Friday, February 18, 2011

Will Wilkinson Explains Why Politics Is Not a Morality Play

. Friday, February 18, 2011

En fuego, here:

We’d very much like to increase nutritional assistance for impoverished children. In fact, we’d love to. What could be better? But, you see, we have promised very large, richly-deserved pensions to some very important people very dear to our hearts, and, to put it frankly, money these days is, well, tight. I know. It’s very dispiriting. If only the selfish rich bastards would pay their fair share of taxes! But, no. No. Whatever happened to the idea that we’re in it together? Huh? Whatever happened to love for our fellow man? It’s sad. Anyway, we are so sorry the bastards have chosen to steal from the mouths of hungry children. I wish we could do something. I really wish we could.


This, by the way, applies as much to private v. public redistribution as vice versa. And it applies even more to those not lucky enough to have been born in a rich country with a robust safety net. So while you fight like a brave for the last ounce of Medicare, remember that billions have nothing approaching it.

The moral is: ante up or shut up. And if you care about anything like equality or any other egalitarian principle, then you should be lobbying for a huge redistribution from the U.S. to the rest of the world. Starting with more liberal immigration policies. If you're not serious about this, then you're not serious.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

You're missing the step in which you replace cosmopolitan political obligations with social-contractarian theories of government.

Anonymous said...

Should read: "You're missing the step in which you replace social-contractarian theories of government with cosmopolitan political obligations."

A bit more explanation: you've smuggled in a theory of political obligation that, while defensible, isn't inevitable, i.e., that we have an equal obligation to those outside of the social contract as to those within it.

That's a very strong claim--one inconsistent with the logic of contemporary political organization. If adopted, it also would lead to a number of other conclusions, including that one cannot advocate national defense unless one also advocates providing military security for those more vulnerable anywhere in the world (i.e. an absolute responsibility to protect).

Kindred Winecoff said...

Anon, yeah I was wondering what your first comment meant.

I'm not replacing anything. I'm merely noting that the social contract gets revisited all the time. It's not holy writ. (My personal belief is that it's a myth.) So if we're going to revisit our commitments to early childhood education, or the unemployed, or nutritional assistance, and if we're going to couch the discussion in terms of justice and fairness, why shouldn't we also revisit our obligations to those born on the wrong side of the Rio Grande? Liberal immigration used be as much a part of the American contract as Head Start (say) is now.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a social-contract type either, but presumably any social contract is inclusive of a range of possible governmental policies, and therefore need not be "revisited" to shift, for example, levels of taxation by, say, +/- 30% for any given bracket. So I'm not clear why arguing for doing so requires anyone to "revisit" anything, let alone adopt, say, a cosmopolitan variant of Rawlsianism.

Nor am I at all clear why "revisiting" has any unique force here. If we believe in cosmopolitan obligations, then we should, of course, question any political arrangement which distinguishes between inside and outside. But that applies just as much to those who defend the status quo as those who want to change it. But if we believe that our obligations to those outside of our political community are less than to those within it, then the Kindred Winecoff's of the world can't accuse us of hypocrisy.

Kindred Winecoff said...

Anon, excuse my nonresponse. I forgot about you. My bad. Here's how I'd reply.

"If we believe in cosmopolitan obligations, then we should, of course, question any political arrangement which distinguishes between inside and outside."

This is precisely my point. We have a Statue of Liberty. We have a mythology of "melting pot". We have a imagined history of fostering freedom of association throughout history, regardless of class/race/language, etc. I think we agree that basically all of that is bullshit, but these are the values that we *supposedly* espouse.

My point is, if we're going to pay that lip service then we ought to get serious about it. And if we aren't, then we should discard that aspect of the public imagination. As I said: ante up or shut up.

Case in point: it's "democracy" and "freedom" if *we* remove a dictatorship in the Middle East; it's something else entirely if the local populace does it for themselves. Huh?

I'm not sure what "that applies just as much to those who defend the status quo as those who want to change it" means. I think that most people -- including me, if you put a gun to my head -- believe that our obligations are less to those outside of our political community than to those within it. That doesn't mean that our obligations to those outside of our (immediate) political community is nothing at all.

Further, conceding that last point doesn't mean I can't accuse anyone/everyone of hypocrisy, if the language people use doesn't make that necessary distinction. And they quite often do not. How often do you hear the same politicians that advocate "universal liberties" also advocate restricting the same? Cognitive dissonance and all that.

So I doubt we're disagreeing all that much on the principle, but just to be clear: I'd just rather we all be more reflective, and then (after that) be honest. As Kerouac said, the Naked Lunch is what happens when everyone can see what is on everyone else's fork. Give me that meal.

Will Wilkinson Explains Why Politics Is Not a Morality Play
 

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