I’d like to introduce you to a ship of the BHL Line that I call “Free Market Fairness.” As an institutional matter, Free Market Fairness proudly shows the colors of the classical liberal camp. As such, she affirms the powerful set of personal liberties long championed by liberals of every type: freedom of thought, expression, association and more. Against the left liberals, though, she also affirms a wide range of private economic liberties—powerful rights of ownership and of individual freedom of contract—as among the weightiest rights. Like traditional classical liberals, she sees the economic freedoms of capitalism as intimately connected to personal freedom, broadly understood.

But Free Market Fairness is an icebreaker through and through. She has no interest in sitting dock-tied outside the classical liberal camp, locked in the wind-worn conceptual ice, shouting out arguments across the straight about why high liberals should abandon their camp and come over to hers. Free Market Fairness is built to move. In terms of her fundamental justificatory commitments, she steams away from the camps of the traditional classical liberals and the traditional libertarians too.

So Free Market Fairness rejects that idea, often associated with libertarians such as Robert Nozick, that self-ownership is the grounding principle of social life. Similarly, Free Market Fairness rejects the idea that happiness, or efficiency, or economic growth (viewed as an end in itself) should be allowed to serve as the fundamental principle of social life. Instead, Free Market Fairness breaks her way over to the high liberal side. She affirms the same moral ideas of personhood and society affirmed by traditional denizens of that camp. She means to build her own camp there, directly on high liberal ideas.

Free Market Fairness takes a fundamentally deliberative (or, if you like, “democratic”) approach to the questions of social life. Society, in its moral essence, is not something private—like a web of commitments spontaneously spun by self-owning individuals. Citizens are not merely self-interested contractors. Nor are they utility maximizers. They are moral beings committed to living with others on terms that even the weakest among them can accept.

At base, society is a fair system of cooperation among citizens committed to respecting one another as responsible self-authors. Politics is essentially about creating a framework that respects the freedom and dignity of all citizens, regardless of their different innate abilities and family backgrounds. A social framework does this when it is designed to enable all citizens to exercise and develop their “moral powers.” Those powers involve the capacity people have to become responsible authors of their own lives, along with their capacity to recognize their fellow citizens as responsible self-authors too. Webs of private commitments grow as self-authoring invidivuals interact voluntarily within the framework of public morality. But it is that public framework that defines the moral character of Free Market Fairness.

Free Market Fairness affirms the idea, long associated with high liberals, that respect for citizens sometimes requires more than formal equality. A game of Monopoly in which players start with substantially unequal amounts of money would be unfair. The stain of that unfairness would not be lifted merely by the requirement that, once that game had begun, those differently endowed players must all abide by the same set of formal rules. High liberals have long claimed that inequalities in people’s talent endowments and family situations raise issues of public morality. Free Market Fairness agrees: undeserved inequalities can generate moral claims within politics. This does not require that society seek somehow to prevent those inequalities from arising or being expressed in the first place (as in the Kurt Vonnegut story “Harrison Bergeron”). Nor, I hasten to add, need this require that society somehow attempt to equalize the material holdings of all citizens. But this recognition does require a specific institutional response. In a just society, institutions and rules should be crafted so that whatever broad patterns of inequality emerge reflect our commitment to respecting all citizens as valued members of a cooperative whole.

If these ideas sound left liberal or high liberal, it is because they have long been affirmed exclusively by denizens of that side. Free Market Fairness has broken its way across the frozen straight. Arriving at the high liberal camp, it invites the traditional defenders of left liberal institutions to look afresh at the moral ideas beneath their own feet. Are the rickety (erstwhile “progressive”) structures we find there really suitable for that site? On these attractive moral foundations, couldn’t we build something stronger, more enduring and true?

Free Market Fairness invites high liberals to look down and rethink their moral premises. If citizens are truly committed to honoring one another as responsible self-authors, precisely which rights and liberties should be affirmed as basic possessions of all of them? In particular, do we really best respect our fellow citizens as free and equal self-governing agents by restricting their private economic liberties? Perhaps the surest foundation for private economic liberty is not to be found in traditional libertarian or classical liberal ideas of self-ownership or economic efficiency. Perhaps the more enduring foundation for such liberty is to be found in an idea directly beneath the old high liberal camp, in the idea of democratic legitimacy itself.

If we are concerned about fairness, what kind of framework best honors that (now common) concern? For example, is the best way to improve “the position of the least well-off class” to enact government programs designed to transfer wealth (whether within generations or between them)? Might we better express a concern for the least advantaged by creating a society focused not so much on issues concerning the transfer of wealth but on its creation?

Free Market Fairness is a version of bleeding heart libertarianism that seeks to answer those questions. I invite you to think about them too.

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  • geoih

    Democracy, politics and a cooperative whole? You’ll have to explain why these words aren’t the same as mob rule, war and socialism. History has shown that this is the typical outcome of these ideals. You propose to dispose of the principle of self-ownership? Who does own me? I think you’re going to have to come up with a lot more specifics before you’ll convince many libertarians to keep reading. Your slope is indeed covered with ice and very slippery. It seems to me you’re far more interested in breaking the ice, than holding to any concrete principles.

    • Kunsthausmann

      Indeed, writing about “respecting all citizens as valued members of a cooperative whole” should be interpreted as approval of collectivism by any rational, alert person who is concerned about that old problem and esp. by anyone who recognizes government for what it is: crime organized by a minority under the color of law.

      Also, the illiiberals who are wrongly described as “liberals” and “high liberals” aren’t likely to react in a friendly way to “Free Market”, whatever that means, if a ship bearing those words on her bow approaches the littoral waters of their land. Frankly, I find it difficult to fault them for doing so. As far as I can tell, “Free Markets” is a buzz term that indicates no precise, concise, coherent concept. Should there be, for example, a free market in hiring submarine skippers to torpedo ships, or should one be able to interfer with such contractual relations if his or her own ship becomes a target of a mercenary sub skipper? Maybe Free Market Fairness will have its name only on the transom, where the high illiberals won’t be able to see it. Better write it in small print, too.

      I think that another ice breaker will be needed to make a successful journey over to the progressives’ stronghold. I’d like to name her Unrigged Commerce. This is a name that everyone can understand when given a few examples of what counts as rigged commerce, not to mention crony capitalism. For instance, there’s the education voucher scam that’s being pushed in Illinois by a think tank which I won’t name but which was established during the exicting years of Reagan’s first presidency “ to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems”.

      I can’t yet give the hull number for Unrigged Commerce, however, and, in fact, the naval architect hasn’t finalized the plans. Nevertheless, the keel has been laid. Another planned ship will have the name Progressivism Rigs Commmerce and yet another, Democracy Without Governement The two names are deliberately provocative. Still, if there can be no democracy without government, then it must be true that electoral politics is an oligocratic hoax. Likewise, there is ample evidence to support that claim that progressivism rigs commerce. Makework schemes such as highway construction are very popular among leftwing politicians, not to mention businesspeople, and it so happens that these projects have led to an enourmous expansion of fossil fuel consumption during the past 100 yrs and are linked to aggressive militarism, too.

  • Aeon J. Skoble

    John, I don’t so much disagree with what I think you’re getting at as much as I wonder why you think this is worthwhile.  The folks on the other shore will begin by saying “hey, that’s great that you’re taking some of our concerns more seriously,” but as soon as you use the word “market” you’re a right-wing republican, or a deluded libertarian who “just doesn’t get it.”   The people who live on that shore don’t object to what we’d call violations of property rights because they don’t think there’s a necessary connection between property rights and “regular” (liberal) rights.  That’s why they camped out on that shore to begin with, no?

    • Anonymous

      See my comment on Fernando Teson’s “Vessels that Collide in the Night” post. I think there are lots of people who are not libertarians or conservatives but are still market-friendly to a degree well beyond what the traditional stereotype of the Democratic/progressive/liberal voter would suggest. You’re right, there are lots of people who are reflexively anti-market, but in my opinion that’s not the target audience for the BHL project. The target audience for the BHL project is people who are market-friendly and open to policy recommendations that are libertarian in nature, but who don’t necessarily accept all the axioms, deductive logic, and conclusions of typical libertarian thinking.

  • http://twitter.com/FelixLiberty Felix

    All of this ‘icebreaker’ fusionist talk over the last few days has gotten me to revisit Ronald Dworkin, who does rather a good job of combining luck egalitarianism with personal responsibility. I wonder what you BHL’ers thought of him? I think he provides a great distinction with his ‘brute’ and ‘option’ luck, as well as his insurance based egalitarianism. His method for the initial distribution of primary goods (equal distributions with an envy guarantee, so you can have to have a bundle of goods which no one else prefers to their own and visa versa) also strikes me as fair. He also raises the question of what we mean by equality? Equality of resources (which Dworkin argues for) or experience, or life?

    Do BHL’ers also have to ask ‘equality of what’? Are we addressing prioritarian or sufficientarian arguments? Are we chiefly concerned with debating luck egalitarianism or do we also have an approach to engaging those who think equality has value in itself?

  • John

    I’m pretty much with geoih and Aeon  here. 

    I’m not sure how you fully embrace the high liberal vision and hold to “powerful rights of ownership”.  If these rights are subject to revision and modification without the owner’s consent in what way are they “powerful”? To the extent that some high liberals have a commitment to political participation even it that doesn’t translate into improved material conditions for the poor where is your bleeding heart?

    I’m somewhat okay with dropping the terminology of ownership when we talk about individual and our autonomy. I’m not sure that self-authoring has much more meaning and does take away the explicit view that no individual is merely a cog in societies machinery.

    Now, clearly it’s your ship and the open waters, even if frozen, are free regarding where one sails. I’m not sure you’ll really find a home with the high liberals and would suggest one of the left-libertarian camps that exist on those shores. 

  • Damien RS

    “Free Market Fairness affirms the idea, long associated with high
    liberals, that respect for citizens sometimes requires more than formal
    equality. A game of Monopoly in which players start with substantially
    unequal amounts of money would be unfair…. But this recognition does require a specific institutional response. In a
    just society, institutions and rules should be crafted so that whatever
    broad patterns of inequality emerge reflect our commitment to
    respecting all citizens as valued members of a cooperative whole.”

    Sounds good…

    “Free Market Fairness invites high liberals to look down and rethink their moral premises… Might we better express a concern for the least advantaged by
    creating a society focused not so much on issues concerning the transfer
    of wealth but on its creation?
    Free Market Fairness is a version of bleeding heart libertarianism
    that seeks to answer those questions. I invite you to think about them
    too.”

    …sounds so far like empty rhetoric.  Or an intellectual striptease.  How did we get from FMF affirming “more than formal equality” to asking HLs to rethink their moral premises?  Shouldn’t we get to hear exactly how FMF will affirm more than formal equality first?  How FMF will feed someone who wants a job but can’t find one?  How FMF will help someone from a disadvantaged childhood?  How FMF will treat someone who has and is spreadng TB but can’t pay for a doctor?

  • Dan

    John,

    How does your view get around Nozick’s Wilt Chamberlain argument?

    You say that in a just society “whatever broad patterns of inequality emerge reflect our commitment to
    respecting all citizens as valued members of a cooperative whole.” Now, either you think that more or less any broad pattern of inequality that arises from individuals exercising their economic liberty is justified, or you don’t. My impression is that you don’t: to make the overall view substantially different from “classical” libertarianism, this clause presumably has to impose at least some kind of patterning constraint on distributions — to say that distributions manifesting such-and-such a level of inequality are, by that fact alone, rendered unjust. (This is the part I’m least sure you’ll agree with — it seems like you might want to say that it’s the rules and institutions that should be modified, not the distribution directly — but maybe we can talk about that response if it arises.) But then in what sense are you taking economic liberties — the right to property, free exchange, freedom of contract, etc — seriously? Aren’t you just saying that they may be overruled when social justice finds them inconvenient?

    The point is that you seem to have a dilemma: either you can place paramount importance on economic liberties, in which case there is no guarantee that “bad” patterns of inequality will not arise; or you place paramount importance on avoiding “bad” patterns of inequality, in which case there is no guarantee that economic liberties can be respected.

    • Aeon Skoble

      Picking up on Dan’s mention of the Wilt Chamberlain argument: this is precisely what the folks on the other shore do not get.  The so-called high liberals whom you’re hoping to camp with will say, “sure we take rights seriously, but mostly stuff like rights to freedom of conscience and rights to political participation.  Those economic rights aren’t as important and are secondary to democratic participation and can be traded off to achieve various outcomes.”  The Wilt Chamberlain argument’s point is just that there is no meaningful distinction between “civil liberties” and “economic liberties”: the latter are the real-world, physical manifestations of the former.

  • Anonymous

     

    Professor Tomasi,
    Interesting and provocative post, and bon voyage. However, I fear you may need some hull insurance for
    Ms. FMF (purchased from a reputable private company, of course). Two quick
    comments:
    First, you state that, “At base, society is
    a fair system of cooperation among citizens committed to respecting one another
    as responsible self-authors.” It is unclear whether you are making an
    empirical or a moral claim. If the former, then what is you evidence? I, for
    one, never consented to any such arrangement, so how did it arise? If you are
    making a moral claim, a la Rawls, well his project (as you know) is almost
    universally acknowledged to be a failure, and one that he in fact abandoned. So
    you need a very powerful argument for this moral claim.
    Second, apart from the fact that the Fed and our
    politicians are well down the path to turning our currency INTO monopoly money,
    the Monopoly game analogy is I believe terribly inapt. Wealth does not come,
    pre-made, out of a box . Rather, people create wealth by their labor, and it is
    not self-evident that they are not entitled to pass it on to their children,
    resulting in the inequality you reference. Of course, the morality of
    inheritance is highly controversial, but you need an argument against it. And,
    since I claim that inheritance is indistinguishable in principle from gift
    giving, you must either bite the bullet and condemn both, or find an argument
    that  condemns inheritance while
    exonerating gifting—good luck.
    More fundamentally, life, in contrast to
    Monopoly, is not a zero sum game. In real life it is possible that at the end
    of the game we are all better off. And, it may be that the way we can all
    become better off is not to empower the state to redistribute wealth. Finally,
    even if we accept that inequalities in our initial starting positions are
    unfair, it simply does not follow that it is morally permissible for the
    players  with less monopoly money to use
    force to take some away from the players with more.

     
     

    • Damien S.

      OTOH, most of us never consented to the libertarian property arrangement, either.  Somehow that’s never a concern to libertarians.

      One difference between inheritance and gift giving is that the alleged giver in inheritance is dead.  One could always give to one’s children while alive.  Of course, that means either splitting up the wealth or taking a risk that your children will pull a King Lear on you; inheritance law could be seen as a state subsidy of a mode of wealth concentration.

      Life, in contrast to Monopoly, is a ‘game’ in which one can die for real. “it is possible that at the end
      of the game we are all better off” — but the game has no end, and more to the point if you run out of money along the way you *die* rather than sitting out until the next game.

      (PS. Did the site owners silently change the posting requirements?)

      • Anonymous

        Damien,
        The libertarian property arrangement, as I understand it, is that (subject to a limited range of exceptions required to prevent moral catastrophe) individuals acting alone or through the state cannot justly use force to dispossess people of property obtained through voluntary transactions. Since we regard this right as something we are born with, like the right of free expression, we contend that no third party consent is required for this right to operate. Of course, you may believe there exists a natural right to use force to take property away from its owners in the name of social justice, but you must then specify the moral foundations of this purported “right.”

        Regarding inheritance, it also splits up the wealth, as you say, but just at a later date when the testator dies, so I don’t see the distinction. More importantly, it is not clear to me that we are free to disregard the will of the testator just because he/she is dead, which is what I think you are saying. If you promise your mother on her death bed that you will do something, and this is well within your power, are you then freed of this promise when she dies?   

        (I did need to register in order to post, which was not required before)

        • Damien S.

          Your response takes for granted that people can own property, absolutely and without answering to anyone else.  How this property was claimed in the first place is an open question.  Locke gave one answer, usually only selectively remembered; the fact that much property has in fact been stolen is undeniable.  The original libertarians had different conceptions, starting with the world held in common, and with individual possession by right of active use, and no right to accumulate property at the expense of others’ need to live.  Under this regime “take property away from its owners” is nonsensical, as there are no legitimate owners in your sense.  Such conceptions ground out in various ways such as Georgist land tax, squatters’ rights, and from an unusual perspective, Kelo.

          As for moral foundations, I ultimately go back to Epicurus and Hobbes.  There are no truly natural rights, just the power to do things and our reactions to them.  Rights are a social construct, to create a more pleasant and secure society.  We start with untrammeled freedom to do and non-existent freedom from others, and give up some of one to build up the other.

          But someone else might ask what your moral foundations are for a right to own more than you need without any obligation to save the life of others.  Ultimately libertarianism comes down to “I don’t *have* to give you anything just because you’re starving” and that’s where much of the human race turns away, and libertarianism will progress insofar as it can convince people that removing an obligation to help each other is a good thing.

          • Anonymous

            Damien,
            Well, my short reply to you on a specific topic did not address the entire universe of questions relevant to political theory, but I can assure you that I do not believe that “people can own property, absolutely and without answering to anyone else. ” This is precisely why I included a parenthetical about “moral catastrophe,” remember. This is the same qualification relied upon by Nozick. With the possible exception of Rand, libertarians do not believe that widows and orphans should starve in the streets if voluntary efforts fail to save them.

            In fact, although Nozick did not attempt to spell this out, I believe that starting with his moral assumptions you can derive a minimal social safety net from his Lockean model of initial appropriation. Very, very briefly, Locke conditioned the justice of the reduction to private property on leaving “enough and as good” for others. This condition was based on the idea that while the appropriator has a natural right of self-preservation that justifies the creation of private property, this act could not justly derpive others of their equal right to self-preservation. A property regime that leads to innocent persons starving in the streets violates these people’s equal right of self-preservation, and thus the holdings that produce this result may justly be modified.

          • Damien S.

            I did wonder what you meant by “moral catastrophe”, and your expansion sounds quite promising.  I have to say, though, that it sounds rather exceptional, and “libertarians do not believe that widows and orphans should starve in the streets if voluntary efforts fail to save them” is not my experience of libertarians.  Multiple commenters right on this blog decry any involuntary transactions or forcible adjustment of property distribution.  Rothbard’s caveat that some initial situations might need a degree of land reform has been repudiated here.  Hayek’s social insurance has been called a mistake.  So I’m afraid your second paragraph, while sounding like what I was hoping to hear when I first came to this sight, doesn’t seem normal.

          • Anonymous

            I believe the problem, if it is one, is that the label “libertarianism” can plausibly accomodate a wide range of views. There are certainly a number of prominent philosophers who self-identify as libertarian, like Jan Narveson and Loren Lomasky, who clearly support at least a minimal social safety net. The issue then, I think, is whether there is something in “libertarianism” that commits one to the harsh position we have been discussing. I don’t think there is, since I believe there are ways w/in this theory to acknowledge the force of  values other than rights, while still maintaining a strong commitment to economic liberty. 

          • Damien S.

            Hadn’t heard of them, but cool.  Combined with Hayek and Rothbard, it seems there’s more flexibility in philosopher libertarians[1] than in most of the libertarians I’ve directly encountered.  Whether to judge anything by its best expression or its most common (and politically  likely) expression is an open question.

        • Damien S.

          Your response takes for granted that people can own property, absolutely and without answering to anyone else.  How this property was claimed in the first place is an open question.  Locke gave one answer, usually only selectively remembered; the fact that much property has in fact been stolen is undeniable.  The original libertarians had different conceptions, starting with the world held in common, and with individual possession by right of active use, and no right to accumulate property at the expense of others’ need to live.  Under this regime “take property away from its owners” is nonsensical, as there are no legitimate owners in your sense.  Such conceptions ground out in various ways such as Georgist land tax, squatters’ rights, and from an unusual perspective, Kelo.

          As for moral foundations, I ultimately go back to Epicurus and Hobbes.  There are no truly natural rights, just the power to do things and our reactions to them.  Rights are a social construct, to create a more pleasant and secure society.  We start with untrammeled freedom to do and non-existent freedom from others, and give up some of one to build up the other.

          But someone else might ask what your moral foundations are for a right to own more than you need without any obligation to save the life of others.  Ultimately libertarianism comes down to “I don’t *have* to give you anything just because you’re starving” and that’s where much of the human race turns away, and libertarianism will progress insofar as it can convince people that removing an obligation to help each other is a good thing.

  • Anonymous

     

    Sorry for the strange formatting, which I can’t explain.

     
     

  • Anonymous

    I’d like to see Free Market Fairness applied to Free Trade, because, frankly, I see the ‘It’s best for the economy and generation of goods’ argument trotted out in defense of Free Trade all the time.

    As you pointed out, who the hell care about ‘the economy’ in some abstract sense? What is best for the _human beings_ in the economy? Is it really best to have people in 16-hour a day dangerous sweatshops vs. their former subsistence farming? Is it best to have massive unemployment in the first world, and people living off their home equity? ‘Free Trade’ seems to be solving the ‘problem’ of ‘businesses not making as much money as they could because Americans expect to be paid reasonably’.

    Anyway, I know this post isn’t about Free Trade, and I’m not trying to hijack, but the whole ‘best for the economy’ thing drives me crazy when talking about Free Trade, so I hope it shows up soon in this series. As someone on the left, I might disagree with 75% of it, but the series is an interesting read, and I’m trying to provide useful feedback so some common ground can be reached.

    • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

      Hi David,

      I’ll be doing a post on sweatshops soon. In the meantime, I’ve written about it in a paper that’s available free online -can’t link to it from my phone though. In brief, I think most of the best philosophical defenses of free trade or even sweatshop labor are based on the idea that these things are god for individuals, especially individuals who are among the worlds least well off. ‘ good for the economy’ to the extent that it matters morally, matters because it masters for individuals. To the extent that my conclusions are different from yours, this is probably due to a mixture of empirical disagreements about the effects of free trade and its alternatives, and perhaps done moral disagreements regarding the nature of individual choice and well being.

      • Anonymous

        It should be interesting. A few preemptive notes:

        Most of the arguments that people are ‘better off’ tend to be made under the
        idea that the factory has already shown up and destroyed the
        traditional way of life, or doubled the price of food, or poisoned the land, or managed to claim ownership of previously public areas that people made their livings from.

        Working in the sweatshop, is, in fact, almost always a better choice vs. not working in the sweatshop. We know that, because often people do choose to work in sweatshops. (Otherwise, ‘sweatshop’ is a misnomer. If they have no choice, it’s slave labor.)

        However, that doesn’t mean people wouldn’t have been better off had the sweatshop not been built _at all_.

        And ‘poverty’ is a relative thing. After the sweatshops has been built, people may have ‘more money’, but considering they now have to purchase food, and probably rent shelter, etc, etc, it’s a real question if they are actually ‘richer’ in any sense. Chinese people working in the iPhone factory do not have iPhones. Or computers. Or real health care.

        Yes, _eventually_ they will be richer, but it seem somewhat surreal to be concerned that in 10 years some Chinese peasant might be able to buy a car, whereas in 2 years the American who lost the job to them is going bankrupt, dooming the next generation to a long climb back up the lower-middle class. It requires a very strange sort of ‘middle view’ to think that’s a good outcome, because it sucks in both the short view and the long view.

        So even if a sweatshop is ‘better’ in some sense than subsistence farming, that doesn’t mean it ‘wins’…the question is the betterment better than the harm it does elsewhere with the loss of jobs.

        Even if we assume that sweatshops are helpful to raise people out of poverty, even if we assume that it’s magically equal, and all ‘up’ equals all ‘down’ (Which is not true because of ‘the costs are lower’, which means, by definition, less more is spent over there than used to be spent over here.), even if we assume that…

        …a society that has always lived in poverty and is currently in poverty is a lot more capable of dealing with it than _our_ society suddenly losing all of its revenue. We _can’t_ subsistence farm for a variety of reasons. If we do not have jobs so we get paid to purchase food, or pay for shelter, we _die_. Or, the government has to pay to keep us alive, but at some point, that doesn’t become possible to keep up.

        • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

          Hi David, 

          Yes, those are excellent points to raise.  They’re  a bit beyond the scope of the issue I plan to take up in my very next post, but they’re something I plan to follow up with in a future post.  It’s important to ask whether the undeniable injustices suffered by workers and potential workers in the developing world are causally connected to, or independent of, the activities of the multinational enterprises with which sweatshops contract.  And it’s important to ask how the introduction of foreign direct investment in the first place affects a country, not merely in terms of aggregate economic growth, but in terms of distributional concerns as well.  I’ll try to say a bit about this when I do my future post.

          Best,

          -Matt

  • Kenneth Switala

    I’m a bit curious why “the position of the least well-off class” looks like it is surrounded by scare quotes.

  • http://profiles.google.com/entelechy77 Kurt Horner

    Might we better express a concern for the least advantaged by creating a society focused not so much on issues concerning the transfer of wealth but on its creation?

    Maybe, but the high liberal retort is that the gains from new wealth creation in the typical capitalist society disproportionately accrue to certain well-placed persons. By definition, this means that the rich gain at a faster rate than the poor. To take the stance you are taking, you have to make the argument that substantial inequality of returns to effort is inherent in an industrial society and that the reduction in growth from narrowing that inequality is so great that the poor lose more long term from any conceivable change in the rules than they would just by putting up with the unequal returns. That stance is both highly unlikely and lacking empirical support.

    The better question to pose to both high liberals and libertarians is: Might we better express a concern for the least advantaged by creating a society where the gains from economic activity do not exaggerate and amplify differences in ability and circumstance?

    For example, even if you believe the typical Fortune 500 CEO is smarter, more talented and harder working than the average working class stiff, is he really 250 times more awesome? Somehow I doubt the tail of the human bell curve goes out quite that far. Note that I’m not saying that high CEO pay is evil, rather that the rules of the economy make this vast discrepancy seem “correct” when a reasonable person could not possibly conclude that such a disparity purely reflects individual variation.

    • Anonymous

      CEO pay is, at this point, a literal criminal conspiracy.

      ‘Oh, we have to pay them that much because that’s what the 0.0001% of the population that all went to the same schools and social clubs demand that amount of money, and if we don’t hire _them_, no one will do business with them.’

      ‘So, basically, you’re saying that other CEOs and Boards of Directors will not do their legally-required fiduciary duty to make the best business deal for their company, if that deal would be with a company run by the wrong sort of person? Instead, they are operating an extortion racket?’

      ‘…uh, yes.’

      Again, I am not speaking in any metaphorical sense. This is _illegal_ behavior. It is a civil malfeasance for a CEO to look at a proposed deal with either company X, or company Y, and pick company X because he’s a golf buddy with their CEO, instead of the best deal with company Y. I think the entire world would be much better off if shareholders became a _lot_ more sue-happy over this sort of nonsense.

      And this particular thing has surpassed ‘civil lawsuit’ and is outright ‘criminal’ at this point, considering how widespread the practice is. All you have to demonstrate that it is some sort of pattern and reciprocal behavior between CEOs and it’s a damn RICO violation.

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