Newspeak, how are ya

by Henry on October 28, 2005

When your essay uses Orwell’s “complaints”:http://www.resort.com/~prime8/Orwell/patee.html on the decline of the English language to defend this:

bq. “The dictionary was my response to the market need to educate journalists and students about economic jargon that seemed very frightening to them,” Ms. Vainiene said in a phone interview. “It explains the concepts in simple words. But also”–and this is crucial–“explains them correctly.” The book notes, for example, that “social ‘justice’ is always related to the unjust redistribution of wealth, and ‘fair competition’ is almost always related to unfair government intervention in the economy.” In other words, Ms. Vainiene is trying to educate but also to eradicate the misleading and contradictory doublespeak that infects much economic language, especially as it is used in Europe.

either you’re trying to be a very funny fellow altogether, or you’re writing for the “Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Page”:http://www.opinionjournal.com/taste/?id=110007466. Or both, perhaps (I may be wrong, but I find it difficult to imagine that even the most debased of hacks couldn’t be aware of the ironies here).

(via “Best of Both Worlds”:http://bestofbothworlds.blogspot.com/2005_10_01_bestofbothworlds_archive.html#113051697458821043)

{ 45 comments }

1

David Weman 10.28.05 at 2:48 pm

You’re wrong.

2

abb1 10.28.05 at 3:48 pm

John Dolan says – hell with it, let them have their Orwell…

3

Paul Gowder 10.28.05 at 4:36 pm

The book notes, for example, that “social ‘justice’ is always related to the unjust redistribution of wealth

Wow. Just wow. Who is this woman? “The most debased of hacks” seems like a perfectly good description, based on that snippet.

4

trotsky 10.28.05 at 9:04 pm

Can I point out that this fellow from Lithuania, who grew up under the doubly oppressive thumb of the Russian-dominated USSR, probably has strikingly different perspectives on these issues than we do on this side of the pond?

5

Thon Brocket 10.29.05 at 1:56 am

Perspective is everything, Henry. I work freelance in the private sector. A near neighbour with whom I graduated in the same civil engineering class works for a government department. Both of us are married, two kids – closely similar circumstances. Being a G-man, he never, ever works late or weekends. He plays golf, fer crissakes. On the other hand, I work like two men and a wee fella, weekends and all, to keep my customers satisfied. Up to Friday 4:30 p m, we’re taxed about the same. Then, while he’s chasing little white balls, I put in another 12 or 14 hours, for which privilege I pay tax. And that tax goes towards his salary and his gold-plated government pension.

To me, the propositions that

“social ‘justice’ is always related to the unjust redistribution of wealth”

and

“‘fair competition’ is almost always related to unfair government intervention in the economy”

are axiomatic.

She’s right. You’re wrong.

6

abb1 10.29.05 at 10:41 am

Sounds like being a greedy bastard is your problem, Thon; not ‘social justice’ or ‘fair competition’.

7

Alex Gregory 10.29.05 at 10:54 am

Thon Brocket,

You don’t think racism is a form of social injustice? Or that companies (Microsoft springs to mind, but I’m sure there are others) sometimes gain an /unfair/ advantage in the market which has nothing to do with government intervention?

Regardless, even if you don’t, you’ve got to admit that there’s an argument to be had here, and avoiding it by redefining the terms involved so as to preclude one side from being correct is sinisterly Orwellian.

8

P O'Neill 10.29.05 at 10:55 am

>> Can I point out that this fellow from
>> Lithuania, who grew up under the doubly
>> oppressive thumb of the
>> Russian-dominated USSR,

Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

9

Tom T. 10.29.05 at 1:33 pm

Thon, the obvious question inspired by your comment is “why don’t you go work for the government?”

10

John Emerson 10.29.05 at 2:20 pm

Who’s from Lithuania?

And let’s all have a moment of pity for Thon.

11

harry b 10.29.05 at 2:30 pm

Thon,

isn’t there another way of seeing your complaint. It is you who are complaining about what you (wrongly, bizarrely, in my opinion, but that’s besdie the point) see as an unfair distribution of wealth. You think that because you work so many hours you should have even more wealth than you do, and that it is unfair that you don’t, and that social institutions act to deprive you of what is justly yours. What the dictionary writer is doing is what stupid or dishonest people often try to do — to pretend that we can decide normative issues by changing the language that we use (and trying to decide them in her direction). Come out and have a serious argument abouot the real issue at hand — offer us and defend a theory of justice on which Bill Gates is justly entitled to his wealth (or more than) and on which the 20% of children who grow up in poverty in the US are in a situation which justice demands or allows. Then we can debate it.

12

washerdreyer 10.29.05 at 4:02 pm

Thon – I take it that you’re an anarchist, as the only way I can make sense of your complaint is that the government shouldn’t employ anyone. Oh, I suppose there’s also the possibility that the only government that should exist is that that would be profitable without taxation, is that your position?

13

ogmb 10.30.05 at 1:55 am

To me, the propositions (…) are axiomatic.

Clearly, since they don’t follow from anything you wrote previously.

14

Gavin 10.30.05 at 5:06 am

Just guessing that Thon may be the only private sector employed commenter on CT… which is probably a shame.

As for the two phrases, ‘social justice’ is sometimes problematic and sometimes is just another name for the ‘redistribution of wealth’ but I can’t see why anyone would think that redistribution is always either just or unjust, that must depend on the circumstances.

And to be fair to Ms. Vainiene, ‘fair competition’ is a phrase often used by firms/interest groups who are attempting to get the government to intervene on their behalf, often to the detriment of consumers/other interest groups. That may often be a bad thing. I don’t recall hearing the phrase used by governments themselves very often.

15

Thon Brocket 10.30.05 at 5:30 am

Harry B:
You think that because you work so many hours you should have even more wealth than you do, and that it is unfair that you don’t, and that social institutions act to deprive you of what is justly yours.

I don’t think it, Harry. I know it. When I go out to work in the morning, what I earn belongs to me, not my neighbour. Now, I can live with paying taxes for the upkeep of the state – defence, policing, enforcement of contracts, and so forth. I don’t like it, and I don’t think I’m getting value for money, but hey, quid pro quo, kinda. But redistributive taxation to benefit not the deserving poor o’ the parish but privileged civil servants is another horse entirely, and flat-out wrong.

Come out and have a serious argument abouot the real issue at hand—offer us and defend a theory of justice on which Bill Gates is justly entitled to his wealth.

Let me get this straight – you’re seriously equating me with Bill Gates, and my neighbour Jim Jobsworth with the children of rural Mississipi? Your theory of social justice dictates the moral imperative of feather-bedding civil servants at the expense of more industrious people in the private sector? Wow.

As for Gates’ wad, he earned it by creating it. I imagine he and Microsoft pay a bundle in taxes worldwide, and indirectly generate a lot more through the increased productivity of Microsoft users (or they wouldn’t be using Microsoft gear, right?). I know he’s big on private philanthropy. Everybody, including the children, is better off because Bill Gates founded Microsoft instead of getting a job with the municipality. Why knock the guy? – he certainly hasn’t harmed me, and nobody’s making me contribute to his pension, the way I have to contribute to my neighbour’s.

Actually, there’s a radical libertarian argument (not sure that I agree with it myself) that the emergence of commercial Leviathans like Microsoft depends upon the state’s favourable treatment of corporations (limited liability, corporation tax policy, intellectual property laws, pork and corporate welfare, and so on). If Big Bill’s Bucks bother you, you could do worse than look thataway for some ideas. Which kinda feeds back nicely to the second quotation under discussion:

“‘fair competition’ is almost always related to unfair government intervention in the economy”

and on which the 20% of children who grow up in poverty in the US are in a situation which justice demands or allows.

Well, before I answer that one, I need a little more information – I’m a civil engineer, not a sociologist, so I don’t have the facts at my fingertips. Does the 20% figure mean that one in five children in the US are raised in absolute Ethiopian-style poverty? Or are we actually talking about distribution of wealth and income, so that 20% of children fall below a “poverty-line” determined statistically (and politically) from an analysis of the whole population, although they may be rather better off than “middle-class” children in, say, Greece? Absolute or relative? If, as I’m guessing, it’s the latter, you need to be a wee hair more circumspect about writing things like:

What the dictionary writer is doing is what stupid or dishonest people often try to do—to pretend that we can decide normative issues by changing the language that we use.

Imagine a situation where everybody’s assets / income / buying power are, through some strange externality, exactly doubled overnight. Crudely, everybody is now twice as rich, or maybe half as poor. But “poverty”, by your “distribution” measure of it, has remained precisely the same, which is obviously an absurd result. So the real measure we’re talking about here is income distribution, not absolute poverty, right?

If so, aren’t you chasing your tail? You’re simply asserting as axiomatic that some people having more than others is “social injustice”, and then arguing that to achieve “social justice” we need to redistribute wealth. Well, duh. But all that adds up to is a wail of “It’s just not faaaaiiiir!”, and doesn’t come near addressing the morality of the question. On the contrary, it raises a pretty serious one about violation of property rights by a coercive state.

Then we can debate it.

Glad to. But time may be the enemy. You know how it is. Gotta pay those taxes.

16

Thon Brocket 10.30.05 at 5:32 am

Abb1:
Sounds like being a greedy bastard is your problem

Well, if all we’re here for is to trade opprobious epithets, abb1, oul’ hand, then permit me to enter “idle spongeing parasite” in the box and so conclude the exchange.

17

Antoni Jaume 10.30.05 at 7:13 am

Isn’t civil engineering a heavily state subsidised part of the economy? No government then no civil engineers.

DSW

18

Thon Brocket 10.30.05 at 7:50 am

AJ:
Isn’t civil engineering a heavily state subsidised part of the economy?

No. In the UK the state spends a lot of tax money on civil engineering (usually badly and inefficiently), which is not the same thing. It doesn’t have to be that way. That’s what privatisation is all about.

No government then no civil engineers.

Nope. See above. Most of my work right now is for private developers.

HTH

19

abb1 10.30.05 at 9:08 am

…then permit me to enter “idle spongeing parasite” in the box and so conclude the exchange…

Why, who is the parasite? You described one normal fella happily working 40 hours a week (or whatever the normal week is where you’re) and one greedy bloke working extra hours and whining about it. I don’t see any idle parasites here.

20

jet 10.30.05 at 9:30 am

Abb1,
I thought you were against the government making moral decisions for its citizens. But I guess you do support the government deciding how many hours are “normal” and how many are “greedy”. This all falls in line with your support for a monarchy and the rule of the arbitrary. Silly goose.

And I always loved the “we do it for the children” arguement. Once that has been done, the point is lost. Couple that with the explicit support for laziness by punishing those who work harder than their peers, and one weak assed (laughable) argument is all that’s left.

Thon’s actually been the most convincing person I’ve read on CT on this angle, and certainly covered Harry B’s points. If MS had been held to rational product liability and not gorged at the trough of corporate welfare, it might not be the demi-god it is today. And Thon’s remarks are dead on about relative vs absolute poverty. Everyone has been getting richer in the US, just some not as fast as others, thus the arguments that the poor are poorer than ever. Anyone who’s used the “poor getting poorer” rhetoric is in no position to point out Orwellian ironies in another person’s statement.

21

harry b 10.30.05 at 9:33 am

Thon,

relative poverty certainly matters (though not, certainly, as much as absolute poverty). Above a certain material level (which all OECD countries have reached) whether one is socially included, one’s relative position have a huge influence on how well one can flourish as a person. So relativities do matter.

I don’t know what your nieghbour does, or what his income is. But the reward to your talent and effort, like the reward to his, is influenced by the structure of social institutions. There’s nothing naturally morally right about one reward structure rather than another. Society should set up incentives for people to be productive, and should ensure that all benefit from the production. The existing distributive pattern has no intrinsic moral authority: I’m quite open to the fact that many beneficiaries of government largesse are benefitting from an injustice. But similarly many beneficiaries of the operation of markets.

I don’t agree with you about Gates. If Gates had never been born very little about our material circumstances would be different. He is not responsible for the creation of great wealth in society; he simly captured a great deal of it. (Of course I don’t mean to equate you with him — what I was assuming, perhaps wrongly, was that on your theory of justice there would be nothing morally problematic about someone enjoying that degree of wealth, or more, relative to the poorest in our (I’m in the US) society).

As I say, if you want to discuss it we can (not here, sure, not now, I have kids to play with). My central point was the definitions settle nothing substantive. You agree with Henry (and me) not with the dictionary author; you just have a different view than I do of what the proper theory of social justice is.

You might want to be careful, when you enter these discussions, of sounding like the greedy whiner abb1 accuses you of sounding like. I should probably be more careful about sounding complacent. I’m certainly not; I think there’s a world to win.

22

harry b 10.30.05 at 9:39 am

jet,
Thon got nowhere against my points, and I am disappointed with you that you think so. Relative poverty has all sorts of influence on the quality of people’s lives, once society has reached a certain level of wealth. You can deny it by stipulation, I suppose.

23

abb1 10.30.05 at 11:04 am

Well, Jet, I don’t really care how many hours you work in a week, as long as you aren’t bitching about me working my 40 hours and not a minute more. And my 6-week vacation. And my coffee breaks. And my pension plan.

You do your thing, I’ll do mine.

24

Grand Moff Texan 10.30.05 at 3:20 pm

It doesn’t have to be that way. That’s what privatisation is all about.

No, privatization is about paying more for less because the person who bought the law owns the guy who passed it. We’ve had a generation to see this scam play out and the bills are still coming in. It’s just another kind of redistribution of wealth, but one that doesn’t create as much for those who created the wealth.

Who in the present day and age could be so stupid as to think that people get what they earned? That work is always rewarded? There’s always an angle to be worked, and it can either benefit the majority or it can benefit a privileged minority.

I’m sorry, what was that about parasites?

Look, you can drink the Investor’s Business Daily kool-aid all you want, but whining about working harder for not much more return doesn’t show you to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. There’s a reason we have a 40 hour week, and a guy who spends time with his family isn’t exactly a sociopath. If your idea of success is how many zeros you have in your life, that’s your problem, but Americans have stagnant wages DESPITE their increasing productivity, and spend less time with their families, precisely because there are enough people like you who are dumb enough to party like it’s 1989.

We got robbed. Enough.

You want to be a slave? Fine, just don’t sell me down the river, too. If they can use people like you to isolate us politically and do away with national economies of scale to drive up our costs and improve their profit margins, I can’t see you as anything other than a weak link (sorry, not bright enough to be a fifth column). Banding together for a collective advantage is a sign of intelligence, not laziness. If you are wedded to a way of life that doesn’t pay off, that’s your problem, not ours.
.

25

John Biles 10.30.05 at 9:19 pm

If you were working more hours than your neighbor and making less money than him, I’d say you have a valid complaint. But I can say that it’s almost entirely certain you are making way more money as a private contractor than he’s making working for the government. And even after you pay taxes, you’re making more than he is. In general, in any job area, the government pays you less but you have more security.

But chosing to use the fact that the government employs people similar to you as an example that the idea of social justice is flawed is a poor example. The government employing engineers is not an example of ‘social justice’ at work.

26

Thon Brocket 10.31.05 at 3:42 am

Grand Moff Texan:

You want to be a slave? Fine, just don’t sell me down the river, too.

Slave, huh? I never held down a 9-to-5er in my life. I work for myself (which I’m prepared to bet you don’t), and because I’m good at what I do, I have the luxury of choosing my customers. And I understand about taxes – there’s nothing like having to write a cheque for the full amount owing every six months rather than a brief glimpse of a deduction on a payslip to bring it home to you.

You want slavery? Watch this: the state claims, as of right, a proportion of what you earn. It alone fixes that proportion – you don’t have any say. And it can unilaterally vary that proportion down, or all the way up to 100% and beyond (we reached 98% in the UK in the ’70s). Hell, it doesn’t even let you see it – it strongarms your employer to pay the money straight on to it. It gets real sandy about you keeping more of it than it allows you – that’s tax evasion, and you’re stealing the state’s money. So the true state of affairs is that the state owns your income – all of it – but graciously allows you to keep some of it, not because it gives a tinker’s spit about you but because it has a certain brutish understanding about geese and golden eggs (so it takes an interest in and manages your health and education, for the same reason a farmer takes care of his cattle). If it owns your income, the fruits of your labour, as it does, then it owns you, hide and tallow included. It can rob you, imprison you, draft you, dictate what you can put up your nose, put you out of your house and build a mall, or kill you, if any of those options suit its purpose, but it won’t let your employer do any of that, because you’re valuable Government property. You were born a slave. Quit bitching and pick cotton.

Of course, the same applies to me. The difference is that I know leg-irons when they’re about my ankles, and I don’t kiss them every morning.

Banding together for a collective advantage is a sign of intelligence, not laziness.

Sure. So when the big oil companies get together to force up the price of gas you’ll be cheering them on, right?

27

Thon Brocket 10.31.05 at 4:30 am

Harry B:
relative poverty certainly matters (though not, certainly, as much as absolute poverty).

Glad we got that straightened out. So your original claim that “20% of children are being raised in poverty” turned out to be, ah, an inadvertent inaccuracy. Kind of corrodes the struts under an argument, that class of thing. Doesn’t look good when folk are reading, as you wrote to Jet:

Thon got nowhere against my points, and I am disappointed with you that you think so.

Moving on,

Above a certain material level (which all OECD countries have reached) whether one is socially included, one’s relative position have a huge influence on how well one can flourish as a person. So relativities do matter.

We’re agreed that absolute lie-down-and-die poverty’s not an issue. The relevance of income distribution wanes as a society becomes wealthier (if everybody were a millionaire, then, hey, who’d worry about a few billionaires?). So the obvious course is to make the country richer as fast as we can, and the inequality problem will take care of itself in short order, not by disappearing but by becoming trivial. That’s best accomplished by steering well clear of impoverishing and counter-productive redistributive taxation, minimising wealth-destroying bureaucrats and bureaucracy and letting people like Gates get on with it.

There’s nothing naturally morally right about one reward structure rather than another.

So the reward structure that obtains in American free enterprise under a constitutional republic is morally equivalent to that of Pol Pot’s Onka? Tripe, if you’ll pardon my saying so.
A system that rewards hard work and enterprise is absolutely superior to one that penalises it. That statement really astonishes me. You’re claiming the moral high ground for “social justice” while at the same time telling me that morality doesn’t come into it. Boy.

Society should set up incentives for people to be productive

“Society” (that is, in this context, the state) is provenly lousy at setting up incentives (examine the EU’s Lisbon Agenda for a flavour). Real incentives, to the kind of person they will usefully work on, are internal and personal. The most useful thing “society” can do to make people productive is to remove disincentives. In the memorable words on the subject of a Belfast bricklayer I know: “Get your fucking hand out of my fucking pocket and get the fuck out of my fucking way. I’ve fucking houses to fucking build.”

and should ensure that all benefit from the production.>

Why? We’re back to “social justice” being A Good Thing as a given. I don’t accept that, and you haven’t demonstrated it. Actually pretty much everybody does benefit, anyway. If you buy a micro-wave for $25 dollars in Wal-Mart when it would have cost you $75 a year ago, that’s exactly as good as a $50 paycheque bonus (or maybe an $80 bonus, if it’s taxed) – a clear concrete benefit squarely down to Wal-Mart’s enterprise and productivity, and incidentally quite a bit more than Wal-Mart makes on the deal after tax. That’s $50 you can save or spend on hamburgers – creating further meaty economic goodness as you go, and the Government can tax it one way or another all over again.

I’m quite open to the fact that many beneficiaries of government largesse are benefitting from an injustice. But similarly many beneficiaries of the operation of markets.

I ain’t from Missouri, but you still gotta show me.

I don’t agree with you about Gates. If Gates had never been born very little about our material circumstances would be different. He is not responsible for the creation of great wealth in society; he simly captured a great deal of it.

Nope. Individual entrepreneurs, big or small, Gates or Apu, are what make it all happen. Without them the businesses and the jobs and the taxes wouldn’t exist. Almost every big company started out back-when as a little guy and a big idea. Big companies that don’t innovate decline and die. Entrepreneurship is as vital a factor of production as labour or capital, and has its market price and its reward accordingly. I sure as Hell wish I had the gift of it – I’ve been trying long enough in my own small way to know that it’s never easy money. Sour-gutted politics-of-envy stuff about business folk may be good knockabout in these parts, but that’s all it is, and ignorant to boot.

You might want to be careful, when you enter these discussions, of sounding like the greedy whiner abb1 accuses you of sounding like.

Abb1’s opinion doesn’t keep me awake nights.

I should probably be more careful about sounding complacent.

You don’t come across that way to me. Well, it’s Monday, and deadlines loom. Nice talking to you.

28

Alex Gregory 10.31.05 at 5:07 am

Thon,

I think you’re making two distinct arguments, which are easier to discuss if you seperate them out properly.

Firstly, you’re making the argument (Nozick-style) that what I earn is, by definition, mine, and that any form of redistribution is thereby unjust.

Secondly, you’re making another argument that free-markets benefits everyone more in the long term than any alternative arrangement (i.e. the incentives/wealth growth etc. will put everyone in a better position faster than redistributive taxation does).

The first says that the very act of taxation is morally wrong, regardless of the consequences. That is, even if without it incredibly disastrous consequences would occur (e.g. even if most of the population would die), taxation is unjust. As such, I think its a bad argument – as far as we want property to be anything at all, we want it because it benefits the world through the stability, incentives, growth etc. it creates.

For the second argument on the other hand, I think you need to provide a lot more than anecdotal evidence that a lack of taxation benefits everyone – do you have statistics between countries where taxation is low compared to where taxation is high, which shows that low taxes benefits everyone faster?

(I’d guess others here do have figures in that area that show the reverse – I seem to recall that healthcare in the states is apallingly bad (highest infant mortality rate of all developed countries?), and that countries such as Sweden with higher tax rates have astronomically high standards of life in comparison)

Thanks,
Alex

29

harry b 10.31.05 at 7:44 am

Thon,

I hope you are better at whatever you do for money than you are at having an intellectual debate. If not, perhaps that explains why you have to work so many hours at it. Calling my view evnious establishes nothing. If you assumed that I meant absolute poverty in my first intervention then you are the only person reading who did so. All the statistical reports define poverty in the US relatively, and I did so. You provide no argument not to. You interpret me as a moral relativist without any warrant except your own inability to parse my sentences. Have a nice day slaving away for the rest of society

30

jet 10.31.05 at 8:49 am

Harry,

Society should set up incentives for people to be productive, and should ensure that all benefit from the production.

While Marx might be proud of these words, those from the Enlightenment surely wouldn’t. And that phrase sounds strangely Orwellian: “Don’t worry small guy, we’ll build you a maze you like and make sure there is some cheese at the end.” I guess “Liberty” is just an archaic word to you with little meaning and no value? Poor Locke and Rousseau, so under-appreciated these days.

And as for Gates not creating any wealth, where do you think it comes from? If the economy grows, does that just mean we’ve sucked up more wealth from third world nations making them even poorer? Is that where you’re going? If that’s the case then you should wave off ghost-rider, the civil engineer has you out-gunned.

31

harry b 10.31.05 at 10:19 am

Jet,

yes, in fact liberty is a pre-eminent value for me and most similarly inclined egalitarians. We care that people be able to do what they judge best, without interference from others. Not the only value, to be sure, but a vitally important one. We also care about how it is distributed. You might want to see the critique of Freidman and Nozick in my book *Justice* for an elaborate and accessible discussion of the problems with the different ways that they attempt to use freedom in their theories.

The problem is this — no-one has any idea what their own contribution is to the creation of wealth; still less to the creation of opportunities for human flourishing. We don’t even know what we contribute in the world set up as it is, still less what contribution we would make if it were set up justly (I think by this point Thon has conceded that Henry’s point was entirely correct, and that what we are disagreeing about is what social justice consists in — you and I agree that liberty is important, but probably disagree about other values that it has to be weighed against, and also disagree about how it should be distributed, but agree that justice is key. We also, I think, agree that we live in an unjust society: again we just disagree about how unjust, in what ways, and, of course, what should be done about it).

Creation of wealth: the problem with causal claims is that they involve counterfactual assumptions that are hard (hah!) to evaluate. My counterfactual was that if he’d never been born we’d still have as much wealth as we do (because someone else would have done something like what he did). I can’t prove it, and arguing about it is less than fruitful. This is one of many reasons for being suspicious of desert-based claims on wealth (the kind that you and Thon seem to making on Gates’s behalf).

Smearing opponents with by associating them with Marx or talking about the politics of envy simply has no place in serious exploration of these issues. If it had I would have pointed out that there has been exactly one display of envy in this thread and it was not from someone on the left. I will say one thing though. I have a lot of these discussions with some of my in-laws who are, like me, among the richest people in the history of humanity, and though I never say it, I find it very unseemly for such lucky people to whine on about the government taxing them too much. Even though I am very well-disposed, in fact to the substance of some of their (non-self-affecting) complaints.

Jet — would you like me to devise a post about the mistaken way libertarians use liberty? To be honest, I have though of doing it before, but demurred because everything I have to say is so old hat to the professional philosophers here. But it might provoke useful discussion, perhaps. If so, not for another two weeks, I’ve too much else to do (in my government job…)

32

jet 10.31.05 at 11:43 am

harry b,
Thank you for the clear reasoned response.

Smearing opponents with by associating them with Marx…

It may have (unfortunately) come off that way, but I did not intend that as a “smear”. Marx and his ideas were of good will.

would you like me to devise a post about the mistaken way libertarians use liberty?

I would pay for the opportunity to read it, but I may be paying anyways as I’m ordering your book this evening.

Something I’d rather read and have been searching for for several months now is someone explaining how the modern political philosophy of redistributing income (Social Justice) dovetails with classical Liberalism. Socialism in any form has always been contrary to classical Liberalism as far as I understand, and an enabler of corruption rather than a solution.

33

perianwyr 10.31.05 at 2:14 pm

Individual entrepreneurs, big or small, Gates or Apu, are what make it all happen. Without them the businesses and the jobs and the taxes wouldn’t exist. Almost every big company started out back-when as a little guy and a big idea. Big companies that don’t innovate decline and die.

I was a kid once, too.

34

Uncle Kvetch 10.31.05 at 3:27 pm

You want slavery? Watch this: the state claims, as of right, a proportion of what you earn. […] You were born a slave. Quit bitching and pick cotton.

I have to give mad props to Harry B for being willing to engage in a civil argument with anyone who would write this.

35

jet 10.31.05 at 4:13 pm

Uncle Kvetch,
You pick the two most passionate pieces out of an emotional arguement and of course they’ll sound a bit over the top as taken out of context.

36

Uncle Kvetch 10.31.05 at 4:27 pm

Oh c’mon, Jet. “Paying income tax = picking cotton on the plantation” is about as reasonable as Grover Norquist comparing the estate tax to the Holocaust. If I’m missing some crucial context that makes it any less ridiculous and offensive, please provide it.

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jet 10.31.05 at 4:42 pm

Uncle Kvetch,
He mentioned more than just income tax:

It can rob you, imprison you, draft you, dictate what you can put up your nose, put you out of your house and build a mall, or kill you, if any of those options suit its purpose,

You might even be able to add to his list of how the government withholds your liberty arbitrarily.

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Uncle Kvetch 10.31.05 at 5:06 pm

You might even be able to add to his list of how the government withholds your liberty arbitrarily.

Fine; I wasn’t debating any of that. But to suggest that we have no more say in any of this than a slave picking cotton in the antebellum South is nothing short of grotesque. It’s not a useful analogy, it’s got nothing to do with “context,” and Thon could have made his argument much more persuasively without it. That’s all I’m saying.

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harry b 10.31.05 at 5:19 pm

Kvetch — I wasn’t actually as civil as I’d like to have been. Still, managed to be civil to jet, who always makes that easy.

Jet — well, I hope I won’t lose a sale, but I’ll do my best to prepare something for a couple of weeks time, so watch out for it. I hope you’ll find my book does some of what you want — certainly not all. You might look at the concluding chapter that contains a series of conservative thoughts, all of which I think have some weight, all of which are sometimes advanced by classical liberals, but none of which are really normative in character. I think that leftists of my stripe give a great deal of credit to the caution of classical liberals about the state, and so try to be very attentive to the details of distributive schemes (including regulation); while being willing to put up with some leakiness in the redistributive buckets, both because we think distributive norms are very important and because we think that, above a certain level of economic success, economic wealth plays a much less important role in producing wellbeing than do social norms.
Anyway, I’ll try to think of a book that does what you want, though.

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jet 10.31.05 at 6:28 pm

Uncle Kvetch,

But to suggest that we have no more say in any of this than a slave picking cotton in the antebellum South is … not a useful anology

Okay, I’m sold, it was a grotesque comment as it cheapened the horror of US slavery and isn’t even remotely comparable to being a citizen of a Democracy.

I get too excited when someone of less Left leanings comes here and seems to put on a good show, because after the dust settles they usually don’t convince. This place is like the Grand Proving Grounds for (layman) Thought.

harry b,
I wasn’t kidding about looking for some legitimate explanations of modern liberal rational for some time now, so I ordered your book at lunch and hopefully will have read it by Saturday. Needless to say I’m really looking forward to it.

And I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for your post (I wrote a little app that helps me keep track of CT so I should be alerted to your posts). Looking forward to the rationals that accompany “both because we think distributive norms are very important and because we think that, above a certain level of economic success, economic wealth plays a much less important role in producing wellbeing than do social norms.”…

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Uncle Kvetch 10.31.05 at 6:52 pm

Thanks for that, Jet–I want to make it clear that it’s not the discussion per se I was objecting to, but the over-the-top rhetoric. The slavery analogy does no more to elucidate things, or to generate productive discussion, than calling George Bush a Nazi.

That said, as someone who’s socially liberal, it stands to reason that I share a lot of libertarians’ concerns about overreaching state power–the “war on drugs,” capital punishment, reproductive freedom, the prison-industrial complex, etc. Hell, I’ll go one step further and say that in the case of one of the things Thon (and you) cited above–military conscription–a certain, highly tenuous parallel might be drawn with slavery, in that I believe a peacetime draft constitutes a clear case of involuntary servitude.

Not being well versed in political philosophy, I also appreciate CT as a place for the noninitiated to dip into these things–there, we have something in common after all!

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jet 10.31.05 at 7:10 pm

Well isn’t this turning into a love fest. I’m glad you you post here as you always prove insightful.

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Thon Brocket 11.01.05 at 2:04 am

I hope you are better at whatever you do for money than you are at having an intellectual debate.

What’s the old joke? “A racist is somebody who’s winning an argument with a lefty”. In the same vein, I suppose we can define an incompetent intellectual debater as a blow-in with mud on his boots who makes a Philosophy! Professor! scurry around a bit.

Calling my view evnious establishes nothing.

I didn’t. I referred to the “politics of envy”, which is not the same thing, but let that pass. If you believe that general critical opinion in academia of great wealth has no component of envy, I have a bridge to sell you.

If you assumed that I meant absolute poverty in my first intervention then you are the only person reading who did so.

Nice little smear job. I didn’t assume any such thing – read the paragraph I wrote. I was about 98% sure you meant “poverty”, not poverty (it is after all a common wee sleight-of-words on the left, useful when waving shrouds at the more credulous). But it’s not my discipline, so I thought I’d better copper my bets by actually asking the question, and continued on the explicitly-stated assumption that you were talking about relative, not absolute poverty. To try to make it appear otherwise does little for your reputation as an “intellectual debater”.

You provide no argument not to.

Bullshit, in spades. And this is kinda interesting, because what I wrote next was a one-line mini-gedankenexperiment (Double everybody’s wealth and “poverty” doesn’t change, which is absurd, mattheradamn about US statistics). Response from you on that one? Zip. You didn’t touch it with a bargepole. You were floored and you knew it, so you ignored it. So when you write:

You provide no argument not to.

I have some trouble refraining from unparliamentary language. What you really mean is

You provide no argument not to, leastways not one that I can refute.

All the statistical reports define poverty in the US relatively, and I did so.

That may be the case. Hell, I don’t know – I’m just an unshaven old mud-hog and by all accounts not much of an intellectual debater. But it seems to me transparently dishonest to conflate two separate measures by giving one the other’s name. Jesus Christ, you’re a philosopher. You should know that.

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Thon Brocket 11.01.05 at 2:56 am

Uncle kvetch:
But to suggest that we have no more say in any of this than a slave picking cotton in the antebellum South is nothing short of grotesque.

You live a sheltered life. Try withholding your income tax. Stick to your guns and take the consequences (bankruptcy, homelessness, unemployability, arrest, jail, assault and rape by fellow inmates that the state isn’t particularly interested in preventing, that sort of thing) for a couple of years, and then come back and tell us if you still think that. I understand Cindy Sheehan is considering tax-refusal as part of her campaign, so you may get an illustration in living colour fairly shortly.

Believe me, a tax-enforcer with his tail up is not a lot prettier sight to see than a house-nigger with a bull-whip. Got the tee-shirt.

Couple of other points:

Jet:
Okay, I’m sold, it was a grotesque comment as it cheapened the horror of US slavery and isn’t even remotely comparable to being a citizen of a Democracy.

That paragraph was deliberately as hard-hitting as I could make it. It was in reply to GMT’s “Wanna be a slave? Don’t sell me down the river too” line which was up there in the Cheapening the Horrors Stakes. Nobody pulled him on it.

And one that seems to have escaped quite a lot of people: It wasn’t about tax. It was about income tax.

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harry b 11.01.05 at 8:03 am

Thon,

I was, indeed, unacceptably rude, and I do apologise. Re the use of the term “poverty” I tend to assume that readers of CT know what that word means, and used it in line with standard policy useage, as you suspected. You can call us all intelectually dishonest, if that suits you, but I see nothing dishonest in abiding by standard useage in a context. Furthermore, as I say, relativities in income and wealth matter a great deal when it comes to producing wellbeing, and while you have denied that, you’ve provided no argument against it. The little thought experiment, which states the obvious, doesn’t do it (I didn’t realise you thought it was an argument). Double the wealth of an already wealthy society, without affecting the distribution of wealth. Have you doubled the wellbeing or prospects for wellbeing? No, because social norms and relativities affect that. The relationship between wealth and wellbeing is non-linear, and is affected both by relativities and by social norms. If I had realised you thought it was an argument I’d have addressed it, as I do now, by saying that the full argument for the importance of relativities takes more than a blog comment and pointing you to some good accessible literature: Read The Status Syndrome by Michael Marmot, or Luxury Fever by Robert Frank, and figure out how to argue against them (neither book is at all difficult or technical). And I’ll work up something to go with the piece promised to jet. Anyway, sorry to have been so rude.

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