Chait on Rand

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Freddie

Freddie deBoer used to blog at lhote.blogspot.com, and may again someday. Now he blogs here.

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  1. Avatar Todd says:

    Even though rates may be lower, I believe that the rich actually pay remarkably more in taxes than they did decades ago. Lower rates lead to greater incentives for wealth production and smaller incentives for tax avoidance/evasion leading to an increase in both absolute dollars paid and total percentage contribution. http://www.taxfoundation.org/publications/show/250.htmlReport

  2. Avatar ChrisWWW says:

    Todd,
    No one is denying that they pay more total dollars taxes now. A guy that pays 10% of his $5 million income will pay more in total taxes than a guy who makes $50 thousand and is taxed at a rate of 30%.

    The issue is the percentage of income that is taxed. Warren Buffett famously noted that he pays an effectively lower tax rate than his secretary. Our tax system could stand to tax the rich at a higher rate without causing scores of industrial titans to “Go Galt.” We had higher taxes on the rich all throughout the best economic times in our country.Report

    • Avatar Freddie in reply to ChrisWWW says:

      Right. What matters, from an ethical standpoint, is what portion of the rich’s money is being taken from them. Given that the richest in the country have enjoyed a growth in wealth and income that is perhaps unprecedented in human history in the last several decades, of course their tax payout in dollars is going to be higher. But what they take in that goes untaxed is higher than it has ever been in the history of this country.Report

    • Avatar Dave in reply to ChrisWWW says:

      You wouldn’t happen to be referring to “The Great Compression”?Report

  3. Avatar Ryan says:

    The most infuriating thing for me about the economic right (conservatives, libertarians, neoliberals, whoever) is this nonsensical insistence that taxation is immoral. It’s completely bats and, while I’m sure Rand is more a symptom of a larger philosophical thing that was percolating at the time than she is the harbinger of doom, I’m more than happy to send her upstairs to her room with the rest of the angry teenagers.Report

    • Avatar Dave in reply to Ryan says:

      I’ve never made that argument and I’m a libertarian.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan says:

      The Little Red Hen, the goose, the dog, and the cat took a vote. How much bread were the goose, the dog, and the cat entitled to?

      The Little Red Hen, of course, was selfish.Report

      • Avatar Ryan in reply to Jaybird says:

        Yes, because poor people are lazy. And lazy people should starve to death. And rich people work really hard for their money.Report

        • Avatar Ryan in reply to Ryan says:

          Also, the Little Red Hen is a sociopath. Why in God’s name would anyone teach that rubbish to their children?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan says:

          If you don’t agree that the dog had a right to food and clean water, what kind of person are you?

          Do you hate dogs?Report

          • Avatar Ryan in reply to Jaybird says:

            It’s a good question. But I’m not the one who subscribes to a political philosophy founded on the pathological hatred of other human beings.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan says:

              I know that it’s in your best interest to deny that you are and it’s very much in your best interest to do so loudly… but the louder you point it out, the more it makes people question “why is he denying that so loudly?”

              Why are you denying that so loudly?Report

            • Avatar Dave in reply to Ryan says:

              It’s a good question. But I’m not the one who subscribes to a political philosophy founded on the pathological hatred of other human beings.

              Where did I put my “Don’t Feed the Troll” sign?Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to Dave says:

                Statement of fact…ROFL.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Dave says:

                Seriously, I find that particular attitude absolutely fascinating.

                I’ve seen in it a lot of various forms and with a lot of different items in the various sets of {Good things} and {Evil things} but the skeleton upon which the meat sits has similarities that only family membership would explain.

                This is what Nietzsche was talking about, I think.Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to Jaybird says:

                As I am not much of a philosopher, I simply look at statements like that and my non-intellectual self sends up the proverbial “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” red flag leading to other physical symptoms like head shaking, eye rolling, uncontrollable bidding for tin foil hats on Ebay and laughing so hard I cry.

                Maybe the government can help me fix that.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Dave says:

                Life is a cart going to town.
                You are a dog tied to the cart.

                You can either run with it or fight against it.

                The state you are in at the end of the day depends on your attitude.Report

              • Avatar Ryan in reply to Dave says:

                Possible lessons one might learn from the Little Red Hen:

                1. “People are only poor because they’re lazy” does not accurately describe the universe.
                2. “Other people are trying to take your hard-earned money” – pathological (and paranoid) hatred of other human beings

                Neither one of those paints a particularly compelling portrait of anyone who would use them to make a political point.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan says:

                Those are certainly some lessons that one might pick up from The Little Red Hen.

                Are there others? Specifically, are there any lessons that some cultures might see as beneficial for children and, as such, would see the story as embodying values that they would want their children to absorb?Report

              • Avatar Ryan in reply to Jaybird says:

                That the value of hard work lies in your ability to withhold things from other people. People who “deserve” them less than you. Which you get to decide for yourself.

                I get that your point is that the Hen creates good things by working hard. But, A) that’s really only sort of how the world actually works, and B) the end result of her hard work is an insanely callous treatment of other people.

                I will denounce any work whose core premise is that some human beings are less valuable than others.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan says:

                When I read The Little Red Hen, I don’t come to the conclusion that the author was saying that some human beings are less valuable than others, for the record.

                I read it and wonder how you could come to that conclusion.

                This is probably the mirror image of how you wonder how I could possibly read it and see the moral of “if you want bread, you’re going to have to work for it”. How anybody, at all, could *POSSIBLY* reach that conclusion is probably the same incredulity that you feel when I read your take as being “some people are worth more than others”.

                Does that accurately reflect what’s going on here?Report

              • Avatar Ryan in reply to Ryan says:

                Except that that isn’t what the world is actually like. Some people work hard and still don’t get bread, some people are willing to work hard for bread but aren’t given the chance, some people aren’t even capable of working hard for bread. Dividing the world into those who work (and therefore have bread) and those who don’t (and therefore don’t deserve bread) is malicious.

                I realize that this sounds an awful lot like “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”, but I think the more Rawlsian version of that maxim is basically sound.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan says:

                I don’t have the competence to say what the world is actually like. I’m just one of the blind men feeling an elephant, myself.

                I do think that blind folk ought to branch out as much as they can and find the rope, find the spear, find the wall, find the tree, etc… but, even if they haven’t (or can’t), I don’t really hold it against them if they say that they’ve used the tools they have at their disposal and they’re pretty sure that it’s like a fan.

                When I say “it seems to be a snake” and they start screaming a spittle-flecked rant about how evil that viewpoint is… well, it’s difficult to see such a response as anything but comic.

                I’m not going to tell you that you need to stop thinking that it’s a fan.

                I’d appreciate it, however, if there could be a little less spittle in your denunciation of my experience of its snakeness.

                It’s hard for me to not categorize you in the same way that I’ve categorized the wallfolk.Report

              • Avatar Ryan in reply to Ryan says:

                “I don’t have the competence to say what the world is actually like.”

                Then you shouldn’t be giving children books.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan says:

                Are we back to going out of our way to try to come up with the dumbest position we possibly can?Report

              • Avatar Ryan in reply to Ryan says:

                Coming from the guy who assures me that we can magically apprehend “rights” that materialize out of thin air, I didn’t think the rest of the argument called for a response.Report

      • Avatar Katherine in reply to Jaybird says:

        You’re back into the typical libertarian “poor people are lazy” track again.

        The actual system involves the hen doing jack-all, the others doing the vast majority of the work, and the hen getting 90% of what’s made. In that situation – pile up the taxes on the hen all you want.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Katherine says:

          I don’t think that poor people are lazy.

          I do think that lazy people will tend to be poor, though.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

            Thinking about this some more, the vast (vast!) majority of people during the vast (vast!) majority of human history have been poor. Indeed, the standards that poor people in the US today have would have been considered luxuries in the 60’s (fourty years ago) and unthinkable in even the 20’s (fourty years before that).

            While it’s true that lazy people will tend to be poor, odds are that industrious people will tend to be poor too. Most people in the world will be poor… and have been since history began. There are still a handful of places in the world where there are cultures that don’t interact much with “civilization”… these are places that have lived this way (or similar) for thousands of years. There are still people living in mut huts in the world… still people living in houses made of straw and cow dung. This is how people lived for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. Today, sure. We have people who have accumulated much, much, very much more than had ever been dreamed even 80 years ago.

            “Poor” is the norm and it’s not a new norm.Report

            • Avatar Katherine in reply to Jaybird says:

              The counterpoint to this is that the vast majority of people in human history who have been rich have gotten that way from taking the products of other people’s work.

              Given that that continues to be the norm among the rich, what’s wrong with taking some of their property via taxes and redistributing it to the people who actually did the work that made them rich?

              Your assertion that lazy people will tend to be poor is also erroneous. Per capita, poor people tend to do a lot more work than the wealthy, especially if we continue your “historical” perspective of things with “the wealthy” being “the nobility”.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Katherine says:

                When I was a kid and unskilled, I worked a job that was probably the hardest I’d ever worked in my life. I was on my feet all day, running, lifting, carrying, bending over. If I had 2 minutes to pee between 11AM and 1PM, it was a miracle. I absolutely could not do that job today. (You should have seen my calves… they were chiseled out of stone.)

                The job had a lot of turnover… my bosses hired people every two weeks, it seemed… the new folks would quit and my bosses would hire more. When I walked in and asked for an application, I was instead given an I-9 and W-4. That job was the hardest I had ever worked. Physically, anyway. That job also paid the least I’d ever made.

                I don’t really consider myself to have been exploited, particularly.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Which, thinking about it some more, is not evidence that people are not exploited anywhere and have never been.

                I would wonder if the current level of exploitation of the proletariat is higher than in the past or lower (looking at the US, I’m guessing lower) and, from there, wondering what caused there to be less exploitation of workers today than, say, in 1920, and less in 1920 than in 1850, and less in 1850 than in 1700, and so on back and back.Report

              • Avatar Katherine in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’m not so sure about the “so on back and back”, or even about the present day. I don’t think the proletariat have stopped being oppressed; they’ve just been exported overseas (Latin America, China, southeast Asia), which makes it a lot more comfortable for us and a lot harder for them to productively revolt. Were people in the 1700s more oppressed than in the mid-1800s? In Europe, where serfdom endured for quite a while, it’s arguable that they were; in Britain, it’s less certain; in the United States, I would say that the level of oppression (economic) of the lower classes increased and their degree of freedom increased between, say, the mid-1700s – when most non-slaves were independent farmers – and the late 1800s – when most of the lower classes were working on factories and in railroads, living in company towns and being paid in company scrip. But then, a lot of those people were former serfs from eastern Europe, complicating the argument. Still, progressive improvement – rather than fits and starts, reverses and improvements, and progress and regress in different parts of the world – is far from self-evident.

                I’d say one factor in the relative decrease in oppression in the Western world is the influence of Marxism, the fear it inspired in the upper and middle classes, and the resulting changes in the direction of social safety nets and improvements in working conditions. For example, Bismarck created Germany’s social insurance system largely to stymie the growth of Social Democracy. The formation of unions was another substantial contributing factor. The growth of democracy in Britain and in some European nations in the mid-to-late 1800s probably had an effect. And the movement of many basic productive functions to the third world (where Western countries could overthrow governments if the lower classes seemed to be getting too much influence) also may have had an effect.Report

              • Avatar Katherine in reply to Jaybird says:

                I don’t really consider myself to have been exploited, particularly.
                That does qualify as exploitation, given that you and the other workers were doing the actual work, while the guy hiring you was getting most of the money. The fact that many of us are enough used to capitalism that we’re inured to that fact doesn’t mean it’s non-exploitative.

                Speaking more practically, if you were an adult with a family at the time, and with no other prospects for a job, you would probably have viewed the situation differently.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Katherine says:

                What makes you a better judge of whether I’ve been exploited?

                Am I too close to the situation?Report

              • Avatar Rick in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jaybird says:
                What makes you a better judge of whether I’ve been exploited?

                Of course you were exploited. Everyone and everything in economic activity is exploited. The problem is that exploit is used in its pejorative sense. I worked the same sorts of jobs when I was younger. I also don’t complain about it. My talent at the time was a strong back, high energy level, and an ability to follow basic instructions without showing up too hung-over on a regular basis. They exploited that talent. That’s fine. Now I have not such a strong back, nor such a high energy level, but my ability to follow much more complex methodologies has become my talent. And that’s exploited by me and my employer now. No concerns there.

                The problem comes when people are exploited without reward or at least appropriate recompense. The Little Red Hen is, surprisingly I know, a bit of an oversimplification. But then that’s always been my problem with Ayn Rand’s writing (I mean, other than the turgid style, non-stop blather about virtue, and overall self-satisfied moralizing). Of course everything works out “right” in the end (as Rand sees it): she’s constructed her own tautological box. Poor people are poor because they’re lazy. Rich people are rich because they’re hard working and talented. So of course when Galt goes Galt, everything goes bad: those are the only people making the world go round, whilst all the other leeches are just unproductive parasites. If the Little Red Hen didn’t make bread, clearly no bread would ever get made.

                So the argument comes down to whether you believe the problem nowadays is that there is a smaller and smaller population of people who are willing to figuratively make bread or whether there is a smaller and smaller population of people who are reaping most of the rewards for making the bread that everyone helps make. If the former, well you’re right, giving something for nothing to those losers makes no sense and only rewards laziness. But given that the hours logged by American workers seems to indicate that this is not the case.

                So to understand the point of those who believe that taxation is at least part of a means of rectifying imbalances where people are not adequately rewarded for their talents or abilities, re-imagine the Little Red Hen thusly: the Little Red Hen finds a seed of grain, and asks the mole to bury it for her. When the grain is grown, she asks the bird to harvest it for her. When the grain is ready to be milled, she asks the dog to turn the mill wheel for her. When it comes time to bake the bread, she asks the cat to put the bread in the oven. When the bread comes out, the Little Red Hen gives each other animal one slice of bread, while keeping 3/4 of a loaf for herself, because after all she provided the seed capital and the capable management that took that seed from a seed to a loaf of bread.

                Everyone would agree that the Little Red Hen deserves recompense for her contribution to the process. There are a lot of people who think that 20% of the people taking 75% of the benefits means that the other 80% are getting screwed over. In spite of Rand’s imagined ethos of independence and self-reliance, real-world John Galts don’t exist as isolated generators of economic activity.

                And that’s where the argument lies.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Applause. I love this post.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Ryan says:

      I think if you pressed most non-anarchist libertarians who ascribe to the “taxation is immoral” line of thinking, you would find that just because something is immoral does not make it unjustified. Frankly, it’s hard to argue with the notion that taking someone’s property by force is theft. It is not magically made moral when the entity doing the taking is the government, even if that government is democratic in nature. This is different only in degree, not kind, from the notion that killing is not made magically moral when the entity doing the killing is the government, even if that government is democratic in nature.

      If you pressed these non-anarchist libertarians, you would probably find that otherwise immoral acts can be justified or legitimized under various circumstances. I suspect most non-anarchist libertarians, if pressed, would be amenable to taxation for a given purpose if there was some consideration given to the fact that an act of coercion is being committed to solve a particular problem. In other words, most libertarians who ascribe to the idea of taxation as theft would probably be happy if the immorality of the act was just in the discussion. Instead, justifications for just about any government action tend to skip right over the question of whether the good outweighs the harm and instead focus solely on how government action can achieve the desired good.

      That said, there are pretty good arguments to be made as to why some levels of taxation are not theft at all. I find these arguments persuasive, which is why I usually avoid the taxation as theft line of thought. Freddie makes one of these arguments below. In this line of argumentation, taxation is not theft because it equates much more closely to repayment of a loan (although that is my terminology).

      The existence of these persuasive arguments, however, does not make the taxation-is-theft line of thinking batshit insane, unless one is convinced that the very concept of individual property rights is batshit insane.Report

      • Avatar Ryan in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        “Frankly, it’s hard to argue with the notion that taking someone’s property by force is theft.”

        I don’t think it’s that hard at all. The Fifth Amendment pretty clearly states that no one shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”. Due process of law = not theft. It may be unwise for many reasons, but by definition it isn’t theft.

        “…unless one is convinced that the very concept of individual property rights is batshit insane.”

        That’s not exactly the position I would take, but the general libertarian position that I had a great deal of influence on how much property I have is more than a little insane. I think it’s pretty easy to show – as Jaybird points out with his “this is what the world has always been like: full of poor people” argument – that a good 90+% of everything I own is due to the accident of my birth (in the US, in the 20th century, as a white suburbanite). If you think my claim to that property is a moral one (rather than just a process one, as folks like Will Wilkinson tend to argue), then I definitely have a lot of issues with your conception of property rights.Report

  4. Avatar Ryan says:

    It would constitute “one of those things” if libertarian metaphysics were true and we were really all just floating about minding our own beeswax. But of course that’s false. Bear with me while I stereotype your position a little (which, this time, I don’t mean as a strawman-style insult).

    The libertarian position is (often) that government should not impose the costs of your environmental behavior on you, improve the efficiency of the health care system by creating a larger risk pool, insure citizens against economic catastrophe they didn’t cause, or interfere with settled property distributions based currently or originally on blind luck or theft. This constitutes the sort of thing where your preferred rules give you (and everyone else) significant power over how I live my life – whether I want you to have that power or not.

    And it isn’t simply market power of the sort where you own a business/property and are free to hire me/let me live there, which I think also raises key problems (i.e., market power is just as dangerous to a just society as state power) that we don’t have to get into. The bottom line, for me, is that your politics do involve you dictating how I will live my life because our lives (at some level) are inextricably twined in a way that we can’t choose to undo.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan says:

      I don’t know that the libertarian metaphysics aren’t true.

      Indeed, it seems to me that there is a great deal of my life that is none, absolutely none, of your business. As such, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is much of your life that is none, absolutely none, of my own.

      Being told that certain areas of your life are not only my business but my responsibility strikes me as… well… alien. Completely and totally. It’s like you’re explaining to me that society has every right to deny hospital visitation to homosexuals because the social fabric requires such and the children need good examples set for them.

      That’s how foreign those thoughts are to me.Report

      • Avatar Mark in reply to Jaybird says:

        “Being told that certain areas of your life are not only my business but my responsibility strikes me as… well… alien.”

        Let’s say you own a coal-fired power plant. I believe most “libertarians” I know (or know of) would reject the notion of any limitations on that plant’s ability to pollute. But the asthma rates and death rates from respiratory illnesses are significantly elevated in the neighborhood near the plant. Is the health of your neighbors really none of your business?

        “Libertarianism” is very cut and dried when it comes to my neighbor dumping garbage in my yard. But it falls apart the second there’s a shared resource. As much as “libertarians” might try to privatize public goods – roads, water, police/fire, jails, national defense – they simply don’t have a compelling mechanism for privatizing the air that we breathe.Report

      • Avatar Ryan in reply to Jaybird says:

        Pro-tip: get an economics book written some time in the past century. Find the chapter on externalities. You might be impressed.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan says:

          So the people who say that they don’t want to explain two guys holding hands at the mall to their kids have a point?Report

          • Avatar Ryan in reply to Jaybird says:

            Of course they have a point. It’s a silly one and it doesn’t have any useful empirics to support it, but it’s no more crazy (a priori) than people who think there should be noise regulations. It’s the people who imagine that my choices impose zero costs on others who are just making crap up.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan says:

              This is where we diverge.

              That thought process is alien to me to the point where I wonder if you’re not, as the Brits say, winding me up.Report

              • Avatar Ryan in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well, give me your address, and I will do my best to buy the property next to yours, build several massive smokestacks, crank up some very loud machinery at 3am, and then wander around my front yard naked in clear view of your windows. I will let my grass die, the weeds grow, and my dog crap all over. I will leave junk outside and pour toxic chemicals into my soil. After I have done all of this, I will wait and see if you think that my actions on my own property have no effect on your life.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan says:

                You’d have fit in on Willamette and Union (My First Apartment Complex ™). Change the smoke from coal-based to something more plant-based, of course.

                Man, I’m glad I moved away from there.Report

  5. Avatar Freddie says:

    In real life– like, reality– the Little Red Hen is absolutely incapable of producing the bread without the help of the community, in a whole manner of ways; and even if she could, without the support of the community, there is the jungle, and in the jungle, the Little Red Hen gets her bread stolen from her by the Big Red Hen. And because the community is necessary for the creation of the bread, and for the retention of the bread, it is reasonable for the community to take some piece of the bread as payback. Hey, markets!Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Freddie says:

      Would you believe me if I said that I saw a significant difference between this argument and the argument that the story is evil because it teaches that some humans are worth more than others?Report

      • Avatar Katherine in reply to Jaybird says:

        Oh, the problem isn’t the idea that some humans provide more value to society at large than others. (In terms of intrinsic moral worth, I do believe all people are equal). The problem with Randian and libertarian ideas is the deep misunderstanding of which ones.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Katherine says:

          “some humans provide more value to society at large than others” !== “some humans are worth more than others”

          The former is quantifiable, I reckon.

          How is the latter quantifiable? I don’t see how it could be… as such, I’d avoid saying that some people are worth more than others.

          As a matter of fact, I am very much under the impression that the only people who have said *ANYTHING* like that are those who have been saying that that is what other people are saying.Report

      • Avatar Ryan in reply to Jaybird says:

        It is different, which is largely because it’s a different argument. Freddie disputes the whole story (that anyone even can produce all by him/herself), whereas I dispute the lesson (that people who don’t have money are lazy and don’t deserve to be given anything – or, alternatively, that if you don’t have things it’s because you were lazy). As you note, these are different things.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan says:

          What if I said that the lesson was if you are lazy, you won’t have things… therefore “don’t be lazy”. Is that, in theory, a moral that it would be okay to say in front of children?

          Or is even that moral a moral that factory owners would want people with false consciousnesses to teach (homeschool!) to their children in order to create the next generation of factory workers to be exploited?Report

          • Avatar Ryan in reply to Jaybird says:

            In theory, sure. But, like so much libertarian philosophy, this particular story starts with the premise that everyone else is a leech.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan says:

              A leech?

              They would only be leeches if they sued the government for the bread and won.

              The version of the story that I read said that they didn’t help… and at the end of the day, the Hen ate the bread.

              No leeching.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Ryan says:

              What about the grasshopper and the ant? I’m intrigued now.Report

              • Avatar Ryan in reply to North says:

                Same basic thing, right? I guess one way to look at it is the way Matt Yglesias did recently: libertarianism is a useful fiction because it allows us to tell people stories that encourage virtue even though they’re false (Noble Lie, anyone?) – the Hen and the Ant/Grasshopper could presumably be such stories. My complaint about that, as also about the Noble Lie, is that telling people false things in an effort to make them virtuous generally has the unwanted side effect of making them believe things that are also false about the lack of virtue of everyone else.

                These stories generally teach that hard work is both necessary and sufficient for success (as much as Jaybird wants to dance around the “sufficient” aspect, it’s still there), which is nice in a way. But it’s also a pretty pernicious idea if you try to imagine a society that seriously believes it. (See, for instance, the Chait piece that started all of this and his discussion of Robert Frank.)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan says:

                Aesop was a tool of the aristocracy.

                The story of the lion and the mouse was obviously a club used by slave owners (lions) on slaves (mice) to get them conditioned to the idea that kindness ought to be a way of life.

                The Farmer and the Stork is an obvious story justifying institutional racism.

                Don’t get me started on The Crow and The Pitcher.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Ryan says:

                I’m trying to understand but I don’t think I’m completely connecting with you here. In the Little Red Hen, if Wikipedia is any guide, a hen finds some wheat and parlays it into a wheat crop and eventually into bread. Despite being offered to share the labor at each step of the way other animals decline and are uninterested until the bread is baked at which point they’re eager to queue for a slice. The hen then chooses not to share the fruits of her labor with the animals who chose not to assist her and eats the bread herself and with her children.

                In the grasshopper and the ant the ant labors through the summer to prepare for winter while the grasshopper loafs about and enjoys himself only to either perish or go begging to the ant for sustenance.

                I guess where I’m not following you is the premise you’re ascribing to the stories. You say the lesson is “that people who don’t have money are lazy and don’t deserve to be given anything ” or that the have-nots are described as leeches but in the stories the other animals/cricket are not described as such. They start out the same as the protagonist hen/ant as having nothing. They differ from the protagonists only in their choices; the protagonists choose to work while they choose to be idle. In the end their difference of outcome seems to be framed as a matter of their choices not their identities.

                It seems to me you’re sort of reversing the messages in the stories. As I see it if I am drunk and lean on a hot stove, I will burn my hand. This does not mean that all people with burnt hands are drunks, there are a variety of ways to acquire a burnt hand, some admirable some not. The stories seem to me to be saying: if you’re lazy and do not look out for yourself then you will be at the mercy of fate (in the form of intemperate climate change or uncharitable chickens) as to whether you suffer or not. And I don’t see anything false or insidious about that message.

                There are of course the idle inherited rich. But one could say that their wealth comes about either by the great industriousness of their ancestors (which is admirable) or the injustice and crimes of their ancestors (not admirable at all but also much less common).

                And here I’ve written a little goddamn essay on the Little Red Hen. What is wrong with me??Report

  6. Avatar nick.t. says:

    Surely the point is that the Little Red Hen is now a reality show contestant, and may well get voted off the island in the next episode. I must admit to being puzzled as to why people wish to reinterpret not particularly powerful animal fables rather than making arguments from human experience. What next – Cracking the Scooby Doo Code?Report

  7. Avatar Bruce Smith says:

    “When Adam delved (dug) and Eve span (wove), Who was then the Gentleman? (Owner of capital)”

    Favorite saying of John Ball (14th century English Priest Peasant’s leader) who was hung, drawn and quartered by King Richard II for daring to ask such a question!

    Since none of us can claim to have a property deed from a referee like God the commoditization of Nature seems to boil down to doing one of two things; the Hobbesian thing of grabbing what we can backed up by killing where we have to; or we can reach a negotiated settlement with each other as to how we do the sustainable divvying up. That settlement can take many shapes and forms but fairness (Strong Reciprocity) will have to be at the forefront. If capital is used as a “weapon” to stop a fair negotiated settlement taking place, or to pervert the outcome of the settlement then it’s legitimate for the disenfranchised to take appropriate action. Its unilateralism (freeloaders and cheaters) that causes the friction in human society and these can be both the lazy and the sociopathic capitalists. The Little Red Hen story is consequently a moral story for both types of unilateralists with wheat playing the role of capital. It’s inadequately written, however, because it’s what comes later that’s important. Unlike life there’s no mention in the story of repeat occurrences of bread making where each has learnt from the other’s behavior and mutually drawn up some rules for engaging in non-zero-sum activity. When things get more complicated in human life than bread-making that’s when government law making and reinforcement authority steps in. Refusal to recognize the legitimacy of this realistic process for the settlement and enforcement of complex differences is where paradoxically coerciveness begins and pushes human society back towards Hobbes’s “war of all upon all.”

    The story of The Little Red Hen has served its purpose by showing its inadequacy as a metaphor for human interaction!Report

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