refuse to pay the extra $50 while continuing to use the amenities that everyone else’s $50 paid for? Or maybe you’re saying that none of the residents should have to even pay the original $450 … after all, why should you have to pay just because someone demanded your money as a condition of allowing you to live on “their turf”?

    And good god, man, this isn’t even getting into the problem of negative externalities. Who should pay for the negative effect your economic activities have on an uninvolved third party? Right now we mitigate those costs through taxation and regulation, but since you don’t like that I’m sure you’ll have a better idea.

    —Myca

  44. 44
    Grace Annam says:

    RonF:

    This, then, advocates that people have no right to make life better for their children after they themselves have passed.

    No, it merely points up a disconnect between, “All you have to do to succeed is work hard!” and “All you have to do to succeed is work hard, plus a bit harder to overcome the head start which I got from my parents.” You can argue that the second position is a necessary compromise between competing principles, and that’s fine – in fact, I’d agree with that. But you can’t reasonably argue that there’s no difference; the person without the inheritance is climbing a steeper hill. That’s one of the ways in which success in our society is not merit-based.

    Reminds me of a joke. A local elder businessman, Smith, is retiring, and community honors him at a dinner. Other local businessmen drink his health, spout friendly platitudes, and fete him as one does on such occasions. One of them gets up and says, “I’ve known Smitty for a long time. Why, I remember when he first arrived in this town. He walked into town with nothing but the clothes on his back and his knapsack. Now look at him! The envy of every businessman here.” Later in the evening, one of the young idealistic businessmen approaches the elder statesman and says, “Sir, may I ask you a question? What did you have in your knapsack?” Smith takes a luxurious drag on his cigar, smiles indulgently at the lad, and answers, “Ten million dollars in cash.”

    From me, this is not sour grapes: I was given many advantages through luck of the draw, certainly more than my fair share. Every once in a while I turn around and think, “Damn! There’s another one.”

    I think that one of the least things I owe to other people as a result of getting my unmerited head start is that I acknowledge that fact.

    We do live in the land of opportunity.

    We live in a land of opportunity. Ours is not the only one. Certainly, some lands afford less opportunity, but some afford as much, or more. By many measures of social mobility, the United States has started to lag behind.

    We afford people the opportunity to work hard and enjoy the results without the fear that criminals or the government will take it from them.

    I work in law enforcement. People certainly fear that criminals will take it from them. That’s why so much of my publicly-funded time is spent responding to false alarms at private homes and businesses.

    Also, change “criminals or government” to “one unavoidable illness” and I think you’ll find that the fear is nigh-universal.

    Which brings us to health care.

    Me:

    If Americans really wanted a merit-based system, they would advocate for universal health care for children. What is merit-based about a child receiving healthcare, or not, on the basis of whether her parents have work with benefits or oodles of money?

    This one really does mystify me, Ron, as it clearly mystifies Susan. What’s up with not providing universal health care for people too young to work and earn it themselves (leaving aside the problems with adult healthcare in this country)? What principle are conservatives balancing in that case?

    Grace

  45. 45
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    This is like my Property class.

    Say that you make a good.

    Should you be able to use it whenever you want to? And why? Use is an element of ownership for most people, but it isn’t a moral imperative..

    Should you be able to prevent others from using it? And in that vein, should it matter whether or not their use conflicts with yours? (Should you be able to prevent me from looking at your art? From taking a picture of your art? Should you be able to prevent someone from sitting on your bench or walking down your road, if you’re asleep and can’t sit there/walk there yourself? Why?)

    Should you be able to decide what your things are worth? If I’m starving, can you charge me more for your food because I can’t bargain?

    Property starts with some pretty simple rights, but they eventually become farther and farther removed from the obvious. Joseph’s argument seems more than a bit tautological.

    If you START with the assumption that everyone has an absolute right to 100% of all benefits of their labors, no matter how far removed, then it’s unsurprising that you can reach a simple conclusion. But that’s a damn big pedestal to place on the simple foundation of “the moral right for one to own their body and choose what they do with it, so long as they do not infringe upon others or their property.”

    After all, where does that rule come from? Does a skyman say so? Do we reach it by agreement? Is it based on efficiency?

    If it’s god-given, then… well, let’s just disagree.
    If it’s by agreement, then you shouldn’t bitch if we agree on something else.
    If it’s about efficiency and incentives, there’s a lot of explaining left to do.

  46. 46
    Joseph says:

    Myca:

    You’re free to pay. You’re free to choose not to utilize the support infrastructure and not pay. What you can’t do … and what most libertarians seem to want to do … is utilize the infrastructure without abiding by the membership agreement. You’re not allowed to be a thief or a free loader, in other words.

    I think this argument assumes that the support infrastructure is legitimately owned by the US government in the first place. In fact, it was and is constructed and maintained using money forcibly taken from people. Furthermore, the US government violently resists (by enforcing its “regulations”) attempts by other people to enter various “support infrastructure” markets.

    Sure, I would, if the gang in question … was supported by a majority of the residents

    This goes back to the question of the legitimacy of democracy, which I have written about in my previous posts. However, this question isn’t even relevant, at least for the US government, which arguably has lost the so called “consent of the governed”

    Let’s turn it around … you’re a member of a residential co-op. …

    I’m not exactly familiar with residential co-ops, but I’m guessing they are the same as housing cooperatives. I think your example is not analogous to that of the interactions between a American and the US government, in that a housing cooperative legitimately owns property (whereas the US government does not, for reasons I’ve outlined earlier in this post) and residents explicitly opt into the policies of the cooperative when they choose the live in a co-op (whereas Americans are forced to obey the policies of the US government, by virtue of the fact that they live on property the it improperly claims ownership of).

    And good god, man, this isn’t even getting into the problem of negative externalities. Who should pay for the negative effect your economic activities have on an uninvolved third party? Right now we mitigate those costs through taxation and regulation, but since you don’t like that I’m sure you’ll have a better idea.

    The existence of negative externalities is a phenomenon caused by “public” (read: government) ownership of resources (the tragedy of the commons). With a better system of property rights, negative externalities would simply become property rights violations, which could be resolved without taxation and coercive regulation.

  47. 47
    Joseph says:

    Oh, I forgot to add:

    That’s the difference between a gang and a government.

    Both a gang and a government are groups of people that violently impose their will on others. That the latter sometimes allows its victims to join its ranks is of little consequence.

  48. 48
    JutGory says:

    Grace Annam:

    What principle are conservatives balancing in that case?

    The principle of self-reliance. The Government is not your mother and it is not your father. The Government will never care about you as much as your parents (get ready for the “abusive parent” stereotype to be trotted out as some form of refutation of a general principle that should be relatively uncontroversial). Children are the responsibility of their parents. They are not wards of the state merely as a result of their birth.

    Myca:

    Taxes are a user fee you pay for access to the support infrastructure we call America.

    Okay, but where does that get us. We are still arguing between the goalposts. Yes, taxes are necessary. Yes, taxes are evil (maybe you don’t agree). It is not a matter of tax vs. no tax (as it is with some here). It is a matter of “how much” and “what for.” Saying it is a user fee barely gets us anywhere. It certainly does not get us to universal health care from cradle to grave, with 3 square meals a day, guaranteed public education through your 4th year of post-secondary education, a car in every garage and a turkey in every oven.

    I can agree that we need taxes and we need a safety net. I just think we need a smaller one than some people here. Let’s face it: the War on Poverty has been lost.

    -Jut

  49. 49
    Bearence says:

    Joseph at 45: So we’re supposed to accept the legitimate ownership of your property (despite the fact that the money you used to buy it was earned by exploiting resources you don’t own, including but not limited to the GDP, the wealth of the Federal Reserve and the fees paid by the state to the Fed to maintain the valuation of your wealth) but not accept the legitimate ownership of the state’s property. Sorry, that doesn’t fly. The property you own was once forcibly taken from someone else, meaning that at the most, your legitimacy lies in the fact that you’ve received stolen property.

    I, on the other hand, respect the legitimacy of government ownership because I am smart enough to recognize that my wealth alone can’t afford for me the infrastructure to which I have become accustomed. I don’t have the funds to build roads or levees that keep my house from flooding, or the electrical grids that keep my lights on at night. So I understand that I pool my money into a fund with other people who want the same infrastructure. Together we have enough to fund the things we want.

    That pool and the mechanism by which it works is called the government. And the money I dedicate to building and maintaining that infrastructure is called taxes.

    Now, as I said before, you are free to move to a country that doesn’t collect taxes (and Myca said it well enough that I’m not even going to address your ridiculous gang example). But if you do, don’t expect to have an infrastructure that will support your way of life (in fact, I would prefer that anyone who doesn’t want to contribute to our infrastructure move away and stop being leeches on the system).

  50. 50
    Joseph says:

    Bearence:

    So we’re supposed to accept the legitimate ownership of your property (despite the fact that the money you used to buy it was earned by exploiting resources you don’t own, including but not limited to the GDP

    How does one “exploit” the GDP?

    the wealth of the Federal Reserve and the fees paid by the state to the Fed to maintain the valuation of your wealth

    As I said in post 41:

    Governments force individuals to use the currencies that they issue. Have you ever paid for a government’s services (which they require you to do) without using its currency? Do you think it would allow you to?

    Besides, they’re not exactly doing a good job anyway: Google Images: usd purchasing power

    I am smart enough to recognize that my wealth alone can’t afford for me the infrastructure to which I have become accustomed. I don’t have the funds to build roads or levees that keep my house from flooding, or the electrical grids that keep my lights on at night. So I understand that I pool my money into a fund with other people who want the same infrastructure. Together we have enough to fund the things we want.

    I agree entirely with you here. What I don’t agree with is the idea that a group of people is allowed to force other people to contribute to this fund.

  51. 51
    RonF says:

    Susan:

    To say that “if the government is free to take money from you then it isn’t really your money” is to deny the legitimacy of all taxation. Why are road taxes OK, then? Or taxes to build sewers? Or taxes for wars which I personally oppose? Or any tax at all? We cannot run a society above the level of individual mud huts without admitting the right of a representative government to tax for the common good,

    Taxation is legitimate insofar as it is imposed to further the objectives for which the government assessing the taxes was established. It is the job of the government to build and maintain roads, so road taxes are legitimate. It is the job of the government to provide for the common defense, so taxes to pay for armed forces and the wars they fight are legitimate – and I’ve paid taxes to fight wars I didn’t agree with as well as you have. Despite the misrepresentations and occasional outright lies I’ve seen elsewhere, it is not as far as I can tell a conservative position (either as expressed by classical conservatives or by members of the Tea Party movement) that taxation is illegitimate.

    The legitimacy of taxation fairly comes into question when it is imposed to further an objective that is not a function that the government was established to accomplish. Is it the proper objective of government to ensure “fairness”? I put that in quotes because we’ll get as many definitions of what’s “fair” as we have people on this blog. Is it “unfair” that someone born into a wealthy family has advantages in pursuing education and careers over someone who was born into a poor family? Is it then the proper function of government to attempt to remove that advantage?

    Take education as an example. It’s a long-standing consensus across the country that the State should provide education to all to a certain level without charge. I agree with this consensus (although I reserve my opinion as to whether the currently used methods are a good way to do it). That raises up everyone to a particular minimal level of education. Wealthy people can afford to spend more and get a better one, though – they can send their kids to a private school with more facilities than the public ones and teachers who don’t have tenure or a union and are easier to fire, they can afford to put their kids into any university they can get admitted to, etc. So while it’s agreeable that the State raise educational opportunities for non-wealthy people up, is it proper for the government to pull down the opportunities for wealthy people through taxation?

    Sounds absurd, to me anyway. But that’s what the inheritance tax seems to be an attempt to establish – a way to impose “fairness”, to remove the ability of people to pass an advantage down to their children. The fact that the children have not earned it is immaterial to me. What has been earned is the right of those who first accumulated the wealth to pass an advantage along to their children, and I don’t see where it’s legitimate for a government to interfere with that.

    So, now to healthcare. If you want to argue whether the State should tax people to pay for a certain level of healthcare for those who cannot afford it, I lean towards the proponents of such. I don’t think it’s a right guaranteed in the Constitution, but I don’t see it banned in there either. If it’s the will of the people then it’s a legitimate action for the government to establish such an entitlement and to tax people to support it. But that is a far cry from saying that the Affordable Care Act is a) an effective way to do this, b) an affordable way to do this, c) limited to that objective, d) a legitimate action for a government to impose, or e) Constitutional. The ACA does not face such opposition because it will guarantee healthcare assistance to poor sick kids. It faces opposition because people suspect (I haven’t read all 2000+ pages of it, nor do I ever anticipate doing so) that one of the objectives of it’s proponents is to impose “fairness” – with all the conflict that establishing what’s “fair” implies – in the American healthcare system and to impose governmental control over it to establish such.

    I can’t accept the initial premise that conservatives think the US should be a “merit-based system”. I haven’t heard people use that phrase. Usually the phrase is “Market based system” or “Free enterprise”. “Merit based system” seems like a nice concept, but then we get into sticky issues of who gets to decide what’s meritable and what isn’t. Now, it’s true that in a market based system poor people may be poor because they did things they shouldn’t have, or they may be poor because of things they had little control over. I personally feel that it’s the moral responsibility of those who have to help out those who have not. Government is a useful tool to accomplish this. But it’s not the only tool, and it’s not necessarily the default tool.

    It seems to be your premise that conservatives oppose helping out poor people. That’s ridiculous. What’s fair to say is that conservatives oppose the implementation of the ACA. But one is not equivalent to the other.

  52. 52
    Bearence says:

    “I agree entirely with you here. What I don’t agree with is the idea that a group of people is allowed to force other people to contribute to this fund.”

    But see, this is the problem with your position. I also think you shouldn’t be forced to contribute to the fund. BUT–and this is where your disconnect lies–if you aren’t going to contribute to the fund, you shouldn’t be allowed to use the infrastructure the fund covers. and yet, here you are, on an internet the fund developed; using electricity from a grid built and maintained by the fund; in a building, I assume, which was subsidized by the fund (at the very least in its oversight of safety and materials standards); in a building which is protected by police and fire departments paid for by the fund…I could go on and on. But what it comes down to is simply this: if you don’t want to contribute to the fund, don’t. But if that’s the case, stop being a leech on that fund. Go Galt and save us all from the theft your use of the infrastructure represents.

  53. 53
    Joseph says:

    gin-and-whiskey:

    Say that you make a good.

    Should you be able to use it whenever you want to? And why?

    Yes, because you made it.

    Use is an element of ownership for most people, but it isn’t a moral imperative..

    That’s a fair point. As I’ve said before:

    Everything we are discussing is just an abstraction on top of the physical reality of “might makes right”. As such, I’m arguing that my abstraction is a better one than those commonly believed.

    Should you be able to prevent others from using it?

    Yes, because you made it.

    Should you be able to prevent me from looking at your art? From taking a picture of your art?

    If you put your art in a place where others can see it without trespassing on your property (again, I acknowledge that land ownership is a trickier issue), then you have no right to force people not to look at or take pictures of your art.

    Should you be able to prevent someone from sitting on your bench or walking down your road, if you’re asleep and can’t sit there/walk there yourself? Why?

    Yes, if you made it or otherwise rightfully acquired it. That said, I’ll might think poorly of a person who does something like this, and if they keep it up, I might choose to publicly shun them, thereby nonviolently pressuring them to change their ways. What I won’t do is violently force them to allow people to use their otherwise-unused property.

    Should you be able to decide what your things are worth?

    Each person decides what things are worth to them. This is known as the subjective theory of value. What person A doesn’t have the right to do is force person B to participate in a transaction on the grounds that A thinks that B would be better off if the transaction occurred.

    If I’m starving, can you charge me more for your food because I can’t bargain?

    I would be within my rights to do so. However, as I explained about the bench/road example above, I would almost certainly be ostracized if I price-gouged a desperate person.

    After all, where does that rule come from?

    If it’s by agreement, then you shouldn’t bitch if we agree on something else.

    Would you say the same to slaves, or to women before suffrage, or to the vast numbers of people currently suffering under dictatorships around the world? I’m having a hard time considering “stop bitching” to be a valid argument.

    If it’s about efficiency and incentives, there’s a lot of explaining left to do.

    Indeed, there has been a large amount of thought put into the efficiency of a voluntary free market society, some of which can be found in this essay: The Use of Knowledge in Society, by Friedrich Hayek (9 pages). However, I can begin to sum it up by asking a few simple questions. Who has the best knowledge about what you want, other than yourself? Is it even possible for someone to have better knowledge than you concerning what your desires are? Why should someone who is not you get to determine how you allocate the resources at your disposal?

  54. 54
    Joseph says:

    Bearence:

    But what it comes down to is simply this: if you don’t want to contribute to the fund, don’t. But if that’s the case, stop being a leech on that fund. Go Galt and save us all from the theft your use of the infrastructure represents.

    You’ve got a good point. I do in fact pay taxes, whether or not I believe them to be legitimate. However, as I said earlier, we must remember that governments violently resist competition in the infrastructure markets. It is not as if I am free to simply opt out and set up my own infrastructure with my friends. At the very least, some government inspector will show up and harass me about what I’m doing. He might even go so far as to threaten me with theft (aka fines), kidnapping (aka imprisonment), and even murder (aka execution) if I ignore or resist the harassment he and other employees of government subject me to.

  55. 55
    Joseph says:

    Another point about the funding of infrastructure, Bearence: I would be far less opposed to the government’s method of funding infrastructure and services if it were a pay-as-you-go model, where I pay for infrastructure/services in proportion to the extent that I use them, much like toll roads are today. Why should I have to pay for “services” that I don’t even use, like killing brown people overseas, or locking people up for possessing or consuming certain substances?

  56. 56
    Bearence says:

    You could indeed build infrastructure if you want. My grandfather just built a road, in fact, that led from the highway to his house, and had no problem whatsoever with the state. So your assertion that the state violently opposes private infrastructure building is just untrue. The difference, of course, is that my grandfather’s road is entirely on his property, will be used by no one but him and will be maintained entirely by him. The state, however, gets involved at the point that the road you build affects other people. Are you putting your road across property owned by someone else? Is the material you’re building your road with draining toxic chemicals into the surrounding environment? If your road is open to others to use (either free or or for a fee), is it safe enough that it won’t cause a burden on the state if something happens and users get hurt? These (and many others) are state interests because your personal infrastructure will (not might) have overlap with the state-developed infrastructure. and it is at that point of overlap that the state is justified in getting involved with how you create your infrastructure.

    Secondly, pay-as-you-go taxation doesn’t work because it places upon the individual the onus of proving that they paid into the system according to the services they wish to use. For example, if your house catches fire in the middle of the night, do you want to have to show the fire department a receipt before they’ll put out the fire? Would you even want to spend the time looking for the receipt instead of just getting out of the burning building? Further, do you really want to live in a place where you’re limited to what streets you’re allowed to walk or drive on, based upon the amount of money you paid to the government? That sounds like just the opposite of what a Libertarian would want.

  57. 57
    Susan says:

    This discussion has veered WAY off the question I originally asked (while I was busy trying to make a living…), but it is very interesting nonetheless. The legitimacy of taxation at all is an interesting but probably irrelevant discussion. (Taxation, like death, as the saying goes, is one of the unavoidable realities of life. Good luck abolishing it!!) But interesting, as I say.

    Trying to distill all of this, I think I am hearing that the far-conservative wing of political thought here believes that the race is to the strong, and that people who fall behind, whether through personal fault or through undeserved happenstance, are just out of luck, unless they can get free-will offerings from someone, private or institutional. (Which isn’t statistically likely.) Just as people who are born well in mind and body, and into wealthy families, are quite likely to do well, and their earnings should not be tapped to assist those who were not so lucky. (Being born whole into wealth is luck, not merit.)

    I would appreciate contradiction on this point, or correction. But from what I’ve read so far, I’m not likely to get any contradiction on this point. This is what I’m getting as an answer to my original question, which is what I asked for.

    Thank you all for your input. I have learned something here.

    (I originally found this site, back in the day, for its reasoned and balanced treatment of the Theresa Schiavo controversy. I am pleased to see that the level of discourse remains very high here, and thank you to you all, and especially to our hosts!!!)

  58. 58
    Joseph says:

    The legitimacy of taxation at all is an interesting but probably irrelevant discussion.

    I’m not sure I see how it is irrelevant, Susan. Indeed, it seems to be at the foundation of the various playing-field-leveling ideas you are proposing. How would these ideas be carried out, if not via taxation (whether it be blatant, like it is for Americans on April 15, or disguised, like expansionary monetary policy)?

  59. 59
    Susan says:

    It’s unrealistic, Joseph, because taxation (one of the eternal verities, along with death) is most unlikely to be abolished any time before the Second Coming. (Or the First Coming, according to your position.)

    It’s not gonna happen. Can we talk about things that might actually happen? Sure, if we’re all “raptured” to another realm we won’t have a problem, (also, elves), but I don’t think discussing these possibilities in detail is a useful endeavor. This is all fun, but I’m trying to live in the real world here on planet earth. Also, I work for a living, so have limited time for discussions.

    My opinion only, you may hold another.

  60. 60
    JutGory says:

    Susan @ 57:

    Trying to distill all of this, I think I am hearing that the far-conservative wing of political thought here believes that the race is to the strong, and that people who fall behind, whether through personal fault or through undeserved happenstance, are just out of luck, unless they can get free-will offerings from someone, private or institutional.

    Wait a second. I have gone through the comments and the “race to the strong” phrase jumped out at me. Let’s review:

    Susan @5:

    The race is to the strong, is that the idea? And anyone who develops any sort of weakness, well, it’s probably their own fault? And in any case, let them get out of the way by dying?

    It’s a position, I guess. Is that really the conservative answer? That’s all I asked.

    Susan @15:

    Robert? RonF? The race (and life) is to the strong, right? The weak, disabled babies, people hit by cars….well, they’re not strong, so the life is not to them. We’re all very sorry, but we’re not going to help.

    Have I got this straight?

    So, let me get this straight: your comment in 57 distilled the exact same thing you had already stated in comments 5 and 15. That is not a distillation; that is a reiteration of what you said in the first place.

    Now, I know that I am one of the most boring commenters on this site and nobody likes me, but somebody needs to quote me, so, since you did it with yourself, I will do it with me.

    JutGory @32:

    Whether you admit it or not, the debate is more often about the size of [the safety net], rather than whether it should exist at all. Private charities should have a bigger role than they do; government should have a smaller role than it does. But, you cast the other side as being all or nothing and bring up cases that many might agree are appropriate uses of the safety net. But, what about the guy in Michigan who won 2 million dollars in the lottery and is still getting food stamps? Do you think he should still be getting free food from the Government?

    JutGory @48:

    It is not a matter of tax vs. no tax (as it is with some here). It is a matter of “how much” and “what for.” Saying it is a user fee barely gets us anywhere. It certainly does not get us to universal health care from cradle to grave, with 3 square meals a day, guaranteed public education through your 4th year of post-secondary education, a car in every garage and a turkey in every oven.

    I can agree that we need taxes and we need a safety net. I just think we need a smaller one than some people here. Let’s face it: the War on Poverty has been lost.

    Yes, there has been a lot of debate about taxes here. However, some of us here accept taxes as a necessary evil. We can always debate which ones are better or worse; we can also debate levels of taxation; and, finally, we can debate whether some forms of welfare are better than others.

    I tried to do that (however unsuccessfully), but it seems disingenuous for you to “distil” the very conclusion you started out with, state that you don’t think you will be contradicted, and then state that you have “learned something.”

    -Jut

  61. 61
    Lara says:

    I posit that no one is entitled to goods and services from anyone else, merely because they happen to exist. Let me explain. There are many people in the world living lives far worse than ours. Would you say that we are obligated to help them, just because we are able to?

    Yes. Of course. The amount that we are able to help people living worse lives than ours will vary according to our resources, but I would not subscribe to any version of morality which denies that such an obligation exists.

    However, the question of whether “we” should help “them” is something of a side issue. The claim that taxation is just ultimately derives from the premise that we collectively benefit more from the presence of government than we suffer from its exactions. In a modern democratic society such as the United States, evidence to support this premise abounds. (In other historical settings, the benefits of taxation are more debatable.) It should perhaps be easier to renounce one’s U.S. citizenship if one finds the social compact of the United States intolerable, and wishes to settle elsewhere. Nevertheless, as long as one is supported by the other members of society, and has a voice in shaping that society’s rules, it is eminently fair that one be required to contribute to that society according to one’s ability to do so.

    Everything we are discussing is just an abstraction on top of the physical reality of “might makes right”. As such, I’m arguing that my abstraction is a better one than those commonly believed.

    I think this really gets to the central problem of the conversation – conflicting and fundamentally incompatible visions of the ideal society. The society in which I wish to live is one whose members insure each other against the inevitable calamities of life, so that a diagnosis of cancer, or being orphaned at a young age, or outliving one’s children, does not result in destitution or worse. According to that vision of society, we are called upon to aid others so that we may be aided ourselves if the worst comes to pass. Your vision, though, is of a society in which “no one is entitled to goods and services from anyone else, merely because they happen to exist.” This brings us back again to Susan’s original question – in your ideal society, what happens to the people described in Susan’s examples? And given the significant role of chance in determining individual fortunes, why should others agree that your abstraction is the superior one?

  62. 62
    Susan says:

    Jut,

    Seems fair enough, but it’s a lot of inference.

    I think I read reasonably well, and I cannot for the life of me figure out what the “conservative” position on these issues may be. A whole bunch of folks don’t think taxation is at all legitimate (roads! something that has not come to stay!); some folks think, I guess, that the “safety net” should be a lot smaller than it is, but I can’t find anything specific. (How much smaller exactly? How should we weed out the excess? And what happens to this “excess” then?) So much of the discussion has been about how we shouldn’t have taxes at all that I’m confused.

    I do work, and I can’t crawl over everything posted here with a fine comb (though I do try to read everything for substance), and I really do apologize for my ignorance. Can anyone here (maybe you, Jut?) state the “conservative” position in a few sentences that I and everyone here in my position can understand? I really am open to new ideas: what we’re doing now doesn’t seem to work.

    How about you, Jut? I can state my position, I think, with reasonable clarity. Can you do the same for your part? I’m really not trying to be dense here, and I think I am fairly smart. Perhaps you can help me out!

    People here and everywhere assume hostility. I’m really open to changing my position, depending on what I hear here. If the helpless are to be pushed over the side, so bad too bad I’m not with you. If you have another plan, please articulate.

    I do believe that people who are helpless should receive help from the community. In some form. So shoot me.

    This has not been a linear discussion. I’m hoping that you can condense it for me in a few words comprehensible to someone who holds three graduate degrees, one of them a doctorate. But who also doesn’t have time or energy to figure out whether we need paved roads or not.

    This is an opportunity here.

  63. 63
    Bearence says:

    Jut, I’m sorry I missed it when you posted, “But, what about the guy in Michigan who won 2 million dollars in the lottery and is still getting food stamps? Do you think he should still be getting free food from the Government? ”

    Do you think this guy is a common occurrence? Or do you think he’s an exception?

  64. 64
    Joseph says:

    Bearence, that’s a fair point regarding your grandfather, I’m glad to hear he was able to build his road. What do you say of stories like this? Jackson Man Jailed For Shingling I have a couple of concerns about the other parts of your post, though.

    Are you putting your road across property owned by someone else? Is the material you’re building your road with draining toxic chemicals into the surrounding environment?

    I agree, these are valid complaints. People should be able to do as they wish with their bodies and property, so long as they do not infringe upon the equal rights of others.

    If your road is open to others to use (either free or or for a fee), is it safe enough that it won’t cause a burden on the state if something happens and users get hurt?

    This is where it gets troublesome, in my opinion. One of the reasons the state is burdened by unsafe roads is because it has decided to subsidize medical treatment (think of emergency rooms) using tax dollars. The state has taken it upon itself to treat people that show up in emergency rooms, regardless of their ability to pay. It is not as if the person at risk chose to sign up for a state medical insurance plan, in which case the state would have an interest in regulating the activities of the insured. Further, the state should not be interfering with the construction of “unsafe” roads, it should simply prohibit those people it provides emergency room treatment for from using the road. In my opinion, the type of system you are promoting leads to incidents like these:
    Lemonade-Stand Crackdown Continues: Cops Make Girls Cry From Georgia to Wisconsin
    Lemonade is Not a Crime

    Secondly, pay-as-you-go taxation doesn’t work …

    I think you’re making a lot of assumptions about how such a system would be set up. Do you honestly think a fire department wouldn’t have a better system for determining coverage than the possession of a receipt? Furthermore, they likely would have an incentive to control the fire anyway, to prevent it spreading to property they know they cover.

    do you really want to live in a place where you’re limited to what streets you’re allowed to walk or drive on, based upon the amount of money you paid to the government? That sounds like just the opposite of what a Libertarian would want.

    It would be a vast improvement over the current system, in which, I repeat, I am forced to pay for the murder and kidnapping of people I’ve never even met.

  65. 65
    Jake Squid says:

    Do you honestly think a fire department wouldn’t have a better system for determining coverage than the possession of a receipt? Furthermore, they likely would have an incentive to control the fire anyway, to prevent it spreading to property they know they cover.

    Two things on this. First, even better systems fail sometimes. Usually because the data was entered incorrectly or hasn’t been entered yet. I’ve seen problems with medical insurance eligibility because of both of those problems. In the case of fire departments, there is no way to rectify the damage caused by a delay. Second, yeah, they have incentive to control the fire, but not to keep your house from burning to the ground.

  66. 66
    Joseph says:

    Susan, whether or not the abolition of taxes is realistic, we can still discuss whether taxation is legitimate. In fact, we should do so before we attempt to increase taxation. After all, if we find that it is not, that is a strong argument against doing it even more. Indeed, if that is the case, we should strive for as little taxation as possible. Of course, on the other hand, if taxation is legitimate, then we can discuss the proper extent of it.

    I do believe that people who are helpless should receive help from the community. In some form.

    I agree, especially about the “in some form” part. Where we seem to differ is on whether having the government take care of things is the best way to go about it. I believe that forcing people to help others (which is what governments do, for varying definitions of “help”) is not virtuous and should not be done. I think people should be free to help others as they see fit.

    Even though they have to pay taxes, Americans are still very charitable:
    http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-06-25-charitable_N.htm. On the other hand, the state attempts to suppress people who take responsibility and behave charitably:
    20 Orlando Police Steal food from Children, Arrest 6 MORE for feeding the Hungry, all under the guise of regulations. I think that this is not the way things should be.

  67. 67
    Joseph says:

    Jake Squid, I agree that all systems can fail. No societal structure can guarantee that everything will work out as it should. In fact, your link shows that the way a government fire department addressed these problems did not work.

    To say that “there is no way to rectify the damage caused by a delay” seems misleading to me. For example, the family mentioned in your link could sue the fire department for damages. Of course, that might not work, but what do you expect when both the defendant and the court are government-owned?

  68. 68
    Simple Truth says:

    As far as I can tell, the Conservative position in many ways boils down to individuals wanting the choice of what to do with what they feel they’ve earned. It’s at the core of smaller government ideas, free market, etc. They want their vote/dollar/opinion to matter.
    They see the system that’s been built now as a liberal one, that is irresponsible and raises taxes rather than cut out unnecessary spending. It’s too big and too corrupt to control. They see the way its spiraling downward (at least, that’s the general consensus) and want to fix it so that their children have opportunity still.
    I won’t go into more detail, but I answered because I think Grace or Susan was asking for the conservative position, and I didn’t see a good answer. (FTR – I’m more of a liberal, so I hope I didn’t misrepresent anyone.)

  69. 69
    Grace Annam says:

    JutGory:

    The principle of self-reliance. The Government is not your mother and it is not your father.

    And that’s fine for adults who can care for themselves. But Susan and I were talking about healthcare for children, and helping adults who demonstrably cannot help themselves, not through being lazy, but through being physically paralyzed. How does the principle of self-reliance work, in such a case? I simply do not have it in me to walk up to a quadriplegic human being and say, “You know, if only you were more self-reliant, you’d be aaaaaaaaall set.”

    The Government will never care about you as much as your parents (get ready for the “abusive parent” stereotype to be trotted out as some form of refutation of a general principle that should be relatively uncontroversial).

    Doesn’t take an abusive parent; just takes an absent parent. The Government which builds roads, funds public libraries and public schools, and so on and so forth, manifestly cares more about a child than a parent who has no contact with his or her child.

    Children are the responsibility of their parents. They are not wards of the state merely as a result of their birth.

    To an extent, they are. That’s why we have child protection laws. That’s why there is a foster care system. If we take this notion that the state has no responsibility to its logical extreme, then we should toss out laws requiring that children be seat-belted, or educated, or sheltered, or fed. When the parents fail to care for their children, it is insufficient for The State to punish the parents. The State must also rescue the children from the endangering circumstances.

    To do otherwise is to pass by on the other side, and to do it to a child.

    Grace

  70. 70
    Grace Annam says:

    RonF:

    Is it the proper objective of government to ensure “fairness”? I put that in quotes because we’ll get as many definitions of what’s “fair” as we have people on this blog. Is it “unfair” that someone born into a wealthy family has advantages in pursuing education and careers over someone who was born into a poor family? Is it then the proper function of government to attempt to remove that advantage?

    Let me emphasize that I am not advocating that Government should fix all of society’s ills by attempting to make us all equal. I was not proposing “Harrison Bergeron”. Disaster is not terribly far down that road.

    But surely there’s some low-hanging fruit which would even up the field in the areas where it is most resembles Russian roulette. Areas like medical care for children, and for adult catastrophic illness and injury. If we addressed some of those, it would certainly put Conservatives on firmer ground when they say something like, “Hey, I earned what I have, and you had a fair shot, so I don’t want to hear it.”

    I put my observations in the same post with Susan’s question because I thought they were related. Her question was pretty simple, I thought: what do Conservatives propose that a society do about people who, through no fault of their own, cannot care for themselves. She gave a bunch of examples: person hit by indigent bad driver, the children of that person who don’t have healthcare, and others.

    Robert then dodged the question, declaring that Susan seemed “uneducable”, and thus not worth his time and effort.

    Joseph declared Susan’s question to be the wrong one, and wanted to change it to a question asking what right anyone else has to take his property, as though it would be impossible to discover a moral justification when a starving person steals a loaf of bread from someone who has more food than necessary.

    But then, JutGory rose like a shining beacon of hope and gave the most direct answer we’ve had so far:

    The principle of self-reliance. The Government is not your mother and it is not your father.

    And there, Susan, you have it. When someone has lost everything and is lying shattered in the ditch, our society has no responsibility. Let them suffer and die.

    Here, I will make a confession: when I was very young, very inexperienced, quite healthy, very privileged, and totally unaware of my inexperience and privilege, I flirted briefly with libertarianism. It has its attractions, especially when your immediate needs are met. For one thing, it absolves you of worrying about anyone else.

    Then I got some life experience and grew up. At some minimal, worst-case level, I am, in fact, my brother’s keeper. He is mine. If I do something with my children which seems unsafe to other responsible adults, they have a right and a moral obligation to intervene, and if we still disagree, then we both have a right to have an independent third party decide who’s right. I think that property rights are nifty and many good things flow from them, but I also think that property rights must be balanced with other rights from which good things flow, and one of those is a right to help from your fellow human beings when the alternative is terrible suffering which you cannot ameliorate, and which they can.

    Judging by this thread, Conservatives and libertarians disagree. Good to know.

    Grace

  71. 71
    marmalade says:

    Joseph. Imagine that tomorrow you – yes, you! – get your moral compass imposed on the rest of the country. POOF! US government, state government, local government employees all wake up, roll out of bed, and say to their spouses – “you know, taking a paycheck that (in very small part) comes from Joseph’s wages is downright immoral, we’re closing up the capitol, statehouse, and firehouse this moment. Sure, if someone wants to pay into charity now and then, that’s fine. But NO forced taxation.” They then all go off to live in Europe (because obviously government employees are lazy bastards who have no marketable skills in a perfectly free economy).

    What happens next, in this morally superior country?

    Soon the local thugs get together and forcibly take all the good property and sex partners. They work out deals between themselves to maintain this arrangement, or – when they can’t make a deal – they conscript you and your children to go bloody the peasants who live near that other thug across the river. Non-thug children get hard labor, not school, and forget about a doctor. Doesn’t matter if among those kids is the next Marie Curie or not, it’s the factories for them. And societal innovation? The real game changers? A trickle.

    But hey, anything you make you get to keep – right? As long as you’ve got the guns and smarts to beat off the thugs.

    THAT is the environment that led to our system of government, created by men and women who knew that system intimately. Taxation and regulation by a representative government* is morally acceptable because – as an empirically practical matter – it is far, far better for everyone (except, maybe, the thugs) than any alternative.

    *You may argue that our government does not represent the electorate well anymore – and I’ll agree with you there.

  72. 72
    Joseph says:

    marmalade, you seem to buy into a concept much like Hobbes’ state of nature. Let me ask you this: If people are inherently so incredibly evil, how can concentrating power among some of them (the government), and telling the others that this group has moral authority over them likely to help things? To me, it seems that the most evil of people would become members of government, where they are in a position most conducive to doing the terrible things you mention in your post. Likewise, if the people who are governed have any inclination towards good, towards resisting the evil government, it is suppressed because they are convinced of the government’s moral legitimacy.

    Sure, you can say that the US government has things like the Constitution to restrain its powers, but the last time I checked, mere sheets of paper with words written on them couldn’t stop me from doing anything. Only other people have that power. A government is just the biggest, strongest, gang of thugs. If you don’t believe me, simply look at all the horrible crimes committed by governments. You can start here: Democide.

  73. 73
    JutGory says:

    Grace Amman @70:

    But then, JutGory rose like a shining beacon of hope and gave the most direct answer we’ve had so far:

    The principle of self-reliance. The Government is not your mother and it is not your father.

    And there, Susan, you have it. When someone has lost everything and is lying shattered in the ditch, our society has no responsibility. Let them suffer and die.

    Great example of word-twisting. I suppose that if you are not in favor of self-reliance, you are in favor of government dependence. Is that your principle: the Government is your parent? You should get free lifetime medical care, a house, a car, 3 meals a day, and an allowance, regardless of your condition? No?

    Then, what is your principle? I have already said that there should be a safety net, but that the private sector charities should have a bigger role. You bring up hypothetical examples that I happen to think may have a proper role in Government. I bring up a real example of someone gaming the system. Is that okay to game the system? Is it okay to have a millionaire receiving food stamps? I mean, he DID qualify for them (only because the Government had piss-poor rules for determining who can qualify-that would have never happened with a private charity).

    Grace Amman & Susan: I do not think you are going to get any closer to a principle than this (at least from me): there is going to be a constant tension between the expectation that people take care of themselves and the need to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves. It is a tension between dependence and independence. The problem is that the Government moves toward greater and greater dependence. Why? Because the Government has power when people are dependent on it. The more dependent they are on Government, the more power Government has. People like having power over others. The Government LIKES to control people. You have provides excellent examples of the extent to which Government will intrude on our lives to control our behavior.

    Susan @62:

    some folks think, I guess, that the “safety net” should be a lot smaller than it is, but I can’t find anything specific. (How much smaller exactly? How should we weed out the excess? And what happens to this “excess” then?)

    My question for you: how much bigger is it going to get? How much is too much? Frankly, I do not think either of us can put out principled arguments at that point, because it is matter of making a judgment about specific cases. But, as I suggested above, the Government will always look for new ways to spend money to get votes and remain powerful. That needs to be resisted.

    -Jut

  74. 74
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Susan says:
    August 18, 2011 at 2:14 pm
    …How about you, Jut? I can state my position, I think, with reasonable clarity.

    Have you?

    The problem here is that pretty much every position has holes, and every position is subject to attack. (Except for mine, of course, which are always perfect! What? You disagree? Uh oh…)

    So it’s ridiculous IMO to stick a position up there and snipe at it, or to demand that someone “defend a position” in a vacuum. That just ignores reality: the world works by small changes. There are an infinite number of positions, and a tiny number of perfect, internally consistent, ones (if there are any at all.) A position doesn’t have to be perfect to make sense, it just has to be better than the alternatives.

    If Susan posts her position and JG posts hers (his?) then we will have two things to discuss and the discussion will make much more sense.

  75. 75
    Lara says:

    To me, it seems that the most evil of people would become members of government, where they are in a position most conducive to doing the terrible things you mention in your post.

    Joseph, just to clarify, do you actually believe this to be the case in the present-day U.S., or were you talking about a hypothetical world in which Hobbes’ views of human nature are accurate? If it’s the former, do you happen to know any people who work for local, state, or national governments?

  76. 76
    Grace Annam says:

    I suppose that if you are not in favor of self-reliance, you are in favor of government dependence. Is that your principle: the Government is your parent?

    You object to my characterization, and then you attempt that?

    You’ve got me, JutGory. Since I won’t advocate for people who manifestly cannot help themselves in their current circumstances to, um, help themselves, then I must be a mindless slave to the Nanny State. Clearly, it is an all-or-nothing situation, with no ground at all between the polar opposites of no government at all and totalitarian dictatorship.

    Then, what is your principle?

    In this case, my principle is pragmatic: I am unwilling to walk past someone who has fallen and can’t get up. So I help, my personal self, and I expect others to help, too, and I think less of them when they don’t.

    I have already said that there should be a safety net, but that the private sector charities should have a bigger role.

    In an ideal world, sure, private charities would take care of everything. They would have all the funding they need, and they would never dictate put harmful conditions on the people they are helping. But since they don’t, and there are still people in dire need, I think there is a role for government.

    You bring up hypothetical examples that I happen to think may have a proper role in Government. I bring up a real example of someone gaming the system.

    Susan? JutGory would like real examples. Would you like to do the honors?

    Is that okay to game the system? Is it okay to have a millionaire receiving food stamps? I mean, he DID qualify for them (only because the Government had piss-poor rules for determining who can qualify-that would have never happened with a private charity).

    You have given a good example of someone who, in principle, should not be permitted to game the system. However, if the price of keeping him from gaming the system is that children who urgently need medical care don’t get it, then it’s not a price I’m willing to pay. Set up whatever system you like, private, public, or whatever. There will always be people who steal from it. We can and should work to minimize that. But the fact that there is theft should not so horrify us that we give up on people who will die or suffer horribly without us. That’s just a fact of life with messy solutions in the real world.

    Susan asked questions about one extreme end of a curve. You called her attention to the other end of the curve. But that’s not the end she asked her questions about.

    She’s not asking you to propose a perfect solution. She’s just asking whether you have one, and what it is.

    JutGory, to Susan:

    Frankly, I do not think either of us can put out principled arguments at that point, because it is matter of making a judgment about specific cases.

    Okay, then let’s do that. Maybe that will shed some light. Susan? Could you offer one of the specific examples you had in mind, so that JutGory or anyone else can outline, systemically, how such a case should be addressed?

    Grace

  77. 77
    JutGory says:

    Grace Amman @76:

    You object to my characterization, and then you attempt that?

    Yes, I was trying to be ironic/facetious, like you did here:

    Clearly, it is an all-or-nothing situation, with no ground at all between the polar opposites of no government at all and totalitarian dictatorship.

    I was trying to show that it is not an all or nothing scenario. We agree on that, right?

    In this case, my principle is pragmatic: I am unwilling to walk past someone who has fallen and can’t get up. So I help, my personal self, and I expect others to help, too, and I think less of them when they don’t.

    We agree there, too. It is better when charity is done voluntarily out of personal good will. However, government charity (or welfare) is not funded voluntarily. That is why some people have problems with it.

    JutGory would like real examples. Would you like to do the honors?

    Actually, I don’t need examples. I was merely commenting on the fact that you and Susan bring up a parade of horribles, but nobody (except Bearance @63) would address a real example of the poor way in which Government performs “charity”).

    Could you offer one of the specific examples you had in mind, so that JutGory or anyone else can outline, systemically, how such a case should be addressed?

    Actually, my point is a bit different. My point would be more on broader policy. Let’s say that we agree that food stamps are legitimate (and let’s leave out the fraud that may be involved with people who qualify). Okay, do we then need “free and reduced” lunches at public school? I do not have number, so don’t ask for them. But, I would bet that there is a poor family out there that receive food stamps (or EBT, or whatever it is called), who has a child in the public school that also receives free or reduced lunches. (Actually, I would bet there are a lot, but, like I said, I don’t have the numbers.) WHY? If we are already providing people with the means to get food, why are we also simply providing them with free lunches, which I think is being (or has been) expanded to breakfast in some places?

    This is just one example of what appears to be redundancy in the system (and a wasteful one at that. And, I am sure you could hypothesize that the EBT benefits might get used to buy cigarettes or unhealthy food items and that that safety net needs ANOTHER safety net in the form of free lunches so that children with bad parents do not starve. But, where does it end?

    Another example could be AFDC and WIC (don’t have as many details), but I bet there could be overlap there, not to mention inefficiency.

    -Jut

  78. 78
    Grace Annam says:

    I was trying to show that it is not an all or nothing scenario. We agree on that, right?

    We do.

    Since neither Susan nor I ever asserted it was all-or-nothing, I don’t know why you pointed that out. But okay.

    We agree there, too. It is better when charity is done voluntarily out of personal good will. However, government charity (or welfare) is not funded voluntarily. That is why some people have problems with it.

    Sure.

    So,

    The 85 year old woman who took care of her family all her years, her husband is dead, no pension from the bankrupt former employer? Her only son died in a car accident?

    What should our society do in such a case?

    Grace

  79. 79
    Joseph says:

    Joseph, just to clarify, do you actually believe this to be the case in the present-day U.S., or were you talking about a hypothetical world in which Hobbes’ views of human nature are accurate?

    No, I don’t subscribe to a Hobbesian state of nature. I believe that most people are intrinsically good. Think about you, me, and the other people in this discussion. Do you believe we would resort to violence against each other in the absence of a State? If so, I’m sorry we haven’t given you a civil impression of ourselves. If not, why do some people seem to fear the “unwashed masses”? I think it’s because the State has a tendency to convince us that we are to fear each other, and they cultivate a sense of dependency upon it, while simultaneous encouraging conditions that cause people to act out in violent ways (think about the various ways the poor get screwed over by the big business/government partnership).

    I believe that power has corrupting effects, and there’s been research done that backs up my belief: 5 Scientific Reasons Powerful People Will Always Suck. If we discard this idea that people need to be ruled, I think self-responsibility and mutual respect for each other will become present in the majority of society. As such, we will be better able to voluntarily cooperate to defend ourselves against outlaws, people who think violence is a legitimate way of interacting with others.

  80. 80
    Susan says:

    OK, I’ll get specific (though I have to admit that I haven’t followed all the nuances of this argument).

    I know personally a man in his 40′s who has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. (Not wrongly either, he really is crazy!) He’s far too sick to work. He has no surviving family. (Since this kind of thing does tend to be hereditary, his only brother, who also had the disorder, committed suicide some years ago.) Let’s call him John, which seems right, because that’s his name.

    If John gets the right medications (and luckily he is well enough to take them regularly) and also gets some financial support, he can patch it together. The medications, however, since some of them are courtesy of Big Pharma, are quite expensive, and since John cannot work he cannot earn the money to buy them, nor can he cover his rent, his food and his other medical expenses by his own efforts.

    Bear in mind that schizophrenia is not anyone’s fault. We’ve been able to determine that something like 98% of the disorder is hereditary, and the only environmental factors we can identify are pre-natal. John is completely blameless here, and it could have happened to anyone.

    Now I hear candidates like Ms. Bachmann advocating cutting social security (John is on SSI), cutting Medicaid and Medicare (John gets his medical care from Medicaid, and the reimbursements are already so low that he has trouble finding doctors who will treat him. He’s just barely making it. He can’t take any more cuts. And if these programs are abolished?

    So far as I know, Ms. Bachmann has not explained to us what she would plan to do to assist people like John. Nothing, I think. At least no suggestions have been published that I’ve heard about, and no anxiety has been expressed on this point.

    So if those cuts and eliminations of programs go through, and no angels appear out of the woodwork, John will end up the victim of his illness, crazy and on the streets. (Thus degrading the quality of life for the rest of us, by the way.) The only bright side is, he won’t be alone out there, because Zoe (age 48, bi-polar, same situation, currently just scraping by in a slum apartment) and Pat (age 29, Bi-polar, autistic and psychotic, in a slum SRO) and Frank (age 50, schizophrenic, another SRO resident) will be out there too.

    Should we as a society do anything for these people? In primitive societies, where resources were scarce, we just turned them loose, and they died, of mishap or starvation or predation. If you think about it, that’s what we’re already doing a lot of. Should we just go the whole hog and abandon them completely?

  81. 81
    JutGory says:

    Susan,

    To some extent, we are talking past each other. You are talking more about assisting people who can not take care of themselves because of medical reasons, or the elderly. I have been talking more about, for lack of a better phrase, “need-based” welfare programs (not to mention any number of different types of Government spending that are not considered welfare).

    I agree that the people you describe should get help (and the Government may be one solution and it may be the best solution). They genuinely cannot function or survive without help. But, this is far afield from the issue of meritocracy; the people you describe will likely never achieve even a “normal” standard of living, even if they are able to function in society.

    When I say (as I have repeatedly) that the safety net should be smaller, I would not exclude these types of people. But, like I said, it is a judgment call. Some may say: yes, we will help them, but we are still getting rid of SSDI and Medicaid. We will just create a new need-based program that only helps people like this who can show they have no other options for support. Of course, that program will still have problems, but it could be done (and I do not klnow if I could say that one is better than another, particularly if it provided the EXACT SAME benefits to the 4 people you describe).

    -Jut

  82. 82
    Lara says:

    Do you believe we would resort to violence against each other in the absence of a State?

    I can’t think of any human society, in any place or time, without violence. States establish and enforce rules for the use of violence. In modern democratic societies, the content and application of those rules are subject to change by political leaders, who are themselves subject to change through the popular vote. I believe that this system is preferable to one in which violence is unregulated. Which brings us to this:

    As such, we will be better able to voluntarily cooperate to defend ourselves against outlaws, people who think violence is a legitimate way of interacting with others.

    Okay, so certain people will band together, in order to establish a monopoly on the use of violence within a particular area. To me, this seems like you’ve derived the concept of government from first principles, and can extrapolate the rest of the long history of human civilization from there. :) (For example, what if Smith accuses Jones of being an outlaw, but Jones denies it and says that Smith is lying for personal gain? The group could come together and make a decision, but if that was the extent of the process than the fairness of that decision would be debatable. Wouldn’t it be better if a neutral third party could investigate the claims, examine the scene, and talk to witnesses? Also, has the group reached a clear consensus on what sorts of actions qualify someone as an outlaw, and what the appropriate penalties for being an outlaw are? Shouldn’t these definitions be written down somewhere, in order to be fair to both accusers and accused? Then, once the investigation has taken place, is there a forum in which the evidence can be presented, and interested parties can testify? Are there rules about what kinds of evidence are acceptable, and what kinds should not be considered? Better write those rules down too, so that the next time this happens there’s a procedure to follow. When a decision is reached, does everyone agree on how it should be implemented, and what will happen if the losing party resists? Also, aren’t there more productive ways in which most of the group members can spend their time? Why doesn’t everyone make a reasonable monetary contribution, so that the group can hire professionals to investigate accusations, and make sure that its rules are enforced equitably? And so on.)

    As I said above, though, I think that the fundamental issue here really is incompatible visions of the ideal society. The notion of an atomized social world, in which no one has any responsibility to anyone else, and the only bulwarks against misfortune are “individual responsibility” and the unpredictable goodwill of others, holds extremely little appeal for me. And again, Susan’s original question gets at a fundamental reason why this vision is so unattractive: what do you think should happen to someone like John, who Susan described today in her 11:53 post? If someone like John cannot provide for himself, for reasons outside of his control, do you think that any dependable mechanisms should exist for him to receive assistance?

  83. 83
    Joseph says:

    I can’t think of any human society, in any place or time, without violence.

    I think this answer ignores the context of my question. I was asking you about us here in this discussion. Note also the subsequent discussion in my paragraph, which I don’t think you addressed in your response.

    States establish and enforce rules for the use of violence.

    This is pretty much what I said in my previous post. States attempt to legitimize the idea that it is acceptable to use violence against a non-violent person.

    Okay, so certain people will band together, in order to establish a monopoly on the use of violence within a particular area. …

    I didn’t say it would be a monopoly. The rest of the paragraph quoted above seems to assume that I am against the concept of law entirely. This is not the case. I am simply in favor of a voluntary society, which might have things like polycentric law.

    As I said above, though, I think that the fundamental issue here really is incompatible visions of the ideal society.

    I agree here. I tend to be in favor of a spontaneously ordered societal structure, whereas I perceive you to advocate a planned order. However, I believe the latter sort of society could not come as close to being ideal as could the former. You can read about some of my reasons for this belief here.

    Susan’s original question gets at a fundamental reason why this vision is so unattractive: what do you think should happen to someone like John, who Susan described today in her 11:53 post? If someone like John cannot provide for himself, for reasons outside of his control, do you think that any dependable mechanisms should exist for him to receive assistance?

    As I said in post 66, I believe that State provision of charity is not the best sort of provision. After all, if it were dependable (as you claim) and adequate, everyone could just refuse to work and go on welfare, creating a situation where there is no economic activity, yet everyone expects to be provided for. We would quickly find that it is not dependable. I acknowledge that relying on voluntary charity is also not dependable, but I think it could do a better job than a State.

    Finally, there is another part of my previous comment that I don’t think you addressed in your reply. Would you mind doing so? Here it is:

    I believe that power has corrupting effects, and there’s been research done that backs up my belief: 5 Scientific Reasons Powerful People Will Always Suck. If we discard this idea that people need to be ruled, I think self-responsibility and mutual respect for each other will become present in the majority of society.

  84. 84
    Lara says:

    I was asking you about us here in this discussion. Note also the subsequent discussion in my paragraph, which I don’t think you addressed in your response.

    I think that every human being who is not in a coma, or similarly affected, is capable of violence under the right circumstances. So sure, if all forms of government vanished for some reason (zombies? Volcanoes? Giant bureaucrat-eating spiders?), it’s easy to imagine subsequent scenarios that could push people, not exempting the participants in this thread, into committing acts of violence. Your claim that the modern state is the main reason why people both fear violence and commit violent acts is not, I think, borne out by the evidence of history. Violence has been a constant in a remarkably diverse array of human social organizations, from hunter-gatherer groups to dictatorships. I prefer to live in a society where violence is channeled and restricted by institutions subject to democratic control. Those institutions also do a great deal to transform violence into a civil process, in the many senses of that word. Again, this is a very old story.

    I didn’t say it would be a monopoly.

    I’m legitimately puzzled at what the point would be of banding together with one’s neighbors against “outlaws,” if not to establish a monopoly on violence within a given area (even an area as small as your several houses). If you respect the right of people outside the group to commit violence against its members, then what function does the group serve? Is there some special meaning of “outlaw” that is being used, such that one would be free to commit violence against the group’s members without falling into that category?

    The rest of the paragraph quoted above seems to assume that I am against the concept of law entirely. This is not the case.

    Okay, but the broader point that I was trying to make wasn’t specific to law – it can be applied to any number of functions carried out by the state. Once you’ve reached the idea of people banding together in order to accomplish collective goals, there are going to be powerful social factors pushing groups towards greater organization, stability, and accountability.

    I believe that power has corrupting effects, and there’s been research done that backs up my belief: 5 Scientific Reasons Powerful People Will Always Suck. If we discard this idea that people need to be ruled, I think self-responsibility and mutual respect for each other will become present in the majority of society.

    I would agree, as I think most progressives would, that power has corrupting effects. I think that most progressives would also have little patience with the belief that “people need to be ruled.” Rather, we collectively rule ourselves through the institutions of democratic civil society. The president, governors, members of Congress, etc., are not our lords but our chosen community representatives. As participants in democratic society, we have the right to remove and replace them if we disagree with the way that they have carried out their duties. For the rest, I’ll defer to James Madison:

    James Madison @ The Federalist No. 51 wrote:

    But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

    Finally, there’s this:

    I believe that State provision of charity is not the best sort of provision. After all, if it were dependable (as you claim) and adequate, everyone could just refuse to work and go on welfare, creating a situation where there is no economic activity, yet everyone expects to be provided for. We would quickly find that it is not dependable. I acknowledge that relying on voluntary charity is also not dependable, but I think it could do a better job than a State.

    Here, I’m the one who thinks you’re not giving enough credit to human nature, in all its ridiculous and wonderful perversity. :) If a dependable safety net was in place, such that residents of the United States could trust that their fellow citizens would never allow them to involuntarily starve, go homeless, or die from lack of medical care, do you really think that everyone would refuse to work and go on welfare? That no one would seek a life above the bare minimum, in order to add to their comforts? That no one would seek out social status? That no one would want to build, or learn, or do? That no one would be freed to take the chances, and undergo the failures, that are necessary for economic and technological progress?

    And to bring this back around again to Susan’s questions, if voluntary charity isn’t dependable for people like John, is that simply the end of the story as far as your ideal society goes? Does your vision of utopia include any provisions for people who cannot support themselves, for reasons beyond their control, and who find no support from private charities? Would those people have any options other than resigning themselves to going without food, housing and health care, or attempting to take such goods by force? I keep returning to this point, because it is fundamentally baffling to me that anyone’s vision of the ideal society would make no allowance for such cases. A society that requires its members to avoid any and all natural or medical catastrophes is a society which requires the impossible, and which will inevitably produce a great deal of avoidable suffering and waste. To me, the burdens that this sort of society would place on its members seem far more restrictive of freedom – far less moral – than does the current requirement of paying taxes.

  85. 85
    Joseph says:

    I think that every human being who is not in a coma, or similarly affected, is capable of violence under the right circumstances. So sure, if all forms of government vanished for some reason (zombies? Volcanoes? Giant bureaucrat-eating spiders?), it’s easy to imagine subsequent scenarios that could push people, not exempting the participants in this thread, into committing acts of violence.

    “capable of violence under the right circumstances” and “uses violence against non-violent people” are two very different things. I condemn the latter, but not the former. I’m not a pacifist; I’m only against aggressive violence.

    Your claim that the modern state is the main reason why people both fear violence and commit violent acts is not, I think, borne out by the evidence of history.

    Do you care to elaborate?

    I prefer to live in a society where violence is channeled and restricted by institutions subject to democratic control.

    Let’s explore this idea. How, exactly, are these institutions subject to democratic control?

    I’m legitimately puzzled at what the point would be of banding together with one’s neighbors against “outlaws,” if not to establish a monopoly on violence within a given area (even an area as small as your several houses).

    I don’t object to people establishing a monopoly of violence on their own property. What I object to is the State’s arrogant claim of ownership of the entire area whose residents it claims to represent.

    Once you’ve reached the idea of people banding together in order to accomplish collective goals, there are going to be powerful social factors pushing groups towards greater organization, stability, and accountability.

    I don’t deny this. You seem to think that a society without a State has to be chaotic. It doesn’t.

    Rather, we collectively rule ourselves through the institutions of democratic civil society. The president, governors, members of Congress, etc., are not our lords but our chosen community representatives.

    Yup, they represent us, alright.

    As participants in democratic society, we have the right to remove and replace them if we disagree with the way that they have carried out their duties.

    And if they refuse to be removed? This goes back to my above point about institutions being subject to democratic control.

    James Madison says the following in your quote from The Federalist No. 51:

    In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

    I believe that if the former is done, the latter is practically impossible. One can talk about “separation of powers” all they want, but at the end of the day, each power is part of the same organization. One easy way to begin to see this is to consider the source of funding of each branch of government.

    If a dependable safety net was in place, such that residents of the United States could trust that their fellow citizens would never allow them to involuntarily starve, go homeless, or die from lack of medical care, do you really think that everyone would refuse to work and go on welfare? That no one would seek a life above the bare minimum, in order to add to their comforts? That no one would seek out social status? That no one would want to build, or learn, or do? That no one would be freed to take the chances, and undergo the failures, that are necessary for economic and technological progress?

    While relying on voluntary charity requires that people are willing to give what they freely earn (as they overwhelmingly are. Again, see post 66 for sources), involuntary charity (of the sort that the US government currently implements) requires that people are willing to participate in a highly regulated economy, and furthermore that they won’t resist to have a portion of any wealth they manage to acquire stolen from them. Tell me, which of these is a greater assumption? Here are a couple of examples of businessmen closing up shop for the reasons I give above:
    ‘Right Out Of Atlas Shrugged’: Hear An Exasperated Alabama Businessman Tell The Feds – ‘I’m Just Quitting’
    Fed Up: A Texas Bank Is Calling It Quits
    Further note that it isn’t simply an issue of no one attempting to live above the bare minimum. Only so many people can live on the backs of others. 51% of Americans Pay No Federal Income Taxes

    And to bring this back around again to Susan’s questions, if voluntary charity isn’t dependable for people like John, is that simply the end of the story as far as your ideal society goes? Does your vision of utopia include any provisions for people who cannot support themselves, for reasons beyond their control, and who find no support from private charities? Would those people have any options other than resigning themselves to going without food, housing and health care, or attempting to take such goods by force?

    I don’t consider myself a utopian. As I say in post 67, “I agree that all systems can fail”. Do you believe the situations you list above are being handled in the US implementation of involuntary charity. Do you believe they can be?

  86. 86
    Schala says:

    “That’s why people flock here from all over the world, risking death in many cases – to take advantage of that opportunity. The fact that the opportunity is not as great as you think it should be does not make the statement “This is the land of opportunity” hypocritical. Tens of millions have voted with their feet saying otherwise.”

    Many flock to the US out of flawed false promises of opportunity, that other countries like Canada might be better able to help with. But hey , with 10x population, it has more publicity.

  87. 87
    Lara says:

    Do you care to elaborate?

    If you search on Google Scholar, you can find rich literatures on violence in all sorts of human societies. This book might be one place to start.

    Let’s explore this idea. How, exactly, are these institutions subject to democratic control?

    Through a great many mechanisms, both direct (e.g., the election of Attorneys General) and indirect (e.g., pressure on mayors and legislators). Since the elaboration of all of these mechanisms would further bloat what is already promising to become a very long comment, why don’t you take it from here. :)

    You seem to think that a society without a State has to be chaotic. It doesn’t.

    This isn’t quite right – rather, I think that an intensely interconnected and specialized society of the kind that we live in now, in which most people spend their time in ways other than farming, hunting, or gathering, cannot function without the foundation of the state. I’d also argue strongly that being free not to spend one’s days in direct food procurement is a much better deal than being free not to pay taxes. (Not to mention that strategies to reduce social chaos in areas with a weak or absent state, such as emphasizing the importance of tradition, or maintaining strong gender distinctions, or holding redistributive feasts and celebrations, can also be inimical to individual liberty.)

    And if they refuse to be removed?

    Then the society is no longer a democracy, a condition that most of the society’s members would likely wish to change. Fortunately, there are a number of recent examples (Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Germany) demonstrating that undemocratic or dictatorial governments can successfully be pressured to implement or restore democratic rule.

    While relying on voluntary charity requires that people are willing to give what they freely earn (as they overwhelmingly are. Again, see post 66 for sources), involuntary charity (of the sort that the US government currently implements) requires that people are willing to participate in a highly regulated economy, and furthermore that they won’t resist to have a portion of any wealth they manage to acquire stolen from them. Tell me, which of these is a greater assumption?

    Okay, let’s look at the idea that charitable giving can compensate for the loss of government-provided social services.

    In 2009, total charitable giving in the United States was $303.8 billion (a decline of 3.6% from the previous year – unfortunately, the economic downturn meant that giving declined at the same time as more people found themselves in need of assistance). Individual giving was $227.4 billion, but let’s examine charitable giving as a whole. Where did the money go? USA Today breaks it down as follows:

    Religion – $100.95 billion

    Education – $40.01 billion

    Gifts to grantmaking foundations – $31 billion

    Human services – $27.08 billion

    Public-society benefit (which USA Today defines as including “donations for science, technology and social science and umbrella charitable groups that raise funds for redistribution, such as the United Way”) – $22.7 billion

    Health – $22.46 billion

    Arts, culture, and humanities – $12.34 billion

    International affairs – $8.89 billion

    Environment/animals – $6.15 billion

    Foundation grants to individuals – $3.51 billion

    Other – $28.59 billion

    A lot of the money given to charity, then, isn’t used to support the most vulnerable members of society. Causes like the Metropolitan Opera, or a new residential college at Princeton, or replacing the old church pews, might fully merit the donations that they receive but are separate matters from the sort of charity that we’ve been talking about in this discussion.

    Still, let’s take the initial number of $303.8 billion and compare it to a more targeted form of spending, the 2011-2012 Health and Human Services budget for the state of California. (California’s ongoing financial woes mean that the state conducts intensive audits of its service providers, and that a number of painful cuts have already taken place. A friend who does social work has seen her case load balloon over the last few years, while the benefits available to her clients have been reduced. In other words, California is not a state with a particularly lavish social welfare system.)

    For this fiscal year, California’s Health and Human Services Agency’s budget amounts to $37.074 billion. Federal funds increase that budget to “approximately $83 billion,” but for now let’s just consider money contributed by the state.

    $37.074 billion represents 12.2% of all charitable giving in 2009.

    The picture becomes even more stark if we compare the Health and Human Services Agency budget to the 2009 charitable donations specifically directed towards “health” and “human services.” In that case, expenditures in the single state of California would equal 74.8% of the amount donated to charity. The combined federal and state expenditures on California Health and Human Services are equivalent to 27.3% of all 2009 charitable giving, or 167.5% of all 2009 donations in the areas of health and human services.

    So no, I don’t think that private charity would serve as an adequate replacement for the services currently provided by the government.

    I don’t consider myself a utopian. As I say in post 67, “I agree that all systems can fail”. Do you believe the situations you list above are being handled in the US implementation of involuntary charity. Do you believe they can be?

    The problem is that when it comes to cases like those brought up by Susan, the system that you advocate is designed so that it must fail, in an entirely predictable way. Any society will have some people who, for reasons beyond their control, are unable to care for themselves. (There will also be plenty of people who, at some point in their life, make a bad decision, or experience a moment of weakness, or take a carefully calculated risk that happens to turn out the wrong way – but in keeping with the tenor of Susan’s questions, we’ll stick to those who are utterly blameless in their fate.) Again, I keep returning to this point because I find it genuinely difficult to believe that your only response to the question of what should happen to people like John is that all systems fail. Well, maybe they do, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t try to find successively better approximations when difficult issues arise. I don’t think that United States society is doing enough now to assist its most vulnerable members, and would like to see it do more. At the very least, someone in the position of John should not have to worry about going without food, housing, or medication. The evidence of other developed countries demonstrates that if we choose to pay the costs of doing so, we can implement a much stronger safety net than the one currently in place. By contrast, how would your preferred social organization deal with people who are unable to support themselves, and who cannot find support from private charities? Is there any point at which you believe that the drawbacks of a world without social obligations become worse than the obligations themselves? After the system fails for John, what happens next?

  88. 88
    Joseph says:

    If you search on Google Scholar, you can find rich literatures on violence in all sorts of human societies. This book might be one place to start.

    Unfortunately, I feel that I could put the $136 that this book costs to better use. However, I did notice a few paragraphs, starting halfway down page xix and continuing to halfway down page xxi, that seem to support my beliefs. Yes, it refers to the vast violence of the State within Third World areas, but I think this is because it such States have not yet managed to convince their population that their use of violence is legitimate, while that of the population is not.

    Regardless, I believe that people can be convinced of the morality and benefits of living according to the non-aggression principle. Even in early childhood, most people (as far as I know) are taught things like “Don’t hit them.”, “Don’t take their toys.”, along with the benefits of voluntary cooperation (“You should share your toys with each other. That way, you can each have more fun playing with them.”). It is only as we age that people convince us of the necessity of not abiding by these basic principles in our interactions with others.

    Through a great many mechanisms …

    As I said in post 72, one can have a great many of pieces of paper with words written on them, but ultimately, they don’t mean a thing. Violence is what ultimately backs every societal structure; “might makes right”, if you will. Since violence is unpleasant to most people, I propose a societal abstraction that introduces violence only in response to it.

    I think that an intensely interconnected and specialized society of the kind that we live in now, in which most people spend their time in ways other than farming, hunting, or gathering, cannot function without the foundation of the state.

    Are you arguing that people are incapable of voluntarily cooperating without a higher authority coercively overseeing things? How do you think international trade occurs? The existing States have no such “higher authority”, yet they manage to cooperate in trade. See also: The iterated prisoner’s dilemma.

    Fortunately, there are a number of recent examples (Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Germany) demonstrating that undemocratic or dictatorial governments can successfully be pressured to implement or restore democratic rule.

    Unfortunately, though, these “pressurings” tend to happen far later than they should, thanks to that the State has convinced those in the area it claims jurisdiction over that they should allow it to hold a monopoly on violence. Combined with the resulting vastly unequal distribution of weaponry, this means that it takes many more people than it should to “pressure” a State gone wrong.

    Okay, let’s look at the idea that charitable giving can compensate for the loss of government-provided social services. …

    You’ve done a very nice job of collecting and presenting statistics, but one problem is that you are taking statistics from one type of society and assuming that they apply to a quite different type. Along with the fact that the State strongly suppresses economic activity via things like regulation, reducing the wealth of pretty much everyone, the implementation of involuntary charity makes it easier for people to talk themselves out of feeling responsibility towards their fellow humans, in that they can think “I’ve done my duty by paying my taxes. It’s the State’s problem now.”.

    The problem is that when it comes to cases like those brought up by Susan, the system that you advocate is designed so that it must fail, in an entirely predictable way.

    Why do you continue to say things like this? It seems to be because you believe that our innate feelings of compassion are not sufficient to provide for those of us who cannot do so for themselves. I am tempted to agree, so long as people are affected by the State in the manner I laid out in my previous paragraph. But I think that we can convince them otherwise.

    At the very least, someone in the position of John should not have to worry about going without food, housing, or medication.

    This sounds nice in theory, but one problem is that you have to draw the line where the “minimum standard of living” ends. In present US society, this line keeps getting higher and higher: Government Welfare: Cell Phones for the Poor, making it all the more difficult to sustain.

    By contrast, how would your preferred social organization deal with people who are unable to support themselves, and who cannot find support from private charities?

    Well, I’ll tell you what it wouldn’t do. It wouldn’t put a gun to the head of someone who has earned their wealth entirely through voluntary transactions and tell them to give some of it to the person in need (of course, the extent to which transactions are voluntary in America is questionable, thanks to the State, but most people suffer, rather than gain, because of involuntary transactions). However, I think this situation would occur very rarely, if at all, for the reasons I have given in this and previous posts.

  89. 89
    Grace Annam says:

    Well, I’ll tell you what it wouldn’t do.

    No.

    I have permitted this thread to meander, because I wanted to leave as much room as possible for people to answer in their own way. But this is contrary to the entire point of giving Susan a place to ask her question and have it answered.

    So, from here on out, to everyone:

    If you are not going to give a direct and affirmative answer to Susan’s question, or if you are not discussing such an answer, kindly do not reply. We don’t have time to winnow through all the answers which don’t apply in order to get the ones which do.

    Thank you,

    Grace

  90. 90
    Jeremy says:

    “Both a gang and a government are groups of people that violently impose their will on others. That the latter sometimes allows its victims to join its ranks is of little consequence.”

    If I say a salesman or saleswoman at Best buy is the moral equivalent of a con artist because they share skills and some tactics (i.e. trying to figure out their targets need, show how what they are selling fills the need, and gets the person to give them money). It is still an absurd comparison because one them provides a legitimate service and the other person is in it to hurt their ‘client’ and enrich themselves.

    “He might even go so far as to threaten me with theft (aka fines), kidnapping (aka imprisonment), and even murder (aka execution) if I ignore or resist the harassment he and other employees of government subject me to.”

    Murder, theft, and kidnapping are only crimes in societies with laws. Without societies and laws there are no crimes. Killing and taking are just that. The government is able to use violence because it has sovereignty that it gets from the people. An execution is not a murder even if the death penalty itself is not good idea, as some people would claim. Taxes and fines are not theft, and a criminal going to jail is not like or even similar to kidnapping.

    “I believe that most people are intrinsically good. Think about you, me, and the other people in this discussion. Do you believe we would resort to violence against each other in the absence of a State?”

    What do you base this on? Do you know most of the world’s 6 billion people? If we were in the middle of a famine I could see every person here fighting over a limited food source. If you want to understand human nature you need to see what people will do when they are desperate. You say you don’t believe in Hobbes’ theory, but do you know anything of nature at all? Nature is violence. Just watch a lion take down a zebra. Human beings are creatures of nature and therefore humans are violent. We can overcome and be more then just our nature but nature cannot completely denied.

    “Sure, you can say that the US government has things like the Constitution to restrain its powers, but the last time I checked, mere sheets of paper with words written on them couldn’t stop me from doing anything. Only other people have that power. A government is just the biggest, strongest, gang of thugs. If you don’t believe me, simply look at all the horrible crimes committed by governments.”

    Governments don’t kill people, people kill people. Governments are designed; built, and run by people and all of its faults are human faults that would exist with or without it. Governments are just tools that people use. It can be used for good legitimate purposes and bad purposes. But arguing against the existence of a government because a government can do something bad. Arguing against the existence of government is like arguing against the existence of knives and other blades because of all the people in twenty thousand years of human history who have been killed by blades.

    “To me, it seems that the most evil of people would become members of government, where they are in a position most conducive to doing the terrible things you mention in your post.”

    And since all the bad people are the people in government, if the government and everyone else in it went away, then naturally the world have only good people therefore nothing bad would happen and paradise would reign. I remember this argument from the eighteenth century: ‘only kings cause wars once we get rid of the kings wars will stop, because everyone will be good.’ Or ‘Farmer Jones is a tyrant once we get rid of him, all the animals will behave because all animals are good only people are bad.’

    “I don’t object to people establishing a monopoly of violence on their own property.”

    So if 5 year-old Mary’s parents are busy taking care of her 2 year old brother who has splinter and she wanders next door to her neighbor’s house and she decides to pick something from his garden, the neighbor then shoots the 5 year-old. Is that okay because the neighbor was defending his property? If not, who will hold him accountable?

    “I don’t deny this. You seem to think that a society without a State has to be chaotic. It doesn’t.”

    Proof. Real Proof not theory.

    “Regardless, I believe that people can be convinced of the morality and benefits of living according to the non-aggression principle.”

    Because humans are always reasonable and rational. That is why non-aggression has always been a prevailing theme amongst humans. Have you ever been to bar or a football game where a lot of people have been drinking?

    “Even in early childhood, most people (as far as I know) are taught things like “Don’t hit them.”, “Don’t take their toys.”, along with the benefits of voluntary cooperation (“You should share your toys with each other. That way, you can each have more fun playing with them.”).”

    The reason they are taught this because it does not come naturally. What you can commonly hear from children is ‘me, me, mine’! We teach them to share and not to steal because we are preparing them to be members of larger organized society where there are rules and social expectations.

  91. 91
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    I personally think that the conservative goal is perhaps less far fetched and somewhat more complex. I think that this tactic is really a means of expanding the window of discourse so that it then seems reasonable to take stronger deterrent effects, which are also anti-liberal in nature.

    Would conservatives actually let poor people starve to death in the street outside the White House? I am not so sure that they would. But I think they’d like to leverage the threat of starving people (or untreated patients or uneducated students or whatever they oppose) to win the war about deterrence.

    Bachmann’s set would like to reduce the number of poor people–not by giving them more money, mind you, but by reducing their birth rate and their entry into the US. But that’s harder to argue. I think of the “feed yourselves” as more of a stretch that’s designed to get to a compromise goal.

  92. 92
    Joseph says:

    If I say a salesman or saleswoman at Best buy is the moral equivalent of a con artist because they share skills and some tactics …

    I appreciate that you have responded to many of my statements, Jeremy. However, I’m going to respect Grace’s wish that I refrain from discussing them further, even though I disagree with her reasoning.

  93. 93
    Susan says:

    Bachmann’s set would like to reduce the number of poor people–not by giving them more money, mind you, but by reducing their birth rate and their entry into the US.

    I kind of hear this argument, or a version of it….it is a fact of economics that whatever you subsidize you get more of. Usually. A lot of the tax code works on this principle (when it isn’t busy raising revenue). If you value home ownership, give home owners a tax break. If you want businesses to invest in new machinery, institute a tax credit for new machinery. And so forth.

    It also seems, however, that if you in effect pay a welfare bounty for teenage mothers who have babies without any means of support, what you get are….more welfare babies.

    Now, neither having babies nor buying machinery is really all that simple, and both decisions, and all decisions like them, depend on many factors, of which government subsidy is only one. But there it is: it can be a motivator.

    Where the thing gets dicey is where innocent parties are involved, people who have no real choice in the matter. Like the welfare baby, who had no say in being born under such circumstances. Or like my schizophrenic friend John. No one is arguing that we have more schizophrenics now because of SSI. It’s a disease, it doesn’t consult the Social Security Administration before it strikes.

    Only people unacquainted with the system think that SSI is easy to get. It’s very difficult to be classified as permanently disabled for this purpose: to get so classified the first time around you practically have to prove that you have two heads or something. Everyone has to go ’round more than once, even people who are crazy as the day is long. And when you do qualify, what you get is barely enough to live on.

    Some would argue that this is all very right and proper, and I’m not going to disagree necessarily. My point is just that what we are currently doing for such people is just barely adequate, if that, and that cutting it further as allegedly argued by the Tea Party would be inhumane, IMHO.

    Are there people “gaming” this system and getting SSI when they shouldn’t? Do bears poop in the woods? Every human system gets gamed by somebody, but my experience suggests that this one is pretty game-proof.

  94. 94
    Schala says:

    I bring up a real example of someone gaming the system. Is that okay to game the system? Is it okay to have a millionaire receiving food stamps? I mean, he DID qualify for them (only because the Government had piss-poor rules for determining who can qualify-that would have never happened with a private charity).

    Somehow I doubt that’s even a serious problem. How many lottery winners (who win millions) are there? Let alone lottery winners who still go for food stamps? Even poor people think it’s a shameful thing to go “beg for food”, regardless of their financial means, most that do probably go by necessity, not profiteering.

    Also the “everyone will go on welfare” notion is completely laughable. I don’t know what requirements there are in the US for welfare, but they seem more relaxed here (you don’t work? you don’t have access to unemployment benefits (including because you just used them all up)? then come here, have 600$ a month). And yet people on welfare represent a tiny fraction of people, and the social program costs – even here where it’s decent.

    People think working means more money, ability to purchase cars, telephones, computers, better food, more restaurant and outings etc. On welfare you’re severely limited, you need to cohabitate with others and then budget to eat all month. If you can spend on luxury at all, it’s because you “cut spending” on another thing, like reasonable clothing.

    Most people wouldn’t see themselves not working (bored as hell), most people wouldn’t want to budget this much (impulse and taste), and it also pretty much kills all hope of saving up (no house ever).

  95. 95
    Susan says:

    Re gaming the system:

    First, you have to recognize that every system gets gamed. The Internal Revenue Code is gamed daily, and the penalty for getting caught can be prison. But people do it anyway. There is no way to reduce the gaming aspect to zero.

    Private charities, too, like the government, get gamed. There seems to be an argument going here that private charity is infallible. I’ve worked with enough private charities to know that if anything it’s easier to game them, because they tend to be staffed by inadequately funded woolly-headed do-gooders. An argument to the tune of, we shouldn’t help the sick or kids or the unfortunate because we’ll get gamed adds up to don’t do anything for anybody.

    All systems have waste. All human systems anyway. (Angels, I wouldn’t know about.) Do some people get welfare or food stamps who shouldn’t? Yes. Do some people get paid at paying jobs who don’t deserve their pay because they’re screwing around here on Alas A Blog (or for some other reason)? Yes. Is road money siphoned off to pave some guy’s backyard? Yes. Are taxes evaded by some people? Yes. Are laws broken with impunity? Yes.

    Always.

    We have to weigh and balance here. Suppose we have 100 people receiving SSI, aid for the hopelessly disabled. Assume further that one of them isn’t really disabled, or, which is more likely (qualifying is really hard, not too many non-disabled people get through the net), he’s plenty disabled but he’s spending his money on illegal drugs. (I actually know someone like this.)

    So, what to do? Do we cut off SSI altogether? Then we will have 99 schizophrenics on the streets, mumbling incomprehensibly in the subway stations, dirty and disorganized and sick, urinating and defecating in the gutters, passing out, dying in full view. (Private charity will take care of all this?? Iffy at best, in my experience. More efficient? Ya gotta be kidding.) Not only is this inhumane, it degrades the community for everyone else. (As everyone who lives in cities can testify, there’s a lot of this going on already.) Do we chase after every single one of these people to catch the one guy? That’s going to cost a lot more than the $850 he gets every month. There’s a point of diminishing returns. The remedy is worse than the disease.

    So, nothing whatever is proven by the example of a lottery winner who gets food stamps. The real question is, how many people who don’t deserve them get food stamps? If it’s 50 out of every 100, we need to reform the system, not end all aid to the genuinely needy. My opinion.

    I gladly pay taxes for all this, by the way. (Including the one guy, on the theory that nothing is perfect.) The quality of our common life is improved by taking care of the helpless, in the same way but to a greater degree, than paving the roads. Everyone uses roads; everyone enjoys the benefits of a humane environment.

  96. 96
    Susan says:

    One more thought here, on help for the helpless. I actually learned this at this blog back in the day, when Terri Schiavo was a live controversy.

    I didn’t know this before, but I learned it here. The activist organizations for the disabled call us, the able bodied, the “temporarily abled.” That means, right now we don’t have a problem. But we’re one auto accident, one guy running a red light and t-boning us, one onset of some horrible neurological disorder, away from being disabled. Maybe seriously so.

    You think you have enough money saved up to take care of this? Think again, and have a look at medical costs. Almost no one has that much money. In the end, we all depend on each other, that’s part of the social contract: if you’re hopelessly paralyzed and out of money, I’ll take care of you. If I’m hopelessly paralyzed and out of money, you’ll take care of me.

    It can be anyone.

    The Tea Party as I understand it would break this compact, and re-write it to read, “if something bad happens good luck.”

    I guess they don’t drive around in automobiles? (But they do.)

    I guess they all have gazillions of dollars? (But they don’t.)

    They think they’re invulnerable, or they just don’t think?

    I haven’t read anything in this interminable thread to enable me to explain all this.

    Peace to all. I have learned a lot.

  97. 97
    Susan says:

    No answer is an answer.

    Thanks to all who participated.

  98. 98
    AnonymousDog says:

    100% “inheritance” tax?

    Would that apply to family-operated/family-owned small businesses?
    Would you apply the current rules for intergenerational transfers to such businesses? Tax transfers to family members who have contributed time and labor to the business 100%?

    Everybody loves family owned farms and small businesses as a rhetorical foil to Big Corporations, but when it comes time to write tax laws, the family owned businesses get screwed the same as Big Corporations.

    Also, I think you are setting up a straw man when you equate “meritocracy” with the libertarian goal of economic freedom. I notice you avoid opposing or even mentioning”economic freedom”. Is it rhetorically more difficult to make opposition to “economic freedom” appealing?

  99. 99
    Grace Annam says:

    Anonymous Dog:

    100% “inheritance” tax?

    Would that apply to family-operated/family-owned small businesses?
    Would you apply the current rules for intergenerational transfers to such businesses? Tax transfers to family members who have contributed time and labor to the business 100%?

    You make a good point, about situations where family members have, in fact earned some stake in a family corporation.

    I did not intend a detailed policy proposal, AnonymousDog. It used a rhetorical device to point out that we tend to assert that our society is merit-based (“meritocracy” was probably not quite the right word), that this tends to be especially true of people further toward the conservative and libertarian reaches of political thought, and that this is at odds with the policies generally advanced by such people…

    …like reduction or elimination of inheritance taxes.

    I see a contradiction, there. I never said that there could be no arguments in favor of such policies; I just think such policies work against a (not “the”) basic American ethos. Those who replied leaped right on the inheritance tax part of my comment, which is fine; perhaps they value other societal goals which argue in favor of low or no inheritance taxes. But I was trying to make a broader point, a point better illustrated by the paragraph mentioning medical care, which people have elaborately ignored and avoided engaging on.

    Everybody loves family owned farms and small businesses as a rhetorical foil to Big Corporations, but when it comes time to write tax laws, the family owned businesses get screwed the same as Big Corporations.

    They don’t, actually. They get hit worse, at least in comparison to the Very Biggest Corporations, some of which famously pay no net taxes at all.

    Also, I think you are setting up a straw man when you equate “meritocracy” with the libertarian goal of economic freedom. I notice you avoid opposing or even mentioning”economic freedom”. Is it rhetorically more difficult to make opposition to “economic freedom” appealing?

    You are setting up a straw man when you say that I said word one about “the libertarian goal of economic freedom”. In fact, in the original post of mine which I referenced, I didn’t mention libertarians or libertarianism at all. I tacked them on to the post which started this thread because when it comes to economic policy, they tend to side with Conservatives in advocating more ostensibly laissez-faire policies.

    I “avoided opposing or even mentioning the libertarian goal of economic freedom” in the same way that I “avoid” mentioning computer interface guidelines when I’m discussing environmental issues. If you feel that it’s an important point, then you bring it up, and make your own argument.

    Since this thread has been all over the map already, let me attempt a bit of focus: in the cases Susan is speaking of, where people are blamelessly in dire need of help, how would you, as a presumed libertarian, design policy? What are the implications of the libertarian goal of economic freedom toward schizophrenics who are basically functional with appropriate medication, but who cannot obtain it, or other basic necessities, without first receiving medications?

    Grace

  100. 100
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Since this thread has been all over the map already, let me attempt a bit of focus: in the cases Susan is speaking of, where people are blamelessly in dire need of help, how would you, as a presumed libertarian, design policy? What are the implications of the libertarian goal of economic freedom toward schizophrenics who are basically functional with appropriate medication, but who cannot obtain it, or other basic necessities, without first receiving medications?

    Grace

    Can I speak for conservatives here? Well, I’m going to anyway:

    I really don’t think that “let person with X condition die painfully in the street” is what they’re going for here, whether X is “no money” or “no insurance” or “cancer” or “no parental support.”

    I think that in exchange for NOT having them die in the street, conservatives want two things: First, they want to have fewer X people. And second, they want the person they saved to “owe them.” mostly the first.

    The first part seems reasonable but is all about the methods. Both liberals and conservatives want fewer starving people….but liberals would say “give them food, money, and education so they won’t starve” while conservatives would say “tell them to have fewer kids, so they can feed more of the ones they have without our help.”