Luck and Desert

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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193 Responses

  1. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Well, it’s really a combination of factors. All the things that make the Western world great, and living in America a pretty damn fine thing are the work of generations of people, the accumulated social gains of many brilliant, thoughtful men and women. There is no doubt that this was intentional, that the freedom we enjoy is the result of hard work.

    But we are still very lucky to have been born into all of that, into this particular place and time in history. I suppose we can work to make the next generation as lucky as we were, or do what we can to make the rest of the world as lucky as we were, but we are lucky one way or another.Report

    • Avatar BSK in reply to E.D. Kain says:

      I didn’t get through the whole post, though I fully intend to because this is a topic I find truly fascinating and I always appreciate and respect JK’s thoughtful approach on things, whether we agree or not.

      Anyway, in response to ED Kain, I think of the relativity of much of this. He mentioned not only place, but time. For most years X, people probably presumed they were very fortunate to have been born then and not year X-100. We stand here now and think that, on balance, we are in far better position now than we would have been if we were born in 1900 (and we are almost certainly right). But people in 1900 thought that about folks from 1800. And on and on. And it is likely that people in 2100 or 2500 or 4500 will look back at 2011 and think, “Those poor bastards.” I don’t know if I really have a point, but it’s something to think about…Report

  2. Avatar clawback says:

    But is wealth merely luck of birth? … I find this assertion almost offensive, because we know perfectly well how societies get wealthy.

    Here you jump, without warning, from discussing individuals to discussing societies. Yes, we know how societies get wealthy. We know little about how individuals get wealthy. It is possible, indeed likely, that this process is largely luck.

    Amusingly, your digression about legislators and laws applies equally almost word-for-word to capitalists and businesses.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to clawback says:

      Here you jump, without warning, from discussing individuals to discussing societies. Yes, we know how societies get wealthy. We know little about how individuals get wealthy. It is possible, indeed likely, that this process is largely luck.

      Not a jump at all — take a person from a relatively poor society and put him in a wealthier one, and his productivity goes way, way up. That’s why so many people from Mexico want to come to the United States.

      Amusingly, your digression about legislators and laws applies equally almost word-for-word to capitalists and businesses.

      So what’s the answer? Civil war?Report

      • Avatar clawback in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        So what’s the answer?

        I don’t know, but a little more humility from both legislators and capitalists probably wouldn’t hurt.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to clawback says:

          The answer is that by one model of desert (mark-of-merit) the capitalist may not have done anything terribly special. Sure, he may have actually done a lot of hard work, and he certainly took the risks, and many others failed along the way — a chance he was prepared to take. But none of that would count for anything if there weren’t good institutions, so the merit isn’t entirely his.

          Okay, fine. But in the other sense of desert, the came-by-it-honestly sense, he might very well deserve what he has. Let’s say that he does. By what title do we remove that from him?Report

          • Avatar clawback in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            First, the notion of pure-as-the-driven-snow came-by-it-honestly wealth doesn’t square with history. Second, who suggested expropriating someone’s wealth? I think the post you responded to made only a simple point about gratitude and humility.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to clawback says:

              First, the notion of pure-as-the-driven-snow came-by-it-honestly wealth doesn’t square with history.

              It can be close enough.

              Second, who suggested expropriating someone’s wealth?

              What’s the very next step after we conclude that a holding is undeserved?Report

              • Avatar clawback in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                It can be close enough.

                Can be, but doesn’t apply here and now.

                What’s the very next step after we conclude that a holding is undeserved?

                I don’t have anything in mind. But I’m guessing the guy who goes from telling us that legislators are arrogant and undeserving to implying we should take away their power might worry about the same dynamic applying to his favored group.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to clawback says:

                Can be, but doesn’t apply here and now.

                Sure it does, sometimes.

                I don’t have anything in mind. But I’m guessing the guy who goes from telling us that legislators are arrogant and undeserving to implying we should take away their power might worry about the same dynamic applying to his favored group.

                My favored group are not necessarily businessmen. But to the extent that legislators hold wealth to be a grant they condescend to give us, then yes, I’d say they’re being arrogant. (A businessman, you’ll note, will almost never make that claim.)Report

              • Avatar Joseph in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Not in those terms, surely, but what is wage employment if not precisely that?Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to clawback says:

              the notion of pure-as-the-driven-snow came-by-it-honestly wealth doesn’t square with history.

              Who’s writing that history? The standard history of Standard Oil, for example paints Rockefeller as a literal robber baron. A less ideological perspective shows that he never robbed anyone, but just built a more efficient refining process, minimizing waste and finding new uses for fractions of crude petroleum that previously were just dumped in our rivers, negotiated better contracts with railroads, and made consumers far better off by dramatically reducing the cost of kerosene (the main petroleum product in his day).

              His only “crime” was to work around state laws regarding interstate businesses in ways that were technically legal but violated their spirit. And such laws were pretty ill-considered and only harmed consumers.

              His other “crime” was to operate so efficiently that competitors couldn’t keep up and had to either fold or sell out–and he usually offered them a pretty good deal because he knew his processing and business methods could make a profit out of their firms.

              And his success was copied by others. By the time the government got around to declaring Standard Oil a monopoly, competitors had already stolen over 20% of his market share, and it continued on a downward trend.

              So did Rockefeller steal his wealth or did he come by it honestly? Popular (muckraking) history says one thing, but a closer analysis shows something else. Was Rockefeller’s wealth acquisition “pure-as-the-driven-snow” honest? Probably not, but why set such an unachievable standard?

              Why not turn it around the other way and ask whether someone’s wealth acquisition was “utterly-and-completely-dishonest?” Would you accept such a standard, and say that anyone who fell short of (or, better, rose slightly above) that standard had come by their wealth “honest”? That would be silly, but no sillier than a standard of “pure-as-the-driven-snow-honest” that treats anyone who falls short of it as having come by their wealth “dishonestly?”Report

              • Avatar clawback in reply to James Hanley says:

                Actually, I was referring to the degree to which the present is shaped by historical injustices. I’m not interested in entering a debate about one particular historical figure.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to clawback says:

                clawback, but if the present is shaped by historical injustices, each of those injustices is an identifiable historical event. And my point was to demonstrate that our popular understanding of those historical events that resulted in wealth accumulation as having been injustices may not be accurate.

                Some are, sure, but unless we dig into the specifics, how can we know which claim best squares with history?Report

              • Avatar clawback in reply to James Hanley says:

                James, the reality of large-scale injustices throughout history is undeniable, or at least it’s clear enough that you will have to find someone else to debate if you wish to deny it. A far more interesting and relevant question, in my opinion, is the degree to which these injustices shape our current reality. The narrow question of whether the robber barons generally, and Rockefeller specifically, fits in with the long history of slavery, discrimination, genocide, unjust wars, etc., that define our history changes that discussion not at all.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to clawback says:

                clawback,

                Nobody’s denying there have been injustices. You specifically claimed that wealth isn’t come by honestly, I demonstrated that it sometimes is, and now you appear to be moving the goalposts.

                That aside, if you’re concerned about those unjust events, isn’t it relevant to recognize that there also were events that shape our current reality that were just? Otherwise you’re setting up a very biased approach to history–you’re only allowing into the analysis the bad events, leading to the pretense that our current reality is shaped entirely by injustice. There’s no more wisdom in that approach than there is in denying that such injustices occurred.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to clawback says:

          Came-by-it-honestly only begs the question. Surely that person was lucky to have been in a circumstance to “come-by-it” at all.

          Coming-by-it doesn’t seem to capture at all what people mean by merit or deserve, in which case I think it obscures the conversation rather than clarifies it.

          Arguing that a society which follows a certain economical model of rewarding came-by-it-honestly ownership is very different from exploring the moral, or as E.D. sees it, amoral issue of the world lottery.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Jason – this isn’t an argument against luck, however. The person who was taken from the poor society and placed into the rich society would be very lucky indeed, just as all the people born into the rich society were lucky. Luck doesn’t exclude concepts of hard work, justice, etc. But if you start a race and were just randomly placed 500 yards ahead of everyone else, I’d say that’s pretty lucky.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          if you start a race and were just randomly placed 500 yards ahead of everyone else, I’d say that’s pretty lucky.

          Of course, but that’s a lousy model for the world economy. The reality is more like some governments go around clubbing runners in the kneecaps. I’m not prepared to call that luck, even if it’s certainly true that we had no influence over where we were born.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            The reality is more like some governments go around clubbing runners in the kneecaps.

            +1Report

          • There is a difference though. We’re talking about two separate things. Obviously some governments (and some cultures) are simply better and so, yes, we are at once lucky to be born with a relatively benign government and yet we can’t simply call it luck and call it a day. Bad laws and bad policies should be changed. Markets should be freed. People can rise above their situation through hard work. Plenty is possible. If anything, our luck should teach us how important it is to have freedom, because we’re more than anything lucky to be at least more free than many born in this world.Report

          • The reality is more like some governments go around clubbing runners in the kneecaps. I’m not prepared to call that luck,

            Well, I’d certainly consider myself lucky to avoid that!Report

  3. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    “But is wealth merely luck of birth? Does it rain down like manna from heaven, created only by God (if even by Him)? I find this assertion almost offensive, because we know perfectly well how societies get wealthy.”

    Yes indeed, how societies get wealthy. As you mention, so much of the wealth anyone enjoys arises from interactions and goings on of groups much larger than ourselves. We have no rational claim to the wealth a society produces, and our own wealth is heavily based upon what others around us are doing. As a result, my own contribution is often very, very small. Likewise it makes little sense to talk as individualistically as we often do, about my wealth, and what I deserve.

    The hardest working individual born into the worst circumstances will not do as well as the laziest individual born into the best.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.C. Gach says:

      We have no rational claim to the wealth a society produces, and our own wealth is heavily based upon what others around us are doing. As a result, my own contribution is often very, very small. Likewise it makes little sense to talk as individualistically as we often do, about my wealth, and what I deserve.

      I don’t agree. Why is it that our society is capable of producing wealth in the way that it does? Because it lets individuals keep the wealth that they’ve traded and (partially) produced. There’s no other reason, and that’s why you’re entitled to it. Remove the title, and there goes the wealth. Not just for you, but for everyone.Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        “Why is it that our society is capable of producing wealth in the way that it does? Because it lets individuals keep the wealth that they’ve traded and (partially) produced.”

        So I get to keep “my” wealth because I produced it, I was able to produce it because society is wealthy, society is wealthy because I got to keep “my” wealth.? I’m a bit confused.

        You ignore the fuzzy area of “lets individuals keep the wealth that they’ve traded and (partially) produced.”

        People trade the wealth they have. They have that because they were born with it, given it, or produced it.

        The first is clearly luck, the second is rare. We’re left with the third, what I’ve produced, and the amount of wealth that is actually created as a direct result of ME, is precisely what’s in question.

        Your annual contribution to GDP if left on a dessert island would be quite small, but in the context of society, it is quite large by comparison. So that GDP (GDP of you in this society – GDP of you on dessert Island), how much of that is a result of your actions, and not the actions of others?Report

        • Avatar Kolohe in reply to E.C. Gach says:

          I would love to get stuck on a dessert island, except there’s already a history of diabetes in my family.
          (sorry, couldn’t resist. Knew someone would do it eventually)Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.C. Gach says:

          So I get to keep “my” wealth because I produced it, I was able to produce it because society is wealthy, society is wealthy because I got to keep “my” wealth.? I’m a bit confused.

          Actually, yes. It’s a bootstrap process. The ability to count on continuity of possession is a powerful incentive. It makes it possible for you to build on former wealth, save and invest, and deploy it efficiently in the future. What’s confusing about that?

          To be clear, I think almost all wealth owes to gains from trade. But I don’t agree that trade is mere luck.

          In any event, I find myself sort of flummoxed here too. Why is it you are arguing that you are a mere parasite on society? If you really thought this way, wouldn’t you try to hide it?Report

          • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            The bootstrap process explains increasing wealth, but your claim, that a system where everyone gets what they deserve is one which will also be richest, doesn’t help explain how we figure out what everyone actually deserves.

            Unless you’re pointing toward an empirical process, by which we fiddle with wealth allocation based upon annual increases in GDP, until we find one that produces the greatest yield, and then that will be the system in which everyone gets what they deserve.

            As far as me claiming to be a parasite, obviously I put something in, but I get something a lot bigger out. Society utilizes my contribution and multiplies it’s impact. It’s what to do with this excess response that makes the whole argument about merits a confusing if not irrelevant one.

            The GDP increase from the island to here is quite dramatic. What makes me entitled to the result of that contribution after it interacts with society? Someone else who makes a similar contribution but in a less prosperous society won’t get the same multiplier. Do they really “deserve” that lesser wealth, and I that greater wealth, simply because we were born into different societies?Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.C. Gach says:

              The bootstrap process explains increasing wealth, but your claim, that a system where everyone gets what they deserve is one which will also be richest, doesn’t help explain how we figure out what everyone actually deserves.

              You tell me, then — who deserves to be starving? I don’t think anyone does. How do we avoid it? We already know the answer to that question.

              The GDP increase from the island to here is quite dramatic. What makes me entitled to the result of that contribution after it interacts with society? Someone else who makes a similar contribution but in a less prosperous society won’t get the same multiplier. Do they really “deserve” that lesser wealth, and I that greater wealth, simply because we were born into different societies?

              I think as a matter of humanitarianism that everyone in the world deserves three square meals a day, a nice place to live, a good education, plenty of entertainment, a satisfying sex life, and at least an occasional gin and tonic. Don’t you?

              But I also find that as a guide to policy, humanitarian sentiment can’t take us anywhere useful.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                So would you call that the utilitarian response to poor luck?

                That is, we can help more people with poor luck in the future, by creating more wealth now, by spending less of it on accounting for other people’s poor luck?

                Are we to take into accont those that will be helped in the future by greater wealth creation now in our moral calculus?

                I’m not implicitly against you in asking these questions. Just not sure what it means to guide public policy by something other than humanitarian concerns. What other concernes are there?

                Humanitarian sentiment doesn’t have to take us there, but certainly its the metric by what which we judge if “there” is worth getting.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                I mean that the usual response to these feelings is just a lot of first-world guilt, and that usually produces very little in the way of better policies.

                As an example, foreign aid is too small to make much of a difference, and it’s so badly administered that it may actually manage to be counterproductive. Meanwhile, first-world agricultural subsidies (have to help the farmers!) are hurting the world’s poorest, and immigration controls are likewise.

                But what I really wanted to get at were the distinctions among luck of birth, merit, and gains from trade. My sense is that these are often hopelessly confused with one another, and I’m trying — even here, in the comments — to figure out how best to untangle them.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                Well yea, then there’s all those arguments about how aid doesn’t only not work, but it’s actually bad for people, just like welfare.

                So in a world where all your actions to the contrary only make things worse, why indeed bother with feeling the guilt of first world privilege.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to E.C. Gach says:

          As luck would have it, I wasn’t born a good speller.Report

        • Your annual contribution to GDP if left on a dessert island would be quite small,

          Actually, my contribution to the GDP of that island would be 100%.

          But, you respond, that 100% would be, in absolute value, miniscule. And to that I would agree.

          But your argument seems to be that because social institutions and others make my productivity possible, they in fact have produced it just as much as I have. That’s a bit dubious, conceptually, don’t you think? It seems to radically downplay the contribution that results from a person taking advantage of the opportunity, because by itself the opportunity creates nothing.

          Maybe a sports analogy will help (or maybe not): Think of assists in basketball. They are highly valued as a statistic because we recognize the importance of creating the opportunity for another player to score. But let’s say I pass you the ball when you’re in perfect position to score and instead of shooting, you clumsily drop the ball or miss an easy layup. My contribution, then, is zero. You caused my contribution to be zero. But if you score, you made my contribution worthwhile. That means you’re really really important; the key to the final outcome. And I think your argument, inadvertently, minimizes that importance.

          Also, pragmatically, your argument risks destroying the institutions of productivity, as Jason has argued. Each of us simultaneously is making assists and scoring–we’re each being the final key in the production of value while we also create the conditions that allow others to be the final key in producing value. If we dramatically limit how much of my “key to final production” value I can keep, I may drop out of the system, simultaneously depriving others of my contributions towards their value-creation.

          That’s not an argument for no taxation, but it is an argument against high taxation or strict limits on how much a person can earn–that is, it’s an argument that far-reaching wealth redistribution will ultimately result in severe constraints on wealth creation.

          Because if you don’t let me keep what I produce, I quit working, and that meansReport

          • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to James Hanley says:

            If we dramatically limit how much of my “key to final production” value I can keep, I may drop out of the system, simultaneously depriving others of my contributions towards their value-creation.

            Depends first on what you mean by “dramatically.” Is a top marginal rate of %50 dramatic?

            And then there’s the specter of “dropping out” that constantly threatens redistribution for public purposes. New York thrives despite what many would see as an overly controlled and limiting government presence, and yet it goes on, because most people find the trade off worth it.

            Perhaps if the greed principle which underlies American capitalism could be replaced with a more heroic and selfless one, hypothetical inhabitants of thought experiments wouldn’t constantly be threatening to quit there job if there bottom line wasn’t satisfied.

            But of course you may be right about human nature, and its relentless need to act out its anti-social, self-interested individualism.Report

            • Depends first on what you mean by “dramatically.” Is a top marginal rate of %50 dramatic?

              It’s an empirical question. Is 50% “dramatic” in the sense that it’s the point where we discourage production enough to result in less overall opportunity for value production? That probably depends on where the top marginal rate is set–if it’s set at anything over $40k, I’d be willing to bet it would be, but if it’s on anything over $10 mil, probably not.

              I know, that doesn’t narrow it down much, but I admit to not having done the empirical research to answer any specific question like that. But that’s partly my point–because it’s empirical we must do that empirical research. Unless you have done it, you also don’t know whether 50% is too much.

              And (I hate to say this because it just muddies the waters) the pragmatic question is only the first step. Assuming we find that productively ideal tax rate, we then have to ask the normative question of “should we take that much from the ‘key to final production” value-producer?”

              If I can play devil’s advocate for a minute, it sounds quite a bit like an envy-based argument struggling to find a justification based in sympathy. That is, the argument itself portrays itself as a sympathetic one (all of us are dependent to a significant degree on luck, and some have less luck than others), but the motivating force seems to be envy (“what’s important is not whether I have enough, but whether he has more than I do”). That’s unsympathetic, I wholly admit. But is it wholly inaccurate?Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to James Hanley says:

                Again, it hinges on what “have enough” means. My intuition is that the costs of investing in opportunity creating institutions and programs would be quite high.

                Your question about envy also implies the conclusion. It’s not envy if it doesn’t “belong” to the other person. By inferring that redistributive policies are indicative of envy, you the status quo is legitimate.

                The peasants under Nottingham’s Sheriff weren’t moved by envy so much as righteous indignation.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                *”imply that” the status quo…Report

              • E.C,

                Re: envy. My concern–and I admit it could be misplaced–is that the argument that “it really doesn’t belong to them” is actually a smokescreen for envy. After all, even if the argument about others’ contributions, particularly that of social institutions, is correct, it doesn’t automatically follow that the money I can realize doesn’t in fact belong to me. What if it’s all a pure surplus of everyone’s effort? That is, what if the institutions that make it possible are fully funded (I know, currently they’re not, but we’re talking potentialities here), and everyone else involved has received full direct value of their effort and their is pure surplus that only comes about because of my final action. It’s economic rent, in that it’s above and beyond what would be necessary to motivate my action, so it’s pure surplus.

                Why doesn’t it belong to me, even if in a sense “I” didn’t earn it? Who does it belong to? Who should have the authority to distribute it? Why should government have that authority rather than me–does it somehow “belong” to them? Does it necessarily “belong” by right to whomever they distribute it to? If it doesn’t “belong” by right of desert to any of us, what gives anyone else–including government–greater claim to it than I have?

                That’s all to say that even if we accept the basic argument it doesn’t by itself justify a particular policy action. And I think there’s an implicit assumption–unexamined but extremely dubious–that government is more competent to distribute according to desert than is the market.

                As to what I mean by “enough,” I can only sigh and point out that it’s a moving target, and that what is now defined as the poverty level was once upon a time considered middle class. That’s another part of the reason I worry about envy–to many advocates of redistribution, “enough” is based on a relative, comparative, standard, rather than an absolute standard. That comparative standard–how does it stack up against what others have–is inherently envy-based.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to James Hanley says:

                Why doesn’t it belong to me, even if in a sense “I” didn’t earn it? Who does it belong to? Who should have the authority to distribute it? Why should government have that authority rather than me–does it somehow “belong” to them? Does it necessarily “belong” by right to whomever they distribute it to? If it doesn’t “belong” by right of desert to any of us, what gives anyone else–including government–greater claim to it than I have?

                It belongs to constitutional democratic consensus, unless you know of a better, more ethical set of power relations to foster in a community.

                Perhaps if your default notion of government were a town council rather than the federal government, you’d find the assumption less dubious.

                If we’ve established that its the wealth of societies with which we’re concerned, than I assume the democratic or representative societal “entity” would be the legitimate instrument through which to negotiate the redistribution of surpluses.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                Crappy schools, little or no access to medical care, and unsafe neighborhoods is not relative poverty — it’s absolute poverty. The fact that it’s somewhat ameliorated by cheap electronic toys doesn’t alter that.Report

              • Please understand that many of the arguments that have pushed for school improvement, medical policy, and crime are dismissed out of hand by policy makers in favor of maintaining the status quo.Report

              • Mike,

                That’s rhetoric, not logic. I’m not saying those are conditions we ought to accept, but you’re using contemporary normative standards. The fact that I agree with those standards does not mean they’re not relative.

                If people are choosing to buy cheap electronic toys in place of food, medical care, and better housing, they can’t be absolutely impoverished, even though we wouldn’t want to trade places with them, and even though I would agree with you that we ought to use public policy to try to better their lot.

                But crappy schools, bad medical care, and an unsafe neighborhood was the lot of the “rich” 500 years ago, eh? It’s just that the “poor” then had no schools, no medical care, and even less safe neighborhoods.

                Seriously, if you look at the level of goods commanded by those below the poverty line in the U.S. today, their caloric intake, and their life expectancy, they’re much better off than just about anyone was centuries ago. And that’s even including the damage gangs cause to the life-expectancy of urban black males.

                Please don’t take that as an argument for complacency. I’m making an analytical argument, not a policy one.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to James Hanley says:

                James, the fact that you consider a society where in a few might live like gods, and the rest might live like 1950s working middle class Americans a completely satisfactory one is both disturbing and perhaps indicative of certain non-social tendencies, or at least the willingness to intellectually flirt with anti-communitarian sentiments.

                RELATIVE well-being is only important in so far as we lack justification for the kind of transcendent ownership that would morally prohibit redistribution. The fact that there is little evidence for direct, one-to-one causation between a member of society’s actions and the increased wealth which results, means much of what is created might as well be utilized for public enjoyment/consumption as a democratic populous desires (i.e. public arts, public libraries, public transportation, public parks, public beaches, public schools, public universities, public civic spaces, public museums, public infrastructure, public monuments, etc.)

                The above is a far cry from taxing X number of people and giving out the revenues to X number of other people in the form of a check.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                If people are choosing to buy cheap electronic toys in place of food, medical care, and better housing,

                A DVD player costs, what, 50 bucks? That doesn’t begin to make a dent in housing or medical care. Not even in food, since it’s a one-time expense. In other words, one has nothing to do with the other. Which was precisely my point.Report

              • On further thought, my response to Mike is badly flawed. Mike is making the kind of objective “what do we think people need for a decent life” standard that I argue for below.

                I do think the comparison to the past in my response is worthwhile, though, because considering how we define poverty today relative to what poverty and wealth were in the past helps provide useful context and keeps us a bit grounded in our expectations about life. But by itself that relative standard is not sufficient, in my view, and Mike’s more non-relative standard is in fact what I’m arguing for. In fact I criticize him here for using “contemporary normative standards,” then further down I argue for doing exactly that!

                Sorry, Mike. I guess I didn’t have my ideas clear enough in my head when I responded to you.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                Not a problem, James.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to E.C. Gach says:

              Perhaps if the greed principle which underlies American capitalism could be replaced with a more heroic and selfless one, hypothetical inhabitants of thought experiments wouldn’t constantly be threatening to quit there job if there bottom line wasn’t satisfied.

              Brilliant.Report

              • Too late: Modernity has replaced the American ethos with radical individualism. You’re back to trying to get man to live and work and give for the collective rather than himself and his family.

                Been there done that. You’re not talking about inventing new principles, you’re talking about inventing a New Man.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Even Superman put Lois above the average bystander.

                Acting as if we must choose between radical individualism and some sort of communitarian slavery is a joke.

                Maybe spend less time in nowhereland and more time seeking to charitably understand the goings on around you Tom.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                Actually, in the first movie, Superman put Miss Tessmacher’s mom above Lois.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

                I tend not to base my understanding of Superman on Hollywood realization of him, but to each his/her own.Report

              • I understand fine, Mr. Gach. Too well. You’re re-inventing the same wheel that has fallen off too many times to count. Charitably speaking.

                Radical individualism is already here; the choice has already been made, since forced communitarianism has failed and must fail because it’s contrary to human nature.

                The way you speak of power and wealth reminds me of that Marx fellow, and I don’t mean that pejoratively, as in Stalinism. You do not speak of liberty in any meaningful way although I imagine you’re a bedroom-and-bong libertarian, but that’s not at issue here.

                So either you need to convert America to your vocabulary, or remain in the abstract ghetto and graveyard of such reinventions of the human condition.

                Which I’m in favor of. Where it threatens to intrude on reality—seldom—I shall note it.

                Been reading Brother Rothbard. I’m not totally onboard, but when he’s right he’s right.

                http://mises.org/rothbard/mes/chap18a.aspReport

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Which you seem to want to attribute as “forced communitarianism” thrives all over America and most Western liberal democracies today, I’m kind of confused.

                Surely by your standard, denying children the right to vote or leave these communities is on par with the worst authoritarian brutality one could have imagined under self-titled “communist” despots of the past.

                Perhaps if you didn’t conflate a democratic institution’s authority to regulate and tax with Stalin or Mao I’d understand what era of anit-communist propaganda you were still operating in.Report

              • It’s not thriving, Mr. Gach—it’s unsustainable.

                The “entitlement”/rights-talk mentality has robbed the poor of a necessary ethos: accountability, responsibility. Gratitude to their fellow citizens for their charity. This is the grand lacuna in the moralizing of coerced communitarianism. Those who give have only duties; those who receive have only rights.

                Yes, I do not shy away from “pity-charity” as a concept or term. That’s what it is and the moralizing language of proponents of the welfare state quite proves the inescapability of that fact. To oppose the “entitlement” argument is to hate the poor, to be greedy. The tactic is quite transparent.

                I did take pains to separate your argument from Stalinism, but it seems you prefer to play victim with it. But at the center of your argument is a reductio of the human equation to victims and victimizers, then to power, naked and unashamed. And you will wield it for the good of all.

                I understand you just fine, Mr. Gach, as well as your unlimited agenda for “the relief of man’s estate.” At best, you are a child of the Enlightenment, charitably, or a thoroughly modern Man.

                It has been said, “The fundamental modern project” is “man’s conquest of nature for the sake of the relief of man’s estate.” As you posit here, that includes the conquest of human nature as well. Not only do we need a brave new world, we need to create a brave new man to live in it.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to tom van dyke says:

                @Tom,

                Forgive me if I’m not as able as you to know the hearts, minds, and ethos of most poor people.

                As for the rest of what you’re going on about, you’ve got me on this one. Count me ignorant as charged.

                You attribute to me things I did not say nor propose, nor I don’t even think, unconciously imply.

                The poor have no duties, only rights? Surely they have duties as well.

                You call it the entitlement argument. You’ll first have to defend that claim, or else you’re welcome to go on lecturing to a wall. The very thing in question is whether someone can be entitled to something a priori. Simply because I don’t think “ownership” exists a priori, doesn’t mean I think entitlement does.

                I don’t!

                And for the same reason. If a poverty reduction program does not work, then scrap it. But if it’s “working” is what we discuss, then I will have won a big enough concession by the very acceptance of fighting poverty and doing so with the public coffers a legitimate possibility.

                And what’s all this nonsense about “I” (me) wielding some hidden power all by my lonesome. Have you not read anything of what I’ve said about democratic institutions? If you know of a better system of socio-political relations than some form of liberal democracy than by all means share it (perhaps the wealth relations of free market capitalism?). But to accuse me of some naive, destructive idealism to be implemented with my magic wand is again to assume the worst and most tired interpretations of my arguments as possible.

                Finally, if you could do me the favor of pointing out (my mind is tired and my eyes weary), where I stated, “As you posit here, that includes the conquest of human nature as well.” I will be in your debt.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Tom, you said that poor people have been robbed of expressing

                Gratitude to their fellow citizens for their charity.

                Doesn’t this bring us back full circle to luck and deserts? Surely you can’t condemn someone who’s luck and circumstances of birth deprived them opportunities to make a dignified living, can you? To expect them express gratitude for ‘charity’ seems like a further insult to them, and incoherent as well: not only are you lucky to have been able to accumulate relative wealth which you share, but you expect to be thanked for sharing the fruits of that luck on those born in less favorable circumstances thru no fault of their own.

                Isn’t this sentiment a perpetuation of the inherent problem? Or am I not understanding you here?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Surely they have duties as well.

                Could you enumerate a handful? Three.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to tom van dyke says:

                I’ll preface J with noting that any “duties” I talk about or seem to others to be talking about shouldn’t be taken as proposed legal decrees.

                At this point I’m simply suggest a moral framework that inform our discussion and thinking about public policy.

                But duties might include picking up some trash when you see it and there’s a trash can relatively nearby. Spending a certain amount of time raising, inspiring, loving their children. Polluting less. Donating a little. Volunteering every once in a while in some civic, public, or creative capacity. Being somewhat informed should they decide to become political active.

                How do you feel about those?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Culture? Is that a fair term for it?

                I’d ask whether the policies you endorse result in improvement of the culture.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to tom van dyke says:

                @J,

                Just so I’m speaking to your point, with “I’d ask whether the policies you endorse result in improvement of the culture.”

                What policies are you referring to?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to tom van dyke says:

                I don’t know what your policies are. I’d wager a guess or four based on the stuff you seem to want…

                But I was asking *YOU* the question about the policies you endorse. I don’t need to know what they are to take your answer to the question at face value.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to tom van dyke says:

                @J, I just wasn’t sure, since I’m not actually advocating policies, and this blog post isn’t about them, so much as the way we conceive of luck/desert, and the consequences these conceptions have the legitimacy of public appropriation and expenditure.

                If you’re itching for something though, I’ll go with building roads. Fixing roads and employing some currently unemployed people to do so, with funds arrived at through taxes (assuming these taxes do not drive all the creative, inventive, charismatic “job creators” to defect from the U.S.).Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to tom van dyke says:

                I thought that discussing desert as if it were a problem to be solved (as many of the comments to this post do, and the post it was responding to did) pretty much demands some sort of discussion of policy to address and allieviate (if not rectify) the problem.

                I mean, we all know that people, if left to their own devices, won’t fix the problem (if there is a problem), right?Report

              • The proper response to charity for the ordered soul is gratitude. Instead, by initiating a rights/entitlement regime, we have a resentment of there not being more, and there will always be a resentment that there isn’t more.

                I remember my mother saying we were poor but happy, and that it would be treated as a ridiculous notion these days.

                Further, the rights/entitlement regime doesn’t foster a judicious use of the charity; no accountability or responsibility. When someone gives you a gift, although it’s certainly yours to do with what you will, don’t you feel a responsibility to take good care of it? The ordered soul does.

                But your paycheck—that which you’re entitled to: you worked for it, it’s your “desert”—you feel, hey, it’s mine and I’ll waste it on lobster or new shoes or a stupid movie if I want to.

                Absolutely we’ve perverted the true essence and order of things with the rights/entitlement mentality.

                Now certainly there are still ordered souls among the poor, who take what they need and make themselves unpoor if and when they are able. This is not the issue here.

                Compounding the disorder is the meme—and it is a mere meme—that the deck is stacked and that sincere effort goes unrewarded. Sometimes it does go relatively unrewarded but what is certain is that sloth is never rewarded, except by politics and those who exploit them.

                The concept of rights and duties applies to all, but our modern politics is bifurcating them. The poor have duties too, and it’s harmful to the human spirit—and to the polity itself—to convince them that as “victims,” they have only rights. If there is no dignity in receiving charity—and we’re told there isn’t, hence we try to abolish the very concept—there is dignity in work.

                And pls don’t box me in to an unconcern for the unable and the genuine victims in life’s lottery. I’m speaking here of the entitlement mentality being sold in the name of human dignity. Perhaps it’s being sold with sincerity, but it harms, it does not help.Report

              • Avatar Joseph in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Tom: “But at the center of your argument is a reductio of the human equation to victims and victimizers, then to power, naked and unashamed.”

                That’s not so much an accurate summation of his argument, but if it were, he would be right to do so, and would in no way imply any sort of Marxist or Stalinist nonsense – it’s simply the way societies work. All human relations are about power. That’s what’s hidden behind this discussion, because wealth is only a proxy for power anyway. Even at the basest level, if you cannot adequately feed yourself it’s because you lack the power to do so.

                Therefore any discussion of the morality of wealth distribution is really a discussion of the legitimacy of certain kinds of power, and these debates over redistribution are really debates over whether institutional powers can really be trusted to police each other on behalf of the relatively powerless.

                This is all fairly empirical, and in no way related to where I or anyone else would come down on these questions, much less towards an assumption on my part that I ought to have the power to decided who else does.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco in reply to tom van dyke says:

                All human relations are about power.

                Put that bong down.Report

              • Avatar Joseph in reply to tom van dyke says:

                I assure you, sir, that I am entirely sober-minded – as demonstrated by the fact that I am not posting a Kanye West music video parody featuring My Little Pony characters. No sir.Report

              • Joseph, I’ll cop to being a tad unfair to Mr. Gach, but not egregiously so. His response about “the duties of the poor,” the recipients of their fellow citizens’ charity, are, um…lame?

                But duties might include picking up some trash when you see it and there’s a trash can relatively nearby. Spending a certain amount of time raising, inspiring, loving their children. Polluting less. Donating a little. Volunteering every once in a while in some civic, public, or creative capacity. Being somewhat informed should they decide to become political active.

                Not quite the working toward becoming unpoor thing that would truly be holding up half of the bargain, but I wonder if even those minimal asks would not be met with criticism, since receiving the charity of one’s fellow citizens is now asserted as a “right.”

                As for your easy acceptance of splitting the world into victims and their victimizers, that’s quite Marxist, Joseph. Materialism, power, class war. It’s all there. I did explicitly exclude the Stalin part so as to make it as nonpejorative as possible. Honest Marxists just cop to it.

                Until you speak meaningfully of liberty—aside from the inverted language of “freedom from want”—this is the same ol’ social theorizing—using politics and force to correct history’s and nature’s inequalities—which in the end will still require the barrel of a gun.

                We all can’t be indolent Kennedys. I don’t worry about them. Mazel tov. As for Marx, if you’re a Rawlsian instead

                http://www.ghandchi.com/RawlsMarx.htm

                or whatever, at some point I still think you’re going to need the guns.Report

              • Perhaps if the greed principle which underlies American capitalism could be replaced with a more heroic and selfless one,

                Speculating about what humans would do if they weren’t human doesn’t really get us very far.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to James Hanley says:

                Neither do your enlightenment era notions of “human nature.”

                It became a whole lot more complicated than the amorphous “self-interest” a long time ago.Report

              • Enlightenment? Moi? I’m a Thomist. 😉Report

              • “Neither do your enlightenment era notions of “human nature.”

                What could possibly be more enlightenment era than the concept of tabula rasa?Report

              • Avatar Joseph in reply to James Hanley says:

                That nature is not fixed does not mean that it is blank; rather it is dependent on context, i.e. the complex interplay of biology and culture and the various ways we have devised to measure and manipulate both.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                James, maybe you’re right, but I certainly don’t think so. I think that most people want to be fairly compensated for work they enjoy and derive satisfaction from. People who are motivated exclusively by money, and not the process by which they earn it, are on the fringes of society. And they’re behavior often lands them in unflattering behavioral categories.Report

              • Avatar NoPublic in reply to Stillwater says:

                People who are motivated exclusively by money, and not the process by which they earn it, are on the fringes of society.

                In the sense that the plutocrats of the modern age are a “fringe” I’d agree with that. Unfortunately it has zero value when we’re discussing what the remaining 99 and many 9’s percent of the world is going to do with the scraps.Report

              • Stillwater, People who are motivated exclusively by money, and not the process by which they earn it

                Fallacy of the excluded middle. It’s not either/or. I’m motivated by my job itself, teaching young people to blindly think just like me (just kidding), but I couldn’t be persuaded to do it without enough compensation to keep me solidly middle class. You’re not considering opportunity costs–there could be something else I would enjoy doing that I would shift to if the financial rewards of my current job dropped.

                So when it’s not either or but both, then loss or diminishment of either factor can cause people to opt out.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach says:

              If only we could replace it with an attitude that said “if you need something, you can have it… if you have extra to share, you will share it”.

              Imagine the works we could create!Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jaybird says:

                if you have extra to share, you will share it”.

                And when you’ve shared it all, we’ll give you a nice funeral, just like Boxer.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to James Hanley says:

                Haha, yes, all those poor success stories of modern global hyper-capitalism are over worked horses being taken advantage of by the enviously needy masses.

                And naturally, if we’re not there already, considering free market capitalism as a means to an end rather than a maxim itself would lead there soon enough.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                What is the end you’re going for, E.C.?

                What are the worst problems you want the bottom quintile of your society to have to deal with?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Put out the fire!
                What do we replace it with!Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                One of the wacky side effects of medical care improving so much in the last 100 years is that problems from waaaay back when have been replaced with other problems.

                This is not the fault of medical science.

                I suggest that if we resolve the worst problems of the bottom quintile, the bottom quintile will not, magically, become superawesome and without problems… instead, like with medical care, we will merely have new and different (and, hopefully, better) problems.

                Thus is the nature of this vale of tears.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

                The problem is in your phrasing J.

                Instead of being concerned with some minimum standard, we should be concerned with raising the average standard.

                Ensuring that the baseline is such and such is a sure means for people like James to come along and say, well, they’ve already got all they need, so the rest of us will hang on to what we have and consider it a day.

                If at some future time humanity has learned to harness energy in such a way as to allow us to convert matter for pennies on the dollar (an anachronistic reference by that point I know), I should hope that that becomes the new baseline.

                Without much evidence to humanity’s limited imagination, and much more to the contrary, I’m of the mind that such a baseline would change with the times as higher capacities for human well being are imagined and conceived.

                But please, I await your most cynical jab and most pessimistic counter hypothetical.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                That was a little joke, btw. Probably in poor taste.

                What you say may be right. But changing the ethos that just deserts accrue to an individual simply by default, even though social and institutional structures as well as lick are the primary or even exclusive components of that success, might go some way towards creating more sustainable structures for everyone.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Not ‘lick’ (except in some cases) but ‘luck’.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                So your argument is that our responsibilities to the poor is constantly evolving and our responsibilities in 1780 are not our responsibilities in 1880 which would not be our responsibilities in 1980 and those are not our responsibilities in 2011 and our responsibilities in 2080 will be completely new and different (if not unrecognizable to us today)?

                It seems to me that, if that were the case, that our best efforts would be spent in development of the things that don’t yet exist but will be ubiquitous (we hope) in 2080.

                We need to be developing, say, Nuclear Energy for the sake of the poor. We need to be developing, say, gene therapies. We need to be developing, say, artificial spider silk. Language translators. Weather control. Frictionless surfaces. Holodecks.

                It is our responsibility to create new things that the bottom quintile ought to see as entitlements… and then to make these new things ubiquitous.

                Some questions, then:

                Do the policies you espouse make it easier to be an inventor?

                Do the policies you espouse make it easier to mass produce things?

                Or did I misread you?Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

                @Stillwater, that is, as James mentioned and Jason implied, an empirical question we can search the answer to, and one I would be happy to assent to (and kind of already do).

                The important part for me though would be your reasoning right there moves away from an arbitrary first principle to a consequential/utilitarian/empirically justified policy.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

                @Jaybird

                Not with the aim of making them entitlements of those at the bottom, but with the aim of making them reasonably obtainable by the average inhabitant of this community.

                Clearly, this whole thing is very Rawlsian, and my point isn’t to superficially plaster over the lowest/poorest demographic, but to wonder why are aim shouldn’t be to make the best of what we can at any place in time offer, and make it reasonably obtainable by whatever newborn played the preceding cosmic lottery.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                but to wonder why are aim shouldn’t be to make the best of what we can at any place in time offer, and make it reasonably obtainable by whatever newborn played the preceding cosmic lottery.

                Is this goal attainable?

                Heck, maybe I should ask: is this measurable?Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

                Obtainable doesn’t matter.

                The north star is unobtainable but still makes for a damn fine guide.

                As for measurability. You don’t think wealth and access can be measured?

                I haven’t researched them thoroughly myself, but I always assumed that’s what things like prosperity indexes were doing. I’d take an imperfect and incomplete thermometer over relegating myself to the cold anytime.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Obtainable doesn’t matter.

                It’s a goal held by some.

                I’m wondering why your system is better than theirs. I mean, if they close with “and the best part is that this is obtainable!”, I can see how that would make people smile and nod from all over.

                As opposed to a policy that will cost m/b/trillions that has a salesman who points out that “obtainable doesn’t matter”.

                You don’t think wealth and access can be measured?

                When attempts are made, it certainly riles up a bunch of folks. There was this Heritage study a while back, you see…

                I haven’t researched them thoroughly myself, but I always assumed that’s what things like prosperity indexes were doing. I’d take an imperfect and incomplete thermometer over relegating myself to the cold anytime.

                I’m 100% behind any policy that you choose for yourself that does not touch the tip of my nose.

                It’s the policies that make me wonder if I am to be relegated to the cold that make me start asking questions.Report

              • E.C.,

                Sometimes a joke is just a joke.Report

              • E.C., Instead of being concerned with some minimum standard, we should be concerned with raising the average standard.

                OK, so let’s make 10 more people mega billionaires. We’ve raised the average and done nothing for the poor. I don’t think that really accomplishes what you’ve been asking for.

                Ensuring that the baseline is such and such is a sure means for people like James to come along and say, well, they’ve already got all they need, so the rest of us will hang on to what we have and consider it a day.

                So, E.C., instead of taking my argument seriously (see, e.g., Murali’s response), you go for the cheap and easy strawman, and setting up for the ad hominem of “James is an evil monster who doesn’t care about the poor so we can discount anything he says.” My first instinct was to tell you to go to hell, but on reflection I’m just disappointed because I had thought you had more integrity than that.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to James Hanley says:

                OK, so let’s make 10 more people mega billionaires. We’ve raised the average and done nothing for the poor. I don’t think that really accomplishes what you’ve been asking for.

                That’s why I noted it was about raising the obtainability for you average cosmic lottery contestant. It’s not about a quota, i.e. 10 more billionaires.

                As far as attacking you or stuffing straw men, did I say you don’t like poor people? Did I urge people to discount what you say? In fact I’m pretty sure down the thread I noted that I agree with your empirical approach and think that’s the right way to judge these things.

                As to what I mean by “enough,” I can only sigh and point out that it’s a moving target, and that what is now defined as the poverty level was once upon a time considered middle class. That’s another part of the reason I worry about envy–to many advocates of redistribution, “enough” is based on a relative, comparative, standard, rather than an absolute standard. That comparative standard–how does it stack up against what others have–is inherently envy-based.

                I wrongly (I apologize) took the above to mean that you felt poverty shouldn’t be a moving goal post and that relative inequality doesn’t matter, only absolute poverty.Report

              • That’s why I noted it was about raising the obtainability for you average cosmic lottery contestant. It’s not about a quota, i.e. 10 more billionaires.

                I honestly don’t understand that first sentence. But I know that you clearly weren’t talking about a quota. I critiqued your use of the word “average” because it’s the wrong word–my example of “to more mega billionaires” was just meant to demonstrate that the use of “average” doesn’t take your argument where you want to go because of the mathematical nature of the concept of an average.

                As to the other issue, I accept your apology, but, look, I explicitly wrote,

                “Please don’t take that as an argument for complacency. I’m making an analytical argument, not a policy one.”

                And despite that you took it as an argument for complacency.

                My point was simply that using relative standards for defining poverty are problematic. First, relative to what? To the people of yesteryear? Apparently not, but why not? Shouldn’t we take real satisfaction in knowing that even if poor people today aren’t as well off as we would like (whatever our standard for that is), that at least they are much better off than poor people in the past?

                Relative to people today? OK, but to which people today? If tomorrow we increased by a factor of 100 the standard of living of every single person, the gap between the richest and poorest would increase, and relatively the poor would be worse off, but in absolute terms they would be 100 times as well off as they were yesterday (a person making 10,000 a year would be a millionaire tomorrow, and for our hypothetical, it’s not Zimbabwean hyperinflation, but a real wealth increase). Would you still stick to the relative standard and be outraged that the the bottom level of society are poor? Because if not, then you would be accepting an absolute standard. But where do we draw the line on that absolute standard?

                And is it not true that a relative standard, based on comparing what person 0r group X has to what person or group Y has does not open the door to an envy-based standard? If we made everyone 100 times richer tomorrow and still used a relative standard, could it truly be a matter of anything but envy of those who had still more?

                To point all that out–even pointing out that the poor are better off than the poor (or even the rich) is not to say “the poor have enough right now, no more is needed.” That doesn’t logically follow.

                My not-too-well-thought-out alternative is an objective standard where we figure out what people need to have a decent life. That requires defining decent, of course, which I can’t do at the moment. And it takes into account that prices change, and so we can’t phrase it so much in terms of a specific income, but in terms of real wealth–the ability to command that minimum set of goods and services that constitute that basic decent life. Do I think everyone has that basic decent life, so that we should just tell them to shut up, they ain’t getting no more? No, that doesn’t logically follow from this argument, either.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to James Hanley says:

                @ James, so you are for a baseline?Report

              • E.C., I think a baseline based on what we think people need for a decent/good/comfortable life is the best approach.

                That still leaves plenty of room to argue about what that baseline is (first we have to settle on which of those words I used is the appropriate standard, and then define what actually achieves that standard). And it’s not fixed over time because over time our conception of what is necessary for a good/decent/comfortable life changes–obviously no one would have said an insulated house two centuries ago, but now we surely would.

                And I think quite clearly that to argue for an objective rather than relative standard does not in any logical sense lead directly to a claim that the objective standard is currently satisfied. If I think the standard is everyone should have a house with insulation, heating and cooling, functioning indoor plumbing, an education that gives everyone who can benefit from it a true opportunity for success, childhood nutrition satisfactory to allow them to reach adulthood in good health, and childhood medical care sufficient for the same, then clearly I don’t think the poor currently have enough.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                Sorry if I misunderstood, but that’s a common enthymeme in our political discourse.Report

              • E.C., I don’t object to you missing the joke–I’ve never been known for having a good online delivery. I am truly offended by the strawman, though.Report

  4. The Law of Finite Luck: Anyone else’s luck comes out of my share, or somebody else’s.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to tom van dyke says:

      Imagine luck-of-birth as the roll of a seven-billion-sided die. You roll it, then get put in your place on a schedule of holdings potentials.

      We can’t change luck of birth very much (and there are some ways in which we probably shouldn’t). But we can change the contents of the schedule.

      [Um… couple of edits there…]Report

      • Holdings potentials. But the only way to give that kid in Somalia better potentials is to invade the damn place. Which we tried, semi-heartedly, in 1993. Black Hawk Down.

        But the regnant theme from your interlocutors isn’t about potential, It’s about who has what here and now and how to “rectify” that. Since I don’t describe to the Law of Finite Luck—Donald trump doesn’t make me poorer [although perhaps currency speculator George Soros made people poorer]—I see the Law as mere class envy if not warfare.

        Fairness is not synonymous with justice in this scheme, as it’s outcome, not process-based. But you already know that.

        😉Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to tom van dyke says:

          Just because Donald Trump getting wealthy doesn’t make someone else poorer, doesn’t mean that him getting wealthy makes them wealthier as well.

          A tide necessarily equals out everywhere, GDP does not. So rising tides means nothing really, because the analogy is false.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to E.C. Gach says:

            Bill Gates getting richer means more people attaching to the internet with an operating system not designed even to protect you from other users on the same machine, must less predators around the world. Given the expense of cleaning up after viruses, the net is that everyone else is poorer.Report

          • Just because Donald Trump getting wealthy doesn’t make someone else poorer, doesn’t mean that him getting wealthy makes them wealthier as well.

            Actually, standard economic thought would dispute that. If Donald Trump gets wealthy without making someone else poorer–i.e., without robbing anyone else–he could only have done so by providing value to someone else, thus their wealth increased as well.

            It’s like if I buy a used car from you–you want my money more than you want the car, I want your car more than I want the money, so the exchange is a positive-sum game; we’re both better off afterwards. That doesn’t mean everyone outside our transaction wins, too, but market transactions are normally positive sum, whereas government transactions normally are mere shifting of wealth.Report

          • Avatar MFarmer in reply to E.C. Gach says:

            Well, of course Donald Trump’s success does not equal making a poor person wealthier, but a country in which there’s an economic system amenable to wealth creation is a country which experiences more widespread prosperity and more assistance for those who can’t help themselves. If there’s greater opportunity and more wealth creation in a given country, then practically everyone rises with the tide if they take advantage of the opportunity.Report

            • Avatar Joseph in reply to MFarmer says:

              Connecting “greater opportunity” to greater overall wealth creation begs the question, though. I see us heading on a trajectory to a society where greater and greater wealth is produced by and for the benefit of fewer and fewer people, because wealth is used a proxy for coercive power.

              A society where power is concentrated does in fact make people poorer in the sense that power is inherently relative, at least in a system where the measurement of wealth (which is to say, money) is itself a power controlled tightly and narrowly – thus restricting opportunity.

              So while it may in fact be the case that “if there’s greater opportunity and more wealth creation in a given country, then practically everyone rises with the tide if they take advantage of the opportunity,” this statement says nothing about the actual distribution of opportunity, nor about its correlation with the individual wealth of the powerful.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Joseph says:

                A society where power is concentrated does in fact make people poorer in the sense that power is inherently relative, at least in a system where the measurement of wealth (which is to say, money) is itself a power controlled tightly and narrowly – thus restricting opportunity.

                This needs to be parsed a bit more carefully because I think you might have something questionable going on there.

                Wealth is power in only a very narrow sense. Unless the rich are able to purchace thugs to intimidate people, ability for money to purchace coercive power is fairly limited, with one possible exception: the influence of money in politics.

                The latter is worrying in 1 major way. The ability of corporations to get corporate welfare from the government is worrying.

                But the problem then, does not lie with inequality per se, but with the political system itself. i.e. you should shift to another political structure if the current structure produces outsized costs merely from the effect of vast inequalities. i.e. your political structure produces a number of negative externalities which we would want to get rid of if we cared about the worst off.

                That is a superior solution that to trading off the effect of the externality against the other welfare measures of the worst off.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to tom van dyke says:

          the other way is to liberalise immigration and guest worker policies, increase infrastuctural development in africa

          http://www.freetheworld.com/2008/EFW2008Ch2.pdfReport

  5. Avatar Pinky says:

    Look, it depends why you’re asking the question of luck versus desert. Are we fortunate to be where we are? Yup. Are there things that other people or societies can do to better equip themselves? Also, Yup. Neither point is invalid.Report

  6. Avatar wardsmith says:

    Is it just me, or is a lot of this discussion just “white man’s (guilt) burden” repackaged?

    Take up the White Man’s burden–
    Have done with childish days–
    The lightly proferred laurel (cloak),
    The easy, ungrudged praise.
    Comes now, to search your manhood
    Through all the thankless years
    Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
    The judgment of your peers!Report

    • Avatar RTod in reply to wardsmith says:

      No. I think this is a reply to the notion that wealth and good things are awarded only to the pure of work ethic, and that poverty is the mark of sloth and immorality.

      Which, to a certain type of person, is the inevitable and logical lesson of the American Dream, which this type of person tends to expand globally.Report

      • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to RTod says:

        But that’s basically true. The correlation between work and wealth and sloth and poverty should not be controversial.

        The Kipling poem isn’t about that so much, though. It’s about how the everyday overseas Englishman kept the empire running for the benefit of not only Her Majesty but the people in the various colonies as well.Report

        • Avatar RTod in reply to tom van dyke says:

          TVD: “The correlation between work and wealth and sloth and poverty should not be controversial.”

          Agreed, assuming you mean that it should be uncontravertial because it is obviously untrue.Report

          • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to RTod says:

            Except for the Lucky Sperm Club, whose wealth I don’t envy, mazel tov, nobody accumulates wealth via sloth.Report

            • nobody accumulates wealth via sloth.

              Generally that’s true, but it doesn’t hold absolutely. If I am “lucky” enough to start with great wealth, I can continue to gain in wealth without ever lifting a finger. My only contribution in that case is my self-restraint regarding spending, but that’s not the same thing as lack-of-sloth. And a person who begins with a much lower endowment could be just as self-restrained and if their money is put in precisely the same investments they will make less wealth than I.

              To broaden that analysis, if I begin with far more than you, but I work not at all while you work very very hard, I could still accumulate far more wealth than you.

              That’s an important liberal concern, I believe, and while I think it’s overstated (both in its frequency and in its moral significance), it does mean your neat little epigram isn’t a satisfactory rebuttal to the liberal argument.Report

              • I made an explicit exception for the Lucky Sperm Club, James, which anticipated your objection. As if you or I ever be as wealthy as some lazy Kennedy.

                And you were doing so well with honest and incisive argument since your return. I was about to embarrass you with praise again.

                😉Report

            • > nobody accumulates wealth via sloth.

              That’s true enough. This isn’t an “if and only if”, though.

              Work hard -> maybe accumulate wealth
              Don’t work hard -> most likely won’t ever accumulate wealth

              Working hard is a necessary but not sufficient condition to bringing in the cheddar.Report

              • Avatar Boegiboe in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                The likelihood and extent to which this is true for any given person is precisely what constitutes class privilege in this country. There’s a racial element as well:

                A newly-released analysis by the Pew Research Center found that the median wealth of white households is 20 times that of Blacks, and 18 times that of Latinos – a gap that nearly doubled in size for these same three racial groups more than 20 years ago.

                (link)

                This may be a statistic many here have seen before, but it speaks directly to what Tom still thinks is uncontroversial–even after all this discussion–that wealth comes from work and poverty comes from sloth. The truly uncontroversial fact should be that, while Pat Cahalan’s conditionals seem right to middle-class folks, our system produces an underclass unfairly deprived of the ability to accumulate wealth from their work and an upper class who may or may not choose to work at any given time, and yet still lives comfortably on the wealth of their family.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Boegiboe says:

                Mr. Boegiboe, first, we have all sorts of mechanisms to “level the playing field” already in place. One would think your only solution could be to double down.

                Second, since you’re going to “disparate impact” and race, one must dig a little deeper, such as 2-parent families, finishing high school, etc.

                I’m not sure you’ve stated my argument fairly: sloth does not generate wealth. That much should be uncontroversial.

                Are you saying, then, that hard work and keeping one’s lifestyle on the up-and-up are unrewarded? I think if we sort out the stats instead of throw gross generalizations against the wall, it’s not quite the message of “why bother anyway” that many of the underclass have been sold, and I must say, by persons with a worldview and politics such as yourself.Report

              • Avatar Joseph in reply to tom van dyke says:

                I think he’s saying that for many people they are indeed unrewarded relative to the effort involved- whether by chance or, more often, because there historically been and continues to be externally, coercively imposed limits to people’s opportunity to benefit from their labor.Report

  7. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    It’s easy to understand why some people believe that success and fortune are just a matter of lucky chance. If success is the result of personal effort, and you aren’t successful, well, what does that say about you?

    Of course, most of the modern American workforce is not rewarded for trying harder or working better. If your job is to sit around and reboot the servers, then it doesn’t matter whether you take the standard-procedure ten minutes to reboot the server, or you develop some way to do it in thirty seconds; you’re still sitting in that room for eight hours. And you get paid the same whether you reboot 5,000 servers or none at all.

    And it’s certainly true that luck is a factor in success. What if the Mother’s Club at Lakeside School had spent their money on Tupperware instead of an ASR-33? But to suggest that everything Bill Gates did for the next forty years was “just because he got lucky that one time” is absurd. Many students had computers, and few of them go on to write sorting algorithms and operating systems.Report

    • Avatar James Cameron in reply to DensityDuck says:

      No one is suggesting that everything related to success is a matter of pure chance, no matter how many times you try to characterize it that way or how many servers we collectively reboot.Report

      • Right. Success can come at the end of a lot of hard work. But even if you do work hard, just being born in America, or to the middle class, or whatever gives you a lot of opportunity that someone born to famine-wracked East Africa would never have.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to James Cameron says:

        “Nearly everything we’ve achieved, every brilliant thought, every dollar we’ve earned has been the result of the serendipitous occasion of our birth. The world is a craps table.” — E.D. Kain, July 28 2011

        And yes, I know he’s trying to walk it back now.Report

        • Avatar James Cameron in reply to DensityDuck says:

          The word “nearly” does not mean “entirely”. The position Mr. Kain is taking may appear to have moved only to those who blindly forged ahead on the same path.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to DensityDuck says:

          It’s true though. Down to each person’s DNA. You don’t choose your DNA or the environment you’re born into.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to E.C. Gach says:

            aaaaand there’s another one. James, you reading this?Report

            • Avatar James Cameron in reply to DensityDuck says:

              His statement is accurate (in that we do not choose our DNA nor our initial environment, and environmental choices may also be further constrained depending on the initial environment and DNA), but I do believe he is not E.D.Kain nor myself. Saying that everything is entirely chance is just as wrong as saying everything is a matter of hard work. Can we at least agree on that, and then argue on matters of degree? Or are you arguing that everything is a matter of hard work?Report

            • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to DensityDuck says:

              Everything is not a matter of chance, but all of it is morally praise-less.

              That is, an event being the result of someone who is not themselves fully the author of their actions, means that they have not transcendent claim to it.

              Jason hinted at this when justifying certain systems of ownership and “desert” with regard to what “works,” i.e. what yields some approximately optimal wealth creation (balancing maximal wealth creation with equitable distribution).Report

              • E.C.,

                Is it not partially praiseworthy? Do we really need to draw a sharp line between (completely) praiseworthy and “praiseless”?

                To use my basketball analogy, if I score off your pass, I do not deserve all praise alone, but does that mean my scoring is praiseless? Or if you’re (as all good people are) a soccer fan, don’t Megan Rapinoe and Abby Wambach deserve praise for the brilliant goal against Brazil (and doesn’t their coach, and all their former coaches, and U.S. Soccer, and who knows who else, deserve varying amounts of praise as well)?Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to James Hanley says:

                Does a bird deserve praise for flying?

                It seems a tough business at the end of the day to try and demonstrate what part of Wambach deserves the praise…her genetic athleticism? The parents that instilled her with a certain work ethic and commitment to the goals she pursues? The circumstances that make another play play imperfect defense?

                Professional sports are actually a good example. On the one hand there are so many both extremely talented (innate “gift”) and extremely hardworking, that one tends to wonder if it was something morally praiseworthy in the other team that led them to victory while their not to different opponents were defeated. If both teams try their darn hardest but one still wins, or one team doesn’t try as hard and so the other must necessarily win, what is it about the qualities or actions of either the team as a whole or its individual players that is morally deserved of the praise?

                Now if we’re talking about praise in the more sociological context, surely we praise those who exhibit the qualities we deem positive or important. But then it seems we’re praising the actions and not really the actual individual, who’s authorship and causal relation to these actions is at best unclear.Report

              • E.C., It sounds like you’re arguing that from a functional perspective there is no self and no self-determination. Everything “I” am is the deterministic outcome of the universe and “I” could be no different than I am and do no different than I do.

                Philosophically I’m very sympathetic to that argument. I’m personally very dubious that “free will” and “choice” is anything more than a psychological experience–we “feel” as if we made a choice, but in fact given our genetic history and the confluence of events throughout our lives, that apparent choice was in fact a non-probabilistic outcome–I could not in fact have acted any other way.

                But what if we really are such pure automatons?

                Did Abby Wambach not choose to work hard in practice, to maximize her “luck-given” talents? Did she not choose to maximize her luck-given cognitive abilities to become a master student of the game? Was that all just the necessary, inevitable, outcome of a luck-given mentality, so that she could have done no other such thing? Did she not choose to find the perfect position in the field to be free from a defender yet in a goal-scoring position? Could Abby Wambach, if we could re-play her career a thousand times with exactly the same starting conditions, have ever played that moment differently?

                If the answer to all the above is “no,” then I agree that Abby Wambach cannot be said to have “earned” anything, but then I must also say that cannot “choose” to take advantage of any value we direct to her. She either will or will not, but not from free will because there is none. So if she does, she will not deserve praise for that, either.

                Nor will we deserve praise for giving it to her because we have not done other than the inevitable. Nor does anyone deserve condemnation for wanting to keep all their earnings for themselves because they could not do otherwise–they are neither more nor less admirable.

                Is any kind of normative argument relevant to such beings, other than sympathy for those who suffer because it is a consequence of the universe that they will inevitably suffer? Is there really anything gained at that point by adding that “Jame doesn’t own” what he’s received because he didn’t “earn” it?Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to James Hanley says:

                Yes. These things become something to debate in a forum (live or virtual), rather than ordained a priori by some immutable moral or metaphysical truth.

                Tax raises wouldn’t be viewed as a necessary evil automatically, but would be judged based on what they accomplish and at what cost.

                The difference is a first principle approach to public policy, rather than a more flexible discussion of what we want and how we get it.

                That’s why I’m sympathetic (read: open to) the argument that X tax regime will be bad because it will lead to y and z. What I won’t entertain is the argument that X tax regime is bad because so and so “earned” it and taxing them would be stealing and a trespass against their human dignity and inalienable rights.Report

              • Avatar Walpen in reply to James Hanley says:

                Actually, a completely determined action could be praiseworthy (if by praiseworthy we mean good) even in an entirely deterministic universe. If there is some quality “good” that is objective it does not matter whether actors choose or are determined to go to that good. From a platonic standpoint, one could participate in the form of “good” and thus be praiseworthy even if your actions are completely determined.

                You could talk about what you should do even if it was fated that you cannot do that. Deterministic ethics is depressing and fatalistic, but it is not logically incoherent. (It is also entirely useless because humans naturally just don’t think in deterministic terms, which has plagued this comment thread).Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                I’m going to go with Hanley on this one. If we discount desert on the basis that it is not possible (in the relevant sense) to choose otherwise, then we have no grounds for making other kinds of prescriptions like “you ought to redistribute x amount from the to 5% to the bottom 5%” or any preferred policy solution.

                Now, obviously, we could go compatibalist about morality. We could say that even if determinism is true, we can say that people are morally responsible as long as they did something in the absense of coercion or other desperate circumstances. We can say that people could have done otherwise in the sense that the neither of the alternaernatives in question had consequences so dire as to be the equivalent of a gun to the head etc…

                Since desert for most people, relies on the notion of moral responsibility, once we bring back a copatibalist narrative about morality and moral responsibility, we can bring about a compatibalist notion of desert.

                Now on to a more general conceptual analysis of desert. The notion of desert comes with desert makers. Someone deserves something if he/she possesses a particular quality or has done something etc. Any desert based moral theory would specify some way to connect the desert maker to what the person gets. This is analytic in that wherever we find these desert makers, consistency requires us to say that that person deserved x.

                It therefore follows that there seems to be no reason as to why it matters whether or not the desert makers themselves are deserved or not. Even if, in the larger scheme of things, it is a matter of luck whether or not someone posseses a desert maker, then it follows that that person still deserves whatever our theory says he deserves.

                Now, all this is to say is that we dont have to have had absolute causal control over ourselves in order to deserve anything. There is still a question as to how we work out what people actually deserve. Needless to say that this is no small task and that any claims made here could seem extremely contestable. Also, any specific conception of desert would need to take on board some very serious metaphysical assumptions.

                Whether or not said assumptions are justified, we wouldnt be able to take on board such assumptions if we were pursuing a free-standing theory of justice. Neither would it be appropriate to employ notions of desert in a public setting. If we are to be consistent about the use of public reason, we cannot limit it purely as a constraint against invoking our religious values. We would, to be consistent, have to eschew invoking any deep conception of the good. Notions of what people actually deserve (unless suitably and narrowly constrained in particular judicial settings) therefore are not the sort of things we can legitimately invoke if we were serious about public reason. (Why we should care about public reason is a separate issue)Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Murali says:

                Also, any specific conception of desert would need to take on board some very serious metaphysical assumptions.

                Uh-oh.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Murali says:

                Also, any specific conception of desert would need to take on board some very serious metaphysical assumptions.

                SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE!

                SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE!Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali says:

                @Jaybird

                SEPARATION of CHURCH AND STATE

                PreciselyReport

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Murali says:

                The absurdity of the modern project in a nutshell: inculcating morality while abolishing metaphysics.

                I think you’re still going to need the guns.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Murali says:

                Metaphysics hasn’t been abolished; we’ve just decided that everyone is entitled to his own.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Murali says:

                Fine, stop moralizing at me then. The moral thing to do is cheat the shit out of yr taxes and dispense charity with more intelligence, care, and moral duty than the govt can or does.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Murali says:

                Watch out that you don’t arrest development. If you do, you’re actively *HARMING* folks in the name of helping them.

                On top of that, since their development is arrested, they’ll continue to need your help. The fact that you feel like you’re doing the right thing by continuing to arrest their development means that you’re never, ever going to stop.

                Which sucks.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Murali says:

                @Tom: Metaphysics isn’t the source of morality. That’s a fallacy, which should have been clear at least since that big dustup between the Homoousians and the Homoiousians, not to mention the quarrel over filioque. You can love they neighbor as thyself without giving a shit Who proceeds from Who Else.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Murali says:

                Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Murali says:

                Yes, yes, Washington was very eloquent. But we have two plus centuries of further investigations into reason and just as much more experience. Comparing violent crime, divorce, and abortion rates between largely irreligious western Europe and the incessantly religious United States suggests that we are in no way forbidden to expect morality without religion.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Murali says:

                Man does not “naturally” love his neighbor as himself. Neither does he on the whole philosophize ala Kant and Rawls. Reason and experience forbid expecting he will.

                We’re running on the fumes of a Christian society. Perhaps we’ll find something like Habermas’ “post-secularism.” But this praise of the Western World forgets its 20th century, where murder was the rule in Europe, not the warm & fuzzy.

                I’ll stick with Washington for now, a wiser man than the moderns.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Murali says:

                And this praise of Faith forgets the 16th and 17th centuries, with their wholesale slaughter in the name of the true Church (which were various.)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Murali says:

                Was there a system that was explicitly atheist that had a foundational ethic of equality of people and did everything in its power to make all men treat each other, even strangers, like brothers?

                How did that turn out?Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Murali says:

                The question is simply the romanticizing of 20th century secular Europe; the modern Eurostate is really but 60 years old and is now facing existential questions about its premises, and at the moment owes its prosperity and very existence to the Pax Americana.

                The point of its tens of millions dead before that is not to blame it on secularism, merely to point out that as Chou En Lai apocryphally said of the French Revolution, it’s too soon to tell.

                As to the rest, Mr. Jaybird has the relevant point.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Murali says:

                How did we get from “Everyone gets to choose their own metaphysics” and “Armed Faith has blood on its hands” to “explicitly atheist”?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Murali says:

                Has there ever been an explicitly agnostic/apathist government in the last 100 years?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Murali says:

                I don’t know, and I don’t care.

                How about ours? No state religion or any threat of one, the “under God”s and “so help you God”s come from rote, not faith, and the people who insist that we are a Christian [1] country are obvious nutjobs or hypocrites.

                1. Or “Judaeo-Christian”, when they remember their manners.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Murali says:

                Good answer.

                For the record, I think a lot more countries ought to be like the USA.

                I don’t think that they should be forced to be like us, mind… but they’d be better off if they changed to be more like us (and if we changed to be more like them, we’d be worse off).Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                Does a bird deserve praise for flying?

                Are we getting all _The Bell Curve_ now?Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

                Not familiar, I only meant that we usually don’t praise someone for doing something wholly within their nature or what we expect. Praise usually seems to connote something that surpassed the individual’s nature, which seems to be contradictory.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Oh, I thought that you were making the analogy that some of us are birds… and, by implication, some of us are *NOT*.Report

  8. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    In the end though, naturally we don’t want to have to feel bad when we see pictures of starving children in other places so, yea, can’t argue against that.Report

  9. Avatar Stillwater says:

    For those interested, Thomas Nagel wrote a paper called ‘Moral Luck’ which digs pretty deeply into this topic.

    http://philosophyfaculty.ucsd.edu/faculty/rarneson/Courses/NAGELMoralLuck.pdfReport

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Stillwater says:

      Shorter Nagel: Commonsense (Kantian) notions of moral responsibility are not compatible with commonsense (non-kantian) moral theoriesReport

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali says:

        That’s not what he’s arguing in the referenced paper.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Stillwater says:

          That’s all he successfully establishes really. The rest of it is just blatant intuition mongering. Not to say that its not a decent paper. It I think seems to kind of set out a good map of where the debate lies and exactly what is at stake, but he doesnt take the Kantian theory seriously, and he takes commonsense intuitions about exactly when people are blameworthy far too seriously.Report

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