Thursday, November 13, 2008

Just Asking

Director of economic policy for the Obama campaign Jason Furman made this comment on soon-to-be critical Social Security system:
Obama is confident that we can come together to find a workable solution. He believes that one strong option to improve Social Security's long-term solvency is asking people who earn more than $250,000 to pay a little more into the system.
Well, as long as he is only "asking," they are perfectly free to say "no," right? It's like what Rahm Emanuel, Obama's newly appointed Chief of Staff says who declared in his book:
It's time for a real PATRIOT Act that brings out the patriot in all of us. We propose universal civilian service for every young American. Under this plan, All Americans between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five will be asked to serve their country by going through three months of basic training, civil defense preparation, and community service.
As long as he's simply asking, my nineteen year old son will be free to simply say no. I don't get why Emanuel goes on to warn that "[s]ome Republicans will squeal about individual freedom," seeking to foil his plan to manufacture young patriots. What's this got to do with freedom?

As my liberal friends have told me many times, liberals don't coerce people. It's mean old Republicans who use coercion, like when someone wants to have an abortion. Liberals ask. Real nice.


Will S. said...

Ah yes, that old "mandatory volunteerism" raises its ugly head again. They never tire of that bad idea, do they?

Anonymous said...

I love that. Just tonight, I got into an argument with a guy who said it's okay to tax wealthy people "because they can afford it." So what's the big deal if they are forced to pay? It's no skin off their back. When I pointed out that he could afford his free days off, and brought up what Peter Singer has to say about this kind of thing, he accused me of going to extremes. I talk in philosophical abstractions, black and white. And reality isn't like that, he said. And if the rich don't want to pay taxes, that just means they're selfish, so they should be forced to pay. Americans, he said sadly, are the most selfish people on earth.

When I pointed out that Americans are actually the most generous people in the world when it comes to charitable giving, he said that's only because Americans selfishly just give to charities they like, such as their own churches. I'll have to remember that expression - "selfishly give to charities."

Sadly, I think this mentality is probably quite common.

Anonymous said...

"selfishly give to charities"

Although it seems pretty disingenuous and contradictory, I think there's something to this phrase. For example, I recently helped found a small athletic club that does a bit to donate time and money to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. I have no qualms admitting that, because this is a disease that affects members of my family (and may affect me some day), a significant amount of self-interest was at work in choosing this particular cause. Another example is that I once spent a Spring Break teaching at a poor school in Central America. I was always told by those organizing the trip that I would get more out of if than the people I was supposed to be helping, and I don't doubt that it was true. In other words, in these instances, the value of lived experience and/or the satisfaction felt ended up exceeding the value the time/money spent. I came out ahead. I think this is a beatiful thing, and I suspect private charities would be in pretty bad shape if it weren't the case.

On the other hand, looking at my paycheck every two weeks to see how much the government has taken, does not make me feel warm inside knowing that the government is spending my money more virtuously that I would have. I merely feel cheated.

pappy d said...

If all morality is tribal, then "selfishly give to charities" makes a lot of sense. Taking a universal God as its premise, early Christians logically posited that all men were brothers. Going forward from this idea, political radicals declared universal human rights & placed them above property in their moral heirarchy.

Tribal redistribution demands a debt of gratitude from the recipient & rewards the donor with pride & a sense of his own goodness, i.e. moral credit.

You just can't get that little squirt of brain chemistry by paying your taxes, no matter how rational you are.

Lester Hunt said...

You folks are raising complicated issues about "selfishness" does/should mean. I grant you that our concept of self-interest should be more expansive than it often is. But it sounds like kraorh's interlocutor was saying that giving to a charity that you like is selfish -- just because you like it. And that is pretty silly. Basically, it would seem to imply "psychological egoism," the theory that all action is selfish. (If that's true, then you can no longer criticize -- or praise! -- an action for being selfish.)

Anonymous said...

That's just it. What made it "selfish," I think, was that it was charity that people themselves preferred. And in particular, he resented the fact that much of this charitable giving goes to churches, which he also regarded as selfish - maybe because people donated as a means of insuring their own eternal salvation? The frustrating thing here is that there are some false dichotomies set up here, whereas I think people are actually more complicated than that.

pappy d said...

I don't doubt kraorh's friend was both being disingenuous and talking in abstractions, but that doesn't affect the theory, does it?

What the word "selfish" does or should mean pales when you consider that the concept of "selfish" is itself an is/ought problem. Besides, if I were to say, "Look at that beautiful sunset", it doesn't mean I don't recognise that the horizon is moving up.

"Psychological egoism" doesn't seem to apply, because morality is such an instinctual, even subconscious thing. Ego only thinks it's in the driver's seat. Survival of our genetic material is built as a reward/punishment system, not something as flimsy as pure reason.