Tuesday, 20 May 2014

“The lottery of birth”

Sam’s comment this morning was too good to ignore.

Opposing objections to compulsory government welfare, he argues we must be forced by law to be our brother’s keeper. Why? Because, echoing Obama, “you didn’t build that.”

Here's what you and other Libertarians need to understand [says Sam]: it's all luck! Neither you nor I can take credit for our successes. Maybe you are hard working, but you didn't choose the genes and upbringing that made you hardworking. Maybe you had a crappy upbringing but nevertheless overcame hardship to rise to the top, but you can't take credit for having the genes that made the brain that meant you could do this. Here's a comedian to explain it to you. So show a little more compassion.

Well, there’s nothing wrong with compassion – when it’s voluntary. But is bad luck unjust? does someone’s bad luck give you a duty to help them? Philosopher Diana Hsieh says “no!”

Interested in her argument? Then maybe get hold of her book Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame as either a paperback or kindle ebook.

12 comments:

  1. Excellent stuff Peter and I am pleased someone points this out - that the Emperor has no clothes.

    I find the 'You Didn't Build That' argument absurd for one obvious reason that is overlooked - all these things were unnecessary for the State to do.

    The roads, footpaths, schools, water, electricity, hospitals, Police, Universities - you name it (you name what you use but didn't build) - is all unnecessary for government to do, and when provided by the State was always, without exception, the result of pork barrel politics.

    Far from 'need' being a factor, pork barrel politics is solely about votes and the infrastructure or other project leaves people worse off due to there being no need for it in the first place, and the project being ill considered.

    There is also the illogical factor - ie: if that bridge, road, dam was so necessary why didn't someone just build one?

    In the Victorian period when vast fortunes and empires were being created - if they needed a road they just built one and the State was not involved. Or a railway, or water, or electricity networks, telephones, steel factory etc

    Obama's argument stands up to absolutely no scrutiny.

    Let's look at some other things "you didn't build" - such as Bell Tea, a company which dates from 1899.

    Bell Tea offer my favourite drink and ask me to choose to buy it, but neither I nor my ancestors (who all lived in Dunedin at the time) had a hand in building their factory or providing the business infrastructure for that firm to operate.

    They just started importing and selling tea.

    The 'things I didn't build' such as roads, water, electricity, schools, dams etc are things which I 'choose' when and if to use - just as I 'choose' to use the Bell Tea products - so why am I forced to pay for the State things but not Bell Tea?

    Why is it Griffins, Bell Tea, Whittaker's Chocolate (all dating from the 19th century) are still around yet the Railways, electricity, telephone, airlines created by the State (and having a monopoly) have all had various bankruptcies over the years?

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  2. Just to clarify (re the video) I'm not by any means anti-capitalism, although I do find Rawl's ideas of justice and morality most compelling.

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  3. Diana fudges the issue. Just because no one is to blame for the circumstances you are born in doesn't mean there is no luck involved.

    Then she completely discredits herself by claiming that a society run according to Rawls would be worse than North Korea. I can only assume from this comment that she never actually read Rawls at all.

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  4. Yeah the North Korea thing was weird - almost every society in the world maximises the well being of the worst-off better than North Korea.

    She kind of gets a what I think is the legitimate Libertarian critique of Rawls - yes a Libertarian society results in unnecessary suffering for the unlucky, but this doesn't justify the coercion that would be required to do anything about it, even if that coercion would increase overall well being.

    ('Unnecessary' in the sense that it could be mitigated without a

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  5. "In the Victorian period when vast fortunes and empires were being created - if they needed a road they just built one and the State was not involved."

    Who's they? The same they that made extensive use of slavery and slave labour in the colonies or another they? What about London's sewerage system, for example, which prevented cholera epidemics thereby boosting productivity? Which Atlas built that?

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  6. Sam

    Unnecessary suffering? Who is suffering unnecessarily? The people that have their wealth and property stolen to fund the "unlucky? But wouldn't the victims of that theft then be unlucky sufferers themselves? They are, after all, getting stiffed to satisfy your aesthetic sensitivities. But why should that be? Why satisfy you? Why not stiff people in order to satisfy Mr Lineberry's preferences instead? Who are the unnecessary suffers then? And who is to decide which sensibilities are satisfied, whether yours or his or someone else's? And what violence is to be done upon those who would disagree? Wouldn't those persons then be the unlucky unnecessary sufferers?

    Why do you want to take from one to give to another? Why don't you give of yourself to assist a suffering person directly?

    Amit

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  7. "The people that have their wealth and property stolen..."

    Who says it's their's, Amit?

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  8. Sorry Amit, my last sentence was meant to clarify that. The suffering is unnecessary in the sense that large amounts of it could be mitigated (through redistribution) without a corresponding increase in suffering among those being taxed. ie, taking $100k from a millionaire reduces his well being, but not by nearly as much as given 10 poor people $10k increases their well being. You only need to check the ACT + LibNZ vote in the last election to prove the vast majority of people don't mind paying taxes.

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  9. Sam

    So one person's suffering is necessary while another person's is unnecessary. Who measures? How? Who decides? Who enforces? What violence is to be done on those who disagree with the measure, the means, the decision or the enforcement? And whose suffering is necessary to support and sustain those doing the measuring, operating the means, decision making, enforcement and administration of all?

    Why do you so want to take from one to give to another? Rather than seeking to satisfy your aesthetic sensibilities by having all forced to submit to them, rather than talking about mitigating the suffering of other people and doing nothing directly yourself, why don't you give of yourself to assist a suffering person directly? Why, despite all your talk, do you personally fail to engage yourself in feeding a hungry man, teaching an illiterate, providing clothing for another's cold, wet child, giving comfort to a chronically ill, offering shelter, to one without, a home to a homeless? ,

    Be honest with yourself. Rather than get off your self-satisfied, comfortable, consensus obsessed backside, you prefer demanding other people suffer unnecessarily to suit your ideas.

    Amit

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  10. "Why do you so want to take from one to give to another?"

    How did this one obtain its resources and property?

    "Why, despite all your talk, do you personally fail to engage yourself in feeding a hungry man, teaching an illiterate, providing clothing for another's cold, wet child, giving comfort to a chronically ill, offering shelter, to one without, a home to a homeless?"

    Why do you, oh benevolent libertarian?

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  11. Watch the documentary "Benefits Street" on youtube.com - it will end any naivety about 'compassion' for the poor.

    It was shown in Britain a few weeks ago and highlights the residents of a street where only 1 person is actually in work.

    It documents day to day life of beneficiaries drinking, smoking, drug taking, stealing (if you want to know how to become a top notch shoplifter it provides an actual 'how to' training session), wife beating, welfare fraud and all manner of similar nasties...(they even scam the local food bank!)

    The 'star' of the show, some ghastly female called 'White Dee', is currently guzzling champagne on a Spanish holiday whilst continuing to collect the UK's DPB.

    (I cannot for the life of me think where I got the impression poor people are stupid, ignorant, lazy, selfish and useless from HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!)

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  12. "I cannot for the life of me think where I got the impression poor people are stupid, ignorant, lazy, selfish and useless from HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!"

    I thought selfishness was a virtue. Anyway, aren't you a day-trader, Atlas?

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