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Moral Questions for our Liberal Friends II
Posted by: Dale Franks on Friday, June 08, 2007

So far, no one in the left blogosphere seems interested in answering any of the philosophical questions I posed yesterday. They're all keen to jump questions about Iraq, but this type of conversation...not so much, apparently.

One commenter to yesterday's post gave it try, though.
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.
That's a common argument, but the problem with it is that it utterly confuses the relationship of the citizen to the government, and, indeed, the very purpose of government.

In the first place, maintaining the rule of law and a peaceful social order is the primary obligation of government. It is not an extra benefit that gives the government the right to ask for additional duties from the citizenry. It is, instead, the fundamental duty the government owes the citizenry. Maintaining the rule of law and a peaceful social order is the minimum acceptable criteria for legitimacy. In return for the government competently carrying out this most basic function, the citizenry rewards it by continuing to accept the legitimacy of the government. At that point, whatever chain of obligation may exist, it has been fully satisfied. Any government that does not maintain the rule of law and a peaceful social order is either incompetent or corrupt, and doesn't deserve any legitimacy of all.

In that light, the argument that the wealthy are so because of the social order provided by our benevolent overlords is simply non-sensical. To even make the argument implies that government has an a priori legitimacy, and that if the government deigns to uphold the rule of law, then that is an extra boon for which we should be grateful. That is not how I comprehend the relationship of the citizen to the state.

The state exists because we allow it to exist, and if it doesn't fulfill its responsibilities in an acceptable way, it is the right of the citizens to...what is the phrase?...oh, yes..."to alter or abolish it."

Moreover, to say that an individual's wealth exists because the government provides the rule of law and a peaceful social order is simply factually incorrect. An individual's wealth exists because the individual has created that wealth by providing goods or services that his fellow citizens want, and are willing to pay for. In fact, by maintaining the rule of law, the government actually limits the individual's ability to gain wealth, by making the use of force or fraud to do so a punishably illegal act. This means that the individual's only legitimately available means of gaining wealth is through voluntary transactions with his fellow citizens. The fact that the government was fulfilling its basic obligation to protect the individual from force or fraud in return has no bearing whatsoever on the individual's wealth. Indeed, if the government had not done so, the individual would be perfectly justified in replacing the incompetent government with one that would.
In fact the most wealthy likely benefit by colluding with government to protect their advantages.
That may be true. But if it is, then it seems to me that the last thing you'd want to is to keep giving government more and more power, thereby increasing the incentive for the wealthy to game the system. To the extent that wealthy people colluding with government is a problem today, it is because the government is now so intrinsically involved with daily life that it creates opportunities for rent-seeking, etc, that would not otherwise exist. If that is a concern, therefore, then the proper answer is to so limit the power of the government that there is no system to game. Then the problem automatically disappears.
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.'
Well, first, define "common good"? What is it, exactly? My definition of the common good is that every person is free to the maximum possible extent, and is coerced to the least possible extent. My definition of common good can be encapsulated in one word: liberty. If your definition is different, then we simply don't agree on what the "common good" is. So, why is your definition of common good better than mine?

I also object to the idea that the wealthy are so because they got "free stuff". What "stuff" would that be, exactly? Who poured money into the pockets of the wealthy without asking anything in return? Did government agents drop by the house every few weeks with a check? Did the wealthy individual's customers just toss in the occasional extra twenty, because they wanted to pay more for the good or service the wealthy person provided? Where did this "free stuff" come from?

Again, we're back to the idea that if government provides the rule of law, then that's some special benefit for which we should be grateful, not the bare minimum of acceptable performance. We should tolerate.

And I simply don't buy that.

Divider

Another commenter chimed in with this gem of misunderstanding.
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.
Well, then you simply don't know much about the Constitution. Indeed, you apparently don't even know what I was writing about.

First, I didn't state, or even imply, that taxation was wrong. If you have a government, then taxation of some sort is an inevitable result. Since I didn't argue for the abolition of taxation, however, it's difficult to see why you're going on about it.

Second, your quote from the Preamble, while certainly inspiring, is utterly irrelevant, besides being flatly incorrect. The Preamble has no legal effect whatsoever. Moreover, it isn't a statement of guiding principles that we are bound to follow. The preamble was merely an explanation by the Framers of what they perceived the results of the Constitution to be.

Moreover, even if I were to grant, arguendo, that the Preamble enshrined some principle that we are bound to obey, it certainly wouldn't include the principle you ascribe to it. The power to promote the general welfare does not refer to creating some form of transfer payments from one class of citizens to another, but rather to the power of the government that provides direct general benefits.

Both of us derive the same benefit from having a representative speak to the heathen foreigners, or by having our military forces kill them. We both benefit equally from a system of roads. We both benefit equally from a standard system of weights and measures, so that when we cross the border into Arizona, we don't have to try to figure out how many furlongs are in a hogshead.

We do not, however, benefit equally if you take my stuff under color of law to distribute to your cronies, or more, precisely, your political clients.

Additionally, your assertion that transfers promote the general welfare is just that: your assertion. My assertion is that the best form of general welfare is the maximization of liberty. And the thing about that is that if you think the general welfare is best helped out by assisting the poor, well, then, as William Beck III once said, in a free country, no one will stop you.

Divider

By the way, I received the following email from my father, who is an ordained minister.
Just a quick comment on your post yesterday titled, “Moral Questions for our Liberal Friends”

The Christian principle regarding welfare is embodied in Paul’s statement in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.

From this we can derive that it is a person’s responsibility to provide whatever benefits are necessary for his / her own good. If he / she declines to work to receive the necessary benefits, then those benefits should not accrue to him / her. There is no moral imperative in the scripture that requires a person to give part of his earnings to benefit a person who chooses not to provide for himself.
 
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I’d like to state that MY definition of "common good" includes "not taking away my stuff".

Now I can choose to give my stuff (i.e. money) to Dale for his stuff (i.e. Slackernomics). That’s perfectly voluntary. I have knowingly decided to part with cash to get something to help me sleep at night (I hit myself in the head with books to "induce" sleep).

But when Dale decides that you need a copy of his book, and takes MY money to fund it, that’s where I draw a line, and it’s where Dale might just lose a hand.
 
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
In the first place, maintaining the rule of law and a peaceful social order is the primary obligation of government. It is not an extra benefit that gives the government the right to ask for additional duties from the citizenry.
How do you determine the "primary obligation of government" and who determines whether or not the government can ask for additional duties? You are making assertions.

It is, instead, the fundamental duty the government owes the citizenry.
That’s one way of looking at it.
Maintaining the rule of law and a peaceful social order is the minimum acceptable criteria for legitimacy.
Pragmatic argument: you’ll be more likely to get legitimacy that way, so it’s good to achieve that. But legitimacy is simply acceptance by the public of a government as proper (poli-sci definition of legitimacy) so it isn’t necessariliy the only path to legitimacy.
In return for the government competently carrying out this most basic function, the citizenry rewards it by continuing to accept the legitimacy of the government. At that point, whatever chain of obligation may exist, it has been fully satisfied.
On what basis do you make that assertion? I’m not arguing against your position, but only pointing out that your position rests on assumptions about government and its nature that others may not share. And, if they do not share it, then none of your conclusions follow. How would you prove them wrong? You can’t do it by assertion, you’ll need more (I think pragmatism, again, is the best way).

Any government that does not maintain the rule of law and a peaceful social order is either incompetent or corrupt, and doesn’t deserve any legitimacy of all.
Or such a government could be weak and unable to function due to strong criminal elements. But whether or not it deserves legitimacy in most cases it won’t have it.

In that light, the argument that the wealthy are so because of the social order provided by our benevolent overlords is simply non-sensical. To even make the argument implies that government has an a priori legitimacy, and that if the government deigns to uphold the rule of law, then that is an extra boon for which we should be grateful. That is not how I comprehend the relationship of the citizen to the state.
But by the argument I was citing, most wealthy people in a system where there has been rule of law have benefited from it in ways they would not have, absent that government. Therefore the money they claim is theres is really a social product caused by the order created. Moreover, that order allows some to have structural advantages over others, and that order depends upon social peace, which means you can’t have large numbers of poor ready to revolt. Thus democracies do allow for taxation and redistribution with the idea that if it gets out of hand the practical consequences will be such that the government will be forced back into line. (A true leftist argument would go farther, stating that the wealthy control the social economic structure and build in advantages that government, as a legitimate tool of the people, have a right to correct).

Now, this is no way proves government should have that power to tax and try to correct problems. Just like your approach, such an argument rests on unfalsifiable assumptions. Reason and logic can not give "right" answers about this because at base the core argument rests on your beliefs about what government is and should be. Someone with different beliefs will develop different conclusions.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
But by the argument I was citing, most wealthy people in a system where there has been rule of law have benefited from it in ways they would not have, absent that government. Therefore the money they claim is theres is really a social product caused by the order created.
Sounds like a protection racket.
 
Written By: The Unabrewer
URL: http://unabrewer.com
Scott:

Your entire argument ignores the foundation of our Constitution. It wasn’t found under some tree in Pennsylvania, but instead carefully crafted from core principles, among them the idea that government exists at the pleasure of the governed (see, e.g. Jefferson’s "A Summary View"), and derives no legitimacy except through the will of a free people.

You also ignore history when arguing that the wealthy are somehow privy to more benefits than others because of the rule of law (and, indeed, are wealthy precisely because of it). When Henry II "Curtmantle" organized what became the common law courts, he was trying to create a uniform system that applied to all, and delivered equal results no matter where applied:
Henry’s reforms allowed the emergence of a body of common law to replace the disparate customs of feudal and county courts. Jury trials were initiated to end the old Germanic trials by ordeal or battle. Henry’s systematic approach to law provided a common basis for development of royal institutions throughout the entire realm.
Prior to Henry’s reforms, "trials by ordeal" involved defendants having to prove themselves against fire or water (a great parody can be found in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail: "It’s a fair cop."), and trials by battle (or wagers of battel) meant that the disputants squared off against one another. If a knight decided to avail himself of a serf’s cottage, effectively evicting the serf, there was little doubt as to who would win such a battle. With a jury trial available (and the ability of the serf to retain the property until verdict), the serf was suddenly placed in a much more equal position.

What does that have to do with the wealthy benefiting from an ordered society and the rule of law? Well, the serf illustrates just how much better the poorest and least well off among us benefit from a law that is applied equally to everyone, and the knight is an example of how the wealthy are actually brought down a peg or two. Rule of law or not, the wealthy will always do just fine. With the rule of law, however, it is those with so little to lose that gain the most. The serf loses his very home without such laws, even if it is a hovel, while the knight merely loses a place to sleep when he and the serf are equal before the law.
 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com
You must be deliberately failing to get it, Dale. These arguments are below your usual high standard.

In the first place, maintaining the rule of law and a peaceful social order is the primary obligation of government. It is not an extra benefit that gives the government the right to ask for additional duties from the citizenry. It is, instead, the fundamental duty the government owes the citizenry. Maintaining the rule of law and a peaceful social order is the minimum acceptable criteria for legitimacy. In return for the government competently carrying out this most basic function, the citizenry rewards it by continuing to accept the legitimacy of the government. At that point, whatever chain of obligation may exist, it has been fully satisfied. Any government that does not maintain the rule of law and a peaceful social order is either incompetent or corrupt, and doesn’t deserve any legitimacy of all.

You’re missing the point. The distinction you’re creating between government’s obligations to citizens vs... something that wouldn’t count as that... isn’t relevant. Your original question was:

"We’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good." What precisely, is the moral principle that allows this?

The answer is, the same principle that allows the government to take away your right to kill people on behalf of the common good., i.e. " Maintaining the rule of law and a peaceful social order" The basic reason for any form of government to exist is to deprive you of liberty on behalf of your fellow man - thereby allowing them to have something they could not otherwise have. There’s no other reason, and no other mechanism by which government acts. It’s a prohibitive and confiscatory mechanism, in its entirety. You don’t have a problem with that basic principle when it applies to reasons you personally approve of, like preventing citizens from killing other citizens and taking their stuff, to allow citizens to have physical security from violent harm. But when the government deprives you of certain types of liberty to provide certain other types of common goods - such as a minimum floor of economic opportunity - you attempt to argue that it’s somehow different.

But it’s not. It’s the same principle. Coercing your fellow man to provide them what they could not have, free of coercion, and what they want anyway. Whether you’re giving them a violence-free life through the power of your overwhelming coercive force against those who dissent - and this extends not just to murder, but to safety regulations, carelesness, dangerous indifference - or you’re giving them a poverty-free life through the power of your overwhelming coercive force against those who don’t buy into the plan - it’s the same principle at work.

Of course, I’m not saying that, just because the logic is clear, means that anything that can be justified by this logic is correct. That’s not how I personally feel. But you pretend there’s no moral principle, but you do so only by covering your eyes. The same moral principle underlies both the government’s actions you approve of and the ones you don’t. The principle is, the citizen is happier when they’re less free. In one instance, it’s the American citizen who’s happier than the Iraqi citizen who’s freer to kill people - or die in a gutter with his throat cut. In the second, it’s the Norweigan citizen who’s happier than the American citizen who’s freer to make billions - or spend miserable decades having their posessions repeatedly snatched away by creditors and carnivores.

You can disagree, say, the Norweigan citizen isn’t really happier. The American one is. But don’t pretend you don’t accept coercion for the common good as a principle. Because, as a principle, you clearly do. That’s what your commentors were trying to hint to you.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
Your entire argument ignores the foundation of our Constitution.
Yes — he asked a question about morality, not legality. The constitution is not proof of morality, it is setting a framework of shared understandings and values by which to govern.

I think you are wrong, though, if you say the wealthy don’t benefit from rule of law. I think the entire middle and middle to upper class are beneficiaries. Most of the poor benefit as well, these aren’t mutually exclusive. But without stability and rule of law you’d see a few organized criminal groups in control and others fighting for a place. With it you see a thriving middle and upper class.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Dale I think your ideas are masterfully stated. Of course Glasnost and Scott Erb will not agree because there is, in their own words no philosophical difference between government maintaining order and redistributing property.

However, to most people there is indeed a very clear difference since the maintenance of order cannot be qualified as a hardship upon the individual. Whereas the redistribution of property is, by its very nature no more than organized theft, and therefore a hardship visited unequally upon the citizens.
 
Written By: kyleN
URL: http://impudent.blognation.us/blog
You’re missing the point. The distinction you’re creating between government’s obligations to citizens vs... something that wouldn’t count as that... isn’t relevant. Your original question was:
And you completely missed Dale’s point. What Dale wrote was in response to Erb saying that the wealthy wouldn’t have their wealth if it weren’t for government. Dale’s response was that maintaining the rule of law is the responsibilty of government, and that extends to all citizens. While the wealthy may benefit from the rule of law, the poor get the same benefit. So, it isn’t the rule of law that creates wealth, and to tax the wealthy because they somehow benefit more from the rule of law is misguided.
 
Written By: Steverino
URL: http://steverino.journalspace.com/
We’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good.
The moral argument against this is found in Kant’s Categorical Imperative. I will attempt to cut and paste a summary of the argument from Wikipedia:


1.
[Kant] defined an imperative as any proposition that declares a certain action (or inaction) to be necessary. A hypothetical imperative would compel action in a given circumstance: If I wish to satisfy my thirst, then I must drink something. A categorical imperative would denote an absolute, unconditional requirement that exerts its authority in all circumstances, both required and justified as an end in itself.
2.
[Kant] expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the moral philosophy of his day because he believed it could never surpass the level of hypothetical imperatives. For example, a consequentialist standard may indicate that murder is wrong because it does not maximize good for the greatest number; but this would be irrelevant to someone who is not interested in maximizing the good. Consequently, Kant argued, hypothetical moral systems cannot persuade moral action or be regarded as bases for moral judgments against others, because the imperatives they are based on rely too heavily on subjective considerations.
3.
The nature of a moral proposition ("It is wrong to commit murder") must necessarily mean that a particular act or kind of act ought not be carried out under any circumstance ("One ought not commit murder"). This is the central point of his meta-ethical theory that establishes Kant as a moral objectivist. A categorical imperative is the one and only basis for all moral statements, because a hypothetical imperative would depend on the subjective desires of the rational actors, rendering it powerless to compel moral action in all actors.
4.
Kant concludes that a moral proposition that is true must be one that is not tied to any particular conditions, including the identity of the person doing the moral deliberation. One could not morally command others by saying "It is wrong for you to murder, but it is not wrong for me to murder" because that would be a hypothetical imperative: Effectively saying "If I am person A, murder is right; If I am person B, murder is wrong". Therefore, a moral maxim must have universality, which is to say that it must be disconnected from the particular physical details surrounding the proposition, and could be applied to any rational being.
According to his reasoning, we first have a perfect duty not to act by maxims that result in logical contradictions when we attempt to universalize them.
Second, we have imperfect duty, which is the duty to act only by maxims that we would desire to be universalized. Since it depends somewhat on the subjective preferences of humankind, this duty is not as strong as a perfect duty, but it is still morally binding.
5.
Every rational action must set before itself not only a principle, but also an end. Most ends are of a subjective kind, because they need only be pursued if they are in line with some particular hypothetical imperative that a person may choose to adopt. For an end to be objective, it would be categorically necessary that we pursue it.

The free will is the source of all rational action. But to treat it as a subjective end is to deny the possibility of freedom in general. Because the autonomous will is the one and only source of moral action, it would contradict the first formulation to claim that a person is merely a means to some other end, rather than always an end in his or her self.

On this basis, Kant derives second formulation of the categorical imperative from the first.

* "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means"[2]

By combining this formulation with the first, we learn that a person has perfect duty not to use itself or others merely as a means to some other end.
One cannot, on Kant’s account, ever suppose a right to treat another person as a mere means to an end.
 
Written By: Aldo
URL: http://
But by the argument I was citing, most wealthy people in a system where there has been rule of law have benefited from it in ways they would not have, absent that government. Therefore the money they claim is theres is really a social product caused by the order created.
I disagree, the non-wealthy benefit far more. From the beginning of recorded history the wealthy (Pharaohs, Caesars, Kings, Feudal Lords, Nobility) had few problems maintaining or increasing their wealth. They simply paid enough people to take what they wanted by force.

The rule of law should protect all equally from force, be it the poor being exploited by the forces of the wealthy or the wealthy from the lawlessness of a mob. While we must be careful that government doesn’t become the paid forces of the wealthy, we must also remain vigilant that it doesn’t become the "muscle" behind the mob.
 
Written By: Jay Evans
URL: http://
Dale’s response was that maintaining the rule of law is the responsibilty of government, and that extends to all citizens. While the wealthy may benefit from the rule of law, the poor get the same benefit. So, it isn’t the rule of law that creates wealth, and to tax the wealthy because they somehow benefit more from the rule of law is misguided.

First: The argument for taxing the wealthy more than the non-wealthy does not depend on demonstrating that they benefit more from the rule of law. I happen to agree with Scott Erb, but Scott’s argument is irrelevant to Dale’s question. Taxation isn’t, or shouldn’t about what’s ’fair’ according to endlessly malleable questions of who "deserves" it, but about consequences and results of said taxation. Rational government policy is utilitarian government policy.

Second: Dale wasn’t arguing against taxation, or even differential taxation - wisely so, because you can construct an argument for progressive taxation even with a government spending on nothing but national defense. Dale was arguing, as I understand it, against using tax money on social welfare programs.

If you’ll recall, what Dale was questioning was "we’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good". I don’t see how "we tax the rich more because they deserve it" enters into that formulation in the first place. Those are two contrasting rationales for government action - so the second is a red herring. Dale’s swinging at the easy pitches.

 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
If you aren’t able to equate "we’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good" directly with "we tax the rich more because they deserve it", we’ll never be able to get this across to you...

Who the hell do you think the "you" is in "we’re going to take things away from you" is reffering to? Here’s a hint: It ain’t reffering to the poor...
 
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
The moral argument against this is found in Kant’s Categorical Imperative.

* "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means"[2]

By combining this formulation with the first, we learn that a person has perfect duty not to use itself or others merely as a means to some other end.

One cannot, on Kant’s account, ever suppose a right to treat another person as a mere means to an end.


First, I don’t think we should take the writings of any given philosopher as determinative - even one I happen to respect, like Kant. But more importantly, I think you’re reading Kant wrong.

The key word here is " a mere means to an end". I must assume that, therefore, it’s okay to treat a person a means to an end, as long as one also considers their best interest. Then it’s no longer a "mere" means to an end.

Otherwise, you toss all rule-making behavior out the window. There’s no way to create a rule about how people may behave without considering people as a means to an end - the end being the goal neccesitating the rule, and the means being the prohibited behavior. When you make the rule, and for certain when you enforce it (by punishing someone), you inevitably treat people as means to the end of controlling the behavior. You subordinate their best interest in not being punished to the goal of control.

So Kant’s imperative doesn’t apply to rules that control you in order to help you, even collectively, or else it invalidates all rules.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
If you aren’t able to equate "we’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good" directly with "we tax the rich more because they deserve it", we’ll never be able to get this across to you...

That’s too bad. Really. Also, if I’m not able to equate 2 with 3, you’ll never be able to convince me that 2 + 2 = 5.

Who the hell do you think the "you" is in "we’re going to take things away from you" is reffering to? Here’s a hint: It ain’t reffering to the poor...

The poor pay taxes, Scott. The "you" is anyone and everyone. I’ll add here, for kicks, something like, "just because you can come up with a rationale for why someone, such as the government, does something, even a bad rationale, it doesn’t therefore follow that that is, in fact, why the government does something."

I would then go on to use an example, such as "the government executes prisoners, and I can say they do it because they have a masturbatory fetish for watching people die, and that is in fact a rationale for capital punishment, but that doesn’t demonstrate that capital punishment, in general, is wrong, only wrong to do for that reason. Now apply to "tax the rich cuz they deserve it" vs. "take things away from you on behalf of the common good".

But I suspect I’m wasting my time.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
f you aren’t able to equate "we’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good" directly with "we tax the rich more because they deserve it", we’ll never be able to get this across to you...
The problem isn’t that the rich are taxed more, it’s that they’re taxed at a higher rate. If the rich were taxed at the same percentage, they’d still be paying more, but the tax would be in proportion.

But why do the rich deserve to be taxed more, Erb? Is it because they are rich? Most wealthy people are wealthy because they’ve worked hard and saved diligently. Do they deserve to be taxed more because they had a stronger ethic? If so, why call it an income tax, why not call it a Work Ethic Tax?
Rational government policy is utilitarian government policy.
I think you have inadvertantly answered Dale’s original question on the morality of taking from one to give to another. The problem is that giving money away doesn’t materially affect the crime rate. In fact, there’s ample evidence that giving money away just creates a class that is not only dependent upon government largesse, it expects it as a birthright. So, giving money away doesn’t improve the social order AND it messes up future generations. I’m having a hard time seeing the moral good here.
 
Written By: Steverino
URL: http://steverino.journalspace.com/
oops, I misread Scott Jacobs’s post. Scott Erb, please disregard the question I pointed at you...instead, I’ll aim it at glasnost....
 
Written By: Steverino
URL: http://steverino.journalspace.com/
However, to most people there is indeed a very clear difference since the maintenance of order cannot be qualified as a hardship upon the individual. Whereas the redistribution of property is, by its very nature no more than organized theft, and therefore a hardship visited unequally upon the citizens.

Thanks, Kyle. High-fives. You’re the first person to acknowledge the argument being made. I’d imagine you’d even be intellectually honest enough to admit that both maintaining of order and redistributing property depend on government coercion. It shouldn’t be pulling teeth just to establish that much, but it seems like it is.

Now we can get somewhere.

the maintenance of order cannot be qualified as a hardship upon the individual

Bollocks. Sure it can. Do you like standing in long lines at airports? Do you think that doesn’t ever cause hardships to people? Heck, do you like being thrown in prison? How about having your money taken from you so we can build aircraft carriers? Irregardless of what’s you’ve done to deserve it, it’s a hardship being visited upon people - unequally, at that. In fact, people are singled out for differential treatment based on all manner of factors in the course of upholding the rule of law.

What you really mean is, "the hardships upon the individual that are required to maintain order are obviously worth it, i.e. the individual is really gaining more than they’re losing." That’s, of course, a subjective argument, and can be used to justify social welfare programs as well.

Whereas the redistribution of property is, by its very nature no more than organized theft

All you’ve done here is label. I can label the forced requisition of taxes for the purposes of national defense as "theft". It was your money, and the government took it. Theft! The point is that you justify that one because "its for a purpose I think the government was intended to do" - whereas redistribution is "not what the government was intended to do". It’s certainly not because confiscation for national defense is not a hardship,

Which is fine. Go tell it to 50% + 1 of the population. Vote on it. But you’re not entitled to obedience to your personal interpretation of what the purposes government is intended to fulfill, vs. what purposes it’s not.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
The problem is that giving money away doesn’t materially affect the crime rate. In fact, there’s ample evidence that giving money away just creates a class that is not only dependent upon government largesse, it expects it as a birthright. So, giving money away doesn’t improve the social order AND it messes up future generations. I’m having a hard time seeing the moral good here.

You’re now making a different argument than Dale made, Steve. Specifically, you’re arguing that "social welfare programs don’t work". Whereas Dale was asking, "what’s the moral principle behind taking things away from you on behalf of the common good?". To which I answered, "the principle on which all government functions and abilities - social welfare and otherwise - relies."

I don’t have a problem with you arguing "social welfare programs don’t work". I don’t agree, of course, but but it’s not an example of logically inconsistent argument. Whereas "taking things away from you on behalf of the common good is an evil principle, which is why it’s okay for national defense, but not ok for social welfare programs" is a logically flawed argument.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
we’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good"
My big problem with this is (as Dale mentioned) once you get to a certain point, exactly just what the "public good" is becomes very, very muddied.

Hillary never really defines what her vision of the "common good" entails. and that is the scary part. She’s telling us that she is planning a money grab for undefined purpose, but not to worry because she knows best and it’s all for our benefit.

Define common good down into a set or series of goals/programs so we know what we’re discussing here, then we can actually discuss the morality in better fashion, because in the abstract there’s not much moral defense you can create )that I can see anyhow)

Can someone from the left come up with an example of a purpose for which they think the morality would be acceptable?
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
The poor pay taxes, Scott.
Yes they do, and you’re a damned idiot.

You said "we tax the rich more". Do you see the operative word there?

More

Tax them at the same rate, and while yes they pay more, they pay purportionally the same. They have a higher rate, so they pay a higher percentage.

And if you think that’s fair, well, I’m pretty much done. It wil lbe impossible to get through to you the danger of "take from you for the common good".
 
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
Taxation should be progressive because those with more clearly have benefited more from the stability of the system, and can use that to try to entrench their position, not necessarily contributing more work or creativity to society. Those with less clearly have less opportunity, and thus should pay a smaller proportion (and below poverty levels, they shouldn’t pay anything). Part of this deals with education and children — the children of poor people are structurally disadvantaged vis-a-vis children of the rich. What I’m saying isn’t even controversial in most circles. The fact that some here say things like:
They have a higher rate, so they pay a higher percentage.

And if you think that’s fair, well, I’m pretty much done.
Shows that some here have a particular belief system that simply doesn’t accept progressive taxation. That’s fine, but there is no reason why others have to accept that belief system because some assert it. We just disagree, and in such cases of disagreements on core principles the way its worked out is through politics.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
BTW, most conservatives and capitalists believe in progressive income tax, most Republicans and Democrats agree on this. So this isn’t a cpaitalist vs. socialist kind of thing.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
First, I don’t think we should take the writings of any given philosopher as determinative - even one I happen to respect, like Kant.
I didn’t make an argument from authority. I meticulously outlined the steps of his logic, or philosophical proof.
The key word here is " a mere means to an end". I must assume that, therefore, it’s okay to treat a person a means to an end, as long as one also considers their best interest. Then it’s no longer a "mere" means to an end.
You are playing semantic games and ignoring the substance of the argument. I will try to boil this down for you: Forcing someone to do something against his free will (as opposed to restraining him from committing harm or entering into a voluntary agreement with him) in the interest of some other end is always morally wrong, even if you try to rationalize it by claiming that other the end would be in the person’s own best interest.

It is morally wrong, because moral propositions must be categorically imperative and have universality. If autonomous will were tied to conditions (i.e. denied for a person’s "best interest"), then it would be a hypothetical, rather than categorical imperative, and it could not be expressed as a universal principle. Making it a hypothetical imperative denies the philosophical possibility of moral autonomy, which is the basis of all rational action.

In my attempt to simplify this for you I have, out of necessity, left out several steps in the proof. I suggest you read the Wikipedia summary that I linked above for a more complete explanation.
 
Written By: Aldo
URL: http://
Forcing someone to do something against his free will (as opposed to restraining him from committing harm or entering into a voluntary agreement with him) in the interest of some other end is always morally wrong, even if you try to rationalize it by claiming that other the end would be in the person’s own best interest.
Every act is defined in part by its context. A lie may be the right thing to do or the wrong, depending on the context. Forcing a drunk to give you his car keys is different than forcing a sober person to give you his car keys against his will. Stealing from a rich Nazi to try to feed a Jewish person you’re hiding is morally right, stealing usually, however is morally wrong. The context in large part defines what the act is. We use the same word in common parlance (to steal, to tax, to force, to lie, etc.) but that’s a fuzzy description of the act. The real act which has to be morally judged changes when the context changes.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Gotta love that moral relativism, Scott - with enough semantic masturbation you can rationalize away any atrocity.

There is no sense in trying to have a rational discussion with the fundamentally unprincipled people like liberals - both the left wing (Scott Erb) and right wing (George Bush) varieties alike - trying to get any philosophical consistency from them is like trying to nail jello to a wall. They wind up just dragging you down to their level and clubbing you with experience.
 
Written By: The Gonzman
URL: http://
Gotta love that moral relativism, Scott - with enough semantic masturbation you can rationalize away any atrocity.
Unless you can prove a moral truth, you can’t really criticize relativism since those who claim to know moral absolutes are the ones who justify atrocities.

Yet I do believe there is an inherent set of moral/ethical principles in our nature. I just am convinced we can’t use reason to determine precisely what they are, and how they apply in context. (My blog of April 3 goes into this more).
There is no sense in trying to have a rational discussion with the fundamentally unprincipled people like liberals - both the left wing (Scott Erb) and right wing (George Bush) varieties alike - trying to get any philosophical consistency from them is like trying to nail jello to a wall. They wind up just dragging you down to their level and clubbing you with experience.
Yet you give nothing but insults and assertions, your "argument" lacks any substance or rational content. You are apparently a "true believer" in what you have decided by whim to believe, and anyone else deserves nothing but ridicule.

That describes fundamentalists of all colors, and my approach is one that rejects the kind of thinking which leads you to a "four legs good, two legs bad" sort of mentality.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Can someone from the left come up with an example of a purpose for which they think the morality would be acceptable?
Done and done, so much that a new entry was needed to fit it all.

 
Written By: Captin Sarcastic
URL: http://
But when Dale decides that you need a copy of his book, and takes MY money to fund it, that’s where I draw a line, and it’s where Dale might just lose a hand.
Scott Jacobs, I believe the process you rail against is commonly called "writing a syllabus".

Dale,
First, I didn’t state, or even imply, that taxation was wrong. If you have a government, then taxation of some sort is an inevitable result. Since I didn’t argue for the abolition of taxation, however, it’s difficult to see why you’re going on about it.
I can only take you at your word. But then by what non-taxation process are you coerced with the armed, police power of the state, to take away your property if it benefits a majority of people? Even though it doesn’t matter if you don’t want the property to be taken, or if you disagree that the perceived benefit is worth such coercion? My mistake, I guess.
If you have a government, then taxation of some sort is an inevitable result.
Essentially, the position taken by you just now is that they can simply take your property from you by force, if they think its necessary.

As Glasnost has repeatedly pointed out, you don’t have a problem with the taking people’s property from them by force (as you insist on charactering taxation) part of this, as long as the use of those funds is something you consider necessary. And as shark correctly notes, whether policy X contributes to the common good, or the General Welfare, and how much of it is necessary is a legitimate topic of fruitful discussion. Attempts to preempt that discussion with declarations that taxation for the purpose of anything like policy X is immoral, are not.
Second, your quote from the Preamble, while certainly inspiring, is utterly irrelevant, besides being flatly incorrect. The Preamble has no legal effect whatsoever.
Wait, were you asking about a legal or a moral jsutifiacation? It was moral, wasn’t it?
Moreover, it isn’t a statement of guiding principles that we are bound to follow. The preamble was merely an explanation by the Framers of what they perceived the results of the Constitution to be.
Indeed so, a moral explanation in fact.
The power to promote the general welfare does not refer to creating some form of transfer payments from one class of citizens to another, but rather to the power of the government that provides direct general benefits.
I must have missed the part of the preamble that detailed that interpretation.
Both of us derive the same benefit from having a representative speak to the heathen foreigners, or by having our military forces kill them. We both benefit equally from a system of roads. We both benefit equally from a standard system of weights and measures, so that when we cross the border into Arizona, we don’t have to try to figure out how many furlongs are in a hogshead.
Let’s not argue about the truth of this equal benefit here. We may benefit equally, but we do not pay equally. Thus someone’s stuff is being taken to provide a benefit that others can freely enjoy without paying, or even if they pay less. (Oh and I believe it’s 13.4 furlongs in a hogshead, give or take a firkin, or a merkin. At least during daylight savings time.)
We do not, however, benefit equally if you take my stuff under color of law to distribute to your cronies, or more, precisely, your political clients.
What policies do you think are accurately described as distributing your stuff to my cronies, or, more precisely, my political clients? If it might be some sort of universal healthcare, perhaps we will all benefit (maybe even equally) from, for example, a more efficient labor market created by decoupling employment and health insurance.

And your father should go and ponder Mosiah 4.
 
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
Both of us derive the same benefit from having a representative speak to the heathen foreigners, or by having our military forces kill them. We both benefit equally from a system of roads. We both benefit equally from a standard system of weights and measures, so that when we cross the border into Arizona, we don’t have to try to figure out how many furlongs are in a hogshead.
Heathen foreigners? Yikes, I guess we’re back in the dark ages.

Benefit from killing foreigners? That has been harming us, not benefiting us. Are we all harmed equallly?

There is no way one can defend having us forced to pay for an interventionist foreign policy and somehow be able to say social welfare programs are wrong. It is logically impossible to do such a thing.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Heathen foreigners? Yikes, I guess we’re back in the dark ages.

Benefit from killing foreigners? That has been harming us, not benefiting us. Are we all harmed equallly?

There is no way one can defend having us forced to pay for an interventionist foreign policy and somehow be able to say social welfare programs are wrong. It is logically impossible to do such a thing.
Dude, even I can tell he’s not being literal there. His point is we all benefit equally from conducting foreign policy (such as trade) or fighting threats.

Are you so fricking one-track that everything becomes Iraq for you?
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
You’re now making a different argument than Dale made, Steve.
Right, because I’m not Dale. Surely you noticed that? More to the point, I am countering your argument that redistribution of wealth improves the social order. I didn’t think I was required to keep arguing Dale’s point.
Specifically, you’re arguing that "social welfare programs don’t work".
I’m arguing nothing of the sort. "Work" hasn’t been defined here, for one thing. All I am arguing is that your claim that wealth redistribution improves order is demonstrably untrue, vis-a-vis the crime rate. If social programs are designed to improve order, then they have not accomplished that goal. But I never said what the goals of the various social programs are, and it’s just dumb of you to claim that’s my argument.

 
Written By: Steverino
URL: http://steverino.journalspace.com/
Yet you give nothing but insults and assertions, your "argument" lacks any substance or rational content. You are apparently a "true believer" in what you have decided by whim to believe, and anyone else deserves nothing but ridicule.

That describes fundamentalists of all colors, and my approach is one that rejects the kind of thinking which leads you to a "four legs good, two legs bad" sort of mentality.
Oh, sod off, you goober. "Unprincipled." Look it up. It means something - and I guess if you want to take it as an insult - well, the shoe fits you.

You lefties are the ones who do things like say it’s "racism" if a white man refuses to hire a black man, but have no problem when the shoe is on the other foot - it’s okay because of (specious rationalization.)

Either a thing is right, wrong, or morally neutral. And it applies when one of your people do it too. And until you lefties understand that, and live it, I absolutely refuse to take anything you all say as anything but political posturing and chest thumping.

I’ll argue and respect all day a person who I believe is wrong, but philosophically consistent - once you start spitting out the double standards, I’m not going to even listen to you. When you proceed from flawed premises and processes, if you’re right, it’s only because of happenstance, like a broken clock being right twice a day.

And yes, the republican side of your Republicrat party does it too, but nowhere near the extent you all do.
 
Written By: The Gonzman
URL: http://
Scott Jacobs, I believe the process you rail against is commonly called "writing a syllabus".
No, that would be Dale requiring me buy his book for a class he is teaching.

That’s different.

What I describe would be if you are taking a sociology class, and Dale (as the econ teacher) takes some of your money so I get a copy of his book.

You are in no way involved with the class, you have no interest in the class, and you derive no benifit from what has happened...
 
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
Oh, sod off, you goober. "Unprincipled." Look it up. It means something - and I guess if you want to take it as an insult - well, the shoe fits you.
I’ve found that unprincipled people refuse honest debate and just insult.
You lefties are the ones who do things like say it’s "racism" if a white man refuses to hire a black man, but have no problem when the shoe is on the other foot - it’s okay because of (specious rationalization.)
My own politics can’t easily be termed left or right. And I am convinced racism is wrong if done to a black or a white person.
Either a thing is right, wrong, or morally neutral. And it applies when one of your people do it too. And until you lefties understand that, and live it, I absolutely refuse to take anything you all say as anything but political posturing and chest thumping.
Oh I understand that. The trouble is, you seem to think that your particular whims about what is right, wrong or neutral is the correct absolute morality, even though you refuse to defend why and instead go on a rather silly rant.
I’ll argue and respect all day a person who I believe is wrong, but philosophically consistent - once you start spitting out the double standards, I’m not going to even listen to you. When you proceed from flawed premises and processes, if you’re right, it’s only because of happenstance, like a broken clock being right twice a day.
What flawed premises? What double standard? What philosophical inconsistency? You are throwing out a lot of charges, but backing none of them up. You can’t.

And yes, the republican side of your Republicrat party does it too, but nowhere near the extent you all do.
I’m convinced you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about here. It’s just vague assertions and pontifications, but no substance.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
The Christian principle regarding welfare is embodied in Paul’s statement in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
So basically only people who work should get food.....sounds pretty socialist to me. Those who work divide the spoils amongst each other and take care of the needy and sick. Those who don’t want to work (but can) get nothing (no rent, no interest payments, no dividends, no capital gains...)

Amazing how people can read what they want into something eh ? It never ceases to amaze me how so-called Christians can convince themselves that living off others’ sweat through ownership was actually the message of Jesus. How do they stave off the nagging feeling they’re going to burn in hell ?
 
Written By: Blewyn
URL: http://
So basically only people who work should get food.....sounds pretty socialist to me.
Actually what it says is you are responsible for yourself and that no one has any sort of obligation to feed you or support you. What it doesn’t do is say you shouldn’t help others if so moved to do so. What it also doesn’t say is some entity such as government has free hand to take from you to give to someone else. So no, it doesn’t sound socialist at all.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Actually what it says is you are responsible for yourself and that no one has any sort of obligation to feed you or support you.
No, that’s not what it says. That’s your interpretation of it, shaped to fit your perspective. There are other interpretations which fit other perspectives.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
You’re right Scott Jacobs. The analogy to reqiring a book for a class with what you described is imperfect.

I think the Christian principle regarding whether some entity such as government has free hand to take from you to give to someone else, is "Render unto Ceasar..."
 
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
I think the Christian principle regarding whether some entity such as government has free hand to take from you to give to someone else, is "Render unto Ceasar..."
Hard core libertarians would be on more solid ground (philosophically) if they argued for freedom of anybody to issue currency and perhaps charge a fee when its used. Because if you’re using federal reserve notes you are using government issued money and one of the conditions in using it is that you agree to follow the laws of the United States involving all transactions with it. It is, in that sense, Ceasar’s before it is yours. Now, a libertarian could argue that this monopoly on currency is unfair and should be broken, which could make for an interesting argument. But as long as it exists, taxation is de facto justified by the fact you are using something (American currency) which is collectively owned by the entire population, with the power to regulate its use being given to the government, limited by the constitution.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Doesn’t this all boil down to who decides what is in the "common good?"

We have a Constitution which is supposed to detail to some degree what the Federal government is charged with.

We elect representatives and an executive officer who are supposed to discharge those duties.

That the Federal government strayed off the path (in some peoples view) of what is Constitutional, is really the crux of our current problems.

The real problem is that you can define down the common good to include, the number and type of vehicles you own and drive, the number of miles you drive, what food you can and cant eat.

We have the same problem with the commerce clause of the Constitution. It is argued that because something crosses state lines, it’s end use is then fair game for any sort of regulation. When what was probably meant was that the transfer across state lines is regulatable by the Federal government.

As to morality, it is wrong in most situations to take from others. But we’ve given a certain amount of sovereignty to the government in exchange for it maintaining the rule of law and providing for the common good.

Now, what happens when some people feel that the "common good" is being to broadly or narrowly construed, well, we work through the system we have to change the definition. Previously, we turned to arms, both with the Declaration of Independence, and the Civil War.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com/
Forcing someone to do something against his free will (as opposed to restraining him from committing harm or entering into a voluntary agreement with him) in the interest of some other end is always morally wrong, even if you try to rationalize it by claiming that other the end would be in the person’s own best interest.

I understand the argument. I was waiting for you to reconcile Kant’s argument with the existence of institutions everywhere that force people to do things, at least in the sense of penalizing them for refusing to do things, which is the only extent to which anyone can ever be force anyone else to do anything.

I think Kant himself would have said that the rules he’s describing here apply to individual behavior and not organizations. Or else, he would have found some clever way of reconciling a universal prohibition on "forcing people to do things" with the universal neccessity of institutions coercing people to do things, as demonstrated by its overwhelming prevalence.

Get back to me on that one. You may have thought I was playing word games, but I was trying to put Kant’s argument in a context that didn’t require it to be discarded out of hand.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://

 
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