What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

What Globalization Means

James Fallows, writer on Asian issues and moderate proponent of globalization - or so I gather - on the cash value of the enterprise:

First is the social effect visible around the world, which in homage to China’s Communist past we can call “intensifying the contradictions.” Global trade involves one great contradiction: The lower the barriers to the flow of money, products, and ideas, the less it matters where people live. But because most people cannot move from one country to another, it will always matter where people live. In a world of frictionless, completely globalized trade, people on average would all be richer—but every society would include a wider range of class, comfort, and well-being than it now does. Those with the most marketable global talents would be richer, because they could sell to the largest possible market. Everyone else would be poorer, because of competition from a billions-strong labor pool. With no trade barriers, there would be no reason why the average person in, say, Holland would be better off than the average one in India. Each society would contain a cross section of the world’s whole income distribution—yet its people would have to live within the same national borders.

We’re nowhere near that point. But the increasing integration of the American and Chinese economies pushes both countries toward it. This is more or less all good for China, but not all good for America. It means economic benefits mainly for those who have already succeeded, a harder path up for those who are already at a disadvantage, and further strain on the already weakened sense of fellow feeling and shared opportunity that allows a society as diverse and unequal as America’s to cohere.

I have but three questions for the present moment, though I imagine I'll have much more to say about all of this in the future.

First, should we regard this as just in the relevant sense, that is to say, consonant with our obligations towards our fellow Americans?

Second, if we decide that justice is not implicated in any of this, how should ordinary Americans think about this, given that the perception of justice - or, perhaps, a torpid, cynical shrug that there is nothing more one can do than receive the shaft - will be critical to the acceptance of this more nearly Hobbesian future?

Third, in what sense is this future desirable? At all. Bill Gates and the barrio. Who, other than those who either know, or will gamble, that they will be numbered among the fortunate few, would accept, in full cognizance, this (cough) social contract? And, given that so few people are in fact cognizant of any of this, though it is really as simple as arithmetic, what are the consequences for representative, republican, deliberative governance of such radical alterations in our mode of existence, brought about without deliberation, and without knowledge on the part of the people?

OK, so that is five questions, though numbers four and five follow upon the third. Readers likely already know where I stand: this is unjust, the people should recognize it as such, it is highly undesirable, only the morally stunted or somnolent would accept it, and it entails the evanescence of republican governance. This is the "cash value" of that "natural level of wages."

Comments (50)

I've already conjectured on a different thread something rather like this, and also w.r.t. to political freedoms--that in a very free country like the U.S., more global interaction will mean more restrictions here and more freedoms in places now more restricted. A sort of regression towards the mean for all countries.

I don't see why we need to call it unjust to call it undesirable. After all, we are a very prosperous nation, and the people of all classes in our nation doing quite fairly well. Why should we want to be doing worse? And the same is true in spades for our getting more European-style speech restriction laws (just for example), regardless of whether societies that presently treat their citizens horribly come to treat them somewhat less badly.

I recall Steve Burton's example in his discussion with the open borders libertarian of the mini-society where the price of fruit goes down a bit, the cost of social services go up more, and several people who already had jobs lose them. Something like that. He counted up the votes of the people who would be rational to vote for it and came up with the conclusion that the proposal should rationally lose in that mini-society.

But this is entirely compatible with my not believing that "the type of system is unjust" or that capitalism has failed, or anything of the sort.

It's worth pointing out, too, that in economics as in a scientific experiment, you always have to define the extent of your system. When you predict what will happen in economics and ask whether you want it to happen or not, you have to say if you're talking at the level of the world or of your country, whose preferences will go what way, and so forth. Just as certain science experiments presuppose a closed system--that no one is messing with the factors--so economics presupposes a realm of economic actors, laws, etc.

I think myself that libertarians should bear in mind that many of the countries involved in global trade are going to have distinctly un-libertarian modes of government and that they will be helping these governments by trading with those countries and perhaps importing some of their restrictions and ideas here. But that's not a matter of economic injustice but of imprudence in trying to apply (weirdly) a capitalist system across both free and unfree countries, including countries like China that are not capitalist! (There's a trick for you.)

It will be a global regression towards the mean for the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of the Western world, with a concomitant elevation of a narrow, deracinated, cosmopolitan (or is this a redundancy) politico-economic elite to empyrean heights of power, (pseudo) authority, and status hitherto unimagined. Such things, after all, are relative; by dragging the majority of us down, they will elevate themselves.

Injustice and undesirability are conceptually distinct, at least insofar as it is possible to conceive of circumstances that would fulfill one set of criteria while failing to fulfill the other. It was undesirable that I experience an auto accident and sustain permanent injuries; it was not exactly unjust. It would be unjust to forcibly extirpate the Islamic religion, given what this would entail - although some bloodthirsty right-liberals have broached the subject - though the objective end-state would surely be desirable on numerous levels.

Nevertheless, I am given to wondering whether this distinction is not the consequence of a less-substantive, more-positive conception of things than I can affirm. With respect to the foregoing, regardless of the fact that traffic laws are merely positive in the specificity, it is still wrong to violate them, which violation risks inflicting harms upon others whose driving presupposes general adherence to the norms. And while a world in which Islam were non-existent would be desirable, I scarcely think it desirable to become, and then be, the sort of people who would perpetrate genocide. Moreover, in the present case, the case of globalization and a capitalist economic system untethered from any sense of social obligation, whether natural or contractual, it seems to me that the system engendering this global regression towards the mean is, both conceptually and functionally, violative of the natural goods/virtues of patriotism. Patriotism is negated if it does not entail greater obligations towards those whom, by birth, ancestry, and citizenship, we are bound in a communion of history, memory, and geography; whereas, cosmopolitan capitalism expressly, as the condition of its existence, elevates the foreigner and various abstractions, such as efficiency, GDP, and profitability to positions of equality with our neighbours. Indeed, it is incontrovertible that cosmopolitan capitalism actually privileges the foreigner and those abstractions over the neighbour; one must first favour the other in order to establish a condition of indifference between the other and one's neighbour.

Patriotism is certainly a natural good, a natural virtue, and the entities it subserves - communities, peoples, countries - are indeed natural kinds, with their own goods and virtues sustained and supported by the rightful exercise of patriotic virtue, itself a mode of charity. Though patriotism, that love of, and loyalty towards, blood and soil and - in the modern world - fellow citizens, is hardly the highest virtue in the hierarchy, I cannot profess cognizance of any virtue or good either parallel with, or superior to, patriotism, which for its realization would authorize the subversion of the goods of patriotism after the fashion of cosmopolitan capitalism. One might be compelled, or judge prudentially, that one must forsake these inherited obligations for the sake of one's family, for example; but this is scarcely a capitalist transaction. Material prosperity is a good of sorts, and it can be virtuous to both pursue and provide it, within natural and rational limits, but is irrelevant here, inasmuch as the logic of the system will ultimately redound against the material well-being of a majority of our fellows. Goods such as freedom, liberty, the rights of the use and disposal of property (laying aside for the present all reservations concerning rights-talk) cannot be asserted against the goods of the community, which undergirds and sustains their exercise, and indeed, for the sake of which they exist. Moreover, insofar as our constitutional order embodies and preserves our native traditions, and instantiates political virtue as our society comprehends it, it is worth observing that cosmopolitan capitalism, by the inexorable logic of harmonization and integration, will incrementally subvert and displace that constitutional order - both formal and informal - in the process obviating our indigenous expression of numerous natural goods/virtues.

None of the pragmatic/economic arguments, let alone the moral arguments, advanced so as to legitimate the global regression towards the mean, or more precisely, perhaps, the compulsory regression of the Western world towards the global mean - so it seems to me - are sufficient to overcome the virtue and obligation-derived arguments against this process. To state the matter forthrightly, I am cognizant of no virtue, and no natural good, that is capable of justifying the negation of community and the patriotic affection for community, let alone the reduction of one's neighbours to a state of deprivation for the object of the material extravagance and puissance of a cosmopolitan, "meritocratic" elite. I perceive nothing but decadence and perversion in any of this, nothing other than that ruthless materialism and acquisitiveness with destroys men, and societies, more thoroughly than any warfare.

It is perhaps possible to conceptualize this process of inte-regression as an experiment of sorts, but this wasn't precisely what I had in mind in characterizing the economic dogmas of the age as the products of positive science; rather, I intended to convey a sense of what the guild of economists, sophisters, and calculators claim for their own discipline: that it is scientific, its "laws" established by a rigorous methodology of testing and review, and that these laws, and all judgments predicated upon them, are value-neutral. I think this self-evidently false, and frankly, self-serving, as it was in the beginning of capitalism, is now, and ever shall be, as the foregoing - I believe - makes manifest. This putatively value-neutral "science" of economics is freighted with moral judgments concerning rights, obligations, virtues and their non-existence or irrelevance, the relative positions of various goods in a hierarchy of values, and so forth. In fact, this ostensible value-neutral science presupposes a certain anthropology, one in which man does not possess a rationally-knowable telos which orients him to a hierarchy of goods and virtues, and, ultimately, to the Good Himself. To the contrary, all such judgments are consigned to the sphere of faith and preference, such that man in his immanent being is principally a being of volition in the service of preferences, or, what is to say much the same thing, his irreducibly personal desires. This conception is made most explicit in von Mises.

Libertarians can certainly acknowledge the ironies, paradoxes, and absurdities implicated in globalization; few of them nowadays do anything of the sort, as few of them are inclined to contemplate the cultural and civilizational preconditions for the type of society they invision.

This putatively value-neutral "science" of economics is freighted with moral judgments concerning rights, obligations, virtues and their non-existence or irrelevance, the relative positions of various goods in a hierarchy of values, and so forth.

Mostly I lurk in these discussions rather than post, because I don't really have much to say. I tend to view modern capitalist economies neither as a mindless weather phenomenon that waters our fields nor as a positive conspiracy of the elites to stack the decks in their own favor. It seems more like a herd of semi-trained lions that we use to plow our fields or something. I don't have a good picture of the forest upon which to base an analogy, is the truth of the matter, though there are obvious trees that need planting or chopping down.

But I'd like to understand Lydia's view in particular on this specific point made by Maximos. That is, we live (among other things) under positive rule-sets established by our governments. I deny that any such rule-sets are or can even in principle be value-neutral, and I deny that efficiency or maximization of material wealth or any utilitarian measure at all supervenes on a morally good rule-set.

So in my view there are always moral implications in the laws that govern our economies, moral implications which, if properly addressed, would in fact result in a lower overall averaged-over-everyone level of material wealth. The point of maximum wealth in the phase space - in fact probably any point in the phase space optimized under any utilitarian measure at all - is almost certainly also a point wherein the rules in question are immoral. The rules should be (that is, there is a moral obligation for them to be) directed toward the common good (inclusive of the moral good for individuals), not some measure of maximal material prosperity, and the two are mutually exclusive.

I wouldn't exactly regard cosmopolitan/finance/globalized capitalism as a leonine conspiracy; I would state, rather, than those who reap the lions' share of the benefits of this system have met with increasing success, since the 1970s, in structuring the rule sets so as to entrench and maximize their interests.

Regarding those rule sets, the irony of this capitalism is that, in its utilitarian concentration upon maximal efficiency and absolute measurements of wealth, it now plainly functions so as to deprive of the benefits we thought to obtain by embracing it. We performed substantive injustices on the grounds that we would get more wealth by means of them, and now find that, in the end, we shall all be poorer on account of it. The good we sought illicitly will now be stripped from us.

As my father always said to me during my teenage years, when he suspected or intuited that I might be planning to do something wrong, "Know that your sins shall find you out." God is not mocked, and suffers not the fool.

"So in my view there are always moral implications in the laws that govern our economies, moral implications which, if properly addressed, would in fact result in a lower overall averaged-over-everyone level of material wealth. The point of maximum wealth in the phase space - in fact probably any point in the phase space optimized under any utilitarian measure at all - is almost certainly also a point wherein the rules in question are immoral. The rules should be (that is, there is a moral obligation for them to be) directed toward the common good (inclusive of the moral good for individuals), not some measure of maximal material prosperity, and the two are mutually exclusive."

I'm trying to understand this, Zippy. Are you saying that in _any_ country or system, if things were as they should be people would be less prosperous than they in fact are (even in a relatively very poor country)? Or are you just saying that in our own country's economic system right now, if things were as they should be, we'd be on average materially worse off? And if either of these, why do you think this?

I am saying that:

(1) There exists some permutation space of all possible rule-sets that a government can establish, in general.

(2) Take the subset of rule-sets which maximize some utilitarian measure of material prosperity. Call this P.[**]

(3) Take the (distinct) subset of morally good rule-sets: that is, morally licit rule-sets directed toward the common good. Call this G. Note that any rule-set not in G is immoral: that is, it is immoral to self-consciously select a rule-set not in G.

Proposition: P and G are mutually exclusive for any P.

Proof (or maybe "reasoning" would be a better term): Material prosperity is not the only good, and is not the highest good. Therefore maximizing for some material prosperity function will always necessarily entail the immoral prioritization of other goods as of lesser importance than material prosperity (however it is defined and measured). Therefore any rule-set which optimizes for any material prosperity function will always[*] be immoral.

[*] It is possible in principle that a rule-set not optimized for maximal material prosperity will nonetheless result in maximal material prosperity, accidentally as it were. But in any case the expectation of non-omniscient rule-makers should be that the choice of a morally licit rule-set entails sub-optimal material prosperity under any and all measures of material prosperity.

It follows, then, that a polity which adopts a morally good rule-set should expect to be sub-optimal in its material prosperity. It will always in general be possible for a polity to be more materially prosperous (under any measure of material prosperity whatsoever) by adopting an immoral rule set.

A good polity is always materially poorer than it could in principle be by adopting immoral rules. The question is not whether or not we should be poor, or whether or not too much wealth is a sign of moral injustice; but merely in the present circumstances how poor we should be, and what level of material wealth is indicative of unjust rules. The Christian acknowledgement of poverty as a virtue is more than a mere platitude, it seems to me. (Though the irony of me being the person to make the observation does not escape me).

This is all very abstract, and doesn't necessarily imply anything about the actual rule-set under which we presently operate. But it does impact our expectations of what we can consider a valid argument: that is, we cannot counter a moral claim about our present rule-set with a counterclaim of material prosperity, since if anything that counterclaim undermines the very point it is attempting to make, which is (presumably) that our current rule-set is not immoral.

[**] Notice that this also includes optimizing for egalitarian measures of material prosperity: it applies to any rule set which optimizes for any measure of material prosperity. So this puts the lie to the putative morality of communist/socialist programmes or purist capitalist programmes: that is, it puts the lie to any politics whatsoever which attempts to immanentize the good in economic terms.

I've gotta say, Zippy, that that reasoning seems fairly weak to me. Sure, material prosperity isn't the highest good. But to get from that to the conclusion that the maximally prosperous system is never a moral one seems implausible to me. Of course there will be wrong-doing going on at any level of prosperity, but your claim is actually that the system which maximizes prosperity will in itself involve, perhaps of necessity, immoral actions. That seems a very strong conclusion to me.

This is the more true as I tend to think that the "system" which maximizes prosperity consists in an important degree in the rulers' simply *not doing anything*--that is, restraining themselves from managing the material outcomes of the system with such things as price supports, wage supports, wage laws, and the like. If indeed laissez faire is a significant aspect of what makes an economic system maximally profitable, then your claim becomes even stronger: Namely, that it is required that rulers _do_ meddle in these ways with the economic outcomes of a country lest the system be "too profitable" and hence, in all probability, immoral! All very odd and counterintuitive to me.

As for the statement that a moral claim can't be answered with a claim of material prosperity, your point requires only that it is _possible_ that the maximally profitable system be immoral, not that it is necessary. Moreover, the reason I so often in these debates answer a moral claim with one about material prosperity is because the moral claim appears to be based on a claim about the material situation of some group of people. So, for example, if it's claimed that our present system is unjust because so few people have a built-in safety net in the form of land or something else to which they are entitled and by which they can support themselves decently if necessary, as they supposedly did before the rise of capitalism, it is self-evidently relevant to point out that what counts as "supporting oneself decently" is different in these two cases. This raises the very real possibility that the costs both to the individual and to society of maintaining such "commons" in our own day would far exceed the utility of any such safety net to the individual. He would likely either be able to support himself by wage labor at a level of living better than what he could get by living off his commons, or else he would become physically or mentally incapable of doing either of these and would be dependentant economically on others, which cost will be easier for them to sustain in the more efficient system we presently have. But since the original claim of injustice had to do with a material issue--how hard it is for a person to support himself "with dignity," material considerations that favor the present system are certainly relevant.

Moreover, most such moral claims about economic rules or systems that I hear--especially those criticizing capitalism--have to do with consequences. Now even when these consequences are moral, since they are _consequences_ it is only right to consider all consequences. For example, suppose that I could undertake some action to collapse our present economy and that I was assured that this would result in a great spiritual revival. But would it not also be relevant to point out that it would result in the physical deaths of many people through the ensuing hardships?

I can, I suppose, think of claims people might make either to the effect that the free market is intrinsically immoral or that some given consequence of it is so intrinsically evil that nothing else can weigh against it. But I would guess that I would think most such claims simply nuts.

Maximos says:

"Goods such as freedom, liberty, the rights of the use and disposal of property (laying aside for the present all reservations concerning rights-talk) cannot be asserted against the goods of the community, which undergirds and sustains their exercise, and indeed, for the sake of which they exist."

Were capitalism to comprehend this imperative, just imagine the enormous positive implications that society would enjoy as a result of it's adherence.

What a

...but your claim is actually that the system which maximizes prosperity will in itself involve, perhaps of necessity, immoral actions.

Immoral rules, actually: that is, the adoption of a rule-set that it would be immoral to self-consciously adopt. Yes. I think this is pretty clear actually. It isn't actions within the system of rules that I am examining but acts of adopting rules. IOW I am looking at the morality of legislative action (that is, government rule-making) not the actions of businessmen within a given set of rules.

This is the more true as I tend to think that the "system" which maximizes prosperity consists in an important degree in the rulers' simply *not doing anything*--

Well, I've operated at fairly high levels within the current system of rules, and I can tell you that that idealization bears very little resemblance to practice. (In fact, I find it hard - nay impossible - to believe that any economic system reduced to practice can in any way reflect a laissez-faire ideal). The idea that there can be a structured system of contract etc in the absence of any rules at all - which is what the rule-making authority literally not doing anything means - does not reflect something possible in this world. Some rule set must be selected: without a rule set there is not even any concept of who owns what, what ownership means and doesn't mean, etc.

Even in the libertarian dream society rule-sets are still assumed if not specified. Libertarians are great at ignoring the fact that there must be rules and that the choice of rule-set always has moral implications. Property-libertarianism ignores the fact that it itself presupposes the existence of authoritative value-laden discriminating rules of precisely the sort that libertarianism attempts to reject.

Given that some rule-set must be selected, optimizing it for material prosperity as if that were the highest good is immoral.

Now even when these consequences are moral, since they are _consequences_ it is only right to consider all consequences.

Right, I agree with that, to the extent the particular rules we are talking about are not intrinsically immoral. Please note how very narrow a point I made in the last post. The conclusion of all of that was merely that when Maximos makes a moral argument against rule system R, it is a nonsequiter and even self-undermining to counterclaim simpliciter that rule system R results in greater material prosperity. In fact, in order to retain sequitir-status the argument must be made that some goods are served with greater material prosperity as their instrumentality, since material prosperity, when it is good at all, is merely so instrumentally. It is fine to argue that whatever counter rule-set Maximos proposes is immoral on some grounds; and those grounds might even be that lots of people die, etc. But material prosperity is only one good among many, is only an instrumental good even so, and we know (or I argue above) that the most materially prosperous systems - under any measure of such - will be achieved only under immoral rule-sets.

That's why I said "in an important degree." Perhaps I should have said "in important areas" or something instead. Of course the free market presumes rules about ownership and the enforcement of contracts, etc. In fact, it's on that fact that I base some of my own objections to globalization, as the different countries will be operating with different rule-sets of this sort, sometimes radically so. We don't want--and no libertarian should want--an uber-set of rules, a centralized world government. But as it stands the resultant mixed, or mixed-up, system can only be pseudo-capitalist it seems to me since so many of the countries playing the game and getting the benefits are manifestly unfree both economically and politically.

The thing is, I can understand saying that if a man tries to maximize his own prosperity individually, he's in all probability doing something wrong, as maximizing his own individual prosperity will probably mean, for example, never helping anyone else out financially. But to apply this to rule-sets for nations seems to me a stretch, since the rule-set that maximizes prosperity for the nation is as far as I can see fully compatible with all manner of private decisions to forego maximal individual wealth by charitable giving and the like. All of that is I would assume taken into account in the comparison. In other words, under all the different rule-sets people may make such individual decisions, and P is supposed to be the rule-set (or there might be a set of such sets) that maximizes prosperity for the nation while allowing those private charitable decisions (or decisions to give up all you have and join a monastery or something) to float free according to whatever people decide to do. It's not like P makes it illegal to take a vow of poverty or to give to the poor. Or so I'm understanding your example.

Now, as far as the pertinence of my responses to various moral claims Maximos or somebody might make against the free market: I usually assume that if the other guy is making his moral claim on the basis of a material claim--e.g., people now do not have the wherewithal to support themselves in material dignity (as presently understood) on commons to which they are entitled in the economic system--we can take as read the instrumental benefits of material goods and I can then proceed to talk about material goods myself. After all, if Maximos doesn't admit the instrumental value of material goods, why is he talking about them? So I assume he does and that I can then compare apples with apples.

I think it is obvious that rule-sets are pervasively value-laden and that utilitarian measures of material prosperity very clearly do not supervene on the common good in a way that allows them to be simultaneously maximized. If in those cases where the rule-making authority has to choose between the common good and the utilitarian measure it chooses the utilitarian measure, then that choosing will be immoral. The alternative idea, that there exists some utilitarian measure of material prosperity which never in any instance conflicts with the common good, seems to me to be wildly untenable. At the very least someone whose theory depends on it has the burden of demonstrating it to be so (quite contrary to the evidence of history and all reason).

...the rule-set that maximizes prosperity for the nation is as far as I can see fully compatible with all manner of private decisions to forego maximal individual wealth by charitable giving and the like...

The fact that individuals do things -qua- individuals in the service of the common good really has no bearing whatsoever on the point, as far as I can tell.

The libertarian-conservative trope of "government not doing anything" is a reflection of either one of two things: a presupposition of some hypothetical, abstract state of nature, prior to the ordination of political authority, in which there exists no official rule-set, merely the individual contractual arrangements between discrete parties - the sort of things one finds in Locke's political theory, or Nozick's; or an abstracting away, as a sort of background, of some actually-instantiated rule set which reflects one's optimal rule-set, such that a baseline established at some point in history is presupposed to be "government doing nothing". Perhaps both in combination, in a variety of permutations.

However, since no economic rule-set is merely natural, a direct embodiment of the natural law, any economic rule-set will be the product of some combination of custom, deliberation, positive ordination, and so forth. In other words, some authority always does something; and hence, moral judgment is inherent in the enterprise.

As regards the entire matter of comparative political economy, my argument has always been twofold: it is immoral, as under the present system of cosmopolitan, globalist capitalism, to elevate the foreigner, let alone various utilitarian measures, to positions of equality with one's actually-existing neighbours, as this is violative of numerous natural goods and virtues; and it is contrary to the good of the human person to subject him to a strict market discipline, under which he lacks the opportunity to provide for himself outside the structures of a purely positive, utilitarian system, for this inhibits the realization of genuine goods of flourishing and their attendant virtues - of which self-reliance is actually one. Citations of material prosperity fail to tell against the former argument even on their own terms, insofar as the present utilitarian, efficiency-maximizing system will actually diminish material prosperity in America, and, on those same terms would seem weakened as arguments for the instrumental good of prosperity, insofar as there will be less of it to utilize towards substantive goods. Even on instrumental grounds, the present system will have to be reformed in some fashion if material well-being is to fulfill its instrumental function. As regards those substantive goods of local independence, self-reliance, and so forth, it simply cannot be the case that instrumental-prosperity-employed-towards-the-object-of-some-intrinsic-goods will always be disclosed as a trump be moral deliberation, and this by the nature of moral hierarchies and the variability and fluidity of concrete circumstances.

As regards consequences, these will always be relevant, inasmuch as even a virtue-theorist believes that injustice will engender certain consequences; the very presupposition of virtue theory is that our world, and our natures, are morally ordered (teleological) - though misshapen in some sense - such that there must obtain some level of feedback, however refracted, between conduct and circumstances. Speaking of potential consequences, it find it well nigh impossible to believe that any and all rule-sets which attempt to institute, maintain, and expand commons or commons-surrogates will necessarily fail to achieve their objectives; it may well be the case that some such policy-sets will leave wage-labour a more remunerative option for many people; however, it is not necessarily the object of commons to fully abolish wage-labour, but to create an alternative, and to establish a shelter for those who otherwise will be subjected to the relentless regression towards (the new) global subsistence.

The fact that individuals do things -qua- individuals in the service of the common good really has no bearing whatsoever on the point, as far as I can tell.

Thank you.

. The alternative idea, that there exists some utilitarian measure of material prosperity which never in any instance conflicts with the common good seems to me to be wildly untenable.

Wildly untenable indeed, given that the present utilitarian measures are beginning to conflict radically with the common good, and that the previous system of American political economy conflicted radically with the common good prior to all of the market interventions - such as unions, etc. - that libertarians and some conservatives decry.

"The alternative idea, that there exists some utilitarian measure of material prosperity which never in any instance conflicts with the common good, seems to me to be wildly untenable."

That isn't the alternative idea. Why should it be? You are the one claiming that maximally prosperity-inducing rule-set _always_ conflicts with the common good. Or at least you are claiming that it does so so often that we should rationally assume that it always will. The alternative idea is simply that it is not the case that a maximally prosperity-inducing rule set always (or so close to always as to make no difference) is immoral. That doesn't mean that it never does. Heck, between always and never there's a huge amount of space.

Maximos, I do get a bit frustrated with this back-and-forth that we've done before. The first step seems to occur when you make some claim about what is _manifestly_ a material matter. This happened on the last thread. Your theme was the difficulty in surviving with dignity-as-presently-defined on wage labor. The worry, as I understood it, was in itself a material worry: Namely, that people without sufficient skills or education would suffer what are in our present society regarded as serious material privations without tax-based or other societally-funded "compensations" for the lowness of their wages. Stated as such this in itself says *nothing* about the purely spiritual or moral value of their being able to support themselves on commons. You hadn't gotten to that part but were rather asking us to contemplate the *material* fate of people forced to support themselves on Wal-Mart wages if the varous welfare systems were not in place. You contrasted this with an earlier situation where people were able to do more *material* things for themselves and thus were not in such danger of material destitution if wages fell very low. I responded that in that situation what counted as "destitution" or "material dignity" and such were quite different.

Now, this is manifestly relevant to the point at issue because it concerns the probable utility of having commons. You then have to consider the possibility that commons would be of so little economic value to anybody compared to wage-earning as not to be worth establishing *when we are talking about the material concerns you originally raised.* I'm not maintaining that this is necessarily the case but only that it is plausible considering the relative ease with which one can now (for example) earn the price of a pair of shoes, a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, or a shirt, even by working at Wal-Mart, and the relatively greater difficulty in producing any of these objects for oneself.

If at this point you want to talk about the purely moral virtues of rugged independence, that is a *different* argument. Indeed, I will at that point be much tempted to modify Mrs. Thatcher's response and to say that you appear not to care if the poor are poorer, perhaps even much poorer, so long as they are more independent of employers.

But again, that is a change of subject as the original point was supposed to be concern for workers' material well-being if the bottom, as it were, dropped out of the market for their labor and they could make relatively less and less in wages.

That isn't the alternative idea. Why should it be?

I already explained why. In the process of creating the literally billions of rules supporting global capitalism, either a particular proposed rule optimized for material prosperity under some utilitarian measure will sometimes come into conflict with the common good or it will never conflict with the common good (leaving aside the obviously wrong "always"). My postulate is that "sometimes" is the correct answer, and that "never" is not a tenable answer.

Therefore if the entire rule-set is optimized for that utilitarian measure it is necessarily an immoral rule set.

"Proposition: P and G are mutually exclusive for any P."

"I think it is obvious that rule-sets are pervasively value-laden and that utilitarian measures of material prosperity very clearly do not supervene on the common good in a way that allows them to be simultaneously maximized."

This ain't just "sometimes." The most you were willing to allow as a qualifier of this extremely strong statement was that it might accidentally happen that they were not mutually exclusive. But apparently this is a case of "nearly always," for you said,

"But in any case the expectation of non-omniscient rule-makers should be that the choice of a morally licit rule-set entails sub-optimal material prosperity under any and all measures of material prosperity."

So, again, the alternative to "are mutually exclusive" or "are nearly always mutually exclusive" or "should be assumed to be mutually exclusive" isn't "never come into conflict" but rather "do not always or nearly always come into conflict."

Well, for my part, I find these discussions somewhat frustrating inasmuch as, having rejected the notion of a neutral, value-free scientific economics, which rejection entails that I also reject any notion of a value-free 'fact' concerning economic circumstances - for example, of American workers being subjected to a regression to the global 'natural' wage - I am now being faulted for failing to maintain a distinction which I deny. On my conception of law, economics, and ethics, there is no matter which can be considered manifestly material, simpliciter, and indeed, I find it difficult to fathom why anyone would bestir himself to criticize a set of economic circumstances if he believed that they are bereft of moral import. It is, after all, not as though I am faulting globalization for failing to achieve great efficiency in the employment of capital and the generation of higher gross economic statistics. I am not voicing a technical critique.

And the point regarding commons and the self-provisioning of peasants was not primarily that the peasants were able to perform more material tasks for themselves, and to acquire more material goods, but that examples such as the one of the shoes demonstrate that the peasant enjoyed a more secure, more stable share of the total product of his society than does the contemporary wage-labourer, who lacks an independent means of self-provisioning while being compelled to compete against a globalized pool of third-world labour. This is a good thing because stability is, at a minimum, an instrumental good, and because - as broached in the conversation regarding patriotism - independence and self-reliance are goods. Thus, the argument that a contemporary commons might not be terribly valuable even to these insecure labourers misses the mark: their wages are, in point of fact, regressing to the global mean, the natural global rate, meaning that all of those things that are at present relatively inexpensive will only become more expensive, relative to wages and the value of the currency (for global capitalism, as practiced here in America, is much more inflationary than the official statistics disclose; those shoes won't remain cheap indefinitely with the dollar plummeting against every major world currency). There is no sense in protesting that I'd be content to impoverish labourers if only I could liberate them from their employers; globalization is already accomplishing that, under the current employment system. Even more abstractly, it is untenable that the entire basket of economic rule-sets providing for commons or commons-surrogates would fail to achieve meaningful, substantive benefits; the argument to that effect seems only to be that the present arrangement is the optimal (ie., best that can be achieved) one for labourers, which is self-evidently false.

Classical political economists, ensorcelled by the delusion of a value-neutral, scientific economics, were they to remain consistent with this enchantment, could do nothing more than proclaim that certain things were "facts"; they did not always content themselves with this sort of clinical detachment, however, and often enough proclaimed the "laws" they imagined themselves to have discovered to be the veritable will of God. This sort of incoherence gave away the game. Invocations of material prosperity, I think, too often function analogously in these controversies; material prosperity will be deemed either an intrinsic good, or an instrumental good, but when someone proffers a critique of the 'system' or rule-set which generates this prosperity, he will be reproached on the grounds that this rule-set merely concerns material affairs, and that morality only enters into the deliberations when an individual actor does something. The pretenses of neutrality, or of the present system as unproblematic and consonant with the common good, conceal the normative judgments that leak out during the discussions of material prosperity as a good: judgments as to its weighting and relations to other goods/virtues/the common good.

Look, Maximos, I think even you would admit a distinction between material benefits to a given person and moral benefits to that same person. Even if the material benefits also had moral benefits (or a moral harm) as their result, the two can be thought of as distinct sorts of benefits. Never mind the word or concept "value-free." I'm just talking about the difference between having enough to eat and having a good character, between your stomach's not growling and being able to pray with more concentration because your stomach isn't growling, and so forth.

Now I understand one of your claims to be that the present system is going to impoverish the laborer in the material sense of impoverish. You also claim that it emasculates him by making him less independent, etc. Well and good, but these are _different_ claims, and there is nothing gained by claiming not to be able to tell the difference between them. My point is that I am certainly allowed to talk about material prosperity in response to the first, because it's supposed to be itself a claim about material prosperity! I really dislike having it claimed that people are going to be impoverished, destitute, unable to sustain themselves financially, etc., trying to make a response to this along the lines of "I doubt it, though it depends in part on how you define 'destitute'" and then being told that I'm bringing up something irrelevant, because I'm talking about material goods!

As to how cheap those shoes stay, we'll see. I'm tempted to make a small bet with you on how many hours a man will have to work at Wal-Mart ten years from now to buy what is today a $50 pair of shoes. Because I doubt very much it will be a week, nor anything near.

And this is even assuming the continuation of policies of which I myself doubt the wisdom.

This ain't just "sometimes."

I think I still haven't made my point clear. My point is about meta-rulemaking: about the criteria for making rules. Global capitalism is supported by billions of rules. If the meta-rule is a criteria optimizing for some utilitarian measure of material prosperity, that will necessarily[note 1] mean that sometimes[note 2] the common good will be sacrificed for the sake of the utilitarian prosperity measure. Therefore maximally prosperous rule-sets are necessarily immoral: that is to say, a meta-rule maximizing a (that is, any) utilitarian measure of material prosperity is necessarily immoral.

This rests on the fact[note 1] that in the process of making billions of rules, conflicts between the common good and any particular utilitarian criteria are inevitable[note 1].


[1] You seem to have attached far too much significance to my allowance of the possibility-in-principle of a pathologically bizarre case in which billions of rules are made with material prosperity trumping the common good in principle without it ever happening in fact. In allowing for that possibility in principle I am by no means conceding it as an actual possibility. An allowance that conceptually it is within the known laws of quantum mechanics for my head to spontantously change into a turnip via a quantum fluctuation is by no means the same thing as allowing it as a genuine physical possibility.

[2] This is the point in my argument where I say "sometimes" and the alternative to my argument is "never". For my reply to that see [note 1]

Thanks for the clarification, Zippy. In that case, though, I think we shd. allow for the possibility that there is more than one way to skin a cat--that is, that there is more than one rule-set that optimizes material prosperity, or at least more than one that does so for all we know/as far as we can tell.

If that's true, it seems to me plausible that if an immoral rule or an immoral refusal to have a rule were found in one such rule-set, it could be reformed into one of the others, equally likely as far as we could tell to maximize prosperity in the society. At least, why shouldn't we be open to that possibility? I see no reason to rule it out.

Take the example Maximos gave on one thread of bankruptcy protection that allows a company to refuse to liquidate assets to pay at least some proportion of old-age pensions to its long-time workers. Suppose for the sake of the argument that this bankruptcy protection law is immoral. I'm not absolutely convinced that it is, but it looks like it prima facie. Suppose this protection were removed so that the people who had worked for pensions had to be treated more like ordinary creditors and given some proportion of what they were owed, with liquidation of assets if necessary to carry this out.

Would this decrease overall material prosperity in the system? I can't tell for sure that it would. The pensioners, for example, are going to use that money for something, not take it out and burn it into ashes. So the money will be spent within the system. And increased security in one's pension could potentially affect the workforce in various profitable ways--making more top-notch people willing to go into those fields, or whatever.

Or perhaps there are other additional modifications to the rule-set that would increase overall prosperity if taken in conjunction with requiring companies to pay pensioners by liquidating assets if necessary.

In other words, it isn't obvious to me that there aren't rule-sets alternative to the one that allows shafting pensioners that aren't equally good for material prosperity for the system as a whole.

Would this decrease overall material prosperity in the system? I can't tell for sure that it would.

On the particular question I have no idea. Again I am not touching on particular rules, but on the nature of rule-making and our meta-criteria for making rules.

A system of rules which maximizes wealth is an immoral system. There are too many manifestly immoral things which generate wealth, an observation which doesn't begin to count the number of wealth-generating things harmful to the common good in their consequences which are less obviously immoral. A system optimized for utilitarian material prosperity is necessarily an evil system, in my understanding. (That is by no means to assert the silly idea that a maximally poor system is morally good: just that a certain amount of poverty not just at the level of individuals but at the level of societies is virtuous: that is, it is inherently evil to maximize wealth at the expense of other goods).

I have no problem at all with rule-makers attempting to maximize materal prosperity as a good subordinate to many other goods and instrumental to their realization. Part of the reason I mostly lurk in these discussions is that I am not at all confident that I know which specific policies are best. I entered the discussion only because of this very general point, which I thought might be clarifying, or at least about which I am very confident.

"There are too many manifestly immoral things which generate wealth, an observation which doesn't begin to count the number of wealth-generating things harmful to the common good in their consequences which are less obviously immoral."

But we'd have to know that there aren't enough things that are neither immoral intrinsically nor in their net effects harmful to the common good that generate material prosperity to "offset" the material gains of the things you have in mind in order to know that "a system optimized for utilitarian material prosperity is necessarily an evil system." Again, I just don't know that there aren't moral ways to skin the cat.

Again, I just don't know that there aren't moral ways to skin the cat.

Well I think there aren't, for the same reason I think my head won't transform into a turnip through a quantum fluctuation. But the meta-point remains even so: if what we are aiming at is material prosperity as opposed to the common good, what we are going to get is an evil system. Better to just aim for the common good and expect not to be as prosperous as we could be if we made different choices. If we end up optimally prosperous through some accident or miracle that is great, but policy makers who plan for miracles are not good policy makers. We should plan to be less than optimally prosperous, by choice.

I myself think it's fine to plan for the common good and let various chips fall where they may. And one reason I don't think it'll be so miraculous if that turns out to make us very prosperous is because, to modify your phrase, there are so many _moral_ things that generate wealth.

But also, I'm willing to say that since the common good includes all consequences, including material ones, it seems to me that the fact that some policy has the consequence of making the citizens of the country more prosperous overall--of making bigger pies, in fact--is relevant to the issue of the common good. Sometimes a choice may have to be made between the common good in its strictly moral aspects and in its material aspects, but to my mind this doesn't happen as often as others seem to think it does.

I should add, in case this isn't clear, that I actually agree with Jeff that some loss of American prosperity is one cause of concern from present immigration policies. That is one reason (though there are others at least as important) why I oppose our present in-effect open borders policy. But this is because I--apparently along with Jeff--think that not messing up the material prosperity of its people is a legitimate duty on government. In other words, material prosperity is an important aspect of the public good.

In other words, material prosperity is an important aspect of the public good.

I believe we all agree about that.

Lydia, I don't dispute that material and moral harms may be distinguished in certain cases and for certain purposes; I'm not so certain, however, that this is either desirable or practicable when the context is that of inescapably moral - because they necessarily concern and have consequences for the common good - political deliberation. It is assuredly a dubious proposition with respect to many aspects of one's personal life.

The material privation endured by monastics ought not be considered a moral harm, nor productive of moral harm, since the entire orientation of the monastic life is towards the renunciation of the goods of the world for the sake of an unhindered devotion to God. However, for a layman such as myself, material privations can very easily be productive of moral harms; it is by no means uncommon for those observing the numerous fasting periods of the Orthodox ecclesiastical calendar to experience greater difficulties concentrating during prayer, or in mortifying some besetting sin/temptation, such as an irascible temper, on account of the enervation and discomfort that occasionally accompany fasting. In such cases, a wise confessor will often counsel the mitigation of certain observances, as an economy, because he realizes that the undoubted benefits of self-denial will be obviated by the moral harms occasioned/disclosed/exacerbated/caused by what amounts to a form of material deprivation.

As regards the economic policies of cosmopolitan, neoliberal capitalism, they are necessarily productive of moral harms, because the circumstances of deprivation productive of those harms are the very means by which the system achieves its efficiencies, its more perfect approximations of absolute utility, its maximizations of aggregate wealth. The architecture of globalization, as an instantiation of a utilitarian measure of material prosperity, is causative of instability and insecurity, which are moral harms insofar as they preclude the establishment of rootedness, of that integration into a community that is the only antidote for the unjust and atomistic reduction of community to a mere instrument of private utility. Instability and insecurity engender anomie and anxiety, and are corrosive of trust, leaving those subjected to such uncertainty liable to manifest an inordinate concern for personal material well-being, as opposed to the common good; and indeed, as anyone who has ever visited the former Soviet Union can attest, as they become more and more constitutive of entire social orders, necessitate conformity to such a cynical, exploitative mode of existence as a condition of personal survival. Instability and insecurity, by compelling an excessive focus upon personal responses to the ceaseless roiling of the seas of destructive creation, deprive us of both the time and the spiritual energies to sustain ordinary human goods of friendship, hospitality, charity, and leisure.

Then there is the fact that such policies, particularly the multifarious expedients whereby American labourers are compelled to compete directly with labourers in foreign nations of wildly different political and economic systems, and wildly divergent standards of living, law, and dignity, constitute a de facto abandonment of patriotic obligation towards fellow citizens. This, in itself, would suffice to generate a fair degree of atomization and anomie, but the harm in this instance goes beyond mere instability; the tacit but socially palpable rending of the intricate webs of mutual obligation not only produces alienation, but a sense that the foundational traditions and observances of the nation itself, perhaps even the Constitutional order altogether, no longer hold - that these things are ineffectual and have been nullified, for they are nothing if not the symbols of a people having a common history and a common destiny. "Every man for himself, save as he wills otherwise" is a form of moral deprivation. The individual, atomistic, meritocratic acquisitiveness - the ethic inculcated by our elite institutions and establishments - that correlates with this jettisoning of the obligations of patriotism is a moral harm, intrinsically, as it is nothing more than the articulation of the restless, passion-enslaved heart as a socially-normative mode of being. The diminution of the representative character of our governance, an end effectuated by the disproportionate influence wielded by the "meritocracy", itself made possible by a combination of imprudent law and the disproportionate economic power which accrues to the beneficiaries of the system, is a correlative moral harm.

The dependency and servility that are engendered by cosmopolitan economic policies are moral degradations, insofar as they require either, according to circumstances, a withering of independence and self-reliance, and their attendant virtues, or an obsequious, grasping sort of independence that will be sustained by means of the flattering of the vainglorious meritocrats of the globalized order. This is evidenced by the tenor of much business literature published over the course of the preceding decades, which has emphasized the marketing of oneself to the sort of world-destroyers who wield such power, presupposing the licit status of their works, such that the only outstanding question concerns how well one will serve them and facilitate the realization of their whims. Then, for good measure, as the converse of this, there is the fulsome callousness and sense of entitlement increasingly exhibited by the "meritocracy", manifest in the thousand ways, from their unassailable status in our political system and discourse to the insouciance with which they implement their policies. This, of course, demonstrates another category of moral harms, namely, the harms to those who, as agents, implement the policies which engender these circumstances.

Given the architecture of the American economy as presently constituted, policies of this nature are necessary to the utilitarian maximization of aggregate wealth. Leaving aside the question of whether an alternative economic rule-set, for example, that of Japan, is intrinsically unjust for other reasons, it is evident from consideration of that case that an economic rule-set can promote a high degree of prosperity while subserving the common good to a greater degree than does the American rule-set. That other system, however, is neither maximally efficient not maximally profitable.

Maybe I can attempt to restate it yet another way, since my probabilistic argument doesn't seem to be all that clear and I am reduced to an appeal to spontanous turnip-heads: an argument from incredulity basically. So let me try to make my incredulity more concrete.

Suppose for the sake of argument we have an economic rule-set which we have built on the principle of serving the common good. Suppose that, subordinate to that overarching principle, we have optimized for some quantitative utilitarian economic measure of material prosperity P (where P is the gross domestic product, or the average wealth of a citizen, or the wealth of the poorest citizen, or whatever: it doesn't matter what quantitative criteria we choose, which is why this criticism applies equally to capitalist and socialist/communist schemes, or to any scheme which attempts to prioritize economic prosperity as coequal to the common good more generally).

We now have a rule-set {r1...rn} containing billions of rules which give us some value for P: an optimal value for P constrained by the qualitative criteria that serving the common good comes first, and maximizing P second.

In order to believe that maximizing P in general is compatible with serving the common good, I have to believe that there is not a thing I can do to increase P by taking the constraints off of this rule set: by discarding the criteria that the rules are there to serve the common good and making maximization of the concrete measure P the only criteria. Not one change to any one of those billions of rules will allow P to increase in the least.

And therein lies the source of my incredulity at the idea that there is an economic "have your cake and eat it too" scenario - even in theory - wherein our rule-making process can simultaneously serve the common good and maximize some quantitative measure of prosperity.

Classical political economists, ensorcelled by the delusion of a value-neutral, scientific economics

For the sake of argument, I do not see why you cannot have value-neutral economics. I think this may equate economics with government when in fact they are not identical. Policy is never value-neutral, but economics can be. For example, it is an economic fact that price ceilings cause shortages and price floors cause a surplus. Minimum wage, which is a form of price floor, will thus create unemployment. This is something that either will or will not happen independent of any values. What is not value-free is whether or not minimum wage should be public policy. The unemployment rate is not the only good in an economy and it is possible that many other goods result from minimum wage laws.

I think the problem is when economist assume that something is the only desirable end. An economist can say "if X then Y", but an economist should not assume that Y is the only desirable good.

X, I agree with your point. Economists _do_ make policy recommendations, of course. It wouldn't be correct to speak as if the folks as the von Mises Institute aren't doing politics as well as economics and mixing politics with their economics. And one can use the word "economics" in a number of different ways. But as a matter of clarity of thought, I agree that there is nothing particularly value-laden about the statement that unemployment will increase if such-and-such is done and the like. I dislike very much insinuations that statements that are in themselves empirical claims are "non-neutral." It's just that Maximos and I disagree about so much in this area that I have to pick and choose what to mention. :-)

Maximos, I know that there are whole oodles of things that you think are morally bad for people about various aspects of our present system. Remember that I, too, am no fan of open borders and that in part for reasons of messing up material prosperity.

I just think it's helpful at any given moment to know what we're arguing about, for, and on what basis. For example, if the claim is that people should have some land of their own and be able to provide things for themselves from scratch from that land, is the argument at any given moment that this would be good for them, making them manly, independent, and tough? Or is the argument that this would be a materially useful way to prevent them from falling into economic misery and hardship and a better safety net than what can be provided in ways involving their wages or other people's wages (which other people would support them when they could not support themselves)? I strongly doubt the latter and am fairly lukewarm towards the former. But it's only fair for me to know which argument I'm countering. And if it's the latter, considerations of market efficiency and the higher quality and abundance of goods and services under the free market are certainly pertinent and are not dragged-in materialistic irrelevancies.

Zippy, yes I can see the situation you are talking about. Bright Young Economist comes along and views morally permissible rule-set and says, "Hey, you could have more prosperity around here if you would change this and that." But if we did, then the rule-set would no longer be in the morally permissible group.

But there are many things I question about the scenario. For example, even if we assume that the rule-set is morally permissible, do you also want to assume that *every single constraint* in it is necessary to its being morally permissible? I mean, if we're talking about finite agents here, surely there are things people might just not have thought of, or that might have been a good idea at one time but are no longer morally required because of new external circumstances, or that were extraneous bells and whistles from a moral point of view. You're asking me to imagine a morally un-tweakable rule-set. I find that pretty hard to imagine for the very reason you give: billions of rules. Even you set up the original thought experiment up-thread in such a way that there are _various_ rule-sets that belong in G, the set of permissible rule-sets. Might it not be possible to take the BYE's advice by changing _more_ rules than merely the one he mentions so as in some way to avoid otherwise impermissible consequences of changing just one? And so forth. This morally just-exactly-balanced rule-set idea seems very counterintuitive to me.

Second, supposing the rule that the BYE wants us to change actually to be necessary to the morality of the set, is the BYE right that changing it would make the country more prosperous? Appearances can be deceiving on things like that, and it can be very hard to be sure, as I argued in my example of the pensions and bankruptcy.

Zippy, yes I can see the situation you are talking about.

It isn't a situation though. It is a highly general observation about the nature of systems of rules created under constraints. Sure, in reality no system of rules or rule-making process is going to mirror an ideal case (just as no real economy perfectly mirrors any economic model). But the general point remains: an optimally prosperous set of rules govering economic activity will, in general, be an immoral set of rules. We shouldn't kid ourselves about this: when we do the right thing, we always end up materially poorer in quantitative terms than if we were not constrained to do the right thing. (This is a lot like the situation in the domain of warfare, where the fact that we operate under moral constrains means that we are at a material disadvantage, all other things equal, when facing a wicked enemy). We literally can't do the right thing without making sacrifices in our material prosperity. So we should expect it in our policy-making: we should expect that material prosperity will take a back seat to moral issues, and we should be suspicious of any political assertion or programme that tries to tempt us with "optimize our material prosperity and be the good guys too".

I tend to think that you're making far too strong of an analogy between what is true of individuals and what is true of policy. Actually, my own intuition is that the two are quite different. It's not like economic policy-making is individual economic decision-making writ large. I discussed this a little bit above.

Here's, I think, the strongest argument for your view: Suppose the rule-makers were willing, if it came to it, to sacrifice prosperity in the country for avoiding doing evil. Then, you argue, doesn't it seem obvious that it's overwhelmingly probable that they could have made the country more prosperous if they had been willing to do evil?

I say, ah, so-so. Maybe that's some evidence, but it's fairly weak. Whether that's going to happen depends on so many factors.

Here's an analogy: Suppose I'm training a horse in dressage. (I don't actually know how to do this but have just read about it.) Suppose that I'm willing, if necessary, to make the horse better at dressage even if this means making him less beautiful. Does this mean it's overwhelmingly probable that I could have made the horse more beautiful if I hadn't had this set of priorities in my training, if I'd been willing on the contrary to sacrifice good athletics in his ability to do dressage to beauty? Well, this isn't at all obvious. Some people believe and have argued that all else being equal a horse trained in the movements of dressage _becomes_ more beautiful because his muscles are better formed, he carries himself more gracefully, and the like. You didn't have to aim at beauty above all to get it thrown in, as it were. The whole thing is a contingent matter.

To me this is a straightforward (heh) matter of degrees of freedom in making (billions of) economic rules that impact our ability to maximize some quantitative economic value. Individual hypotheticals about individual rules are like hypotheticals about individual molecules in a thermodynamic problem: irrelevant, in other words.

The moral law reduces the available degrees of freedom across the construction of billions of rules; therefore the quantitative value produced in aggregate through the application of all of those rules will have a lower theoretical maximum, other than in pathological (and therfore trivial and unreal) situations, when achieving it is constrained by the moral law. Rule-construction without moral law constraints can do everything without exception that can be done with the constraints, and very much more, across billions of rules.

I don't think it can be decided a priori like that. I think it depends (as in the case of equine athletic training and beauty) on what the actual relationship is in the real world between the two things for which one might theoretically maximize one's system of rules. And that can be decided only by observation. Some things do tend to track one another, so that optimizing for one, even if one is willing in principle to sacrifice the other, will not actually decrease the other.

I think you'd be on much stronger ground w.r.t. the individual. This is because the individual is, we know as a matter of fact, morally required to be generous, to do things like giving away money to the needy, and stuff like that. But that isn't true of nations.

Of course, a lot depends on what you think rule-systems are required to do. To what extent, for example, are rule-systems required to try to make individuals do everything individuals are supposed to do and to refrain from doing everything they are not supposed to do? If, for example, one thought that if individuals are morally required to be generous, then the rule-set must make them be "generous" according to the criteria of one of the rule-makers, then you might get a conflict on that theory between the morally good rule-set and prosperity. But I don't accept that theory, and probably you don't either.

Some things do tend to track one another, so that optimizing for one, even if one is willing in principle to sacrifice the other, will not actually decrease the other.

If the measured quantity happens to track the common good perfectly in every conceivable instance then they aren't really different things, sure, and I allowed for this as a pathological possibility (rather like all the gas molecules in a tank "accidentally" ending up on one side of the tank, leaving a vacuum on the other side). Those things don't happen in reality though. Given what appears to be the obvious premise that (say) GDP and the common good are not two names for identically the same thing, the rest follows. I am sure lots of individual cases exist where GDP and the common good align. They only have to not be identically the same thing in every single case in order for the result to follow though. Moral constraint on the rule-set as a whole reduces the degrees of freedom, and so reduces the "free energy" available to maximize the quantitative measure of prosperity (however it is derived from the rule-set).

Maximum theoretical quantitative prosperity as a function of the unconstrained rule-set will be greater than as a function of the constrained one. With more degrees of freedom across billions of rules, you can do more to increase the quantity.

Of course, a lot depends on what you think rule-systems are required to do.

All that is required is that the rule-system constrains some actions which affect the measured quantity and allows others, and that the additional "common good" constraint reduces the set of rules available to us to a subset of the set of all possible rules available without that constraint. Again, it is a very general point about rule sets and degrees of freedom in generating them, and the individual cases of horses and such are irrelevant to it.

I don't know how to convince you that coming up with individual cases where GDP (or whatever quantitative measure we are using) and the common good line up isn't relevant; but it isn't.

I just think it's helpful at any given moment to know what we're arguing about, for, and on what basis.

I have argued, at considerable length, though not to the satisfaction of every reader and commentator, that the economic system presently operating in the United States, a corporatist, cosmopolitan capitalism, exercises a derogating effect upon specifiable goods of human flourishing; that, while it may result in the aggregate maximization of utilitarian measures of material well-being, it is untenable, as a bare minimum, to believe that in all cases actual and hypothetical, this utilitarian optimization suffices to legitimate the preference for material values qua material values over substantive goods, virtues, and structures/relations characterized by justice; and finally, that the invocation of material prosperity as an instrumental good, and therefore, as a counter to complaints concerning the diminution of substantive natural goods and the uprooting of the conditions of the possibility of many goods of human flourishing, is ultimately self-defeating, inasmuch as even proponents of globalization concede that the majority of Americans, outside a narrow stratum of "meritocratic" elites, will be less well-off, materially speaking. The unseen hand, said to ensure the optimization of the general welfare by means of the self-interested preference-seeking of individuals, turns out in the end to be a mailed fist for the majority; the preferences of certain individuals count for more than those of others, and actually diminish the well-being of those others.

In response to the first sort of consideration, I am urged to accept the proposition that material prosperity is both a good, if an instrumental one, and that, in this role, it is a condition of the possibility of many substantive goods. Which is assuredly true, and so obviously the case that I have never troubled to dispute it. However, whether by design or inadvertence or whatever, I am also being asked - if implicitly - to accept the proposition that 'material prosperity as an instrumental good towards (unspecified) substantive goods' either always, or sufficiently often for the purposes of practical deliberation to count as 'always' - as the heuristic principle of practical reasoning - outweighs those substantive goods. It is untenable to think this, even as a purely hypothetical consideration, not least because 'there being a rightly-ordered society in which the common good is the paramount objective of public authority, and in which relations between individuals, families, institutions, businesses, and authorities are constituted in accordance with justice and the other public virtues' is distinct from 'there being a society in which aggregate material utility is the condition of the possibility of the private, volitional exercise of substantive goods of virtue and goodness'. In other words, the common good is not, and cannot be reduced to, or expressed as, the aggregate of individual preference satisfactions; the common good is not the sum total of individual goods, as perceived and determined by those individuals, any more than the good of a family is the aggregate of what each of the individual members desires. Moreover, in one thread, I am being urged to accept that self-reliance, for example, is so critical an element of the American character and self-conception that it must be regarded as integral with an American creed; while in this thread and others touching upon the same themes, I am urged to accept that the loss of self-reliance is an inconsiderable loss, provided only that the losers have more material stuff to employ instrumentally towards other goods.

In fine, to considerations that MacIntyre might classify as consonant with the classical/Augustinian/Thomistic schools of thought are being opposed considerations consonant with the modern, even liberal (broadly construed) school of thought; what, however, I believe is requisite in the circumstances is an actual confutation of the classical position, an argument that the things regarded therein as virtuous are not virtuous, or of subsidiary importance; that material well-being is either superior as a good intrinsically or instrumentally, and that, therefore, the surest path to societal felicity is the satisfaction of individual preferences in a utilitarian system, such as the one our society instantiates. Either the common good is or is not a really-existent, substantial thing; and if not, a case for a politically-normative nominalism ought to be forthcoming.

Furthermore, when considerations of the uncertainty and instability which are the constitutive conditions of globalization are broached, the argument is not that everyone must be issued forty acres and a mule and made to subsist on the fruits of his manual labour, and by the sweat of his brow, but that property, as a productive asset, be that land, small businesses, meaningful shares of ownership and responsibility and authority in a corporation (not the meaningless absentee shareholding and managerialism we have now), or even something as minimalistic as Charles Murray's proposal for an annual grant to each person of some tens of the thousands of dollars, be widely distributed, as this is at once both a good and a condition of goods/virtues, and a bulwark against the manifest evils and injustices of concentration. Additionally, the argument is that the economy should be reconceptualized; instead of being an vast, complicated mechanism for the maximally-efficient employment of capital, it ought to be a framework for the common good of a determinate people or country. The American economy should be subordinate to the common good of Americans, and not structured in accordance with abstractions, such as the maximally profitable utilization of capital, or in accordance with the utilitarian good of some discrete class, such as that of possessors of capital. The argument is not that this will secure the maximal prosperity of each individual, but that it will be more equitable, will afford greater security and stability, and will be more just: and again, this would be justice as a good and characteristic of public institutions, practices, and norms, and not as the sum total of personal satisfactions - getting what we need, not what we, separably, want. It seems to me that there is a clear distinction between systems optimized for utilitarian measurements and systems which strive to realize the common good; even hypothetically, it seems manifest that virtue is a limiting factor, and practically, that an American economic system in which the common good was an additional constraint would be less optimal, in utilitarian terms, than the actually-existing American (sector of the global) economy.

So, when I object to certain aspects of the global capitalist economic system on grounds of the common good and the virtues, an appeal will be made to the goods of material prosperity; and when I observe that globalization undermines numerous measures of material well-being, - measures which, like stability and security, are conditions of the common good - an appeal will be made to those same goods of material prosperity, this time, as an observation about the material productivity of an agrarian-primitivist ideal that I haven't advocated; and when I observe that globalization - as conceded by forthright proponents, and acknowledged here - is an economic "grey goo" theory of prosperity, I am told, I suppose, that shoes will still be cheap for those Americans whose standard of living will then approximate what Pakistanis consider the high life. This, moreover, is to leave out, for present purposes the many substantive injustices of our GDP-centric economic architecture, such as the favouritism shown to foreigners over Americans, or the deleterious effects upon a republican system of government, or the increasingly dog-eat-dog ethic of success.

Or that, if conservatives don't conceive superior remedies for the present inequities and discomfitures of their countrymen than those of the, ahem, progressives, the left will own the political discourse until resource depletion causes the entire system to float down to the abyssal plain, like a whale carcass.

All that is required is that the rule-system constrains some actions which affect the measured quantity and allows others, and that the additional "common good" constraint reduces the set of rules available to us to a subset of the set of all possible rules available without that constraint

Don't we have such constraints in the form of laws against force and fraud? It is illegal to cheat, lie, and steal your way into prosperity.

Don't we have such constraints in the form of laws against force and fraud?

"Prevention of force and fraud" does not exhaustively describe the constraints imposed by the moral law. In fact preventing "force" is contrary to the common good, since force is sometimes necessary, and also self contradictory since preventing the use of force involves the use of force. Indeed, every "right" involves discriminating between parties and forcing the will of one party upon another. (Sometimes this is a good thing and sometimes not, but the notion that force per se is immoral is nonsense on stilts, notwithstanding the popularity of the notion among libertarians).

Well, gee, Maximos, it seems to me that I've been making a pretty modest request: Namely, that at any given moment you admit that mentions of prosperity are relevant to _some_ of your points, and which ones. Which they are. For example:

"...will afford greater security and stability..."

This, I hope we can agree, refers to _material_ security and stability? I gather that if I were to raise any sorts of doubt as to whether the various things you propose will, in fact, bring about greater economic security and stability for real people (not abstractions like "society") this ought to be acknowledged to be at least a pertinent answer to the claim being made, not a change of subject???

Land? I've already touched on that. Most people wouldn't want it, wouldn't know how to use it, and could never in any nearby possible world make enough use of it for it to provide anything like the sort of economic safety net that can be provided by a more largely wage-based economic system in which most people don't own enough land to support themselves on. Small businesses? If people don't develop them themselves, you suggest they should be given them? This is not redistributionist? And aside from that, how likely is it for either that or for "meaningful shares of ownership" in companies that these will not, within a very short time, become once again unequally distributed--even vastly so--as people merely sell them for money? How many people really want to run a small business? (I certainly don't.) Then, of course, the money just goes back into the wage-based system as it gets spent and all you have done is to redistribute money for a very short period of time. Give everybody tens of thousands of dollars each year? I can imagine for a lot of people that this would hardly amount to some sort of more helpful security net than what we currently have. And in any event, I thought your idea was to _replace_ tax-based welfare types of things that would be charged to the general purse. But Murray's proposal is precisely that all this lovely money come from government. The reason he hopes it will increase prosperity, as I understand the claim, is that we will can all of those other programs (including the big whopper, Social Security) and do this instead, and that it will be cheaper. Well, well and good, and anybody who hates government programs and would like them to be cheaper might be attracted for that reason alone. But how this is supposed to give the recipients more economic stability and security than being able to depend on Medicare to pay your medical costs is a mystery to me, and how it is not redistributionist (as, indeed, our present programs already are) is also quite a mystery.

In other words, the common good is not, and cannot be reduced to, or expressed as, the aggregate of individual preference satisfactions; the common good is not the sum total of individual goods, as perceived and determined by those individuals, any more than the good of a family is the aggregate of what each of the individual members desires.

This cannot be repeated enough. It is all well and good to argue over how efficaciously individual policies, etc serve the common good; but we can't even have the conversation without agreement on what we are talking about.

Your second and third paragraphs reduce to essentially the following: proposals to reform and restructure the present American economic system will fail to achieve their objectives because Americans do not, or cannot, perceive the benefits to be derived from such reforms, would not desire the modalities through which such benefits would accrue to them and to their communities, and would likely act swiftly to undo the reforms, recreating the present system which I sought to reform.

All of which I freely concede is a live possibility - and I pause here to note that redistribution is an integral element of every economy that is not either a paleolithic hunter-gather society (though I could be mistaken, upon hypothetical contemplation of some texts in paleoanthropology) or an instantiation of the libertarian cloud-cuckoo-land; we will either redistribute by means of social-democratic policies, or de facto, by constraining the operations of the system so as to produce a more limited range of outcomes, ones we believe consonant with the common good - but which does not alter the fundamental point: that Americans would be deficient in the good so to desire and act, and that the medium and long-term consequences of the present system will be virtually uniformly deleterious to the majority.

As for most people not even desiring independence and self-reliant modes of existence, and not having the foggiest notion of how to sustain them, well, that more or less proves part of my argument; they literally do not know any better, and so are compelled to depend upon the ministrations of financial and corporate elites who regard their tangible interests as obstacles to maximal profitability. Those who choose servility end as slaves, and Tocqueville's prophecy concerning American democracy will be fulfilled. Then again, I have only argued about what Americans ought to desire, and not about what they in fact desire.

In the last American Conservative there was a great article by J.G. Collins on free trade, regarding Paul Krugman's confession that free trade is harming the first world but his insistence that it must be continued for humanitarian reasons. Like with immigration, free trade has fostered a marriage between big business and multicultural internationalists. First-world countries have everything to lose from free trade, and third-world countries everything to gain. Collins says that free trade has become the "white man's burden." If we do not end these insane policies, the U.S. is going to be transformed into a third-world wasteland.

Great post, by the way.

In fact preventing "force" is contrary to the common good, since force is sometimes necessary, and also self contradictory since preventing the use of force involves the use of force

I would agree. The idea that force is always immoral and the idea that government should use force is contradictory. Such an idea would make government impossible. To be more specific then, the government uses force to prevent murder, theft, assault and battery, slavery, fraud and other forms of unjust force. The idea of a willing supplier and willing buyer is itself a constraint. What other kind of restraints are we talking about? Just to throw some out there, minimum wage laws, child labor laws, anti-discrimination laws, which are all currently laws, or maybe universal health care and maximum wage laws, just to name a few new ones.

What other kind of restraints are we talking about?

Well, I'm in the odd position of agreeing with Maximos on fundamental philosophy and agreeing with Lydia in having a strongly rooted scepticism about what changes would truly serve the common good. Anything I might say about specific policies is tentative at best. I will say that most of the laws you mention do not seem to be constructed to serve the common good per se, but rather seem to be constructed to serve some alternate economic measure of material prosperity: a socialist's measure may for example be the quantitative material well-being of the poorest person in society, and that metric falls to my criticism just as surely as others. (Any quantitiative economic metric, however complex and composite it may be, falls to the criticism; because the common good is not reduceable to utilitarian measures of material prosperity). IOW, we've agreed what we are and are haggling over the price, or something like that.

There are some things that are pretty obviously wrong with the present system though. The way liability is treated is upside-down in both directions (that is, horrifically off-balance liability awards on the one hand and treating fictional creations like corporations as persons, thereby shielding the real persons involved from liability, on the other). I am in favor of tarriffs, and of taxes on foreign labor -- that is, a corporation that goes to India to get its call center should have to make up whatever tax revenue we would have gotten in income and other taxes had they used domestic labor. In general I think economic globalism is clearly harmful to the good of individual nations and thus to the common good of nations, so I tend rather strongly toward a kind of prudent protectionism, not that would eliminate foreign trade but that would not allow private corporations to get wealthy by transferring nonexplicit costs to the public. The same goes for environmental concerns. As a rule I am very favorable toward entrepreneurship, but I am very unfavorable to that aspect of entrepreneurship which rests on arbitrage between private costs which are charged to the businesses which incur them and public costs which are not. Part of the government's job as custodian of the common good is to require business enterprises to pay the true cost of their endeavors.

Another problem is that while corporations are on the one hand treated as persons, on the other hand they are physically immortal. The inherent inconsistency in this means that corporate power can and does grow without bounds. I don't know what the solution is, but perhaps killing off a corporation at some randomized time between 50 and 100 years of age and subjecting it to the same estate laws that apply to individuals would help. Even so it is inherently unjust to treat a fictional entity like a corporation as having equal legal standing to actual persons.

I say all this knowing full well that material measures of prosperity may be negatively impacted by doing the right and just thing. I expect it, it should be expected, and in fact if we are unable to see any ways in which our economic rules are negatively impacting prosperity then we are with virtual certainty doing evil.

On the other hand, it is at least abstractly inexcusable that the national government has to levy taxes at all, at this point. The feds have an endowment in terms of assets that probably should be able to produce enough non-tax income to provide for essentials without requiring additional revenue from taxpayers (corporate or individual). What makes prudent financial management of our governments impossible is democracy and its political accompaniments, not the inherent nature of managing government finances. The tax power ought to be used for moral purposes rather than as a revenue source per se; but the nature of our politics, it seems to me, makes the morally good management of economic matters impossible as a practical matter.

So my views on specific policies are generally speaking tentative, and such as they are they are not particularly mainstream right or mainstream left.

I tend to think that people are _rational_ to believe that having land is not going to help them materially. I think that people who seek or expect to need social welfare services would probably be (unfortunately) individually rational in believing that they will get more out of the taxpayer through the present system than through Murray's system and that they will be materially more secure in the present system than just being handed such-and-such many dollars per year and having no social welfare programs. And I question whether it is simply something _wrong_ with people that makes it the case that many people could not benefit sufficiently from small business and from hands-on shares in corporations to provide a more valuable material safety net than they could obtain by using that same time for wage labor. This fact may be a matter of differentiation of abilities. Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur or active manager of shares in a business, and some people strikingly so, especially when we are talking about the lower half of the bell curve. That may mean that it would be rational for such people to sell their shares in such enterprises were they given them rather than simply being a manifestation of an unfortunate "slave mentality."

And in thinking of justice, I strongly question whether there would be a just way simply to _give_ people small businesses or shares in small corporations. What are we saying: That some entrepreneur would go to all the work to build up a small business, that the government would then confiscate it or a large part of it and just hand it to someone else? And if not, what? Do we hand people money (derived from taxes, themselves derived mostly from wages in the first instance) on the condition that they use it to start a business? And if they try and the small businesses fail, what do we do then? Those ideas sound to me just highly questionable both as to justice and as to practical efficacy, and that for reasons that *need not* be blamed on any fault or bad character traits of anyone.

About my reference in the other thread to Vietnamese immigrants: I'm happy to admit that as a less tough and independent person than those people, I am in one sense not as representative of the best in the American character, not as iconically American, as they are. But it doesn't follow that we can or should try to create independence by public policy. There are many good character traits that government shouldn't be trying actively to create and almost certainly couldn't if it tried.

Zippy, I've never been sure that it is unjust to treat fictional entites as having legal standing. To me it seems a counsel of prudence. And I gather it was counseled in the first instance for reasons having to do with the good of many persons--the material good, yes, but that isn't nothing. Whether it's turned out in the end to have too many bad consequences is a good question, but I just don't have the moral intuition that it's inherently wrong.

I tend to think that people are _rational_...
I think that people who seek or expect to need social welfare services would probably be (unfortunately) individually rational in believing that they will get more out of the taxpayer...

For the record, I was merely throwing the Murray proposal out there as one simple, and highly improbable, exemplification of proposals for some sort of modern 'commons'. Be that as it may, it is a matter of utter, absolute indifference to me that Americans might be individually rational in rejecting any of the proposals I might be able to devise. This, because, as with the common good having a reality distinct from the aggregate of individual goods, public rationality is not the aggregate of individual, private rationalities. In point of fact, the present system embodies the notion that public rationality can be expressed, and can be assumed to be for all pragmatic purposes, the aggregate of all privately rational decisions; and, manifestly, from my perspective - and this is confirmed by the Fallows quote, among other things - this is, in the medium and long term, publicly irrational. It may be privately reasonable for individuals to depend upon the public dole, or to depend upon the managerial expertise of gigantic globalized conglomerates, but, in the end, they are merely dependents and retainers, and those who possess real political and economic power eventually employ it in their own private interests, and against their nominal dependents. As they are doing, presently, in thousands, even millions, of ways. Self-reliance and independence are apparently no longer normatively rational, though this leaves me with the queer sensation of having disputed the point with a Brain-Truster of the New Deal: big government allied with big business is the only progressive future, the only path of reason and prosperity. Except, of course, when it is not, which would be when the managerial class realizes that they can enrich themselves by means of arbitrage between the third world centers of production and their first world markets.

Not everyone is cut out...

It is imperative to distinguish between 'not being cut out in objective terms, as a matter of one's endowments' and 'not being cut out as a consequence of having grown up in a society which assumes that most people are not cut out'. We know from historical experience that a higher proportion of the population than presently exercises such responsibility is actually capable of such independence and initiative, given the requisite socio-economic and political conditions. This notion is rather like saying that the Roman masses were by nature a proletarian rabble destined only for bread and circuses, and that Rome had no choice but to concentrate agricultural activity into vast latifundia, and to keep the propertyless masses pliant by means of welfare and barbarous entertainments, when the reality is that the economic devastation of the Punic Wars, and the fact that many of the Roman peasants had to contribute to those wars, afforded the wealthy the opportunity to buy up, or seize outright, the smallholdings of the peasants, leaving them with nothing substantial to return to once normality resumed. Then again, this is a persistent problem in discussions of capitalism: the conflation of something historical and contingent with something almost ontological. Feh.

As regards the legal fiction of the corporation, well into the Nineteenth century, corporations were typically chartered for limited durations, are were limited in scope to the handful of legally-liable individuals involved in the chartering; the only reason this changed as the century ground on was that wealthy beneficiaries succeeded in acquiring from legislatures alterations of corporate law, not because they deliberated rationally and determined that this contributed to the common good or the welfare of large numbers of people, but because they were desirous of a greater scope for accumulation. It was cupidity, and not disinterested rationality and prudence, that gave us the modern corporation.

Truth to tell, my objections both to a Murray-esque proposal or to other proposals (including the present system of welfare) merely to hand A the fruits of B's labor at least as much moral as practical. One irony in all of these debates is that I am usually suppressing my own moral intuitions on what is "intrinsically unjust" which are so often diametrically opposed to yours. You, for example, tend to think that making things "equitable" is important to making the system "just." I tend to think that government redistribution has about as much claim as any economic policy to being inherently unjust, bearing as it does an uncomfortable resemblance to plain theft, even if with noble motives. But since I know we'll get nowhere arguing _that_ point, I usually try to answer your policy proposals on those bases where we're likely to have _some_ common ground.

When I said it was rational *for those who expected to have to use the public services* to expect to have less economic security from Murray's proposal than from the present welfare system, I was merely addressing a limited point (as I often am): The listing of Murray's proposal as a substitute for our present system on the grounds that it would provide more economic security and stability as a financial safety net. For _that_ purpose, I suppose we're talking about the people who need a safety net. In the society as a whole, it would probably bring more prosperity in the long run if social security, medicare, and all the rest were phased out and not replaced with _any_ government handout. And this might be true, too, of Murray's proposal if it really were cheaper to the taxpayer. But there is no getting around the fact that individual people who rely on them would experience less economic security in the short run from any change from the present government programs.

When to take long run vs. short run into account is always an interesting question and, of course, is relevant to your own proposals as well.

I think that the moral liceity of redistribution is contingent upon the moral liceity of the systemic architecture itself; that is, of the normative assumptions which govern its construction and operation. And, correlatively, I concur that the abolition of the major entitlement programs would result in greater aggregate prosperity; abolition would also result in quasi-Dickensian conditions in many sectors of society, which I cannot render consonant with justice. Any approximately just society will contain structural measures or constraints intended to ameliorate the potential and/or actual negative consequences of its economic system.

Zippy, I've never been sure that it is unjust to treat fictional entites as having legal standing.

I think it is inherently unjust to treat people as things in every case; and giving fictional things the same standing as persons is a species of treating people as things.

One irony in all of these debates is that I am usually suppressing my own moral intuitions on what is "intrinsically unjust" ...

That makes for an interesting dynamic to the discussion, because it is exactly there that you lose me :-). IOW, to me all the hashing about this or that policy being more or less effective at making this or that person materially better off is just sound and fury, signifying nothing: it only becomes pertinent after primary moral issues have been addressed and in that context.

Personally I view the bulk of the major entitlement programs at present as terrifically immoral for all manner of reasons. However, I agree with Maximos that simply reverting to capitalism-in-the-raw would be to take an immoral set of rules and make it even more immoral, for any number of reasons.

So when addressing welfare etc. "abolish this" will in my case fall on deaf ears without "and replace it with that," where the criteria for that is not an appeal to purely self-initiated self-reliant engagement with the now-more-rarified capitalist system on the part of those in need: of specifically those driven into need at least in part by present arrangements. Although there are a number of systemic moral problems with capitalism as presently constituted, one of the biggest is the refusal to take responsibility for negative externalities. This manifests itself all throughout, including and up to evaluation of the system as a whole.

Post a comment

Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.