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The title of this post is also the title of a famous treatise by the moral philosopher John Rawls, in which he continues the centuries old tradition of work involving the concept of ”the social contract,” and applies to it a version of “The Golden Rule”  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Theory_of_Justice). The central concept is “the veil of ignorance,” an imaginary construct in which one does not know what position they occupy in the social firmament, what socio-economic status, race, or location they are born into, and what natural endowments or infirmities they are born with or acquire by chance. From behind this assumed veil of ignorance, we should each evaluate social policies and institutions, asking ourselves what policies and institutions we would prefer under this condition of not knowing what lot we will draw (or, in reality, have drawn) in life.

Rawls argues that by diligently assuming the “veil of ignorance” when debating issues of public policy, we identify policies that are most fair to all. Consider how important a step this is in discussions such as those that occur on blogs like this: The “veil of ignorance” unveils the disguised biases of competing positions, for to argue against it, one must argue in favor of intentional unfairness. The only way to defend policies that do not pass the “veil of ignorance” test is to admit to a commitment to injustice.

Rawls posits his thesis as an alternative to both utilitarianism and libertarianism. It embraces and transcends the precepts of both, since choices that would be made from behind the “veil of ignorance” are choices that include the values that inform and motivate each. Those who argue for their particular notion of “liberty” that is indifferent to the distribution of wealth and opportunity must argue why that is what one would choose if they could be born into any condition in life. Similarly, those who argue for “the greatest good for the greatest number” must defend that position within the same framework of evaluation.

The greatest difficulty, of course, is the degree to which people with existing biases and ideological certainties can suspend them enough to subject them to this test honestly. It is hard to imagine people who have already argued vehemently on behalf of one ideology or another revising their views in the light of this lens. It is easier to imagine that they would revise or distort the lens to accommodate what they have already concluded. The bigger challenge than identifying a lens through which the justice of social institutions and policies can be judged is convincing people to suspend their biases long enough to look through it.

A considerable number of people read this blog, but very few participate on it. This would be an ideal opportunity to change that. Here’s my question for those (if any) who are willing to participate in an experiment: What do you see differently than you have seen before when you look at the world through Rawls’ “veil of ignorance”? Please, everyone, try to refrain from simply making the same arguments you would have made in any other context, and instead try to discover something new, some change in perspective, that thinking about the world in this way bestows. Any takers?

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  • It’s funny how I discover so much from discussion with my sons. My 19 year old recently asked why anyone would argue against taxing the rich. My children, like myself, were raised in households that lived paycheck to paycheck most of the time.

    I said to my son, who works at the same grocery store he has been working at since high school, “how much do you make?” He told me approximately how much he makes a year, and I will use $12,000 as the figure. I said “Tom, what if the government said anyone making over $10,000 a year has to pay more in taxes?” Of course he started blustering about how hard he works for his money and how unfair it would be for him to have to pay extra taxes. I told him he just made the arguement to answer his own question. He told me that it’s not the same because rich people don’t have to work as hard as he does, so I simply said “prove it”. I was not trying to change his mind or to render him “opinionless”, but I wanted him to THINK about the other side of his opinion. I didn’t give him my opinion on the subject and I asked him to please continue to have a belief, but to base it on facts from both sides. “Because I said so” might be the biggest disservice we do our children…

  • Thanks Kathryn! I couldn’t agree with you more: We all need to think about our positions more, and, from time to time, suspend them long enough to fully understand the opposing points of view.

  • Steve, I have been reading the posts between you and Libertarian and I will be first in line to say that both of you have a level of knowledge and education that well exceeds mine. I actually have to read and re-read but I love learning new things and both of you stimulate my need to know more. While I commend Libertarian on his hard work to get where he is from where he began, I have to ask… I could be wrong, but I understood Libertarian to be saying “anyone can have what I have if they worked as hard as I did”. To me, that sounds a lot like, “you are poor because you are lazy” and that is a horrifying generalization to me. I would like to know if Libertarian has research people that HAVE worked as hard a he has, maybe harder, yet failed to acheive the same level of success. I believe it is very unfair to equate hard work with success when there are so many other factors involved..such as prejudice, opportunity, support.. I know of no one that didn’t get where they are without the help of others, not one person. Someone, somewhere gave Libertarian an opportunity, a helping hand and hasn’t been given that credit. Believe it or not, there are people that work their tails off that fail to acheive the same level of success simply because of the lack of opportunity or because there was no one to give them the support required. I work very hard, I have raised my three sons as a single mother and I am so very happy that I am able to take care of my family, but, 25 years ago when I was looking for a job my cousin recommended me to a friend of hers that owned a company and without that ONE opportunity my life could be completely different. Many people have since helped along the way, but I have not accomplished what I have accomplished alone.

  • Thanks Kathryn. I think you’re right, and are only scratching the surface in how right you are. It reminds me of Frank Capra’s famous Christmas movie starring Jimmy Stewart, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” To make it managable, Capra had to limit the number of variables affected by George’s life to only second order ones, such as the lives that his brother wouldn’t have been able to save in war had George not saved his brother’s life in childhood. But what had to be left out was not only all of the effects that those fallen soldiers would have had had they been saved by George’s brother, and all of the effects of those effects, ad infinitum, but also all of the sublter effects of George’s life (how a smile affected someone here, a kind word there), and the sometimes reverberating and amplifying effects of those effects, also ad infinitum.

    Similarly, success and failure isn’t only affected by the variables you identified, but also by thousands more, large and small, all of which, arguably, ultimately have nothing to do with merit, but most of which certainly don’t. (THe first point is based on the observation that we don’t choose the causes of what others identify as “individual merit,” and the latter on the fact that most of the factors aren’t what anyone identifies as “individual merit”).

    First, we are born into different levels of family wealth, social networks, and parental experience which informs socialization. Second, we are born into different local cultures and contexts. Third, we have access to different schools (something that vouchers wouldn’t actually cure, for several reasons discussed elsewhere). The list goes on and on. Even if we ignore the ways in which our individual merit itself is produced by things beyond our control (how inherently smart we are, how well socialized into a good work ethic, our self-image and confidense levels, and so on), it still forms a very small portion of the factors that determine success in our political economic system.

    The failure to recognize this is a ghost from the past that gets beaten back every other generation, and is seen as a tribute to human cruelty and folly, lamented with embarassment, in the alternate generations. But then it rises up from the grave yet again. I’ll never understand how it’s possible not to recognize that the distribution of wealth and opportunity in this nation is not inherently just. I can understand (though disagree with) arguments that say that the injustice involved is less evil than the supposed (but erroneous) moral and economic costs of using our government as a tool for addressing that inherent underlying injustice. But the argument that the injustice doesn’t exist is, to me, simply indefensible.

  • Libertarian:

    Hi Kathryn,

    Hadn’t noticed the mention of the conversation Steve and I were having since this is on another thread. When I discussed my situation I was making the point that I feel that I’ve worked my entire life to get where I am today, and that after finally reaching a point in my life where I can save and invest, and in spite of the fact that at every increasing level of success and wealth I’ve attained I’ve paid a greater and greater share of the tax burden, that I DO feel that I’ve earned what I have and that it’s not immoral or insensitive in any way, shape or form that I want to keep most of what I’ve earned for the benefit of me and my family and our future. I’m by no means rich. I have a mortgage, and although my vehicles are paid off, after the mortgage, the relatively small amount I put into savings and investments, utilities, taxes, and costs of living it’s not like I’m wondering what to do with all that excess cash laying around. I drive a 21 year-old Honda Civic DX with nearly 250,000 miles on it, my wife works as well and drives a 15 year-old 4-door with 150,000 miles on it.

    I made absolutely no distinction between myself and others that have worked hard, that was not the context of the discussion. Undoubtedly, there are people that work as hard as I have, or even harder, but have not achieved the level of success that I have. That doesn’t entitle them to a portion of what I’ve earned any more than I’m entitled to a portion of what those who have more than I have, regardless of whether they’ve worked harder than me or not.

    I don’t know where you come up with the, it “sounds a lot like, “you are poor because you are lazy” “ paraphrasing that you’re trying to pin on me. Fair warning, I thoroughly resent both the tactic of using strawmen intended to make others look bad and emotional hypotheticals as the foundation for discussion. If you’ve read my background summary in total, I was pretty clear about how we lived near the poverty line when I was growing up.

    No, not everybody could be as successful as me if they worked as hard as me, many are more successful, many are less successful. It doesn’t depend entirely on how hard somebody works, but hard work increases the chances of success dramatically. Other factors are also important, if not vital, the ability to recognize what is needed and filling that need, what’s accomplished as a result of an individual’s hard work and ultimately how the hard work and what’s accomplished manifests itself in the form of goods and services, and how the FREE market values those goods and services. A hypothetical musician or artist, very talented, could work 18-hours a day perfecting their craft, toil their entire lives and never reach notable success; contrast that with some of the arguably marginally talented pop superstars, writers and artists that have attained vast wealth in a short amount of time. What’s the difference? The latter example, though having worked not near as hard, may have simply found a niche that they’ve been able to fulfill; i.e. the hundreds of millions of Americans have decided that they will FREELY support them because they have decided that they enjoy or appreciate what they have to offer more than what the hard-working hypothetical artist/musician has to offer. Therefore, each and every consumer is using their right to vote each and every time they make a decision on where they will spend THEIR labor, as wealth is the materiel manifestation of labor.

    Is the system perfect, of course not, no system is. But it is undoubtedly the freest and most fair system in the world. It’s the most fair because EVERYBODY has the right to decide what is best for themselves and their families, I personally don’t agree with the presumption that other people (who don’t know me, my background, my needs and desires decide what is FAIR and set policies and laws that are paid for with MY labor) can set policy based on THEIR concept of fairness. This is especially true when those people are career politicians that are more interested in gaining and maintaining power for themselves and their political party than they care about what’s best for their constituents.

    Finally, you said, “Someone, somewhere gave Libertarian an opportunity, a helping hand and hasn’t been given that credit.”

    How dare you. Yes, I’ve been given opportunities, and I’ve given credit where credit is due on each and every one of those occasions. BUT, in each and every case, I’ve also validated the opportunity that I was given by making the most of those opportunities, and helping not only myself, but those who have given me the opportunity. My not stating explicitly that I have people to thank regarding my success doesn’t mean that I never did just that.

    Ultimately, Steve and you are, in my humble opinion, simply rationalizing the raiding and theft from one group of people, period. In order to feel good about taking my wealth, you have to demonize me first. Knock yourself out, make me and those like me the bad guy. In the end, without the most industrious and successful, the utopia of the “fair” society you seek is only a pipe dream. America should be EMBRACING success, entrepreneurs, investors, employers and innovators. Instead, and in pursuit of a society based on an externally defined and ever-changing concept of fairness, there are many that rationalize vilifying success, entrepreneurs, investors, employers and innovators; so as to justify taking from them what is rightfully theirs in a free society. It’s absolutely unsustainable.

    My earlier post included a discussion on how the entitlement programs, regulations in place, and trust in the political ruling class have ALREADY put us on an unsustainable path with $Trillion deficits, $14Trillion in debt and $111 Trillion (at least) in unfunded liabilities. You choose to ignore these parts of my argument and instead call me callous, uncaring and ungrateful. You make all of these charges based on nothing other than your own personal biases and prejudices. These biases and prejudices may stem from you being a good person at heart, my guess is that they probably do, but that doesn’t make your assessment of me, or any other successful person anymore valid.

    Here’s my “immoral” code. If my parents get sick, go broke or for whatever reason need a place to live and/or somebody to support them, I see it as the responsibility of me and my siblings, not of the government. If at any point in their lives my Children and their families need financial assistance, a place to stay or any other type of support, I see this as the responsibility of me and my family, not the government. When it comes to my health, wealth and retirement, I see that as MY responsibility, not the government’s. That’s how evil I am, that I’ve given more than half of the years I’ve spent on this earth serving my nation and voluntarily vowing to die in defense of the Constitution and the freedoms this nation was founded upon.

  • You keep referring to “a portion of what you’ve earned,” as though that fact exists in a vacuum rather than in a social context. Wealth is collectively, not individually, produced, and apportioned by some social institutional arrangement or other that is not given by nature. You’ve earned what you’ve earned in part on the backs of labors that were not as well compensated, and one of our challenges is to address the inequity that some labors (or lack of labors) are better compensated than others of equal necessity but lower market value. I neither suggest that we obliterate the market to do so, nor pretend that the market is somehow magically just. Both positions are folly.

    When you claim that there is no social responsibility that we share toward the poor, that can only be satisfied through collective rather than individual efforts (because both historical experience and basic microeconomics resoundingly prove the inadequacy of leaving it to individual charity), and that the poor have no right to your hard earned money even if they worked hard and for factors beyond their control did not succeed, then you are implicitly sloffing off responsibility for poverty on those who suffer it rather than on all of us who allow it. Uncle Fish, who you have openly embraced as a fellow traveler, made his assessment that the poor are poor because they are lazy more explicit. There’s no strawman involved in identifying the logical implications of your stated positions.

    As for your frequently repeated but never supported economic assertions, rather than cling to them, why don’t we all agree to allow actual economic analyses to guide us, rather than the pseudo-economics of ideologues? The debate is well-defined, and the range of well-informed positions far narrower than what is found in the blogosphere, and far removed from the platitudes you rely on. If you want to make economic arguments, then cite your sources, and I’ll cite mine (as I frequently have), and we’ll work together to get at the truth of the economic issues involved.

    For examples of the economic counterargument that you conveniently pretend doesn’t exist, you not only can turn to the 2008 Nobel Prize winner in Economics, Paul Krugman (who non-economist Tea Partiers sagely dismiss as irrelevent), but also the majority of practicing economists. The Chicago School (the more nuanced school of economic thought from which your caricature is derived) has been on the decline for decades, as empirical, historical, and theoretical research has gradually and relentlessly chipped away at it. For a recent example of the current center-of-gravity in economic analysis of debt, read Zachary Karabell’s column in the November 8 issue of Time Magazine: “Debt Doesn’t Matter.”

    As for strawmen, you not only rely on them, but continue to rely on them after they’ve been debunked. As often as I’ve referred to public investments in structural changes, you keep returning to the completely arbitrary characterization of rote redistributions. They are two completely different things, and accusing me of the caricatures in your mind rather than the positions I’ve laid out, repeatedly, despite repeated correction, is not just reliance on stawman arguments, but reliance on them after the straw has already gone up in flames.

    While I am an advocate for proactive public investments in, for instance, child and family services which increase future productivity and prevents future predation and social dependency, and are as such both cost effective in the long-run and socially necessary in the short run, my recognition of the need for an adequately funded government comes more from my understanding of the vital role of administrative agency in our complex modern market economy. As I’ve argued elsewhere (and as everyone who actually knows a bit about law and economics realizes), information asymmetries create a huge and difficult to meet demand to police those market actors best positioned to enrich themselves at the public’s expense, in purely predatory, and often catastrophically so, ways. I’ve given specific examples, and have described the dynamics in some detail. Your wealth is not only dependent on the work of others, but also on a government that oversees markets that cannot function effectively or faiirly without expensive oversight.

    You accuse those who recognize the moral imperatives that most humans have long recognized as being unfair to those who doggedly refuse to recognize them. Human suffering due to the chances of birth is an injustice -yes, injustice- that is our shared responsibility to address, not merely the problem of those who suffer it, or, if they’re lucky, of those who are close to them. Yes, I do find that position, which you keep repeating, to be morally reprehensible. And, yes, I will continue to find it morally reprehensible, regardless of whether you are offended or not, because its moral reprehensibility is not erased by your discomfort at being held responsible for adhering to such brutal beliefs and values. The child who is born into poverty and abuse, who is left to suffer, and then is left to fail and despair not only to its own tragic misfortune, but also at enormous social costs, is our shared responsibility. If you don’t get that, then expect to continue to be openly reviled by those who do.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for counterintuitive arguments and subtle systemic understandings. Make the case that it does that child, and our society, more harm to make an upfront investment in proactive services which diminish the rates of poverty, abuse, and systemic, widespread poor opportunities for success, and I’m all ears. You claim to make that case, but never actually do. Instead, you just repeat the conclusion, one that is not supported by any currently widely accepted body of research or theory of which I am aware. In fact, research overwhelmingly supports the opposite conclusion: That it is not only humane, but cost effective and economically beneficial to address these problems proactively, with relatively small upfront public investments, rather than suffer the huge long-term social and economic costs of failing to do so.

    You keep repeating arguments that have been utterly debunked, repeatedly, in a sort of happy bubble where the counterarguments have never been stated and simply don’t exist. Feel free to continue, and I’ll simply link to the arguments that you’ve ignored which demonstrate the empirical, logical, and moral vacuum in which you are operating.

  • Libertarian:

    Steve,

    You present:

    “Wealth is collectively, not individually, produced, and apportioned by some social institutional arrangement or other that is not given by nature. You’ve earned what you’ve earned in part on the backs of labors that were not as well compensated, and one of our challenges is to address the inequity that some labors (or lack of labors) are better compensated than others of equal necessity but lower market value.”

    This is pure unproven speculation on your part. There is no evidence you provide that shows that what I earn is on the backs of labors not as well compensated. You state this inequity as fact, because you need this false premise to build your justification of theft (sorry, “social responsibility”). My social responsibility manifests itself every time I make a decision to make a decision to purchase or not purchase any goods or services. It manifests itself every time I choose, or don’t choose, to go to work, to accomplish my job, to hold those who work for me accountable for their actions and by holding myself accountable for my actions. If the free market is not satisfied with the goods and services I provide, they have the FREEDOM to go to another provider or not seek the goods/services I’m offering altogether.

    No, you’re not suggesting the obliteration of the free market, you’re simply suggesting that they become CONTROLLED markets to be harnessed to fulfill your desired outcomes, where the rewards from innovation and productivity don’t go to the creators, but to those in control deem the most needy. You want the market to exist, but not to exist for the sake of those that participate in it, but to exist for the sake of those in control determine are most needy of its production. I don’t suggest that free markets are “magically just”, simply that they are the most free and most just compared to any other form of economic model.

    Nowhere did I claim that there is “no social responsibility that we share toward the poor”. For the past 20 years I’ve voluntarily contributed significantly to various charitable organizations from my own pocket. I’ve volunteered my time for the “Big Brothers” program, twice and have served on various social programs quite often. My social responsibility should not be defined for me or any other free citizen by a group of lying politicians and mid-level bureaucrats with bad comb-overs living in Washington DC.

    You state, again as if it were indisputable fact, that social responsibility, “can ONLY be satisfied through collective rather than individual efforts” and go on to justify this absolute fact by AGAIN trying to paint me as some sort of uncompassionate monster that’s sloffing{?} my “responsibility” for others that are suffering. You conclude by saying that it’s not a lazy strawman to conclude that the way you perceive the message of another poster (Uncle Fish) is adequate proof that your perception of my views is identical. Say what?

    As far as my “economic assertions” that have never been proven, we are speaking in the realm of philosophy so far, both of us. You can point to select “actual economic analyses” that support your positions (Krugman) as I can point to those that support mine (Friedman). Perhaps we should explore that next step in our conversation, but if you insist on remaining condscending and insulting, why would I want to participate?

    You then AGAIN complain about my platitudes and “pseudo-economics of ideologues” that you say I “cling” to. Although I must commend you on your improvement in tone, you continue to feel the need to try and throw your jabs and condescension

    What strawmen, specifically, have I used that have been “debunked”? You intentionally (?) are vague about your “public investments in structural changes”, but balk about me objecting to the concept of my labor and wealth belonging to me. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the “extent” of my “understanding of how public investment” is about me, insult received. Seriously though, does every single point you’re trying to make HAVE to resort to an insult in order for you to feel it’s effective?

    This is the absolute classic quote of all time coming from you:
    “You keep repeating arguments that have been utterly debunked, repeatedly, in a sort of happy bubble where the counterarguments have never been stated and simply don’t exist.”

    Classic!

    You conclude: “Feel free to continue, and I’ll simply link to the arguments that you’ve ignored which demonstrate the empirical, logical, and moral vacuum in which you are operating.”

    That would indeed be a welcome change!

    “empirical, logical, and moral vacuum in which you are operating”?!?! You simply can’t help yourself from resorting to insults, can you?

  • Libertarian,

    If you read what I wrote, I actually said “I have to ask, and I could be wrong ..but”. By taking one piece of what I said and leaving out the rest you have put yourself in demonized position I had not intended, nor did I actually say. I had not thought of YOU in that way, although I may view some of your ideas in that way. I am not a libertarian, I am assuming you could guess that, but what I also am not is a name caller or judgmental person. I do not find you a bad person because, in my opinion, you way of thinking on something things may be.

    I too would help my family in a time of need, we don’t differ in that respect. I would help my children, my siblings in any way I can, and I do. BUT, I find comfort in knowing that if I drop dead tomorrow, there are programs in place that will assist my 8 year old son because I have not been in a position to build a nest egg, or safety net, and that is not from the lack of desire. I too took advantage of the opportunities offered me, and I am so grateful to have had them.

    How dare I? I dare because you failed to mention it. I dare because I am not afraid of sharing my opinion, my beliefs and my interpretations, just as you are not afraid to share yours. I don’t feel victimized or demonized by your reply to me in any way. I dare because I have a brain and a voice, and I am a Patriot.

    My intent was not to insult you, demonize you or any other personal insult you might have taken from what I said. When you take pieces of what is said instead of taking the whole statement, its changes the whole meaning.

  • Libertarian:

    Kathryn,

    I’m not going to play games, if you want to claim that you didn’t state, “Someone, somewhere gave Libertarian an opportunity, a helping hand and hasn’t been given that credit.” or that that’s not clearly stating that those who gave me a helping hand hasn’t been given credit, so be it.

    I too, would be more comfortable in the thought that every human on the planet be fed, given adeqaute housing and healthcare, and that I would never have to worry about what happened to my family if something happened to me.

    However, all of that MUST be paid for. It’s that simple. Again, you and Steve simply ignore the fact that we as a nation ALREADY can’t pay for what the federal government has promised. The solution can’t simply be found in making more promises. IF, and that’s a big IF, a solution can be devised that will not only pay for what we’ve already been promised by the politicans, but can also cover how to pay for increased promises, hey, I’m all ears.

    Until then, unicorns and rainbows that terminate at a pot of gold are equally as compelling to me.

  • Libertarian, it’s not “pure unproven speculation,” but rather an a priori fact. It’s axiomatic. Your wealth is part of an economy-wide production function, which depends on most if not all other labors that are in-puts into that economy. Your house, car, and all of your belongings are built with materials mined and harvested and synthesized and molded and assembled by that economy-wide production process; your own earnings are similarly intertwined with that economy-wide production process. To “prove it” merely requires a detailed description of how our economy works, and no more. I recommend that you consult any book on the subject, rather than impose on me to sumarize it for you.

    But here is one example: Miners, from whom we obtain all of our raw metals and minerals, work long hard hours for sub-average pay under dangerous and unhealthy conditions. Your material wealth, regardless of what you do, is dependent on their labors.

    Our economy has evolved from inequity, from slavery to wage labor. Those with fewer skills provide something that is more abundantly available, and therefore more cheaply purchased. But fewer skills are a product as much of initial opportunities as of personal merits, so there is nothing inherently just about the distributional implications of this. Rather than try to rectify it by undermining the market, we can simply invest in improved and more broadly distributed opportunities, so that where people end up in the market economy more closely approximates a return on effort, rather than a reflection of individual good fortune and misfortune.

    You admit that our system isn’t perfect, which is precisely why we are challenged to refine it. If you look at the sweep of modern history, you will probably admit that it is characterized by, on average and overall, a general trend of progress in improved social instituitons. There is absolutely no reason to believe that that progress has suddenly become impossible from here on out, or, as you admit it hasn’t, has finally been absolutely perfected. Since we are still in history, and still have not perfected our social institutions, it makes sense that we continue to strive to perfect them.

    All markets are “controlled” markets. Defining and enforcing private property rights is a way to control markets. Monetary policy is a way to control markets. The question isn’t whether, but rather how to control markets. The absence of “controlled” markets, even in the sense that you are using the term, is pure predation and widespread impoverishment, such as resulted from the uncontrolled financial markets that led to the financial sector collapse of 2008. (See “Predators, Prey, and Productive Praxis”: http://coloradoconfluence.com/?p=1185).

    As I illustrate below with my example of a specific proposal (per your request), I believe in more fully, rather than less fully, harnessing the creative power of markets. Per your reliance on strawmen, your depiction of my orientation toward markets bears no reseblance whatsoever to my actual orientation.

    Your insistence that reliance on individual choice to address shared social responsibilities is adequate is one that stands in stark contrast to both the entirety of historical experience, which has consistently proved the inadequacy of this approach, and nearly a century of empirical and theoretical work on collective action problems (variously called, and incarnated as, “the prisoner’s dilemma,” “the tragedy of the commons,” and “the free-rider problem”) which explains why. In fact, several of The Federalist Papers addressed this concept, before it was mathematically modelled and named, defending the need for a robust federal government to overcome these problems, just as I am now.

    Government, regardless of your fashion critiques of those who work within it, is our collective agent for the purpose of addressing precisely these obstacles to the optimal production of “public goods”. If we were each asked to voluntarily contribute to the maintenance of a military for our national defense, for instance, many would quite rationally say to themselves, “well. whatever I contribute is a cost born by me alone, but which benefits everyone very marginally. My individual return on my individual investment is far smaller than my actual investment. As long as I act independently in my individual interest, it is most rational for me not to contribute to our national defense, because my contribution will not make or break its existence, but it will cost me personally. We will have pretty much the same level of military defense whether I personally contribute or not, so I’ll just contribute a bit less than I might have done if I were contractually obligated to contribute my share.”

    For some purposes, normative control is sufficient to overcome this problem, either for many routine local purposes, or under exceptional circumstances occasionally in conjunction with heightened emotional appeals. But it is not a sustainable methodology to employ to address nationwide collective action problems, which is why your ideology stands essentially in opposition to a necessary fibre of our social institutional landscape. I am the first to agree that we need to address the challenge of focusing the institutional instrument of government, increasing its efficiency, improving the targeting of its investments, refining its operations. But your “solution” simply creates far more and greater problems than it solves, as anyone who has studied, for instance, Administrative Law fully understands.

    In fact, if your imaginary reality were actually our shared reality, there would never be any need for contracts of any kind, since we would all just spontaneously act individually in our collective interest. But contracts are a necessity, because we have to bind one another to actions which serve mutual interests, but which do not serve individual interests considered in isolation.

    My reference to your pseudoeconomic platitudes is a factual one, backed up by citation of actual economic theory. In 2008, for instance (the last year for which I have data), the Economist magazine did a survey of American Economists, and found that 80% favored Democratic over Republican economic policies. Economics is what those in the discipline, who apply analytical models to reliable emprical evidence, come up with. Pseudo-economics is all that which makes economic claims while disregarding the products of the discipline itself. Consider it a technical term.

    I don’t point to “select economic analyses.” I acknowledge the existence of The Chicago School, which, though more subtle and nuanced, argues a position somewhat similar to yours. And I don’t disregard the existence of that counterargument. That’s why, when I first started this blog, one of my first posts was “The Economic Debate We’re Not Having” (http://coloradoconfluence.com/?p=247).

    Your most persistent strawman is the equation of public investment in infrastructure or human capital development with “give-aways.” They’re not, but you persistently argue against these imaginary give-aways to people who aren’t working, though I rarely if ever have argued in favor of any rote redistribution of wealth in any of our exchanges. My arguments are overwhelmingly focused on public investments in structural changes, not in moving money from one pocket to another.

    As for specifics, you can look under the topic headings to find them, I have discussed how to improve child and family services in order to better facilitate economic and social success, how to improve educational services, how to reconfigure the economy to internalize the externalities of current market exchanges (that is, how to import the costs and benefits born by others into the price payed by the buyer to the seller, so that market signals better reflect true costs and benefits of the market exchange). For a rather complex and speculative, but highly detailed, example, read “Deforestation: Losing an Area the Size of England Every Year” (http://coloradoconfluence.com/?p=519), which includes an elaborate explanation of something I call “Political Market Instruments,” which bring more of our desired ends into the market, to tap the robustenss of markets in more comprehensive ways to address more challenges and broader ranges of utility production.

    I’m sorry you feel insulted. This is not an abstract discussion to me: Real human welfare and suffering is on the line, and you are voicing poorly argued and internally inconsistent positions which I strongly believe, to the extent that they are accepted and believed by yourself and others, contribute to real human suffering and diminish real human welfare. I am more willing to insult you in the process of demonstrating this, and emphasizing that it isn’t a meaningless parlor game we’re engaged in, than to reinforce the myth that we are simply each stating equally valid and inherently arbitrary beliefs.

    You are adamant in your conviction that your share of the spoils in a system fraught with both injustices AND inefficiencies is somehow naturally yours, just as slave owners were, just as South Africans during Apartheid were (I remember one South African girl of about 18 saying that you simply had to have a pool to live in her city in South Africa, and when I asked if Black South Africans had pools, her reply was “My father worked hard for his money!” Sound familiar?). I am adamant that you represent a recurring fallacy, one which is cyclically debunked and resurrected, and one which, like a disease infecting the culture in which we live, weakens and sickens us as a society in a variety of ways.

    I’m pretty much indifferent at this point to the rather astounding hypocrisy involved in your obsession with my “not being nice enough” to you, considering the erstwhile persistence (one might even say “obsession”) of your vitriol toward me, often divorced from any discussion of any actual public issue, from your very first response to a comment of mine on The Denver Post comment board onward (including mere name calling, with no other content whatsoever, in both private messages sent to me, and on a post on Colorado Pols that you registered for the sole purpose of making). My focus is on the issues we are discussing, and, in that context, I am not hesitant to repeatedly demonstrate that your positions are poorly reasoned, internally inconsistent, empirically unsupported, morally challenged, and socially dysfunctional. If that offends you, my recommendation is that you take some of that hard earned money of yours, and buy yourself a clue (or just accept the one I’ve been offering you free of charge). Problem solved.

  • Libertarian, you said:

    “Until then, unicorns and rainbows that terminate at a pot of gold are equally as compelling to me.”

    Well, actually, The United States rates among the worst of developed nations by almost every statistical measure of general and particular welfare, including healthcare outcomes, infant mortality, self-reported happiness, poverty rates, quality of education, violent crime rates, and myriad social ills associated with too much adherence to your ideology, and not enough to ours. We have just about the highest gini coefficient (the statistical measure of inequality in the distribution of wealth), and one of the lowest rates of social mobility. Your “unicorns and rainbows” are what Western European countries have sustained for half a century, and, before you chant your mantra “Greece and France,” bear in mind that Germany’s economy is currently far stronger than our own.

    We’re not advocating for pleasant fantasies, but rather broadly realized realities. It is you and those like you who have been far too successful in imposing your unpleasant fantasies, and fallacies, on the rest of us.

  • Libertarian,

    In an effort to end this particular thread for me, I will try to help you understand something about me. When I said someone helped you and wasn’t given the credit it is absurd to assume I was commenting on what you do outside this blog. I was commenting on what you said on this blog only.. (and you didnt mention a helping hand).

    My cousin Tim, who happens to be one of my favorite people in the world has the same views you show on this blog. We have very long discussions about issues and there are no victims when we are done. We have looked at the FY2011 budget together and talked about what we see. We have even had conversations about repairing the budget in the same fashion as jury selection. We each get 225 Billion in premptive cuts. We are starting with 1.352 trillion dollar defecit and we have 14 years to eliminate the defecit while adding what we feel is most important. It’s a daunting task to say the least working with the huge numbers we work with in this exercise. He is not allowed to erase the government, and I am not allowed a flat tax, our choices have to be common sense.

    My point is, my cousin Tims passion for what he believes in matches mine, and that makes what he has to say interesting to me and it makes me THINK and research and support my own opinions with facts. What does not happen is anger. We don’t get angry, we just remain passionate.

    Passion is attractive and interesting, anger eliminates effectiveness.

  • Libertarian:

    Steve Harvey:
    “I am not hesitant to repeatedly demonstrate that your positions are poorly reasoned, internally inconsistent, empirically unsupported, morally challenged, and socially dysfunctional. If that offends you, my recommendation is that you take some of that hard earned money of yours, and buy yourself a clue (or just accept the one I’ve been offering you free of charge). Problem solved.”

    We’re done here, completely and absolutely finished. Providing links to other posts you have made here don’t equate to indisputable support for your positions. I’ve tried to have a reasoned discussion with you and it appears that’s simply beyond your abilities. Since it’s obvious that you intend to insult me (“poorly reasoned, internally inconsistent, empirically unsupported, morally challenged, and socially dysfunctional”), (“buy yourself a clue”) with each and every one of your posts, and it was clear during our last exchange, you have a very thin-skin and don’t allow reciprocation, there’s really no point for me to stay. I’ve wasted too much of my time here already.

    So, instead of a place where a conversation takes place, I leave you to the vacant hypocritical echo chamber this place is destined to become. Where you start each post responding to those who agree with your perspective with the inevitable, “I agree with you completely….” And conclude every post responding to those with a differing viewpoint with a slew of adolescent insults. I came back here to inform Uncle Fish that he’s wasting his time, it appears he took my advice; now it’s time for me to take the very same advice. The only reason I stayed as long as I have is because some of your earlier posts indicated that your anger was polluting your message and it did indeed appear that your tone was becoming more reasonable. Obviously, I was wrong; and that it’s time for you, as I have done, to take your own advice. Short of that this blog is destined to wallow in obscurity as the diversity of opinion and intellectual debate that would make this site interesting is constantly being driven away by your anger, hypocrisy and pettiness.

    I wish you no ill will, I really don’t, I simply have better things to do with my time than waste it here, where the rules are slanted and the amount of tolerance is extremely disappointing.

    I leave you to the sounds of your incessant typing, and crickets chirping.

  • An “echo-chamber” of reason applied to information in service to humanity has always been my intention. It was never my desire to duplicate Colorado Pols or The Denver Post comment board, both because they already satisfy the demand for such forums, and because I think there is an unsatisfied (if still considerably smaller) demand for a different type of forum. My primary commitment on this blog isn’t to accommodate all voices, but to create a popular platform for reason in service to humanity. Within the context of that platform, and only within the context of that platform, I’d like as many voices as possible to participate.

    This blog gets many hits per day, with a steadily growing audience; I wish there were more participants (as long as participants are reaching for an improved understanding of our world and our role in it), but I am content to continue to write for an audience of the interested and thoughtful. I would love to have the participation of one or more well-reasoned and well-informed voices from the right (as well as from all other points on the political spectrum), but one has not yet come forth, and those who simply repeat platitudes and ignore counterarguments are only contributing noise, not signal, to the dialogue (see “The Signal-to-Noise Ratio”: http://coloradoconfluence.com/?p=1171). I’ll miss your contributions, Libertarian, in the sense that they have provided an excellent contrast to well-reasoned and fully-informed arguments, but I’m also relieved to be spared the burden of having to spend extra time responding to them and pointing that contrast out.

    What I would like to see are genuine economic arguments in favor of what those on the right call “fiscal responsibility” (i.e., explanations of Chicago School economic theory) and well reasoned arguments about why humanity’s interests are actually served by smaller government and less investment in the public welfare. I can make better arguments of those sorts than I have yet seen made on popular blogs, though I believe that those better arguments fail in the light of more compelling counterarguments. Still, there is a range of uncertainty which I would like to explore, and would love to have the assistance of knowledgeable people in exploring it.

    What I have no interest in and no patience for are arguments about why we need maintain no public commitment of any kind to the plight of those who are born into poverty, abuse, neglect, and diminished opportunities for success. I am open to absolutely all arguments about how best to address those problems, including the argument that not addressing them is the best we can do, but I am dismissing out-of-hand any argument that simply ignores our responsibility to confront them to the best of our collective ability. That, along with a commitment to reason applied to reliable information, is simply part of the definition of the purpose of the blog. If it is not the purpose of any potential contributor, then this is not the right place for them to contribute.

    Yes, I must continue to work on striking the ideal balance between my desire to exercise only goodwill to all individuals, and my desire to fight relentlessly and forcefully against ideas that contribute to human suffering or curtail human welfare. Striking that balance, and taming my own less admirable passions, is an ongoing struggle for me, and one which I can only continue to confront to the best of my ability. Thanks for reminding me of the importance of maintaining an unflagging commitment to improving on that dimension.

    Good luck in all of your endeavors (except those that would inadvertantly contribute to the suffering of others or diminish the welfare of others). I wish you only the best.

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