Symposium on Free Market Fairness, Consequentialism

Free Market Fairness: John Rawls or J. S. Mill?

[Editor’s Note: This essay is part of a symposium on John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness. For an introduction to the symposium, click here. For a list of all posts in the symposium, click here.]

In his excellent book Free Market Fairness John Tomasi introduces a new idea that he labels “market democracy” and develops it in sensible ways.  To see what he has in mind, ask yourself why economic liberty gets such short shrift in modern liberal theories of justice.  In John Rawls’s theory, basic liberties get special protection, but the only economic liberties that qualify for this status are the right to own personal private property and the right to some freedom of occupational choice.[1. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, revised edition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971 and 1999); also John Rawls, Political Liberalism, expanded edition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993, 1996, and 2005).] Entirely absent from the set of protected liberties are freedoms to start a private business enterprise, keep the profits one gains from successful enterprise, acquire private ownership of enterprise assets with security against expropriation of those assets by the state for its own purposes, and so on.  This downgrading of capitalist liberties strikes Tomasi as odd and objectionable.  This feature of modern philosophical liberalism is not an unintended side effect of focusing on other issues; this tradition prides itself on taking the high road that progressively frees our idea of a just social order from any necessary affirmation of private ownership of enterprise and free markets as anything except possibly useful instruments to the fair (in some sense equal) distribution of opportunities and resources we should be working to achieve.  Modern philosophical liberalism would be transformed if one amended it by giving capitalist liberty its rightful place.  The simple and elegant suggestion that John Tomasi makes is that we should be engaged in the hard intellectual labor of carrying out exactly that transformation.  This is the market democracy project in a nutshell.

There are two prongs to Tomasi’s hybrid proposal for reforming what he calls the tradition of “high liberalism.”  One is to make empirical claims backed by right-wing rhetoric.  The gist of this idea is that a lightly regulated capitalist free market economy with low taxation will boost economic growth and hence over the long run will advance the prospects of the least advantaged members of society to a greater extent than alternative social democratic policies.  The empirical issues here are evidently complex and tricky.  I set these issues to the side.  My own hunches about these factual matters  are very different from Tomasi’s, but no one should be interested in a philosopher’s armchair speculation on empirical matters.  Tomasi’s claims, worked into more precise form to be suitable for investigation, are to be settled by social science inquiry.  (Some would say the social science evidence on some large conjectures on which Tomasi relies is already available to us, and decisively rejects these conjectures.)

The second prong in Tomasi’s critique of the high liberal tradition involves reassessing the intrinsic value and deontological weight of the economic liberties to acquire and own private property, contract with others on any mutually agreeable terms, and retain ownership rights until one voluntarily transfers it to others or passes it along to one’s chosen heirs. These economic liberties are central to the operation of capitalist market economies as they currently function.  Tomasi opines that these liberties are intrinsically worthy and merit protection and respect quite independently of any good consequences that might flow from protecting and respecting them.  To put this suggestion to use, Tomasi advances the idea that the Rawlsian principles of justice, taken as exemplary of the high liberal tradition, are to be amended by inserting some right of capitalist economic liberty into the set of basic liberties, the full protection of which is the top priority requirement of social justice.  This is a simple but groundbreaking suggestion, provocative and interesting.  I find it difficult to assess pending further specification by Tomasi of just what exactly he means to include in the idea of the economic liberty that is to figure in the set of basic liberties.  There are many significantly different possible interpretations of the idea, and so far Tomasi has provided only a vague general characterization.

One comment worth making immediately is that whatever capitalist economic liberty is inserted into the set of Rawlsian basic liberties will surely enormously curtail the implications of the egalitarian difference principle that Tomasi also wants to affirm in his hybrid vision.  The difference principle dictates that within the limits imposed by the higher-priority justice requirements of equal basic liberties for all and fair equality of opportunity, we should set economic institutions so that over the long run they make the economic resources that go to the worst off members of society as large as possible.  The principles of justice are nested, with the requirement of equal basic liberty for all taking strict lexical priority over lower-ranked principles.  For Rawls, this means no restricting of free speech or curtailing of rights of democratic citizenship in order to boost anyone’s economic prospects.  Now let us follow the Tomasi suggestion of inserting capitalist economic liberty into the set of basic liberties that trumps all other justice demands.   What this amounts to depends on how Tomasi wants us to conceive of capitalist economic liberty, but any robust entrenchment of capitalist entrepreneurial rights or rights of shareholders in business firms or rights to retain the profit from voluntary contractual arrangements that impose no wrongful spillover costs on nonconsenting others will greatly crimp the writ of the difference principle in realistically possible circumstances.  Tomasi justice will then hold that no infringement of Donald Trump’s basic liberties including his capitalist economic liberty, however slight, is morally permissible, no matter how great the gain that would accrue to worse off members of society.  From any remotely liberal egalitarian philosophical perspective, Tomasi’s revised Rawlsianism looks to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Perhaps the comments above are misleading.  Perhaps Tomasi does not want his doctrine of market democracy to be harnessed too tightly to the Rawlsian framework of principles that he uses to characterize it.   But then we need more detailed specification of his proposal before we can assess it.

Details aside, I am strongly inclined to believe that the proposal to entrench any notion of economic liberty in the form of private ownership of the means of production into a set of morally privileged basic liberties merits rejection.  Economic assets passed along from generation to generation are tools for the improvement of the condition of humanity.  From the standpoint of fundamental moral principle, it is wrong to see property ownership relations as fundamental rights. Saying this is not to deny that the liberties afforded by capitalist property ownership are valuable opportunities for individual fulfillment.  Being a CEO of a large private corporation, like being a top elected or appointed government official, gives one a unique opportunity for exercise of creativity and leadership and complex administrative liberties.  But from the standpoint of moral principle one cannot acquire private ownership rights to these roles; they involve stewardship, and institutional arrangements that should be set to maximize the fulfillment of our moral goals rightly interpreted.

Tomasi’s affirmation of market democracy criticizes the high liberal tradition for downgrading capitalist economic liberties.  His hybrid proposal also criticizes the classical liberal tradition as represented by such authors as Friedrich Hayek and Richard Epstein.  Tomasi admires the institutional wisdom he sees embedded in this tradition of thought, but rejects its aggregative, quasi-utilitarian moral foundations.  Borrowing a leaf from the writings of the high liberal tradition, in the spirit of John Rawls and Thomas Nagel and Ronald Dworkin and Thomas Scanlon, Tomasi suggests that at the foundational level we consider how free and equal rational and moral persons would conceive of social relations that enable all of them to live together in a democratic, cooperative community.  The foundational moral principles we embrace for the regulation of institutions and individual conduct should express the aspiration of free and equal moral persons to be good neighbors to each other and enable each to live genuinely self-authored lives of their own choosing.  In a broadly Kantian spirit we seek to find principles that none could reasonably reject as a basis for living together.  In taking this high liberal deliberative perspective on selection of moral principles, Tomasi adds the twist that (1) we should put economic liberty as envisaged in the classical liberal tradition in its proper privileged place and (2) that the principles we would then choose as moral foundations for the regulation of society will broadly support the institutions of free-market capitalism as seen in the classical liberal tradition.  In very rough terms, his hybrid market democracy consists of high liberal moral foundations (amended by respect for economic liberty) yoked to the institutional wisdom of the classical liberal tradition.

As Tomasi notes, this is a research program for moral philosophy, not a finished product.   I wish him well in these efforts. However, his mix-and-match strategy fusing elements in the right-wing and left-wing traditions highlights a quite different research program that would follow the same strategy but embrace exactly the elements from each tradition that he rejects.  The idea would be to work with the consequentialist and welfarist moral foundations of the classical liberal traditions, suitably amended, and seek to derive from these foundations institutional proposals in the spirit of the social democratic tradition.   In a slogan: Not John Rawls libertarianism but rather Richard Epstein liberal social democracy.

Here’s the lightest sketch of the latter path, which I favor and which Tomasi decisively rejects.  Very briefly, the problem with utilitarianism is neither its maximizing consequentialist structure nor its basic idea that what ultimately matters morally is the quality of each individual human life.  The problem is (1) utilitarianism’s aggregative maximizing function gives no weight to egalitarian concerns, but we should be favoring the worse off, and (2) the maximand for a consequentialist view should not be interpreted in desire satisfaction or hedonic terms but in perfectionist terms, that is to say the goal is to gain for individual persons the several objectively valuable components of a fulfilled life—friendship, love, achievement, knowledge, enjoyment, and so on.  Embracing perfectionist moral foundations is not rejecting the project of conceiving how free and equal moral and rational persons, people like us, would choose principles that enable their flourishing as autonomous individuals and as good neighbors.  To my mind the two projects dovetail.  The idea would then be to fuse the perfectionist welfarist consequentialism of J. S. Mill (and Derek Parfit) with twentieth-century social science and with the wisdom and lore accumulated through the historical experiences of modern social democratic regimes.  Tomasi notes Mill’s perfectionism, but recoils from it.  In my view Tomasi’s mistake here is to be too Rawlsian.

To my mind Tomasi orients his responses to modern liberalism too closely around his responses to the writings of John Rawls.  Tomasi pretty much takes philosophical high liberalism to be the thought of Rawls as interpreted by Samuel Freeman.  Doing this is understandable but mistaken.  Tomasi mentions the luck egalitarian tradition (as represented in the writings of G. A. Cohen, Ronald Dworkin, John Roemer, Larry Temkin, a stage of Thomas Nagel, and others), but does not seriously engage with it.  This lack of engagement shows up in his beliefs about what is living and what is dead in the right-wing authors he takes as mentors.  But the luck egalitarian doctrine develops a line of thought on individual responsibility and justice that hits both Rawls and many right-wing treatments of individual responsibility.  Against Rawls, the luck egalitarian holds that what we owe other people who are well off or badly off importantly varies depending on the degree to which they can reasonably be held morally responsible for their condition.  Against right-wingers, the generic luck egalitarian insight is that having a poor endowment of natural talent and other favorable personal traits can render one less than fully responsible for poor choices one makes and poor ambitions one forms, so many people who would be seen by someone like Charles Murray as belonging to the herd of undeserving poor are, viewed through the lens of a fine-grained account of responsibility, better viewed as deserving and highly eligible for a helping hand.  In fact the best luck egalitarian account may hold that the “herd of undeserving poor” has virtually no members.  Part of the mistake involved in his being too Rawlsian is that Tomasi misses some sharp and sound criticisms of right-wing views.

  • Jessica Flanigan

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I agree that sticking so closely to Rawls doesn’t do the view many favors, but Tomasi’s more general ‘economic freedom + social justice’ formula need not distinguish between the deserving and undeserving poor as Tomasi and right-wingers do. For example, why not have a UBI for everyone but also protect economic freedom? (I say this all the time around her, libertarians seem to remain unconvinced…)

    One question I had though was about the claim that “economic assets passed along from generation to generation are tools for the improvement of the condition of humanity” much like positions of political power. Maybe this is true about inter generational transfers (and as Elizabeth Anderson pointed out, why wouldn’t inheritance be similarly damaging to heirs’ self-esteem as welfare is to workers’ self esteem?)

    Still, economic assets remain different from positions of political power in several important respects. First, owning a business and being someone’s boss at work means that she consented and that she can leave (especially if we have a UBI too). These features are not present with political power- the politically ruled do not consent to interference the way that employees consent to a labor agreement. For this reason, access to political power is subject to all sorts of moral constraints that don’t apply when people actually consented, (that is, if political power is justified at all.)

    Further, the same reasons that tell in favor of protecting rights of personal property (it’s an important project for people to own stuff, people define themselves by their stuff, whatever they are) also will tell in favor of productive property. Do you also think that personal property rights are non-basic?

    What about other assets passed from generation to generation, like our genetic endowments or working kidneys? Somewhere we will need to draw a line between what is “a tool for the improvement of the condition of humanity” and what isn’t. “From the standpoint of fundamental moral principle” why is it wrong ::in principle:: to see property ownership relations as fundamental rights but not wrong to see bodily autonomy that way?

    • Aeon Skoble

      “why not have a UBI for everyone but also protect economic freedom? (I say this all the time around here, libertarians seem to remain unconvinced…) ”
      Where does the money for a UBI come from?  Other people.  Against their will?  That’s why libertarians tend to be unconvinced.  But I get that your point is that if we _substitute_ UBI for all the other welfare-state apparatus, we’d have less _overall_ interference in our economic freedom.  Maybe that’s true, but I think something else is missing when you completely omit the idea of need from social-safety-net arguments.  It’s one thing to argue that (e.g.) “a decent society doesn’t let poor people starve or freeze, so we will provide poor-relief” – it’s quite another to say “you will be taxed to support both poor homeless folks _and_ people who are perfectly capable of working, but prefer not to “demean” themselves with menial labor that they consider “beneath” them.  Even if your emprical argument works, there’s something morally objectionable about it.  Put another way: maybe you can talk me into paying to help the needy, but you cannot talk me into paying to help people avoid work.

      • Jessica Flanigan

         I’ve talked up the UBI in earlier posts where I addressed this concern, so here is a question back. Setting aside anarchist ideal theory, given that we have a state why is it that people are entitled to public coercive enforcement of a very particular set of private and productive property claims? Who consented to that?

        Like, say you have a government that is enforcing a bunch of rules about who gets what. No one consented to the public officials doing that, but they do. Why favor a) taxes for the enforcement of a private property system with help for the needy over b) no taxes even for enforcing property claims (e.g. the state does nothing) c) taxes to enforce property claims and that’s it, c) UBI, d) difference principle or e) 100% taxes and full redistribution/extreme socialism?

        There’s no reason to think a) or any of the others has some moral advantage until we look at the moral reasons in favor of each proposal. That is, will your favorite property system have better consequences? Is it more free? Is it the most justifiable? Is it fair? I think that when we think of these questions we will find that c) is the best system. It sounds like you like a), but it takes more of an argument than ‘I have a right that the system of property doesn’t use tax revenue for stuff I don’t like!’ because whether you do have such a right is just the thing that is at issue.

        • Aeon Skoble

          “Setting aside anarchist ideal theory, given that we have a state why is it that people are entitled to public coercive enforcement of a very particular set of private and productive property claims?”
          Because if there’s going to be a state and the state is 2nd best, its scope and justification still have to fit within the same criteria that led to the ideal thing that, in principle at least, trumps it.  So, the state has to respect the moral equality of all persons – that is, even if we’re “settling for” the state, we would still want to preserve our status as free and equal moral persons.  So the state’s legitimate functions would protecting that.   Which means, protecting against the trespass of others.  So, to go along with your hypo, I’ll concede arguendo that the state has to run police and courts, but it wouldn’t follow from that that the state’s police should be doing whetever is “democratic” such as banning substances or tasing protestors or erecting walls to keep out latinos.  They should only be protecting persons and property from aggression.  IIRC, your next move is to say that it’s “coercive” to enforce property rights, but I disagree, I think that move fails to take seriously the distinction between aggresssion and defense.  My bodily integrity is the default, your attempt to punch me is what requires justification, and, lacking any, can be rightly repelled.  That’s also true for any property I may have traded to acquire.  If I agree to mow your law for 20 dollars, and I mow it, and you give me 20 dollars, I fail to see how I’m not entitled to that 20 dollars, and in any case the burden of proof that I’m not would surely fall on whoever wants to appropriate it.  My using force, or a 3rd-party helping me use force, to keep it is rightful and not morally equivalent to the attempt by the other guy to take it. 
          ” Who consented to that?”  No one has to consent to that.  To have oit any other way is to abandon the pretense of all being free and equal moral persons.  What requires consent is the giving up of my freedom, as when I sign a contract or make a promise.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Yes: very well said (and reasoned)! I would only add that I think Nozick is very good on why the defense of property rights is not “coercive,” i.e. because they are an essential aspect of our moral autonomy, and it is this attribute that explains why we value persons as “free and equal.”

          • Proudhon jr

             Aeon Skoble: “My bodily integrity is the default, your attempt to punch me is what requires justification, and, lacking any, can be rightly repelled.  That’s also true for any property I may have traded to acquire.”

            You here take previous trades and resource aquisitions for given. That is a question begging move that should convince no one. For those are moral aspects deeply entrenched in the argumentative issue at hand. On that substantial issue I find the that the most plausible resource acquisition criteria are joint-ownership left-libertarian criteria that bound the rest of the justice theory to a highly egalitarian set of conclusions. Those criteria block your conclusion and thereby block your objection to Arneson.

          • Aeon Skoble

            How is my example question-begging?   Why is it wrong for me to claim ownership of the 20 dollars that I exchanged my lawn-mowing power for?  Because the great-great-great-grandfather of the owner of the lawn I mowed may have benefited from some injustice in acquisition of the means by which the current owner can afford 20 dollars? I think that’s a dubious position both moraly and pragmatically.  For all I know, my ancestor was one of the victims of that injustice, so by  not allowing me to profit now, you’re making it worse.

          • Proudhon jr

            It is question begging because you are trying to use something X to make an argumentative point against one theory of justice when the merit of X depends on what the correct theory of justice is. On many theories of justice the assumptions you made are not merited. Claiming that assumption a “default position” is therefore question begging and should convince no one.

            In your reply to attempt to move from the question begging assumption by providing reasons for you having a special claim to the resources under discussion. But that attempt has a problematic step. If we track the resources further back we have no evidence to believe that your ancestors had more legitimate moral claims to those resources than anyone else. Therefor we have no evidence to believe that you now have special claims to them. Therefore you have no valid objection to fair distribution of said resources.

          • Aeon Skoble

            If you think it’s question-begging for me to take “hitting me is wrong” as the default setting and that you need convincing on that point which I’m failing to offer, we literally have nothing to talk about.  I don’t say that in anger and mean no offense; I mean literally, I have nothing else to say.  I was under the impression that this discussion was broadly speaking within the liberal tradition.  If I thought I needed to justify _why_ persons should be thought of as moral equals I’d need to retool, but I didn’t think that was at issue here.  Both the “L” and the “BH” in BHL seem to allow the common ground that persons should be regarded as moral equals.  I can defend that, but I didn’t think I’d need to.

          • Proudhon jr

             “That’s also true for any property I may have traded to acquire.”

            That is what I have objected to. Your claim about external resources. To question that claim is not to question a norm against hitting people.

          • Proudhon jr

            I should add: No valid objection based on transactional/historical reasoning on the fundamental moral level at least. You might however attempt to make a consequentialist argument for it being optimific that you have absolute control over those resources. But the fact that both you and me afford internet access and have time to have this conversation all the while many fellow humans have died from easily and cheaply preventable causes elsewhere while we typed our posts is proof enough that those resources can be put to better use in other hands than yours or mine.

          • When you say ‘proof enough’ you are assuming a contentious moral theory and thus begging the question.

          • Proudhon jr

             Consider that sentence shorthand for an appeal to moral intuition about what conclusion some some mainstream optimizing consequentialist framework like act-utilitarianism, rule-utilitarianism, rule-prioritarianism, etc. would render if we added more evidence about consequences. Do you have reason to think that any such consequentialist view would reach another conclusion regarding directing resources to aid people otherwise dying early in life under extreme agony?

          • I’m sorry my remark was somewhat cryptic. The point I was making was that moral-intuition swapping does not get us far. We need a way of testing moral theories if we are to make progress.

            In response to your last question it is not clear that rule-consequentialism would favour the transfer of resources. Since we are supposed to follow the best rules even though they give a harsh result in some circumstances, it could be that the example you describe is one of those harsh circumstances. Indeed, even the act-consequentialist may argue against the transfer if, for example, the cost of moving the resources were far greater than the size of the resources to be moved.

      •  “…you cannot talk me into paying to help people avoid work.” I’ve already said my piece elsewhere on why I think this is the default position for most people, so I won’t repeat that. It’s interesting to speculate though as to whether a UBI could be structured so as to be politically acceptable. (Whether it could be philosophically acceptable I leave to others.)

        Going by the example of the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend and similar schemes, I think the key is that a) the UBI has to be funded as much as possible by external entities (not by voters themselves) and b) the funds have to be in exchange for some resource, or as compensation for some harm, that is by nature equally shared among all voters.

        Thus, for example, in the case of Alaska the external entities are oil companies and the funds are in exchange for the leasing of oil fields on public lands. Other hypothetical examples would be a tax levied against industrial polluters, a carbon tax focused on industrial uses of fossil fuels, leasing of rights to the broadcast spectrum, and the like.

        The Alaska dividend isn’t that large (on the order of one or two thousand dollars a year) but it’s possible that you could cobble enough of these types of funding sources to provide a decent UBI.

  • Fteson

    When someone of the stature of Richard Arneson describes the massive empirical evidence for the proposition that markets, more than non-market alternatives, are apt to generate the wealth that, with good institutions, will benefit the poor, as (controversial) “empirical claims backed by right-wing rethoric”, then I know that this conversation between high liberals and (BH) libertarians is in trouble.

    • Aeon Skoble

      This bothered me also.  Why is it legitimate for so-called high liberals to refer to defenses of market institutions and property rights as “right wing rhetoric” when it would surely be ruled out of bounds (at least in the context of a conversation such as this purports to be) for the libertarians to refer to defenses of redistributionist policies and restrictions on liberty as “left wing rhetoric.”  What also bothered me was the blithe dismissal of the empirical evidence, as if it were the case that if we only bothered to look at what econ tells us, we’d see that minimum wage laws and occupational licensure and tariffs actually help poor people.

    • B. Turner

      I understood him to be saying that such “conjectures” have been “decisively rejected.”  It’s hard to know what to make of that.  Wouldn’t Paul Krugman, for example, endorse those claims? Does John claim we should abolish the Fed or something?

  • Aeon Skoble

    “The foundational moral principles we embrace for the regulation of institutions and individual conduct should express the aspiration of free and equal moral persons to be good neighbors to each other and enable each to live genuinely self-authored lives of their own choosing.”   If people are free and morally equal, then their rights to enjoy the fruits of their labors must be as inviolate as their rights to choose what to read or how to worship a deity or deities.  When you say to Bob “I am going to forcibly seize some of your assets because I think Tom needs them” or “I am going to forcibly seize some of your assets because some large number of us has a better idea of how to use them,” you are failing to treat Bob as your moral equal.  

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  • martinbrock

    There are many significantly different possible interpretations of the idea, and so far Tomasi has provided only a vague general characterization.

    I agree with Tomasi that “capitalist” or “entrepreneurial” rights merit protection, more on utilitarian than on natural rights grounds, and I also agree with you here. The rights of a capitalist require a utilitarian justification in my way of thinking, and this justification should be empirical in my way of thinking, but sometimes my way of thinking is fantastic.

    The most useful rights of a capitalist is an empirical question, but empirical methods can’t easily address the question, because social science provides no effective laboratory. Analytical methods must precede empirical methods regardless. We must have an hypothesis to test before we can test it, so we might as well treat the problem as purely analytic.

    We must propose putative rights of a capitalist before we can analyze their consequences, however speculatively, so I’ll propose a few.

    I favor exclusive rights to govern means of production, including resources that are not fruits of the proprietor’s own labor (like the marginal value of natural resources and gifts), with three provisos, liberal credit, title expiration and a progressive consumption tax.

    Liberal credit involves 1) a right of all persons and free associations to circulate promissory notes leveraging their labor and other property and 2) a right to default on a debt when the holder of capital cannot effectively earn the price paid for the capital on credit, i.e. when the marginal value of productive resources within the holder’s productive organization is less than the price the holder paid for the resources on credit. Needless to say, this notion requires further elaboration.

    Title expiration is the gradual loss of property rights not exercised, particularly after the death of a proprietor. Operationally, title expiration is a gift tax, but no one is entitled to the monetary revenue from this tax. Instead, a probate court receives the revenue and removes it from circulation. For example, the court could celebrate the deceased with a bonfire burning money paid for his capital.

    Here, “money” describes notes issued by a central bank rather than an intrinsically valuable commodity. Realizing title expiration with a different monetary system requires a different approach. A court could distribute commodity money to financial sponsors of the court for example, or it could hold a lottery or a competitive contest of some kind.

    A progressive consumption tax is not designed to raise state revenue either. It rather limits the entitlement of a capitalist to consume the marginal value of capital he holds, rather than reinvesting this value or expending it charitably.

    Operationally, a progressive consumption tax is a progressive income tax plus tax deferred investment accounts with unlimited contributions. At some level, marginal income consumed is taxed so heavily that a capitalist will not consume it but will reinvest it instead. Charity is an investment with an expected negative yield. As a practical matter, common juries hearing tax evasion cases decide what constitutes “investment” rather than “consumption” and so is not subject to the tax.

    Any revenue raised could also be removed from circulation or distributed like a dividend to sponsors of a court.

    All of the preceding is a prologue to addressing your rejection of entrenched economic liberties in the form of private ownership of the means of production, on the grounds that the entrenchment ignores proper egalitarian or humanitarian concerns. My question to you is: How else might I address these concerns?

    As you say, none of these limitations of a capitalist’s rights entitles anyone else to anything, with the possible exception of sponsors of a court. Specifically, none of the limitations entitle the poorest people to anything; however, the progressive consumption tax does entitle the proprietor of capital to expend the yield of his capital on the poor while prohibiting him from expending the yield on his personal consumption.

    Any conceivable entitlement of the poor to support requires some authority other than the poor themselves to redistribute goods outside of mutually beneficial, market exchange, and a central authority with a monopoly of this redistributive power is problematic. Expecting this central authority to provide for the poor is not fundamentally more reasonable than expecting many less central authorities to provide for the poor. Why not expect capitalists, with no authority to consume the yield of capital beyond a margin, to provide for the poor? Why expect a more central authority, with or without this constraint, to better provide for the poor?

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  • What motivates an individual to produce a surplus that the state will take? Why wouldn’t an individual produce only what they need in that instance. If individuals produce only what they need where does the surplus come from to supply those in need?

    Are philosophers willfully ignorant of the failure of Utopian communities in western history?

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  • assman35

    I guess I don’t think like a philosopher. But I think economic rights should be fundamental rights because as a matter of empirical reality they heavily protect against state failure.

    In a society with no economic rights and with no inheritance, everyone must rely on the state. If the state fails everyone is fucked.

    But in a society with economic rights state failure is not catastrophic. To me a political and ethical philosophy that is quite ok with catastrophic failure is not one that is just or good.