Occasional Notes: Revisionism


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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146 Responses

  1. Avatar clawback says:

    Taxation seems like a good way to do that. But the fact that it might be necessary to have a government that forces you to pay for some necessary public goods doesn’t mean it’s not “your money” you’re paying with.

    So this is what has Wilkinson so exercised? That someone might call money taxed to pay for necessary government services not “your money”? How about if we just all agree that tax money is “yours” before the government gets it. Or hell, feel free to continue calling it your money after the government spends it. Why would anyone get so worked up about such a trivial semantic matter?Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      Why would anyone get so worked up about such a trivial semantic matter?

      Is it trivial or semantic if I say I own your house?Report

      • Avatar clawback says:

        Of course it is. Feel free to say whatever you like about the ownership of my house.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          Suppose I had the guns to back up my claim.

          I guess what I’m getting at here is: What’s your true rejection of the thesis that “Ownership is always correctly apportioned whenever we apportion it in exactly the way the government tells us to”?

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

            I don’t think that’s the thesis Ms. Warren was laying out, precisely.Report

          • Avatar clawback says:

            As I thought I made clear, I’m fine with your calling your taxes whatever you like. If you want to keep calling them “yours” I have no objection. The question of who owns tax money seems to be an obsession uniquely of the right.

            And no, I don’t see how this semantic matter tells us anything about whether ownership is “correctly apportioned.” Taxes may be too high or too low, but the question of who owns them tells us nothing.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            What’s your true rejection of the thesis that “Ownership is always correctly apportioned whenever we apportion it in exactly the way the government tells us to”?

            There is none. Do you want government to enforce contracts, or do you prefer “contracts” enforced by just whoever has the power to enforce whatever they want, making no reference to any scrutable tradition of laws governing whose ownership of what is enforced?Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew says:

              Allow me to adjust my contention. (And sorry for the text wall that follows)

              There is no true rejection of “Ownership is always correctly apportioned whenever we apportion it in exactly the way the government tells us to” because there is no initial condition in which it seems true. Because there is no apportionment of property which is a “correct” apportionment according to some state of “ownership” as relates all property under a jurisdiction. The closest approximation of this might be the apportionment which the government will enforce, but it, or any other apportionment, isn’t “correct” to any extent more than that it reflects the laws respecting ownership that the government is bound to (but may not actually) follow. The government may follow those laws meticulously, but the resulting pattern of ownership is correct only inasmuch as it conforms to relevant laws (sorry if I repeat myself). I presume that this doesn’t satisfy your idea of “correct ownership,” since those laws could include provisions that confiscate property at a rate or for purposes that in you presumably would like to be able to say violate “correct ownership.” But the alternative to a legitimate government’s enforcement of ownership is an individual’s enforcement of ownership in a state of nature. But in a state of nature, by what reference do we know over what property any individual has a right to enforce his ownership? How do we separate one claim of ownership that reflects “correct ownership” from another that makes no admission that it is not a “correct” claim, but that has a factual history that strongly suggest a taking by force? This is definitionally what we empower a group in control of a great deal of force to adjudicate legitimately while calling itself “government.” This does not produce apportionments that are correct reflections of correct ownership any more than a lack of government does, but nether does it necessarily depart from correct ownership any more than the other system does. that’s because there really is no actually-existing correct ownership. At bottom, reality is just an arbitrary power battle over property which we choose to mitigate and rationalize by adopting conventions such as legitimate governmental adjudication of property claims. We grant this legitimacy (or have come to further systematize it) by way of adopting more and more specific instructions for the government in how to adjudicate the claims. But these instructions are nothing more than further conventions — conventions which in historical fact have done more to institutionalize ownership patterns that, if any reality about an absolutely correct pattern of ownership did exist in underlying reality, would be grossly unrepresentative of such “correct” patterns. But no such correct patterns exist (or, alternatively, they are so remote as to be incalculable), that property apportionments enforced by government, so long as they conform to law are functionally the closest thing we have to “correct” apportionments. But they’re not absolutely correct, because no absolutely correct apportionment actually exists. the correctness exists only insomuch as it is correct for a society to rest property rights on the convention of a legitimate enforcer instructed to enforce based on a particular set of conventions we call property rights because it is a workable, practicable way to promulgate a system of practical ownership and thus move beyond the fundamental arbitrary, unjudiciable battle for property that it faces if it does not adopt such conventions.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          A thought experiment. The House in question, House H, now belongs to you. Sure.

          Jason starts calling H “Jason’s House”. More and more and more people start calling H “Jason’s House” as well.

          There is a point at which people who call H “Jason’s House” will get jobs in law enforcement. They will get jobs in government. Jason shows up and says “this is my House. House H is Jason’s House.”

          What recourse do you have? A piece of paper?Report

    • Avatar NoPublic says:

      Why would anyone get so worked up about such a trivial semantic matter?

      Because it inflames the base?

      In reality “your” taxes are yours until you enter into the contract with the state which is concomitant with adulthood and wage earning in this country. Just like “your” bacon money was yours until you entered in to a contract to exchange it for yummy pork products.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        There’s no contract. The government makes a unilateral decision to take your money.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach says:


          I think you’re looking for marjoritarian.

          There is a contract and it’s called democratic presidential republicanism.

          If you don’t like the contract, and wish your parents hadn’t signed it, there are ways out.

          But better hurry before that border fence gets finished.Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

            I think you’re looking for marjoritarian.

            Majoritarian and unilateral aren’t mutually exclusive. You have the government and the majority on one side of the transaction, and me on the other. Only one side consented to the transaction.

            Also, I love that, having bought into the premise that consent of the governed is essential to the legitimacy of government, and noting that some of the governed do not in fact consent, yet still committed to the conclusion that the government really is legitimate, you resolve the cognitive dissonance by making up an imaginary contract and asserting universal consent.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              There’s always Somalia.

              Also, any money you make for the next 10 years, we’re entitled to a piece of.Report

            • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

              Brandon you’re debating shadows.

              If you don’t like democratic republicanism, what would be your chosen regime? Would it be any more legitimate?

              As far as consent of the governed, see Jesse Ewiak’s comment below.

              If they don’t consent to the current political agenda, they can still consent to the framework in which it is operating.

              That is the distinction. Between consent to the institution, and consent to the particular policies at a given moment. Most people consent to the institution, despite disagreeing with particular policies that arise as a result every now and then.

              Those who think the institution is illegitimate on it’s face, then I don’t see what they can do but leave, because changing that institution wouldn’t be an option (if they think it’s illegitimate).

              Those who disagree on policy, can, like the rest of us, work through the institution.

              Now which of these things do you object to?Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          Brandon has it right. Money isn’t fictional — it’s a way of accounting for things we acknowledge that we owe to people. If anything’s fictional, it’s the social contract.Report

          • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

            Yes, they are equally fictional!!

            That’s because I can’t point to an invisble bond and say, hey, that’s the social compact.

            And I can’t point to a piece of paper with a long since dead white guy on it and say hey that’s X amount of purchasing power.

            The point is that they both rely on context. Fictions exist on one level, but it isn’t a physical one. The fiction of money exists on the level of social/political consensus, and when that consensus changes, the fiction will change.

            And all of this requires justification…both from those who would change the fiction, and from those who would have it stay the same.

            Are you going to actually explain any of your blunt assertions Jason?

            Or just continue to churlishly cast aside dissent?Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

              I think I can defend the difference between a social contract and a debt obligation, sure.

              When I incur an obligation, say by purchasing something with my credit card, I sign or otherwise signal an agreement, without which the debt is subject to challenge and almost certainly invalid. Debt obligations are acknowledged by the one incurring them, at least at some point.

              When I suggest that the social contract is not analogous because I never agreed to it, I get angry comments like yours. (And, to be fair, much worse besides.)

              I think there’s plenty there to disambiguate the two.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                Did I write somewhere that they were the same?

                I noted that they are both dependent on broader contexts, e.g. political, social, economic.

                As for social contracts, you brought them up. If you think the American social compact, i.e. that the political arrangment, and the mechanisms for changing it (Constitution/Constitutional Conventions) are illigitimate and you reject them, that’s understandable.

                There’s rarely unanimous consensus on anything. I suppose we would have to acknowledge that at bottom, even the most reasonable democratic institutions are forced upon the the people they represent and leave no choice but to get in line or get out.

                But that would go for any system, including a limited government free market regime. I wouldn;t choose that regime, so is it as equally illegitimate for your to propose that (that may or may not be what you support, but just here)?

                Are we both not in the same boat here? What critieria can we use to discrimnate between our positions and judge them?Report

              • Avatar Jim P. says:

                Except you debt obligation is affected by inflation and deflation along with other greater economic standards that makes what you have to pay back relative to the value at the time you bought it.

                Because your value is affected by this, your debt obligation is not so black and white.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        ‘In reality “your” taxes are yours until you enter into the contract with the state which is concomitant with adulthood and wage earning in this country’

        I was paying taxes on 5c Bazooka Joe bubble gum as a 7 year old.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      Call it indicative of the mindset of many in government that our tax money “belongs” to them, to spend as they see fit. Governments are not at all like pig farmers, because the pig farmer can not walk into my house, take $10 out of my wallet, and drop 2 lbs of bacon on my counter. Government can, and does.

      Maybe if those in government truly understood that tax money belongs to us, but is entrusted to them for the creation of social goods, we’d have less waste/pork/wars/civil rights violations/etc.Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

        You are responsible for what your government spends Mad Rock, we all are.

        Your us/them distinction is a prevalant but faulty one.

        Welcome to…DEMOCRACY!Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          Contrariwise, your us/them conflation is a prevalent but faulty one. I didn’t vote for the current government, and I have not in any way authorized their actions. They’re acting in direct opposition to my stated preferences. From my perspective, they’re functionally equivalent to a colonizing government.

          Lose the “we.”Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

            I mean, if you want to say that you’re a collaborator, that’s fine. But I’m not.Report

          • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

            Would you agree with the following statement?

            “No political institution that disagrees with my stated preferences is legitimate.”Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

              No. I think there are legitimate arrangements that don’t align precisely with my preferences. But I wasn’t saying anything about legitimacy. I think that the Boy Scouts is a perfectly legitimate organization, but I’m not a part of it.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                Obvioulsy Brandon.

                But the conception of “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” is getting at something other than a private organization like the Boy Scouts.

                If you take issue with the premis of democratic government, you’ll have to do a little more leg work.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                Look: If you want to say that the government is legitimate, that’s not so obviously wrong as to be completely laughable. And I’m not particularly interested in having that argument with you, so I won’t object.

                But what you actually said:

                You are responsible for what your government spends Mad Rock, we all are. Your us/them distinction is a prevalant but faulty one.

                Is in fact so obviously wrong as to be completely laughable.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                If you reject the concept of democratic republicanism, then fine.

                But if you accept it, well, it’s called “self-government” for a reason. If you renounce that civic duty, that’s up to you. But leaving the woman doesn’t mean the child stopped being yours.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                I reject the fallacy of division.

                And Uncle Sam is not my lover. The kid is not my son.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

              Would you agree with the following statement?

              “No political institution that disagrees with my stated preferences is legitimate.”

              Personally, I couldn’t agree with it. My stated preferences are after all very likely to be wrong in at least some particulars.

              I reject however the notion that handing anyone else superior force makes their preferences more right than mine are.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                Not more right, but legitimate. Not because of superior force (which you didn’t “give” them) but because of certain liberal democratic institutions.

                Brandon’s point seems to be that he is bound by no majority decision that he doesn’t agree with. I’m not sure if government is possible under that proposition.

                Wilkinson’s point, and correct me if this is a misread, appeared to be that the superior force would be wrong to take my money, even if there were popular approval, because they would be taking “my” money.

                Rather than offer a justifcation of why that policy would be materially harmful, just as proponents offer justification for why it would be materially beneficial, he seems to just want to say, the rules were such and we all got what we got, and you can go around changing them now that you feel like it.

                I’m not sure what his opposing justification is.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                Wilkinson’s point, and correct me if this is a misread, appeared to be that the superior force would be wrong to take my money, even if there were popular approval, because they would be taking “my” money.

                I think this is right, but only once we’re past the point that you are paying for services that (1) are necessary for social order and (2) present free-rider problems.

                Before that point, taxation is the best solution we’ve got, so it’s justified, and we go with it. After that point, we have a problem. And — yes — the precise location of that point is something to be debated. The proposition that any answer we supply is perforce correct — that’s not right. That’s what I take him to be saying, and I agree with it.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Of course no answer we supply is correct. That’s why we have elections. To determine what a majority of the country believes is the right answer. You or I might not agree with that answer for different reasons, but that doesn’t make said answer illegitimate.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                That’s why we have elections.

                So we can Tea Party people?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Indeed. I never said primaries were bad. I merely informed the reason why those AG’s lept to the defense of freedom and liberty in trying to make the ACA unconstitutional.Report

              • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

                Actually, we did give government superior force. Or rather, we gave them legitimate force.Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

            As E.C. has sort of implied, that’s kind of wacky. I supported little to none of what Dubya did during his two terms, but it was still _my_ government. It was a government I was trying to change, but it was still the legitimate government.Report

        • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

          Actually, I am not, we are responsible.Report

  2. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Occasional Responses:

    Re: Reasonable Doubts – It seems to me that the death penalty accomplishes two things for it’s proponents. The first and most mentioned being ‘justice,’ but the second and equally motivating is catharsis about the terrible things that happen in the world. Rebuilding reasonable doubt with new and improved data may well improve things on the justice side, but it does the opposite for the cathartic experience. When we get into conversations about Troy Davis, the truth almost all of us have nothing invested in Troy Davis. Pro-DP advocates, on the other hand, have a tremendous amount of emotional skin in the game. If there is a way to get to where both you and I think we need this country to go, I believe that by continuing to fight the ‘justice fight’ we are backing a losing horse. It might be more productive to find a way to address the catharsis we are stripping them of.

    RE: Liquid Salads – Yummy. What is gazpacho, after all, if not liquid salad?Report

  3. Avatar E.C. Gach says:


    All these questions are excellent questions. But it’s just willful silliness to argue that questions about how much of “our money” the government can take is logically incoherent. I mean, really? If there are institutions that determine how much money you get, it’s not really your money you got? This somehow reminds me of the argument philosopher David Stove called “the Gem,” and crowned with thorns as the worst argument in the history of philosophy: If the mind has a nature, then we cannot know reality as it is. Compare: If you can make money at all, then it can’t really be yours.

    The point he acknowledges but fails to address is that money is a fiction and property is a creation o the prevailing political/social orders.

    So perhaps if he’d like to say it’s “your” money, in quotation marks all the time to denote that the justification for “your” is changing all the time, this would make sense.

    Clearly, the governing institutions need to justify changing property arrangements and redistribution of them, but that’s not the same thing as claiming, in some metaphysical sense or other, that my money is mine.

    The proliferation of the dream and reality of home ownership is probably partly to blame for this.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      If money is a fiction, surely you won’t mind giving me all of yours.

      Right? As a fictional entity, you can always make more of it. Just imagine the stuff!Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

        You’re right, I left out the intervening step:

        Money is currency,
        currency is a fiction,
        money is a fiction.

        Sorry Jason.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          So I can have your currency then?


          • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

            No you can’t, but if the greater democracy compels me to, fine.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

              If the greater democracy compels you to hand over all of your money/currency… you say “fine”?

              Why is that?

              Is it “fine” because you’re convinced that it would be right? (If so, why haven’t you handed over all your money already?)

              Is it “fine” because you’d have no other choice? (If so, why aren’t you on my side?)

              Or is it “fine” for some other reason I’m not grasping? Something on the order perhaps of Hegel’s definition of freedom as state action?

              That one’s always seemed like the purest bullshit to me, but some do find it compelling.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                I find the probability that I will be compelled by democratic institutions to give you, or anyone else, all, or most, of the currency I have accumulated to be near 0.

                Of course, it’s a danger that currency will be capriciously and arbitrarily allocated away from myself and to someone else, just like getting out of bed and driving a car invite risk.

                But I find the risk/reward ratio of an empowered democracy to be preferable to an an empowered plutocracy. Not that libertarian policies or views on property would necessarily lead to the latter. But when and if the latter occurs, they will certainly be unable to correct for it.

                The point is that money is a fiction, and it’s value is given to it by we who use it. For us to then turn around and say, no, it’s worth this and I have it, ergo you can not devalue it or take it away, misses the fact that it’s always been a fluid political process of changing opinions, values, and morals.

                And that simply stating that the status quo is the status quo is not itself justification for the status quo.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                I find the probability that I will be compelled by democratic institutions to give you, or anyone else, all, or most, of the currency I have accumulated to be near 0.

                And yet it would be “fine” with you. So I asked “Why?” and I got “Because it won’t happen anyway.”

                I’m not likely to be axe murdered, but I wouldn’t say that’s a reason to call it “fine.”Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                You’re right again Jason, I didn’t mean to say that I would support such an outcome.

                What I support is empowering the democratic process to have that authority though.

                Do you understand the point I’m making?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                I don’t understand the point.

                What seems the far more obvious abstract answer here — and one we could both agree on — is that government should charge a fair or reasonable price for its services. Of course we will argue about what that price will be.

                But in principle, it can’t be “everything.” If it is, the farmers have at least as good a claim.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                The farmer isn’t democratically chosen, nor does he/she make up the whole of the democratic body.

                Wilkinson admits that money/property are predicated on the social/political order.

                If the social/political order has accepted certain institutions (democratic governance) as being legitimate vehicles, and would use them to codify changes to the social/political order, I’m not sure what remains to say that my money is “mine.”

                The “mine” is completely contextual. And if the context shifts, the LAST thing that Wilkinson or anyone else can appeal to is that context. They have to appeal to something higher/prior.

                This is why conservatives make the argument that wealthier people should keep what they have…because it will help make the rest of us richer too!

                Just saying the wealthy should keep what’s theirs, because it’s theirs, isn’t an option, because that’s what’s being decided.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                For anyone else who is confused by what I’m saying, an episode of This American Life made it much better than I could:


              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Ace point, JasonK. However, the social compact of the first Puritan settlers was precisely that, 100%: it was a collective. [Indeed it was set up as a business, since the collective also had to pay back their investors who shipped them there.]

                But by libertarian formulations, I make it that it was not inherently unjust. The Plymouth Colony, Inc. was not only a social contract, it was a business contract.

                I looked up the story of that, BTW: they didn’t exactly revert to private plots of land immediately. Each family was rendered a private plot of land on a non-ownership basis. After the collective took its lion’s share cut, the individual family kept what was left over. Still, productivity boomed. From collective sloth on behalf of the collective, the colony went to profit because individuals humped for themselves and theirs.

                This plugs in here somewheres. I imagine Jason would could and should argue that per our social compact [the Constitution, as well as custom and practice, which translates into “common law”], we never agreed to be collectivized at the Founding and do not agree to it now.

                Mr. Drew makes a solid and related point in the sub-thread below this:

                Why is that?

                “Because he accepts the legitimacy of his government. This is not to say there is nothing the government could do that he would regard as illegitimate, but apparently a 100% wealth tax is not among them. He may be just wrong – a fully confiscatory tax may be unconstitutional, in which case it would be illegitimate. But apparently for him, if it passes constitutional muster, he would abide by the will of his fellow citizens as revealed in the actions of their elected representative lawmakers.”

                On the other hand, there’s a limit to how much crap we put up with before the social contract—even tacitly agreed to—is abrogated and all bets are off. See the “Tea” Party, Taxed Enough Already. Regulated Enough Already. Enough Fucking Already.

                D of I, etc. Tri-corner hats optional.


              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                I wasn’t aware the lowest tax rates in the OECD and the lowest tax rates in 50 years merited revolution.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                Why is that?

                Because he accepts the legitimacy of his government. This is not to say there is nothing the government could do that he would regard as illegitimate, but apparently a 100% wealth tax is not among them. He may be just wrong – a fully confiscatory tax may be unconstitutional, in which case it would be illegitimate. But apparently for him, if it passes constitutional muster, he would abide by the will of his fellow citizens as revealed in the actions of their elected representative lawmakers.Report

            • Avatar MFarmer says:

              “No you can’t, but if the greater democracy compels me to, fine.”

              Oh my, it’s worse than I thought.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      The point he acknowledges but fails to address is that money is a fiction and property is a creation o the prevailing political/social orders.

      I felt that Wilkinson did address that issue in his post. He argues that once the prevailing social order creates property rights, they exist and have to be treated as if they exist.Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

        Right, they do need to be treated as if they exist. But at such time that a group urges they be changed, simply stating that they are already X says nothing about why they should not or can not be made Y.

        He acknowledges that at some time T, the social order implemented a certain system of currency and property, and certain rules governing their exchange and maintainance. But then seems to assume that they can not be changed after the fact, or that doing so requires greater justification than retaining the status quo.

        What is his defense for why the framework at any given moment should be given priority over the avalailable alternatives?

        In a democracy, what makes it wrong for the democracy to agree to change the rules of the game?

        It’s one thing to object to majoritarian rule, but he seems to be implying that we observe some invisble rule against letting democratic institutions enact certain policies because the current arrangment, a product of those institutions, is now above them and off limits.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          So we treat them as if they exist right up until it’s inconvenient for them to exist at which time they suddenly don’t exist and never did…

          “In a democracy, what makes it wrong for the democracy to agree to change the rules of the game?”

          Nothing, so long as you get two-thirds of the country to agree to change the rules.Report

          • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

            That’s kind of how deliberative legislatures work…

            They make laws, and those laws are in place, up until they decide a new law should replace it, e.g. the Republican platform of “repeal and replace” on ACA.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck says:

              *sigh* dude that was a really long run for a Republican slam.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                Republican slam? You’re reading me wrong. I’m completely fine with “repeal and replace.” I prefer it to say, politicizing the issue in the Supreme Court.

                Republican’s have every right to repeal and replace, that’s the point of having political parties and campaigining, etc.

                I don’t understand booish sigh.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Two-thirds works for me as “consensus.” Obamacare was pushed through via brute majoritarianism and [admittedly masterful] manipulation of the rules of Congress. Right now, 26 states are suing to stop it.


                I’m in sympathy with Mr. Gach in principle, of not politicizing the courts, but what we have here is the antithesis of consensus, and strange things happen in the absence of it.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                That’s a tough call to make.

                A majority in the House, and overwhelming majority in the Senate, and a President.

                Plus, those Senators that voted against it represent some of the least populace states (with exceptions of course, e.g. Texas, etc.)

                You would never get anything to happen with 2/3 requirement, except further tax cuts and more wars.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                If we waited for 2/3 approval of things, Medicare, the Civil Rights Act, and hell, most major legislation passed for the past 200 years wouldn’t exist. Hell, even the Bush Tax Cuts wouldn’t exist. 😛

                Majority rule is part and parcel of politics. Get over the fact that for once, the Democrat’s managed to pass something big in the past 40 years.

                Oh, and 26 state AG’s are pushing a lawsuit against this law because they don’t want to get Tea Partied when they’re up for reelection.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                What does getting “Tea Partied” entail?

                It sounds awful!Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Losing a job is usually bad, especially a well-paying one with power.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                There was consensus on the major ones there, Mr. Ewiak. Not Obamacare, by any stretch.

                And no, I’m not over this piece of brute majoritarianism, because unlike the Civil Rights Act and Medicare, the country isn’t. This one stinks, brother.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                I’m sure if I look hard enough, I can find legislation that’s ‘settled’ now that passed very acrimoniously at some point in time.

                But regardless, when you actually poll people about the actual provisions of the ACA, every part of it is popular except the individual mandate.

                So, in a weird way, if the mandate is struck down, it’d probably be politically best as without a mandate, the private insurance companies would likely get nailed by people free-riding, leading to single-payer quicker.

                Win-win for social democrats like me.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                26 states against Obamacare, regardless of reason, belies any notion of consensus, Jesse. It was majoritarianism, brute and bald.

                The rest of your objections are noted and were anticipated. The question here is not one of policy or legality, merely that of good governance.

                Absent any further clarification, you seem fine with majoritarianism and give not a hoot for consensus. Also noted and somewhat anticipated, albeit with a hope to be wrong.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                26 State Attorney General’s. None of whom ran on a platform of, “I’m going to put forth a lawsuit against a law that doesn’t exist yet.”Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                There’s no consensus for this huge step, Jesse, a fact that can’t be talked to death. Although some try.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                The ACA isn’t a huge step. It’s Bob Dole’s health care plan with some extra money for Medicaid and some extra small goodies and bit of cost control.

                Conservatives have turned it into the end of freedom, but this was a moderate bill. Sure, it was the most progressive piece of social welfare passed in the last 40 years, but it was still a moderate bill.

                To be blunt, you want no progress unless everybody agrees we need progress. That has never happened. Progress has always been something that barely passes when it’s needed and is only popular afterward.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                To be blunt, I want consensus, Jesse, at least on the big things. Otherwise, it’s majoritarianism and instability, and I don’t want that. Neither did the Founders; that’s why they institutionalized gridlock.

                The GOP is going to take over in 2012, charged with scaling the debt wall, and we’ll be back in the same place. We can wait for collapse [likely], or we’ll actually try something like Ryan’s plan.

                Perhaps Obama will even be president. I looked at welfare reform recently, and although Bill Clinton gets credit for it, he was dragged kicking and screaming all the way.


                Which is fine, and the natural order of things. There was a consensus for welfare reform, and it got did.

                Jesse, I find your partisan grenade tosses wearying, but since you can’t hit the broad side of a principled barn, I endure them because you’re as good a foil as any. I did have higher hopes though; you may have noticed in between volleys that I’m prepared to defend the New Deal and some of the Great Society as the products of consensus, both then and now.

                My biggest concern as a citizen is making the American consensus work, not ideology or playing “if I were king.” Perhaps it’s a function of age, or at least adulthood.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                All of the things that you thought were consensus were just as bloody partisan fights as the ACA was and in some cases, even bloodier and more partisan.

                The New Deal was only a product of consensus because we were in the middle of a such an economic downturn there was a halfway decent chance we could’ve gone full-on Communist or Fascist depending on the situation. The New Deal was the moderate path.

                The Great Society was consensus based (even though Medicare only passed 54-46) because the rest of Europe did it all twenty years early and we were just running behind.

                As for the GOP taking over, I actually doubt this and even if they do, the only guy who can win (Mitt Romney) isn’t likely to want to pass the Ryan Plan.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                You’re not distancing yourself from majoritarianism, Jesse. I disagree with your historical analysis, but that’s secondary.

                And the end, really, of our discussion. I’m not in favor of majoritarianism for the things I’m sympathetic to. I don’t want an abortion ban finagled by some bare GOP Congressional majority by legislative hook-and-crook, the way Obamacare went down. I’m not a majoritarian.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Yes, when it comes to issues of public policy, I’m a majoritarian. That’s the whole point of elections. You win, you get to make policy. For example, in the rest of the world, despite far fewer veto points, you don’t see wild swings to the right and left in other First World nations.

                On the other hand, when it comes to issues of Constitutional protections, those are absolute. No majority can overturn them short of amending the Constitution.

                But yes, we’re at a crossroads here. You’re for consensus, so I hope you’re here railing against the massive tax cuts and spending cuts in social programs President Romney will announce since there wouldn’t be a ‘consensus’ for those things.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Jesse, I despise the naked exercise of power that is majoritarianism, 51% against the other 49. See Madison, Federalist 62.


                No offense, but it’s not just sentiment and slavish adherence to tradition that bids me cleave to the wisdom of the Founders more than that of “modern” people such as yrself.

                It’s people like yrself, and the things you say compared to what they said.Report

  4. Avatar John Howard Griffin says:

    True Rejection of “Your Money”:

    When a negative impact to the Commons is made when you earn your money, it isn’t yours. You have stolen from the Commons, and that isn’t you.

    This is even the case when you have not personally contributed to the negative impact to the Commons, other then being employed by or part of the company/organization/government/species that does.

    There is no one that can say with certainty (and proof!) that “your money” was earned without negative impact to the Commons. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      This is probably the one true rejection I’d agree with. Well done!

      Not “it’s all semantic” or “money is a fiction.”Report

      • Avatar NoPublic says:

        And yet when I speak of the paucity of unburdened wealth in the world I get poo-pooed as being overly reductionist. Ah well.Report

      • Avatar John Howard Griffin says:

        Our entire civilization is built upon the Tragedy of the Commons. IMHO, of course.

        We would all be much poorer if we did not continue to sell the future for the present.Report

        • Avatar boegiboe says:

          It’s always my goal to buy the future with the present. Produce value now that will feed upon itself as time goes on. But the kinds of decisions that goal entails demand some level of stability in currency and property structures, plus guarantees of personal freedom to continue to execute plans. Making large changes to what percentage of one’s production one gets to keep can be dangerous to the goals of folks who might really have the best plans for humanity.

          This is why I favor taxes on negative externalities directly, instead of assuming that those who have earned the most have caused the most damage along the way. Tax carbon emissions. Tax petroleum. Tax cigarettes and alcohol (and marijuana and heroin and such, for that matter), but not punitively–proportionally to how much their overuse hurts the commons. Punish white collar criminals with really painful fines and higher tax rates. With a comprehensive and fair system of taxes on negative externalities, we really could have reasonable expectations that our money was earned free and fair.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

      And yet this relies on a moral framework that preceeds it, i.e. it still requires justification.

      If the results of a framework for distributing goods conflicts with the moral framework that underlies/preceeds it, then it’s going to be fix, unless there’s no democracy or the democratic participants don’t recognize the conflict.Report

    • Avatar Koz says:

      I personally am looking forward to the possibility of cutting public sector pensions on exactly these grounds.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      There is no one that can say with certainty (and proof!) that “your money” was earned without negative impact to the Commons. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

      Isn’t this basically the fiscal equivalent of “shoot ’em all and let God sort ’em out?” It’s one thing to do a best-effort accounting of negative externalities and implement Pigovian taxes based on that.

      But “Well, you can’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that your income isn’t based on negative externalities, so we’re just going to take whatever we feel like” is just a hand-wavy pretext for taking whatever you feel like.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        Actually, I think that can probably be generalized to “If your conclusion is that you can just take whatever you feel like, the logic that got you there is just a hand-wavy pretext.”Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “There is no one that can say with certainty (and proof!) that “your money” was earned without negative impact to the Commons.”

      Reasonable Doubt? Piffle. That’s an outmoded Eighteenth-Century notion.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      There is no one that can say with certainty (and proof!) that “your money” was earned without negative impact to the Commons. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

      I am ready, willing, and able to concede this point.

      My problem hinges on the “therefore I am going to take X% away from you and redistribute it (after taking out a bit for overhead) and purchase goods and services that will benefit everybody and also allow them to take out a bit for overhead.”

      (I mean, you’ve seen what happens when someone says “I think you’re taking out waaaay too much for overhead.” They get accused of union busting and destroying the middle class and all that stuff.)Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        Yes, all that overhead is why when it comes to administrative costs, Social Security kills every 401k and Medicare makes private insurance companies their bitch when it comes to that.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Social Security kills every 401k

          All in good time.

          Medicare makes private insurance companies their bitch

          2014 is just around the corner.Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

            So, 401k’s and private insurance are gonna’ have 2-3% administrative costs anytime soon? Awesome. That means lots of fund managers with way less disposable income.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              I’m pretty sure that you won’t believe the percentages that will be coming up.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Well, considered Medicare’s growth rate actually dropped this year for the first time in years and private insurance premiums spiked another 10%, I’m pretty sure Medicare, Social Security, and other parts of the federal government are still going to somehow have lower administrative costs than many parts of the glorious free market despite those damned unionized employees making living wages.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Everything’s coming up roses.Report

      • Avatar John Howard Griffin says:

        Hello, Jaybird.

        I was only creating a True Rejection of Wilkinson’s “Your Money” bit.

        Nothing was implied or should be inferred that I was making an argument about whether the government (or anyone else, for that matter) had a right to Your Money.

        I was only attempting to show the holes in the “Your Money” argument (similar to Warren’s argument that Wilkinson was criticizing), but using the larger framework of the Commons, rather than state infrastructure.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Hey, JHG.

          Fair enough. For the record, my problem isn’t with the premise I outlined. While I don’t share it, it doesn’t strike me as necessarily wrong or bad or could only be held in bad faith.

          It’s the “what comes after that?” where I start freaking out.Report

          • Avatar John Howard Griffin says:

            Whatever comes after, I think it is important to consider the fact that Your Money may have knowable and unknowable negative externalities connected with it. And, this might alter your perception of it as Yours. Or, it might not alter your perception at all.

            The argument that the government is stealing Your Money might also be made about Your Money being stolen from the Commons.

            I think that it is very important to consider those things when thinking about What Comes After That.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              At the risk of repeating myself, I see “the government” as, essentially, an extension of me.

              If I know that I would have the right to do something, then it makes sense to me that the government would be able to do something similar.

              If I know that I absolutely would not have the right to do something, then I start asking questions about whether it’s a good idea to give the government this particular power.

              I don’t know that I have the where-to-stand to figure out what you shouldn’t have taken in the first place. Money obscures my sight even more.Report

              • Avatar John Howard Griffin says:

                This is all fine. Yet, I almost never hear (read, see) of one’s personal contributions to the Tragedy of the Commons in discussions of liberty and personal rights. It is in our nature as humans to discount the future. If we’re to be rational, we should resist that impulse, I think.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The problem is that it’s difficult to accurately describe “the commons”.

                Dig: You have a child. Is this child now part of “the commons”?Report

              • Avatar John Howard Griffin says:

                So? It’s difficult. So are a lot of things. I certainly see a lot of words spilled on the behalf of equally difficult things to define.

                To your question, I’d say no. The commons is everything that is outside of one’s self and any other human self. We humans value humans above all else, and ourselves more than other humans, but I think most people have a sense of a “thing” that is outside themselves and all other humans – the Commons.

                The Commons is where the Waste goes. It’s where the Energy Inputs and Resource Inputs come from. It is our shared space and our private space. All that is not a human being.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Well, given it’s difficulty, I’m left with the whole “upon which side are we to err, given that we undoubtedly will” kinda thing.

                (There are folks who would have given a very different answer than the one you just did, for example.)Report

              • Avatar John Howard Griffin says:

                I completely agree. This is always the question, once we get past the definitions and semantics we are left with uncertainties (whether we are willing to admit to them or not).

                Some societies value the Commons above the Individual. Other societies value the Individual above the Commons. It is what defines the society, I think. It’s not state vs. individual. It’s individual vs commons. The state is just a myopic subset of the commons, and is easier to argue against from both left and right. This is what is left out of all the discussions on liberty, freedom and rights – that the state doesn’t represent the commons, and except in very rare, unique circumstances, it cannot represent the commons.

                For my part, I lament how little attention modern civilization has paid to the commons, and wish we regarded the commons as more important. There is little I can do to change it, since very few wish to discuss the ways in which they, personally, are discounting the future to make them wealthier (or less poor) now.

                Yet, I try. Very occasionally.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                Well, you can propose solutions to the problem of the lack of concern regarding the Commons. You think there’s very little cooperation to deal with the fact we all have to live together under common conditions? What are the basic problems regarding the Commons? How can we solve these problems?Report

              • Avatar John Howard Griffin says:

                Well, from my perspective, I think the first two problems that must be addressed are Hyperbolic Discounting and the Tragedy of the Commons.

                Loosely, hyperbolic discounting is human impatience. We prefer to get the reward now rather than later, even if the later reward is bigger (even much bigger). A person prefers $5 today rather than $10 in a month. This causes us to discount the future, and applies not just to money but to other things.

                As an example, we are more likely to prefer a reward now, even if that causes harm in the future. Pollution is a good example. So is deficit spending. How do we address this problem? We don’t. Politicians and business would not allow it, because we would have to start determining the future costs of our present actions and price that into the market, and no one wants that. Why? Profits (and your wages) would drop dramatically.

                Loosely, the tragedy of the commons is over-exploitation of resources. The individual (or small group) receives all of the benefits of over-exploitation, while some or all of the negative costs associated with that exploitation are borne by other individuals or other groups.

                I drive my car and gain all the benefits, while the atmosphere receives the waste (pollution) from my driving. This increases the health risks of those who are downstream/downwind. How do we address this? See above – we don’t. Cheap products come from places that can produce them cheaply by increasing the waste borne by others. China has much looser manufacturing regulations than the U.S., and many of the products we buy are made there. This is why they are cheap. They are selling their future to be able to sell cheap products to us.

                These two problems are intertwined, and focus on the same underlying issue. Humans are more than willing to sell the future for the present. It applies to everything from the financial meltdown in 2008 (TBTF) to the Holocene extinction.

                Of course, this is a much bigger issue to discuss than is really possible in comments, but that’s the two big problems that I see. And, no real way to address them without completely changing our economic framework.


  5. Avatar trizzlor says:

    How does Wilkinson’s analogy work under a progressive tax-code, where the farmer effectively gave you the bacon for free while you got on your feet? And what about the rich guy you didn’t steal from because you got the free bacon?

    Reducing taxes to a single atomic transaction is a clever trick but it just seems like a cerebral variant of “fuck you, I got mine”.Report

  6. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    The general idea, it seems, of liberal thought is that everyone is inherently and absolutely equal–which means that success is always either random chance or because someone cheated, and money is always stolen from someone else’s rightful portion.Report

  7. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Where I come from, reasonable doubt is defined as follows: “It is not a mere possible doubt; because everything relating to human affairs is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. It is that state of the case which, after the entire comparison and consideration of all the evidence, leaves the minds of jurors in that condition that they cannot say they feel an abiding conviction of the truth of the charge.” Cal. Penal Code section 1096. An “abiding conviction” is one that is “settled and fixed” Hopt v. Utah (1887) 120 U.S. 430, 439 and one that is “lasting [and] permanent” People v. Brigham (1979) 25 Cal.3d 283, 290.

    What is unsettling about DNA evidence is that where previously, a “settled and fixed” notion now cannot be reasonably left in its “lasting and permanent” state and therefore no longer subject to re-examination, but must instead be questioned. The recent Troy Davis case gives us a powerful, and deeply unsettling, notion of what it means when a court conflates the idea that a notion, having once been settled and fixed, and the idea that a notion is no longer subject to re-examination. Once upon a time (in ancient history, like the 1990’s) jurors considered the idea of DNA evidence to be pseudo-scientific gobbledegook unworthy of serious consideration. After years of jurors watching CSI, though, its absence can severely harm a prosecution case in which guilt is seriously disputed.

    More succinctly, the universe of facts that we consider “reasonable” to demand be resolved has changed as technology has advanced and the culture has evolved. This is, in a large sense, perfectly okay — the question is what to do with cases like Troy Davis in which what was once considered “reasonable” evidence of guilt does not satisfy today’s standards.Report

  8. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    It seems clear to me that the “reasonable” level of doubt beyond which a jury is told to go can and indeed should change over time. This will no doubt make conservatives uncomfortable.

    Why would this make conservatives uncomfortable?

    Also, DNA exonerations should have two effects on our confidence in the death penalty. The first is that it should cause us to revise our estimates of the false positive rate of the justice system without DNA testing. I think for most people this will result in an upward revision, but it’s possible that for some who were already more skeptical than appropriate it will result in a downward revision.

    The second effect is that it should cause us to revise downwards our estimates for the present false positive rate. We no longer convict people who can be exonerated by DNA evidence. It’s not immediately clear which effect should dominate.

    Also, it’s not obvious that the death penalty is a bad thing for people wrongly convicted of murder. Yes, being executed for a murder you didn’t commit is bad, but you know what else is pretty bad? Wasting the rest of your life sitting in a prison cell for a murder you didn’t commit.

    Yes, being executed is worse. But you also have to look at the probabilities. Capital cases receive much greater scrutiny, so you’re probably more likely to be exonerated if you’re sentenced to death than you are if you’re sentenced to life in prison. You have to consider not only how bad the worst-case scenario is, but also how likely it is.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “You could be stabbed.”
      “Stabbed? That takes a second! Crucifixion’s a slow, ‘orrible death!”
      “Well, at least they get you out in the open air.”Report

  9. Avatar Jim P. says:

    I feel the majority of this debate revolves around the premise as to whether property rights exists outside of government or is it an inherent immutable right.

    Yet, the complexity of economic systems makes this debate not so clear. I’m sorry, but money is a bloody fiction or even currency. It’s not like other more tangible means in which there is an inherent value. The only inherent value money has is its printed on green paper that may be aesthetically pleasing to some (just as all other property has differing values depending on the subjective viewpoint of the individual).

    What is different about money is that that value is tied entirely to economic systems. If we agree its the value of money in which we are concerned, then yes money is a fiction, something society has made up from abstraction whose value comes directly from that abstraction.

    So I posit, the idea that you own money means nothing without knowing what the value of that money is which is determined by social systems. Thus, as it was already brought up before, no matter how you may put your sentences together the idea of ownership of money is always tied to some sort of social system/political system unlike personal ownership of a physical item that can be based in a more liberal fundamental right of ownership.

    Because of this, its rather disingenuous to say that your ownership of money cannot be at the whims of a political system when it inherently is already affected by it through economic means. AKA, no the pig farmers didn’t own my money before I bought the bacon but the big Bacon corporations that tanked the economy through derivatives trading affected what i owned through their actions.Report

  10. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “What does DNA evidence say about the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of guilt?”

    Nothing that’s not already said by fingerprints, videocamera footage, phone records, etcetera.Report

  11. Avatar boegiboe says:

    There isn’t always DNA evidence at a capital crime scene, so it’s not perfect. What if, in 20?0, a brain imaging technique is perfected that acts as a perfect lie detector? Would the death penalty then be OK?

    Not for me. Life, and the diverse experience of it, is the most fundamental value, and there can be no reason to end a life unless to be to prevent the loss of life. Let the murderer live the rest of his life, encouraging him to learn and better himself, in the hope that someday he might be able to give us an even greater understanding of how awful it is to kill.Report

    • Avatar boegiboe says:

      …in jail. Let the murderer live the rest of his life in jail.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        I dont think I’m going to follow you there. If we can know absolutely that a person did commit murder, then of course we should hang him till he is dead dead dead.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          Now you’ve lost me. I’m okay with hanging him by the neck until he’s dead. And maaaybe in special circumstances hanging until he’s dead dead. Stuff like killing a small child and making a ventriloquist’s dummy out of the corpse. Just plain dead may not be quite dead enough for that sort of thing. Or even just for ventriloquism in general. But “dead dead dead?” That’s just barbaric and inhumane. No one deserves more than two deads.Report

  12. Avatar George T says:

    Property rights definitely exist outside of a legal governmental framework, and in most third world countries that’s the only place they exist. The peasants’ property may not be acknowledged by their government, but amongst themselves they have a very keen knowledge of who owns what and what the rules for transactions are.

    The advantage of the US is that when we split from Britain (itself another argument that majorities aren’t free to tax as they see fit), we went ahead and codified the black market property system that was already in common use. As almost all black market economies around the world use those same rules, whatever their official system of government, it’s a safe bet that those rules are innate and highly conserved, and any government that tries to change the fundamental system will just create a vast black market and a very inefficient economy.Report

  13. Avatar George T says:

    Nobody has commented on Hoover yet. Hoover’s solution to the depression was across the board tax increases with a special emphasis on soaking the rich. We were having a normal recovery till he derailed it. Obama is using Hoover’s playbook, with similar results.

    As a historical note about Herbert Hoover, he had the first and only non-white Vice President, Charles Curtis, a powerful Senator from Kansas ad a Native American who spoke English as his third language.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      The Revenue act of 1932 (I’m assuming this is what you’re talking about) set the top margin rate at 63%.

      There might be some margin between there and where we are now that renders this comparison of marginal utility.Report

      • Avatar DarrenG says:

        Yes, it seems a bit of a stretch to equate returning the top marginal tax rate to where it was midway through St. Reagan’s second term while retaining the much lower capital gains and estate tax rates currently in force as as Hooverite “soak the rich” policy idea.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      Careful with that axe, Eugene. I mean, careful with those facts, George T. They upset some people.Report

  14. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    “History has no meaning.” Meditating on this all day, thank you, Jason.

    I lean toward ahistoricism: that man’s problems are permanent and perennial, not the product of his times.

    What history tells me is of man’s nature: what he’s capable of—usually bad, and even worse when assembled in large numbers, be it mobs, governments, armies, the stuff of “history.” In this way, Popper is right about political power being or inevitably becoming “a cruel joke.”

    Occasionally, the good in man’s nature, though [if he is not good in himself, he is still able to love the good]: probably more the product of one good man, joined by another then another. This might be where philosophy comes in, then virtue. Wisdom, all that stuff. It cannot make permanent change, because human nature remains immutable.

    But it makes our trying worthwhile, for one’s own generation and those following, as long as virtue and luck hold out. To build, then try to hold off entropy is man’s lot, and his nature.Report

  15. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    although history has no meaning, we can give it a meaning.

    Popper was a Bokononist?Report