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Moral Questions for our Liberal Friends
Posted by: Dale Franks on Thursday, June 07, 2007

Over the past several days, Hillary Clinton's interesting statements have been highlighted by Bruce. Stuff like this:
[A]n uninsured person who goes to the hospital is more likely to die than an insured person. I mean, that is a fact. So what do we do? We have to build a political consensus. and that requires people giving up a little bit of their own turf in order to create this common ground. The same with energy. You know, we can’t keep talking about our dependence on foreign oil and the need to deal with global warming and the challenge that it poses to our climate and to God’s creation and just let business as usual go on, and that means something has to be taken away from some people.
She's awfully keen, apparently, to take stuff away from "some people".
Many of you are well enough off that ... the tax cuts may have helped you," Sen. Clinton said. "We're saying that for America to get back on track, we're probably going to cut that short and not give it to you. We're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good.
Of, course, statements like this have been made for many, many years now. For so long, and so often, in fact, that we tend to just accept them without much comment.

But they deserve comment, because they raise some serious moral and philosophical questions.

Oh, there are practical questions, to be sure. For instance, in the first quote, how do we know that the insurance status has anything to do with the deaths. Could it be the uninsured lead generally more unhealthy lifestyles. Having health insurance, after all, doesn't help much with morbidity or mortality from bad diet, smoking, excessive drinking, or drug abuse, just to name a few. You see, it's not just to know the uninsured are dying. We have to know why they're dying, or the statistic is meaningless.

But what I'm really interested in is this: "We're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good." What precisely, is the moral principle that allows this?

Think for a second about what that statement really means as a practical matter. It asserts that a majority of people can decide to coerce you with the armed, police power of the state, to take away your property if it benefits them. It doesn't matter if you don't want the property to be taken. It doesn't matter if you disagree that the perceived benefit is worth such coercion.

Essentially, the position taken by many on the Left is that they can simply take your property from you by force, if they think its necessary.

So, what is the moral basis for this position?

Some, I know, would answer that it is a basic tenet of Christianity that we clothe the hungry and feed the naked. Or something like that. And they'd be absolutely correct.

But there are two counter-arguments to that.

First, that duty is a moral duty, i.e., a personal responsibility to willingly comfort the afflicted. But moral duties and legal duties are two entirely different things. Moral duties are the responsibility to actively do good. But legal duties are the responsibility from actively causing harm. Those are two entirely different things.

Second, while Jesus may have exhorted you to do any number of good things as an individual, what Jesus did not do was counsel you to gather up a group of lusty, gusty fellows, arm yourselves, then go to the houses of the rich and hold knives to their throats while you take their valuables for later distribution to the poor. Jesus said, "Hey, you should be giving some money to the poor." He didn't say, "Hey, you should force other people to give money to the poor. Even if they don't want to." Quite the reverse in fact.

Now, you can certainly pass a law that provides for taking the property of "the rich". That would make doing it by the agents of the state "legal". But doesn't the use of force to coerce the unwilling explicitly counter Jesus' teachings?

You know, a few centuries ago, Christians were rounding up Jews and forcing them to convert to Christianity at swordpoint. Or else. That was done for a "public good", too, and it was also saving the souls of those poor Jews who would otherwise be damned, so really, it was good for them, too. And besides, Jesus did say to spread the Gospel, among the Jews first, then the gentiles. It's right there in the book of Acts. The "Great Commission". You can look it up.

Of course, today, no one is advocating for public action to spread the light of Christendom to a damned world, or to save the immortal souls of the otherwise damned. Today, we call it universal health coverage, or environmental protection.

But let's leave poor Jesus alone. I'm sure he's had more than enough of people deciding that he really does want them to do some awful thing, or another.

But the question is still an important one, even if you believe that the J-man was just some quaint, quasi-mystical fellow.

Because the basis of socialism—and that's what it is, no matter what prettier, more trendy name you prefer—is that you will intentionally harm Person A to some degree, in order to help Person B.

Now, I'm sure we're all keen to see Person B get help, but what moral reason justifies harming Person A to supply that help?

I mean, it's not enough to say, "Well, Person A is only harmed a little bit. He doesn't need all that money." Because, even if the harm is slight, you are intentionally causing harm to an innocent person, for no other reason than its a convenient way to help Person B. But convenience, whatever else it may be, is not a moral justification.

After all, Person A isn't harming Person B. He isn't culpable for Person B's problem. So, what justifies taking Person A's property, simply because person B could make some use of it? Is it because Person A is morally different in some definable way from person B?

And, while we're on the subject, what is the limiting principle for taking something from one person by force, in order to give it to another?

For instance, we could conceivably save a number of lives by requiring, by law, that every healthy citizen report to the local blood bank at least twice a year, in order to "donate" blood. It would be a slight inconvenience for us to all trudge down to the blood bank every six months or so, but it wouldn't really cost us anything significant, and we aren't really harmed by donating a pint of blood. And, it would probably save a number of lives every year. So, why don't we make that a law?

Another argument that one might make is that, "Well, most people think it would be a good thing to do it. So it's a democratic decision."

Okay, but how does the fact that most people want something done morally justify doing it? At various times in history, a majority of people have wanted to do any number of awful, harmful things. But democratic legitimacy is, again, a legal concept. Not a moral one. Democracy is nothing more than a means for deciding what public policy will be. It is morally neutral. Just because a lot of people want to do something, doesn't make it a moral thing to do.

The bottom line for socialism is that it claims a moral right to take the property—and if necessary, the freedom, or even the lives—of one class of people by force, in order to distribute it to another class of people. I simply want to know what the moral justification for that claimed right might be. This is not about convenience. It's not about the needs of the afflicted. It's about philosophy.

Because, from where I stand, the socialist position seems little different from saying, "I do it because I want to do it, and because I have the power to force others to comply." How am I wrong?
 
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You are not wrong. The common good has been pounded into us from so many quarters it seems to spin of its own accord like a veritable perpetual motion machine. Time and again I have found myself in disussion with Lawyer friends about the duties of society to the common good. Even to the point of some legal friends justifying class action reimbursement for the sins of slavery. And this attitude is growing in prevalence.
"A democracy will continue to exist up until the time voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury." Alexander Tyler, 1787
Has this day come? And if so, will our "Democratic" government devolve into some form of socialism? Tyler postulated "From that moment on, the majority always vote for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship."

Tyler was a professor of history and his chosen thesis was Greece and the fall of the early democracies into dictatorships. He pointed to the rise of Pericles in ancient Greece and even Julius Ceasar in later years in Rome. Benign dictators both, but both instances precipitated the fall of their respctive civilizations.
 
Written By: SShiell
URL: http://
Snopes and Wikipedia agree that the quote attributed to Alexander Tyler (more properly Alexander Fraser Tytler) did not originate with him. As linked from Wikipedia, it goes back at least to 1959 but was not attributed to Tytler until Ronald Reagan used it in speeches in the 1960s. It still contains a valuable warning, but almost certainly was not written around the founding of our republic.
 
Written By: Michael Poole
URL: http://
On pragmatic grounds I think there are real problems with Hillary’s approach, but trying to make it a moral argument doesn’t get far because depending on ones’ perspective the moral calculus changes.

One thing people have to keep in mind: it’s not like you or anyone else would have all they have if they did not live in a society where there was rule of law and a process whereby social order was maintained. Even the money we use works so well because people know it is backed by a government that enjoys legitimacy (people believe in the system of government) and preserves social order. So it is just as easy for someone to construct a moral argument that says that much of the wealth of a wealthy individual comes about because of the government acts to preserve the social order. In fact the most wealthy likely benefit by colluding with government to protect their advantages. In that case taxing someone removes some of the wealth that they have gotten because of the advantages they have living in a society with the processes and governance we have. In that sense it’s a far more complicated argument than just taking away "someone else’s stuff for the common good." Rather it is protection of the common good which allow people to have the amount of stuff they have, and those who benefited the most should pay a larger cost — otherwise they are benefiting from ’free stuff.’

Now, there are a variety of arguments, some of which get pretty radical, that build on this kind of approach to show that acculumation of wealth is in fact a kind of theft. I’m not arguing for that approach, but I can assure you of one thing: there is no way to prove or disprove most of these counter arguments about morality because they rest on different assumptions and core beliefs about the nature of politics and society which cannot be falsified. Thus moral arguments will end up with people shouting past each other as they have fundamentally different world views.

To me that means pragmatic arguments work best. Hillary’s approach won’t work because of X, Y and Z, and may actually bring about negative consequences outweighing any positive because of A, B and C. After all, the Tytler quote was essentially a pragmatic rather than moral argument.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
If three of you friends get together, knock on your door and, under threat of coercion, take from you the money that you have earned or materials that you have spent that money on, that’s theft.

If you and your three friends are the only residents of your community, said community has a three-person Community Council consisting of your three friends, they can pass a law requiring you to forfeit to the community for redistribution to them those same items.

The former action is illegal; the latter is legal.

Does the latter action acquire any greater moral authority because it’s legal?
 
Written By: Diffus
URL: http://
On pragmatic grounds I think there are real problems with Hillary’s approach, but trying to make it a moral argument doesn’t get far because depending on ones’ perspective the moral calculus changes.
That’s what happens when there are no moral absolutes.
Then again, Hitler thought what he was doing was moral, as well. Indeed he thought it a moral imperative.

If I were you I’m not sure I’d be placing all that much emphasis on moral relativity, in support of any argument you make.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
One perfectly legitimate view is that all government conduct is by definition amoral — it is simply an expression of power.

Another view is that government is, like all human institutions, capable both of expressing our collective moral views and of failure. so sweeping judgments about the moral basis of all government action, without looking a little more closely at the underlying rationales, is useless.

Let’s look at health care for a second. Looking at the overall system in this country, an independent observer might conclude that our society has already made the moral choice that no one should die for lack of ability to pay. (The evidence for such conclusion is the obligation of emergency rooms to treat everyone.) This observer might then well conclude that the manner in which we exercise that choice is profoundly irrational. This country purports to be first in the world in encouraging independence and entrepreneurship, yet still uses employers as the primary vehicle of delivering contracts to families that make health care affordable. That’s nuts. Our government spends immense sums as the provider of last resort (medicare / medicaid) yet allows private companies to make immense profits by acting as gatekeepers between more healthy individuals and health care providers. That’s also nuts. And on and on and on.

Environmental policy is much easier to argue from a moral basis. It is the only effective method we have of placing the cost of capturing the externalities of polluting on the polluter. Preventing pollution is a lot less expensive than cleaning it up, and common law lawsuits against polluters relying on theories of nuisance and trespass are an incredibly inefficient way of regulating conduct. The moral claim is straightforward — no one has a right to use his land in a way that harms another. The application of the claim, however, is a lot harder.

 
Written By: Francis
URL: http://
Think of it as preemptive eminent domain—take the money before they get a chance to tie it up in real property. Much more efficient and easier, avoiding all that legal stuff that has to be done to take real property. People do not seem to have the same sense of ownership of a dollar bill that they do of real property.


"One perfectly legitimate view is that all government conduct is by definition amoral"

I think of it as a necessary evil. Chemotherapy is also an apt comparison. It uses poison; too little and you die, too much and you die.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Well, once upon a time we had a Constitution that described the limits of Federal powers. That doesn’t seem to be working too well these days, does it?

This is not the country I grew up in anymore, and excepting minority civil rights, and cleaner air and water, I can’t think of anything that is better because of the Federal Government.

I won’t depress you or myself by naming all the things that are worse.

 
Written By: MarkD
URL: http://
it’s not like you or anyone else would have all they have if they did not live in a society where there was rule of law and a process whereby social order was maintained.
Does government really maintain the "social order", whatever that is? Can the "social order" not exist without government? How would you prove such a thing? Is there really any such thing as a "social order"? At best the "social order" is simply the summation of millions of people interacting in trillions of different ways over a period of time, it as at best a descriptive categorization. There is nothing to "maintain" about it even if one wanted to.
Even the money we use works so well because people know it is backed by a government that enjoys legitimacy (people believe in the system of government) and preserves social order.
Without getting into a side discussion about central banks, the monopolization of currency by governments and whether that is a net gain or a net loss (I think it is the latter); the monetary system doesn’t create wealth, wealth is generated by individuals and organizations adding value and trading amongst themselves. This process would go on, and has gone on since the beginning of civilization, with or without government monopolization of legal currency in order to exist.
In that case taxing someone removes some of the wealth that they have gotten because of the advantages they have living in a society with the processes and governance we have.
This implies that you would only remove the wealth that was gotten because of these alleged advantages, how would you be able to separate the "good" from the "bad", or is all wealth accumulated in the existence of a government "bad"?

In a system based on rule of law, taking the property or freedom of an individual requires due process. I don’t think postulating that somebody may have benefited, by some undefined amount, by the existence of the government is grounds, under due process, for the government to take that persons wealth and freedom. Who is to say that any individual has benfitted from the existence of the government? What if their gains were accumulated in spite of the government and that individual would have been wealthier if the government hadn’t existed. Does that person then deserve a rebate?

What if the exact opposite was true: that the government had benefited from the existence of millions of individuals pursuing their own selfish interests and interacting with other individuals who they came into contact with on a dialy basis (ie, "society") instead of the other way around? Wouldn’t the government then owe the people a tax rebate?

The real point is: How do you prove any of this, because without proof a of a cause and effect relationship it really boils down to an arbitrary confiscation based on the John Dillinger theory: He robbed banks because that’s where the money was.

Then there is the question of whether the confiscated wealth could actually be put to better use by the government. For 99.9% of all of the governments that have existed since the beginning of civilization the answer to that question would be a resounding no. That money would go to enrich those at the top of the government and their cronies, would be used to arbitrarily suppress the population within its jurisdiction or would be used to start wars, or all of the above.
Rather it is protection of the common good which allow people to have the amount of stuff they have, and those who benefited the most should pay a larger cost — otherwise they are benefiting from ’free stuff.’
Wouldn’t the recipients of the confiscated money also be receiving "free stuff" and thus also have to have their stuff taken as well?

Here’s a discussion in itself: Define "common good".
 
Written By: DS
URL: http://
I think that the theory that applies is one that appears common among the Left (particularly the academic Left), but is not often openly stated: all wealth is generated by force or fraud. Therefore, the accumulation of wealth is immoral, and therefore those who accumulate wealth are immoral. It is not, then, unjust to take money from the immoral people (who have it) and give it to the moral people (who don’t have it).

I disagree with this on many grounds (indeed, I think that the premises are manifestly unjust and illogical), but it is an essentially moral argument, and flows rationally from the flawed premises to a flawed conclusion.
 
Written By: Jeff Medcalf
URL: http://www.caerdroia.org/blog
Bithead: The problem with complaining about "no moral absolutes" is that how do you prove that your "absolute" should be adopted by someone else who believes in a different "absolute"? I have strong moral convictions, but I have a hard time with the idea that others should be forced to live by them. My own belief is that what is ethical and moral ultimately works. Communism and Nazism were abject failures on practical grounds, no matter how the theory could be built and defended against alternates. Obviously immoral choices can work for some people some of the time; a moral person might suffer. Still, overall, I think there is a core set of common ethical understandings most humans have, and ultimately these translate into practical goals and outcomes.

That’s why I said I thought education was about learning to truly understand a vast variety of perspectives and why people believe them. If people think they have the moral imperative or "right" moral belief, they will be forced to be totally intolerant of other views because they challenge them to prove the superiority of theirs, something they can only do on their own terms. That’s why the fiercest fights were, for instance, between Communists and Democratic Socialists — they were protecting an "ism" from alternate interpretations, and that threatened the whole intellectual edifice.

So moral debates are nice, we should have them. But ultimately unless someone provides some kind of proof that their system is right, it makes sense to look at practical issues.

Diffus: the moral issues in a four person community vs. a complex system of power relationships are far more complex, making it possible to justify a whole host of things depending on how one defines those power relationships. That’s the world we have — there may well be moral absolutes (I believe there are), but we can’t prove there are, and those who have beliefs different than yours or mine will feel just as justified promoting their beliefs as morally correct.

DS: You make a number of good arguments, and I know socialists who could respond with good arguments as well. Neither of you will convince the other because you start from different core assumptions. That’s my point: the moral argument is inherently unprovable (at least I haven’t seen one proven and often efforts to do so end up as appeal to popular opinion) using reason alone. (That’s one reason my blog on April 3 notes the often neglected importance of sentiment).
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
"We’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good." What precisely, is the moral principle that allows this?
I’ll take a stab at this.

First off, I completely disagree with the premise as stated. If that sentence, standing on it’s own were the argument, I would that it is neither a valid moral principal nor a valid function of government. If it were, then the only limit on what the government should take would be the point where the wealth of the wealthiest were reduced to the point where they became the median.

I don’t know if Hillary is really ignorant of this, or it’s just political.

But on the larger point of social programs in general, where SOME wealth were taken from the wealthier individuals and used to improve the lot of the less fortunate, I believe there is not only a moral foundation, but also a valid function of government in the interests of ADVANCING our national interests. To describe instances where I approve of this kind of policy, I use the term "investment". If a program has a positive return on investment relative to other options, I would support it, even if it appears to be a socialistic redistribution of wealth.

As an example, I offer the Morrill Land Grants. "The Morrill Acts funded educational institutions by granting federally controlled land to the states. The mission of these institutions, as set forth in the 1862 Act, is to teach agriculture, military tactics, and the mechanic arts, not to the exclusion of classical studies, so that members of the working classes might obtain a practical college education."

This investment has paid our country back very well. Part of the reason for our ascendency as a nation was the broadened access to higher education that allowed less fortunate but promising individuals to have tools and the opportunity to become as productive as the elite. The graduates of this system have contributed enormously to enhance the opportunities and wealth of our nation, and every individual in our nation. The return on investment of this program has been very positive.

There are other programs, like welfare, that CAN have a positive return on investment, if it is done right. Think about the teach a man to fish analogy.

Sadly, I don’t think a lot of liberals think in these terms, and that’s a mistake, because if you think that it’s moral or valid government to take anything from the "haves" in order to improve the lot of the "have nots", then you really have stepped over the line into egalitarian socialism. But if you consider these types of policies with the understanding that the goal is to improve the nation as a whole, which would in turn enhance the wealth of the wealthiest who are paying this, it is a moral valid and a valid use of the taxpayers money.

I hear the phrase, "a rising tide raises all boats" a lot from conservatives. You may want to consider that phrase when applied to a tide raised from the bottom up.

Taxation is not inherently evil, and no taxation is not inherently good. It’s all in the application.

I often wonder where in the ideological spectrum this point of view puts me, and as near as I can tell, based on my views on individual rights, it puts somewhere in the scarcely populated libertarian left.

Cap
 
Written By: Captin Sarcastic
URL: http://
"We’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good." What precisely, is the moral principle that allows this?

I’m going to take a stab at refining Cap even further, Dale.

Here’s the moral principle behind it. Ahem. If you don’t do it, everyone is collectively fuc*ed.

It’s the same principle behind the need for forced taxation for national defense, which you’re totally fine with. If you leave it up to individuals to decide how much of their personal wealth they want to donate to keep us safe from the Iranians, not enough money arrives to do that. It’s in everyone’s individual interest to free-ride, give as little as possible, and expect everyone else to give enough to cover the gap. Thus, our libertarian paradise is enslaved to the theocrats. Pardon me if my right-wing-ese is rusty here.

The bottom line is, sort of ironically, the same bottom line used for Gitmo: it’s ugly, but it’s neccesary. Without it, greater harm is done. It’s not enough to have good intentions: what’s neccesary are good results.

I don’t buy it in Guantanamo, because history doesn’t demonstrate that avoiding torture brings the collapse of your national security. On the other hand, there’s probably a reason no government on earth tries to run a country based on voluntary donations, beyond greed and selfishness. It probably leads to objective failure.

 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
It asserts that a majority of people can decide to coerce you with the armed, police power of the state, to take away your property if it benefits them. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want the property to be taken. It doesn’t matter if you disagree that the perceived benefit is worth such coercion.

Essentially, the position taken by many on the Left is that they can simply take your property from you by force, if they think its necessary.
Bolding mine as the bolded section is completely inane. Many on the left?!? This is the position of anyone on the Right, Left, or Center, who believes governments can levy taxes.

Moral or not, that’s the kind of government our Constitution established. Go read article 1; I belive it’s section 8. If you don’t like that Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes and don’t want the armed, police power of the state to take away your property, then amend it, or overthrow it. Either way you can stop whining about the armed police simply taking your property from you by force when what you are actually objecting to is the particular use of that property once it is taken.

The moral basis for this position is that this kind of government, one that can decide to coerce you with the armed, police power of the state, to take away your property if it benefits them, will form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. That is the moral basis for giving Congress the power to take your stuff.

Intentionally harming Person A to some degree, in order to help Person B isn’t the basis of Socialism, it is the basis of the US F*@#ing Constitution. Now if you want to you can always argue that Use X of your property, coerced from you by the police power of the state, doesn’t promote the general welfare. Go ahead; convince enough voters and you can change that use. But that has nothing to do with taxing some people and spending in ways that benefit other people no matter what hysterics you get into about it.
 
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
This is the position of anyone on the Right, Left, or Center, who believes governments can levy taxes.
You pretty much nailed it in one sentence.

Although regarding general welfare, the only caveat I would add is that promoting the general welfare of some specific group is not promoting the general welfare, but if you have a sound argumebnt that helping one specific group WILL promote teh general welfare, then you have an investment, and the mortal authority and Constitutional basis.

The US military is largest socialist program in the planet.



Cap
 
Written By: Captin Sarcastic
URL: http://
if you have a sound arguement that helping one specific group WILL promote the general welfare, then you have an investment, and the moral authority and Constitutional basis.
Exactly right. Helping people do better for themselves can lift all the boats as you suggest and give you one such rationale.

Your and Glasnost’s points about the military are right on. Person A, taxpayers, money is torn away from them by the police power of the state to pay for guns and tanks and bombs that protect (hopefully) Person B, everyone in the US.
 
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
Person A, taxpayers, money is torn away from them by the police power of the state to pay for guns and tanks and bombs that protect (hopefully) Person B, everyone in the US.
You’ve completely misread the situation.

Taking money from all taxpayers to run the government benefits all taxpayers. However, taking money from some taxpayers to give to to others (and I mean give, not in exchange for work or anything else of value) doesn’t benefit the taxpayers on its face.

Look at the eminent domain arguments. Suppose you have a house that’s smack in the middle of where some developer wants to put a high-rise condo. If the high-rise is built, then a lot of people will live where you’re living now. So, is it moral for the government to take your house and land, and then give it to the developer so he can build the high-rise? Because that’s what we’re talking about here.

If not, how then can you possibly justify taking money from your neighbor, just because he’s been successful in his business, and giving it to your lazy brother-in-law, just because he hasn’t been successful?
 
Written By: steverino
URL: http://steverino.journalspace.com/
What precisely, is the moral principle that allows this?
There are any number of ways to justify this. It’s pretty basic utilitarianism, for one; or, a Kantian could easily construct a categorical imperative argument.

It doesn’t strike me as especially difficult to craft a reasonable moral argument for universal health care. It won’t convince you, of course, but that’s neither here nor there.
 
Written By: jpe
URL: http://
I know that you are arguing on moral grounds, but I though you might find this interesting as well:

After adjustment for age and income, persons with Medicare and Medicaid had the highest mortality in comparison with those with employer-provided insurance, with relative risks generally greater than 2. With adjustment for age and income, persons without insurance had higher mortality than those with employer-provided insurance, with relative risks of 1.2 for white men and 1.5 for white women.
 
Written By: Everyday Economist
URL: http://everydayecon.wordpress.com
However, taking money from some taxpayers to give to to others (and I mean give, not in exchange for work or anything else of value) doesn’t benefit the taxpayers on its face.

Sure it does. It provides them freedom from fear. The fear of falling into the same economic category as the people getting the money, and, without the government money being there, being stripped of everything one owns, in both a material and a social sense.

You may not value that freedom from fear much. And that’s fine. Go convince 50% to agree with you, and have the politicians you elect go out and eliminate social security/medicare. Other people do value it: apparently, a majority.

By the way, most of what the government does to enforce freedom from violent harm doesn’t directly benefit every individual in the U.S. either - it’s likely that many of them would live violence-free lives regardless. Just fewer of them. Yet that’s enough. You have to include the effects of an outcome being possible for everyone, not just actually and literally happening for all of them.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
However, taking money from some taxpayers to give to to others (and I mean give, not in exchange for work or anything else of value) doesn’t benefit the taxpayers on its face.
Another possible rationale for a policy like this would be alternative spending. If the poorest members of society were committing the majority of crimes and spending on the judicial system, police, gated communities, and the prison system could be offset by social spending, and it came out to be a wash or a positive return, the spending could be justified, both morally and Constitutionally.

Other than the argument that ANY redistribution is morally wrong because it represents the coercive power of government being brought to bear to take from one and give to another, I am not hearing any good arguments why redistribution is inherently wrong. And for those arguing that ANY redistribution IS wrong cannot support having a government at all, as even basic police protection is an example of wealth redistribution paid for by taxation levied under the threat of the coercive power of government.

I don’t think this is a moral argument at all, though elements are, but rather it is an ideological argument, with one side believing that earned wealth serves the nation best in the hands of those who earned it, and the other side believing that earned wealth can be taxed and improve the nation including improving the prospects for those that have been taxed.



Cap



 
Written By: Captin Sarcastic
URL: http://
To describe instances where I approve of this kind of policy, I use the term "investment". If a program has a positive return on investment relative to other options, I would support it, even if it appears to be a socialistic redistribution of wealth.
Sadly, I don’t think a lot of liberals think in these terms, and that’s a mistake, because if you think that it’s moral or valid government to take anything from the "haves" in order to improve the lot of the "have nots", then you really have stepped over the line into egalitarian socialism.

I think the best example of the type of policy you favor is the GI Bill.The GI Bill put seed money directly into the hands of ambitious men and women who were returning from World II eager to get on with their education and careers. The bill included a broad cross-section of American society, including women and blacks, despite being passed in the pre-Civil Rights 1940’s.

This type of policy would never be supported by 21st Century Democrats. Current Democrats prefer putting money in the hands of bureaucrats, unions (especially public employee unions), and trial lawyers to putting it in the hands of individuals. Certainly they would never do anything to benefit ambitious people with middle-class, entrepreneurial values, because another word for people like this is "Republican."

 
Written By: Aldo
URL: http://
Sure it does. It provides them freedom from fear. The fear of falling into the same economic category as the people getting the money, and, without the government money being there, being stripped of everything one owns, in both a material and a social sense.
By your logic, glasnost, it would be perfectly moral to take everything you own and distribute it to 5 people who have absolutely nothing. Granted, you’d have nothing, but 5 other people would have been rescued from their fear. So, the net gain is 4 people better off. You need to explain how impoverishing one person to reward other people is moral.

Robbing from the rich to give to the poor is still theft, no matter what you do with the swag.
Another possible rationale for a policy like this would be alternative spending. If the poorest members of society were committing the majority of crimes and spending on the judicial system, police, gated communities, and the prison system could be offset by social spending, and it came out to be a wash or a positive return, the spending could be justified, both morally and Constitutionally.
First, i’d like to see the Constitutional justification for this. I bet it’s hiding behind the health care system you imagine that would deliver the same quality as ours at a lower cost.

But, that aside, it’s not poverty that makes criminals. There were plenty of people impoverished in The Great Depression....was the crime rate higher then? And despite 40 years of The Great Society, crime hasn’t changed much. So, this argument of yours only works in The Land of Make Believe.
 
Written By: Steverino
URL: http://steverino.journalspace.com/
Oh, glasnost, et al.:

Please address the following.....
Look at the eminent domain arguments. Suppose you have a house that’s smack in the middle of where some developer wants to put a high-rise condo. If the high-rise is built, then a lot of people will live where you’re living now. So, is it moral for the government to take your house and land, and then give it to the developer so he can build the high-rise? Because that’s what we’re talking about here.
 
Written By: Steverino
URL: http://steverino.journalspace.com/
I don’t see emminent domain and taxation as even comparable. I don’t buy that analogy so the question doesn’t make sense.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Bithead: The problem with complaining about "no moral absolutes" is that how do you prove that your "absolute" should be adopted by someone else who believes in a different "absolute"?
A reasonable question, though I will guarantee you’re not going to like the answer:

that is how cultures get made; you get groups of people together that believe in the same morality.

In turn, that’s how countries get made.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
US progressives never fell into that whole intellectualism trap. Marx, and his more Euro based followers, left themselves wide open to logical criticism by actually trying to present a coherent social and economic theory. In the end leftists and even Marxist leftists started questioning it since it was there to question and it didn’t seem to be working (when exactly is this declining rate of profit thing going to hit?)… Then more libertarian based thinkers came around to pile on and there was real trouble for the hard left…

Our lefties, they’ve just settled on being angry at ‘the right’, morally indigent (even though they often say they hate moralizers), yada yada… It’s hard to either defend yourself from or criticize people who only have a nebulous anger and moral indignation (generally at you for not agreeing)… Bottom line, it works a lot better for them.
 
Written By: thomas
URL: http://
Bithead: The problem with complaining about "no moral absolutes" is that how do you prove that your "absolute" should be adopted by someone else who believes in a different "absolute"?

A reasonable question, though I will guarantee you’re not going to like the answer:

that is how cultures get made; you get groups of people together that believe in the same morality.

In turn, that’s how countries get made.
Your answer is a relativist rather than an absolutist one — cultures are defined by shared understandings and values. I agree.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Robbing from the rich to give to the poor is still theft, no matter what you do with the swag.
Then our Constitution codified theft.

Do you want to amend it?

 
Written By: Captin Sarcastic
URL: http://
By your logic, glasnost, it would be perfectly moral to take everything you own and distribute it to 5 people who have absolutely nothing. Granted, you’d have nothing, but 5 other people would have been rescued from their fear. So, the net gain is 4 people better off. You need to explain how impoverishing one person to reward other people is moral.
I don’t see that in his logic at all. He is noting that taxation properly used can help enhance freedom. Again, we have different definitions of freedom that get put into play, just as there are different notions of whether or not one really has earned the money one has (does the market really yield just results, OTTBE)? Since there is no clear, objectively provable answer to this, it gets dealt with in the realm of politics.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
PunkBitch:
"The problem with complaining about ’no moral absolutes’ is that how do you prove that your ’absolute’ should be adopted by someone else who believes in a different ’absolute’?"
Only a fool would even try it.

One simply gives fair warning and then starts shooting when the thieves come within range.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
One simply gives fair warning and then starts shooting when the thieves come within range.
They just send letters that you respond to promptly because you fear them.






 
Written By: Captin Sarcastic
URL: http://
That’s what you think.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
The Mayor and the Small Landowner
A Parable about Inclusionary housing in Pasadena...
[Wayne Lusvardi] 3/20/06
CaliforniaRepublic.org http://www.theonerepublic.com/archives/Columns/Lusvardi/20060320LusvardiMayor.html

Original Version: The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler, who had come to him. Instead he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such and thing and had no pity.”

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anointed you king over Israel… gave your master’s house to you... I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?” II Samuel 12, Hebrew Bible

Modern Version: God sent his prophet Nate to the powerful Mayor of the City of Pasadena named Bill and told him the following story: There were two men in a certain town, one rich and politically powerful and the other a relatively powerless and not rich Small Landowner. The rich and powerful mayor had the authority vested in his position to tax or take the property of others. But the Small Landowner had nothing much but one little parcel of land he had bought and paid taxes on for decades smack dab in the middle of the rich city. He rescued the 100-year old house on the land and wanted to pass ownership to his children. So his property became like one of his children.

Now a migrant traveler named Jose came to the powerful mayor of the city whose group the mayor and his City Councilman Gordy wanted to court political favor from. And the traveler and his group squatted on land belonging to other politically-favored groups who demanded it be replaced. But the mayor refrained from replacing it; neither did he assess a tax on all the citizens to provide housing to the traveler. Instead the mayor took half the land that belonged to the Small Landowner and prepared it for the traveler who had come to him as a form of political patronage.

Then Mayor Bill burned with anger upon hearing the story and said to Nate "As surely as God lives, the man who did this deserves to pay! He must pay for that property four times over because he did such a thing and has no pity. Who did this?"

Then Nate replied to Mayor Bill, "Why, you are the man!" And then God said: "I anointed you mayor over Pasadena. I gave your master’s house to you and I gave the house of Izzy and Jud. Why did you despise the word of God by doing what is evil in his eyes by stealing half of the Small Landowner’s property to give to a traveler for political patronage and then cover it up by calling it "inclusionary housing"? (see Pasadena Star News.com). And then why did you go to the City-sponsored "affordable housing summit" at the Pasadena Nazarene Church and seek religious sanction for your actions by hypocritically saying that what you were doing was helping the poor and the homeless? CRO

copyright 2006 Wayne Lusvardi

Guest Contributor
Wayne Lusvardi

Wayne Lusvardi worked for 20 years for the Metro Water District of So. Cal. and lives in Pasadena. The views expressed are his own. . Wayne receives e-mail at waynelbox-blogger@yahoo.com

 
Written By: Wayne Lusvardi
URL: http://www.pasadenapundit.com
Then our Constitution codified theft.
Show me the passage in the Constitution which enables the government to take money from the wealthy and give it to the poor. Taxation has been allowed, but that’s not the same as wealth redistribution. So, show us all the citation where wealth redistribution is Constitutionally allowed.
I don’t see emminent domain and taxation as even comparable. I don’t buy that analogy so the question doesn’t make sense.
You need to expand your imagination a bit, Professor. Eminent domain is the taking of property to serve the common good. Taxation as wealth redistribution is the taking of property — in the form of income — to serve the common good (or, at least as it is being argued here). The only difference is that the property owner is compensated under eminent domain, but he’s often not paid what his property is really worth, so he has had a portion of his net worth seized by the state.

The analogy is quite apt, now answer the question.
I don’t see that in his logic at all. He is noting that taxation properly used can help enhance freedom.
Again, a failure of the imagination. Let me break it down for you:

1. Glasnost argues that taking money from the wealthy and giving it to the poor frees those poor people from fear, and that’s a good thing.

2. Glasnost has property, and other people have nothing.

3. Taking Glasnost’s belongings and distributing them among 5 people who have absolutely nothing will result in Glasnost having nothing (a negative), but 5 other people freed from their fears because they now will have something (5 positives).

4. The net result is that 5 people will be better off and one person worse off. One of the 5 will cancel out Glasnost being worse off, so we have a net of 4 people better off than before. Therefore, this is a social good.

Now, to make the point a bit finer: those who argue that it is a good thing to take money from the wealthy and give it to the poor must tell us all where to draw the line. If it is right to take SOME money from the wealthy, is it also right to take ALL the money from the wealthy? If not, what amount should be taken?

Further, to repeat an earlier question of mine: what moral justification do you have to take money from your hard-working successful neighbor and give it to your lazy brother-in-law? If there is some moral good to be obtained in giving money to the poor, isn’t there a moral bad to take money from those with good work ethics?
 
Written By: Steverino
URL: http://steverino.journalspace.com/
They just send letters that you respond to promptly because you fear them.
That’s what you think.
Whatever (rationalization) gets you through the night.
 
Written By: Captin Sarcastic
URL: http://
We’re talking about a fact, you idiot, and you’re dead wrong.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Again, a failure of the imagination. Let me break it down for you:

1. Glasnost argues that taking money from the wealthy and giving it to the poor frees those poor people from fear, and that’s a good thing.

2. Glasnost has property, and other people have nothing.

3. Taking Glasnost’s belongings and distributing them among 5 people who have absolutely nothing will result in Glasnost having nothing (a negative), but 5 other people freed from their fears because they now will have something (5 positives).

4. The net result is that 5 people will be better off and one person worse off. One of the 5 will cancel out Glasnost being worse off, so we have a net of 4 people better off than before. Therefore, this is a social good.
Ah, I see, rather than following what Glasnost obviously meant, you used your imagination to try to twist it into something different. That’s usually called dishonest debate tactics. But you are asserting that glasnost said it was OK to have some being made to have nothing as long as more people have something, and that of course is absurd and contrary to the logic of his argument.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Ah, I see, rather than following what Glasnost obviously meant, you used your imagination to try to twist it into something different. That’s usually called dishonest debate tactics. But you are asserting that glasnost said it was OK to have some being made to have nothing as long as more people have something, and that of course is absurd and contrary to the logic of his argument.
No, Professor, I was taking the logical extension of the glasnost was arguing: that removing property from one person and giving it to other people is somehow a moral good because it frees the recipients from fear. I did not say that glasnost said taking everything from someone was OK, I just showed the end result of what he was arguing.

Now, a valid criticism of my tactic would have been to call it reductio ad absurdam, and then prove why it is an absurd extension. However, as I pointed out, once you state there is some moral good to removing property from one person, you must then show where the taking stops. Since no one on your side of the debate has drawn that line, the purpose of my argument here is to force your side to do so.

You are a fine one to criticize anyone about dishonest tactics, I have yet to see you argue anything on this blog honestly.

Oh, and I notice you didn’t address the eminent domain analogy I posed, even after I showed that it was a completely apt analogy.
 
Written By: steverino
URL: http://steverino.journalspace.com/
I was taking the logical extension of the glasnost was arguing: that removing property from one person and giving it to other people is somehow a moral good because it frees the recipients from fear.
So clearly he wouldn’t want fear created by a process to free people from fear. And if the goal is to free people from fear it wouldn’t be enough to say "any action that increases the number of people ’freed from fear’ is justified." That clearly does not follow in any logical way.

I don’t see how eminent domain is like taxes, you need to better explain that one.

The bottom line in the disagreement about morality is this: you focus on direct actions that are clearly discernible, and assume that existing distributions of wealth are legitimate because they are there. Those who argue against that have a variety of different possible perspectives: 1) Rejection of an individualist ontology in favor of seeing the individual as part of a society, and thus connected in ways which entail obligations; 2) Believe in an individualist ontology, but argue that the complexity of social relations is such that given outcomes come about not just by overt force but also structural force, whereby advantages and benefits are built in to how the game is played. Taxation is problemmatic, but so far the best way to try to address the structural force that renders some wealthier than others; or 3) believe in an individualist ontology but argue that past injustices have so stacked the deck that there is need to undo them — to remedy injustices from the past which have been so institutionalized and (similar to 2) structured that one can’t clearly lay blame or trace who precisely benefits; or 4) recognize that these issues are inherently contentious with no clear proof, and therefore there must be a political solution.

I note you don’t really offer an argument in favor of your position. It’s a mix of assertion and appeal to emotion. That’s a weak argument. But you have a point that I may have gone too far in accusing you of dishonest debate. Insults in discussions like this usually generate arguments that aren’t useful or enlightening.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
However, as I pointed out, once you state there is some moral good to removing property from one person, you must then show where the taking stops. Since no one on your side of the debate has drawn that line, the purpose of my argument here is to force your side to do so.
Did this earlier in the discussion...

First off, I completely disagree with the premise as stated. If that sentence, standing on it’s own were the argument, I would that it is neither a valid moral principal nor a valid function of government. If it were, then the only limit on what the government should take would be the point where the wealth of the wealthiest were reduced to the point where they became the median.

I don’t know if Hillary is really ignorant of this, or it’s just political.

But on the larger point of social programs in general, where SOME wealth were taken from the wealthier individuals and used to improve the lot of the less fortunate, I believe there is not only a moral foundation, but also a valid function of government in the interests of ADVANCING our national interests. To describe instances where I approve of this kind of policy, I use the term "investment". If a program has a positive return on investment relative to other options, I would support it, even if it appears to be a socialistic redistribution of wealth.

As an example, I offer the Morrill Land Grants. "The Morrill Acts funded educational institutions by granting federally controlled land to the states. The mission of these institutions, as set forth in the 1862 Act, is to teach agriculture, military tactics, and the mechanic arts, not to the exclusion of classical studies, so that members of the working classes might obtain a practical college education."

This investment has paid our country back very well. Part of the reason for our ascendency as a nation was the broadened access to higher education that allowed less fortunate but promising individuals to have tools and the opportunity to become as productive as the elite. The graduates of this system have contributed enormously to enhance the opportunities and wealth of our nation, and every individual in our nation. The return on investment of this program has been very positive.

There are other programs, like welfare, that CAN have a positive return on investment, if it is done right. Think about the teach a man to fish analogy.

 
Written By: Captin Sarcastic
URL: http://

There are other programs, like welfare, that CAN have a positive return on investment, if it is done right. Think about the teach a man to fish analogy.
Yes — that’s been the problem with social welfare programs in the US, money tends to be thrown at people and problems rather than providing constructive ways to help people improve their ability to earn and be independent. Instead, a sense of dependency gets fostered.

One reason for this is the size of the federal government — bureaucracies are far distant from the people, and what’s needed in Maine is not what’s needed in California.

Note one could make an "investment" argument in terms of health care: if a good health program could keep costs down (we spend the most as a % of GDP and in absolute terms on health care) and improve health care coverage, it might yield positive results for the country. However, this is unlikely to happen if it is done by a national bureaucracy, or some kind of complex nation wide cooperative scheme with insurance companies. It could happen at the individual state level and have buy in by both parties.

Little of this can really happen at the state level because so many funds are sucked up by the federal government for nation wide programs. Even when states are actively involved they are given numerous mandates by the feds on how to do things (and often without funds to do so).
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm

 
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