[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 a seaside hotel in the Bahamas in spring of 2011 I was chatting with a man I did not know at a convention of 250 or so libertarians.  I remarked in what I thought was a conciliatory tone, and by way of an ethical grounding for our shared libertarianism, and for most other political views, “Well, we all want to help the poor.”  He shot back instantly, “Only if they help me.”

That about sums up the problem that John Tomasi is trying to solve—how to bring along right-libertarian liberals, the fatherly sort like my acquaintance in the Bahamas, and the High Liberals, the motherly sort whom John and I enjoy so much as beloved if politically somewhat predictable colleagues in the Department of Political Science or the Department of English.  Keeping the academic peace is the least of it.  The two sides of the liberal tradition since Locke by now think of each other as idiots.  John says to them: “Neither of you-all are idiots.  Let’s get back to the core liberal conviction, which you share, that ‘society is a cooperative venture for mutual gain between citizens concerned to honor the freedom and equality of one another’ (p. 172).”

John wants especially to test his promising notion of “free market fairness” on deep ethical grounds.  The “level of political philosophy” that he identifies focuses “more on the quality of the regime’s moral intentions (with questions about the practical likelihood. . . being bracketed)” (p. 173).  “By political philosophy,” he explains, “I mean a level of purely moral discourse about political questions” (p. 119).  He is delighted to challenge the High Liberal Rawlsians on their home ground in political philosophy, that is, on “a single dimension of evaluation: the moral dimension” (p. 205).  “Market democracy combines insights from the classical and liberal traditions at the level of moral foundations” (p. 95, his italics).  And so throughout.

I warmly welcome the ambition to moralize our political lives and theories.  Indeed, that is the point of one of my books, The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce (2006), which argued that a bourgeois life by no means requires the abandonment of ethics.  Rather the contrary.  We right liberals, as John notes, have too often accepted the supposition of the High Liberals that they are ethically elevated (“Help the poor”), while we have on our side only vulgar practicalities (“Maximize income”).  John wants to take back ethics for a society of markets and innovation and growth, which is my project, too.  He and I, with other right liberals like David Schmidtz and Gerald Gaus at the University of Arizona, where John studied, always puzzle and sometimes outrage our leftish colleagues by claiming that one can be ethical and want to help the poor and yet also think that the minimum wage is almost as bad an idea as the War on Drugs.  We market liberals are so graceless as to be unwilling to concede the ethical superiority of High Liberals such as Ronald Dworkin or Martha Nussbaum.  Martha wrote a generous blurb for my 2006 book, but called the book “maddening”: yes, it makes people mad to hear that people they dismissed as idiots have a few thoughts, such as that a market economy can be ethical.

So, by all means, let’s base political philosophy on ethics.  The trouble is that John, though he is I assure you a highly ethical man, hasn’t got an ethical theory worthy of the name.  To the extent a theory can be discerned in a highly theoretical book, he takes his stand with Kant: “market democracy takes a more Kantian approach” (p. 98).  Just as the High Liberals stand with Rousseau and natural-rights libertarians with Locke and classical/Millian liberals with Bentham, the market democrat, John seems to be saying, stand with the maxims of the Sage of Köningsberg.

Well, not exactly.  Nowhere are Kant’s loony conclusions from the Categorical Imperative mentioned, for example, or the rest of the details of his Only-Justice theory.  John is a Kantian merely in the sense that he admires Kant’s at least theoretical devotion to human dignity above all.  The word “dignity” is I think a crux, both in John’s book and in the history of West (for which see the very wise discussion in Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World [2010]).  But I don’t think it has much to do with Kant specifically.  It has rather to do with the shift around 1700 in northwestern Europe towards notions of liberty and dignity for ordinary people, including merchants and inventors and eventually even the rest of hoi polloi.  In the West’s case, treating ordinary people as ends rather than means made for economic growth and political democracy and all our joy.  In John’s case the emphasis on the dignity of ordinary people constructs an ethical bridge between the High Liberals and the classical liberals/libertarians, requiring the one to admit that without paid work, and the other to admit that without income, no one can be dignified, a “responsible self-author,” as John puts it.

Understand what I’m saying.  John makes many good ethical points, the best being that self-authorship—the startling notion new in 1700 that even poor people should have the scope to flourish, and that pie in the sky when you die does not suffice—involves economic liberty.  Careless interventions such as the High Liberals routinely defend as “designed” to help the poor, such as that same minimum wage, throw away the economic liberty that John and I want to make equal in salience to other liberties: not trumps (as the Lockean libertarians would have it) but a serious card in play.  Most people are not much interested in the sorts of liberties that intellectuals dote on, such as a free press.  But they are very interested in being able to start a new business or to go to another job or to be proud of putting their kids through college, which is exactly what the High Liberal so casually want to take from them and give over to experts.  Tzvetan Todorov quotes the protagonist of Forever Flowing, the posthumously published novel of Vasily Grossman (1905-1964), whom he says was the sole example of a successful Stalinist writer who converted wholly to anti-Communism (“The slave in him died, and a free man arose”):

I used to think freedom was freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of conscience.  Here is what it amounts to: you have to have the right to sow what you wish to, to make shoes or coats, to bake into bread the flour ground from the grain you have sown, and to sell it or not sell it as you wish; for the lathe-operator, the steelworker, and the artist it’s a matter of being able to live as you wish and work as you wish and not as they order you (Todorov,  Hope and Memory, 2000, p. 69f, p. 48).

And John cleverly, and correctly, convicts Hayek (p. 136) and, good Lord, Ayn Rand (p. 135f) of basing their arguments on helping the poor, that is, the “social justice” they so proudly spurn: “Social justice, we might say, gives the [Hayekian, not Lyndon Johnsonian] Great Society its [ethical] point” (p. 160).  So I’m not saying that John misses all the ethical points.  I’m saying that he has no ethical theory.

But he is by no means alone in this.  All modern political theory since Hobbes, the part covered for example in the second volume of Alan Ryan’s brilliant New Sabine, On Politics, lacks a sensible ethical grounding.  It’s no wonder, since the moderns gave up (1.) religion and (2.) virtue ethics, and it’s hard to imagine a sensible ethical grounding without one or both of these.  Martha Nussbaum’s Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (2006) is a case in point.  It attempts eloquently to add the love of others to the few accepted ethical axioms of political philosophy.  She criticizes on this count the strictly Hobbesian/ Gauthieresque contractarian’s assumption of Prudence Only; or the Lockean/ Rawlsian contractarian’s Prudence-With-A-Version-of-Justice.  In a bumper-sticker version of a complicated project, Nussbaum’s book is about love-adding, bringing in our care for others from the start.

She puts forward:

The Nussbaum Lemma

I think it implausible [she writes] to suppose that one can extract justice from a starting point that does not include it in some form, and I believe that the purely prudential starting point is likely to lead in a direction that is simply different from the direction we would take if we focused on ethical norms from the start (p. 57).

The Lemma is devastating to the project since Hobbes in 1651 of pulling a just rabbit out of a purely prudential hat.  You can’t get virtue J, Justice, from a starting point consisting only of virtue P, Prudence.  Virtue J has to be in from the start.  You have to put the rabbits into the hat if you are going to pull them out.

But the Nussbaum Lemma applies also to her own project in her own book, and now also to John’s.  You can’t stop with prudence, justice, and love of others. It is implausible to suppose that one can extract faith, temperance, hope, courage, the fullness of love—which is connection, including connection with nature or science, or God, or the poor—which are the other virtues beyond Prudence and Justice that make for human flourishing—from a starting point that does not, in Nussbaum’s words, “include them in some form.”  And it seems likely that attempting to do so will lead in a direction that is simply different from the direction we would take if we focused on ethical norms from the start.

What of it?  This: political and economic philosophy needs to be done with all seven of the virtues, not merely with some cleverly axiomatized sub-set.  To characterize people with one or another of the boy’s-own “models” said since 1651 to suffice for theories of justice or politics will not do.

What is required for any political ethics, in other words, is a conscientious moral agent, a virtuous person.  Virtuous: namely, having the seven virtues in some idiosyncratic combination. Kant himself said so.  In his Reflections on Anthropology he praised “the man who goes to the root of things,” and who looks at them “not just from his own point of view but from that of the community,” which is to say (wrote Kant), der Unpartheyische Zuschauer.  The phrase is precisely the contemporary translation of Adam Smith’s ideal character from whom at least the artificial virtues are said to flow, the Impartial Spectator.  Adam Smith’s system in The Theory of Moral Sentiments was the last major statement of virtue ethics before its recent revival in departments of philosophy and especially among female philosophers.  In Part VI of the Theory, added in 1790, he reduced good behavior to five of the seven virtues: prudence, justice, love (“benevolence”), courage (“fortitude”), and temperance (the last two being “self-command”) (Smith 1759/90, p. 236).  Hope and faith and transcendent love are absent, as monkish, but the ideal bourgeois he praises in the early pages of Part VI slips them in anyway, secularly, as Smith did in his own life.

By admitting that der Unpartheyische Zuschauer begins his system, Kant undermines it, since the impartial spectator is not derivable from maxims justified merely on grounds of pure or practical reason.  Kant’s system is supposed to ground everything in maxims that a rational being would necessarily follow.  It doesn’t.  What Peter Berkowitz said about Kant’s political philosophy could also be said of his ethical philosophy, that he “makes practical concessions to virtue and devises stratagems by which virtue, having been formally expelled from politics, is brought back in through the side door” (Berkowitz 1999).

That is, ethics, even the political ethics we call political theory, must start from an ethical person imagined as The Ethicist or The Political Theorist—who turns out to have all seven of the Western virtues.  The rabbits are already in the hat. Think of how impossible it would be to come to the conclusions of Kantian or utilitarian or Sen-Nussbaum or Buchanan-Tullock or Tomasi-Gaus political ethics if The Ethicist or The Theorist did not already have the character Rachels praises of concern, impartiality, carefulness, humility, courage, and so forth.

Frankly, my dear, he wouldn’t give a damn.

 

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  • http://www.realadultsex.com figleaf

    “…always puzzle and sometimes outrage our leftish colleagues by claiming that one can be ethical and want to help the poor and yet also think that the minimum wage is almost as bad an idea as the War on Drugs.”

    Well at least you think the war on drugs is worse than the minimum wage.

    Because, seriously, the best way to “wage war” on drugs is to make sure as many people as possible can’t earn enough to feed and shelter themselves and their families.

    You know what’s really horrible, Dierdre?  What’s horrible is that you’re right — people really will work for less than the minimum wage.  I’ve done it.  I’ve seen other people do it.  It’s… pretty horrible.  It’s also unsustainable.  You wind up doing… things to get by that society really doesn’t benefit.  I never had the nerve to shoplift but a heck of a lot of people I knew did.  Pilfering from employers too, of course, which I also never really did in earnest either.

    You know what else is funny, Dierdre?  That was back in 1974-1976 and guess what?  I’m still suffering the aftereffects of gum disease brought on by nutritional deficiencies.

    But!  As you say, at least the war on drugs is worse.

    Quick question: is there anything else you think is worse than the minimum wage?  Besides the war on drugs I mean?

    You know what’s really weird though?  Later, when I was earning just above minimum wage as an assistant manager of a fast-food chain back in the 1970s we went through a total of five minimum wage increases.  And you know what?  Not once did any of our managers say “ok, that does it, we have to cut back on employees.  Not once did they say “ok, that’s it, we can’t afford to hire anyone new.”

    You know what we did notice though?  That every time there was a bump in the minimum wage we got corresponding bump in customers who earned only minimum wage.

    Not a big bump.  Certainly not big enough to hurt your feelings or you and your husband’s academic research and definitely not enough to threaten your reputations.  So no problem.  Keep believing it if it makes you think you’re more moral.  Assuming, of course, that it’s moral to say “what does not kill someone else makes them strong.”

    figleaf

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

      Some might say that unemployment -receiving zero wages – is even worse than working for the minimum wage.

      • http://www.realadultsex.com figleaf

         Try it sometime Matt.

        I guess the real question here is “what do you mean by minimum wage?”

        At some point there’s a wage below which you literally can’t survive.  But in the absence of a minimum wage law the prevailing minimum wage can be below that line.

        Or put it another way, Matt.  I’m going to assert, with considerable confidence, that the only way you can really eliminate minimum wages is by allowing unlimited child labor as well.  Because there really are inflection points where one can no longer make the assumption that a parent should be able to earn enough to feed his or her children.  And, really, think how many fewer people would be receiving zero wages if we could just get society over that sickly sentiment that children deserve education when, really, they could all be paying their own way.

        I say this not out of some theory but because I’ve lived, and worked my tail off, for below minimum wage — low enough that I was able to make nearly as much per week selling blood plasma twice weekly.

        Oh, right, I just remembered that the only other thing worse than the war on drugs or the minimum wage is a social safety net.  Or any kind of non-Ayn-Rand non-tooth-and-claw social infrastructure at all.

        A sense of membership in civil society sure didn’t do me any good back then — I was just too moral to shoplift, which as I said earlier is how a lot of my peers got by.

        Oh, and by the way, I’m still looking for hard evidence that the minimum wage creates unemployment at the margin where minimum wage is earned and spent.

        Because, again, based on my experience at the bottom of the economic heap if you were to halve the minimum wage you wouldn’t see any additional employment because you’d also be halving the money customers had to spend.

        And not to accuse anyone of being stupid, willful, or more enamored of their theories than of reality, but if you think it’s really a good idea to go around waiving freshman econ theories then in nominal terms the minimum wage is about half what it was in the 1970s.  Therefore, if was really true that a lower minimum wage created jobs then there should only be half the unemployment there was in the 1970s.  And yet there isn’t only half as much unemployment, is there?

        But, I guess you’re going to say, the problem is that the minimum wage is only half of what it was in the 1970s.  Therefore, since your hypothesis is a priori right, that must mean we have to lower it to below a quarter of what it was in the 1970s to see any real uptick in employment.  Oh heck, or maybe just drive the minimum wage down to a penny a day!  Then we could really turn that pesky economy around!

        Anyway, Matt, what’s your position on this?  Are you really going to say that at some point X there’s still some virtue in people earning less than starvation wages?  I mean, is it really true that it’s better to take two years to starve to death with a job than to starve to death in one year without one?

        The experiment’s been tried.  And not to get too prickly about it or anything but the end result was, um, socialism.  And in some places outright f**king communism!  Both of which I’d just as soon avoid if it’s all the same to you.

        figleaf

    • Deirdre2

      Dear Figleaf,

      I can see you are angry.  But let’s listen, really listen.  I hear you, as Bill Clinton says, about your own struggles with poverty.  Yet consider—just consider—the people not employed because the law prevents them from making a deal with employers.  They were worse off, right? 

      I judge from your tone, however, that you are not ready to listen, or to look at the evidence.  You want very much to be seen as Protecting the Poor.  Consider (there it is again, I say with little hope) that it’s just possible that your favored policies hurt the poor.  And consider that other people might want to help the poor, effectively rather than symbolically.

      Sincerely,

      Deirdre McCloskey

      • http://www.realadultsex.com figleaf

         I think you mistake my frustration for anger.

        Also, please consider that I spent nearly a year working 16 hours a day
        for $10/day, which was substantially lower than the minimum wage.  So
        it’s not like I’m hypothesizing that I was substantially better off than
        I was the two years before when I had no income at all.  I wasn’t,
        except to the extent that days as an apprenticeship and “informal” work
        as a gopher in a dive bar at night was more mentally and socially
        stimulating than the alternative, which was hanging around on street
        corners.

        The hard fact is that even in the absence of a
        mandated minimum wage there’s a wage below which
        some fraction of the population begins to experience nutritional and
        medicinal deficiencies but at which point society
        still doesn’t collapse.  For instance life goes on in Haiti despite the
        fact that some working poor sustain themselves well enough to continue
        working by eating mud mixed with oil.  But the difference between
        “continuing to work for now” and “eventual disability and death” are not factors in the general conversations about minimum wages.

        And again, I mention this not hypothetically, or out of sympathy for the
        working poor in Haiti, but because 40 years later I
        still haven’t shaken some of the health
        consequences of my years of outright unemployed homelessness and…
        um… not-that-much-better sub-minimum-wage homelessness.

        I would add that if you’d like me to incorporate your condescension into
        my argument the deprivation of my zero and sub-minimum wages have also
        damaged my ability to take your abstract view that it’s so much better
        to be homeless and hungry with a job than without
        one that it’s worth institutionalizing the difference by eliminating the
        minimum wage.

        That last point, by the way, is in no way trivial: whereas you’re very
        unlikely to see many unemployed people saying “gee, I wish they’d get
        rid of the minimum wage I could find a job” you find (in my opinion)
        waaaay too many people saying “get a load of the
        pointy-headed academics who say I shouldn’t even get minimum wage!” 
        Barring a totalitarian state like North Korea or a catastrophe-ridden
        one like Haiti it’s not possible to so sufficiently disenfranchise the
        poor that they can have no influence at all on public policy.

        You, Matt, and others on the right speak of things like the minimum wage
        as if they were absolute or isolated evils.  They’re not: the
        consequence of too many of your ideas is not libertarian paradise but
        backlash-driven statist perdition.  Since I’m just a small-l libertarian
        and not an ideological purist that’s what I’d like
        to avoid!

        Quick questions: 1) Do you believe that involuntary
        unemployment would be eliminated if the minimum wage were eliminated? 
        If not then why not?  2) Do you believe that the majority of people
        who’ve lost their jobs since 2007 would now be employed if only the
        minimum wage was eliminated?  If not then why not? 

        And  most importantly, 3) Do you believe that if the minimum wage was
        eliminated there would be no need for state coercion to prevent the
        working poor from pushing back?

        figleaf

        • Deirdre2

          Dear Mr. Figleaf,

          Better: now you are making arguments, not just expressing “vexation.”

          You ask:

          1) Do you believe that involuntary unemployment would be eliminated if the minimum wage were eliminated?

          I say: Yes, as it largely was until the minimum wage.   The effect is clearest in a place like South Africa (a country I love and admire, btw).  The minimum wage (together with German-style laws that make it very hard to dismiss someone) produces gigantic unemployment.   I mean 40%, always.  Or in the South Bronx, where the combination of anti-felon laws (“felon” = someone with black skin found with 3 oz. of cannabis) and minimum wages creates South-African levels of unemployment.

          2.) Do you believe that the majority of people who’ve lost their jobs since 2007 would now be employed if only the minimum wage was eliminated? 

          I say: Yes.  If you make it expensive to employ people, employers employ few people.  Wouldn’t you?  If you ran a business and the state told you you could never fire anyone you hired, or had to pay $20 for someone who earned you $6, wouldn’t you refrain from hiring?

          And most importantly, 3) Do you believe that if the minimum wage was eliminated there would be no need for state coercion to prevent the working poor from pushing back?

          I say: Working people would indeed push back, because they have been peruaded to believe that minimum wages, regulations on dismissal, protection against foreign competition, and so forth are in their interest.   You are arguing that changing such ideological errors is hard.  I agree.

          Sincerely,

          Deirdre McCloskey

      • http://www.realadultsex.com figleaf

        Remember the point at which I “chose” to work 16 hours a day to earn substantially less than I would have at 8 hours a day at minimum wage?

        Why does anyone assume that if you, say, halved the minimum wage or eliminated it altogether that the people most likely to take the newly created half-price jobs wouldn’t just be people who now had to work twice as many hours?

        I mean in strict wage terms, there’s already such a thing as sub-minimum wage: it’s called being able to find only part time work.  I can totally see how reducing the minimum wage would make it easier for underemployed people to be employed full time (and for full-time people to have to take on second jobs) and thus I could see how a decrease in the minimum wage would result in more aggregate hours worked.  But I’m… pretty sure the economy would first have to soak up a heck of a lot of underutilized current employees (who’s paychecks, remember, would almost by definition remain unchanged) before you started to see any uptick in the numbers of actual unemployed people finding employment.

        Now you might try and argue that, no no, if everyone who now earns minimum wage began working two or four times as many hours for half or a quarter as many dollars per hour you’d still see increases in productive output, and thus in aggregate supply, and therefore we’d all be better off (even the workers who couldn’t afford the products they were making because they were earning less than the price of circus peanuts.)  But… looking at economies around the world it sure looks like if you increase the number of expected work hours while either holding wages steady or outright depressing them then you see business owners have less incentive to make capital investments: at a low enough wage (as in, oh, say, India) it stops being worth buying a bulldozer and hiring one guy to drive it because it’s cheaper to hire 100 really skinny guys to do the same job with sticks and buckets.

        In other words I’m still not buying it.  (And if I had to go back to the days where sub-minimum wage employment didn’t make me materially better off than did unemployment I wouldn’t be able to afford it!)  And, not to go on about my  “are you breeding Bolsheviks in your bathroom” point, but neither would anyone else to whom your policy proposals managed to “gift” longer hours for the same or lower take-home pay.

        figleaf

        • Deirdre2

          Dear Figleaf,

          You make more sense with every post.  Stick with it!

          Your capital-investment argument is an old one on the left, and smart (if misled) people like my old colleague the labor economist Dick Freeman believes in it (or did once: I dunno if he’s stuck to it).  The trouble it has is the $40-minimum argument.  Does it always increase investment to raise the minimum?  So there is some optimal minimum wage, right?  How is it determined?  Well, there must be some trade-of between the investment effect and the unemployment effect.  But that’s to concede the main point, which is that there is an unemployment effect.  Maybe there are offsets.  I can admit that, and suggest that we go together to the world to see what their magnitudes are. 

          But there’s no justification, you seem now to be agreeing, for indignation or anger of “frustration” when someone suggests that in a particular case (South Africa; South Bronx) the minimum wage does damage to the very poor.

          Sincerely,

          Deirdre McCloskey

  • http://www.realadultsex.com figleaf

    “…the sole example of a successful Stalinist writer who converted wholly
    to anti-Communism (‘The slave in him died, and a free man arose’)”

    Um, Irving Kristol?  Nathan Glazer?  Irving Howe?  David Horowitz?

    Oh wait, I guess those anti-communists were first successful Trotskyite writers, not successful Stalinist ones.  So never mind.

    That was something else I really hated back when I was earning sub-minimum wages (when I was able to earn anything at all.)  All the #$%!#% commies who, I gotta say, have a much easier job when they’re talking to people earning less than a living wage.  Which remains my ulterior motive for minimum wages.  If anything I like communists even less than I like conservatives even though in general they’re equally immoral, unethical, wrong, and threatening to society.

    figleaf

    • Deirdre2

      Dear Figleaf,

      The remark was about writers in the Soviet Union.  You do rush off into sarcasm hastily, don’t you? 

      Sincerely,

      Deirdre McCloskey

      • http://www.realadultsex.com figleaf

        Good point, Dierdra.  I’ll stop.

        • Deirdre2

          Dear Mr. Figleaf,

          Good.  And it is polite (says Aunt Deirdre) to take care to spell people’s names the way they want them spelled.  My name is difficult, I well understand (only Irish people and Australians know how to spell it or say it: I didn’t before I adopted it!).  But just some advice for your own good, eh?

          Sincerely,

          Deirdre McCloskey

  • http://EasyOpinions.blogspot.com/ Andrew_M_Garland

    An increase in the minimum wage is a sort of tax which an employer pays directly to the employee. Still, the employee does not benefit, because the employee pays that tax in various ways.

    === ===
    [edited] The most likely outcome of a minimum wage increase is confirmed by Neumark and Wascher and is consistent with the Law of Demand. Everything beneficial for unskilled workers decreases, such as employment levels, hours worked, fringe benefits, subsidized uniforms and food, and training. The demand curve for labor slopes downward. That is, businesses hire fewer workers and give fewer non-wage benefits when minimum-wage laws force them to pay a higher wage.
    === ===

    At the extreme edge, if neither the employer nor the employee can pay the tax (the economics are “inelastic”), then the employee is not hired or the business fires the employee.

    Tax Incidence, Tax Burden, and Tax Shifting: Who Really Pays the Tax?
    A long, clear academic paper.

  • billwald

     “Well, we all want to help the poor.” 
    Of hand, I can’t think of any atheist organization with a “help the poor” program. Individuals, but not organizations with programs. Helping the poor is a religious concept, not an economic concept. 

    • good_in_theory
    • Joe J Grimm

      We call it the State.

      • Deirdre2

        Dear Mr. Grimm,

        Yes, as in “I’m from the State and I’m here to help you.”  It is the state that has wrecked every poor neighborhood in the country by incarcerating people of color for possession of marihuana, for example.  I am always surprised that people have such affection for a State that invades Iraq and allows lynching to go on unabated and subsidizes rich cotton farmers and seizes land for the benefit of the rich (see Benton Harbor, Michigan).

        Sincerely,

        Deirdre McCloskey

        • Joe J Grimm

           I didn’t mean to imply the State succeeded in “helping the poor”.

  • shorwitz

    billwald,

    I beg to differ.  It, as Tomasi shows in his book, was the concern of a whole number of market-oriented economists in their work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Josh-Tremblay-Rosenberg/6834376 Josh Tremblay Rosenberg

    This is a question for Professor McCloskey.  Do you believe Professor Tomasi’s theory
    disposes of all, most, or any of the 7 virtues in a significant way?  Insofar as you hold “political theory must start from an ethical person…” I understand this may be unimportant to your point.

    I ask because it seems free market fairness takes serious account of “bourgeois virtues” beyond prudence or thrift.  Is an ethical/virtuous political theory insufficient if it merely aims for institutions and rules which incentivize ethical/virtuous lives?  Curious for any of your thoughts, and thank you for the interesting read.

    • Deirdre2

      Dear Mr. Rosenberg,

      Thanks for your questions.  No, I don’t think that John’s theory reaches down to the ethical level, which is a problem with his project because that is precisely his claim—to reach down (or if you wish, up) to the ethical level.  It’s not unikportant to my point,.  On the contrary, it’s very important, at any rate to my point about John’s brilliant book. 

       Yes, it is true that free-market fairness gets beyond prudence (which btw is a bigger virtue than pairing it with “thrift” might suggest; I have an essay on Thrift historically considered: deirdremccloskey.org has it).  But it gets only one step beyond, the same step that Nussbaum took (which is why I brought her up): adding justice.  My point in The Bourgeois Virtues and in a long essay on Nussbaum, Buchanan, Rawls, et alii is that adding justice is not enough.  It’s good, to be commended, much better than trying to get along on Prudence Only, as many theorists since Machiavelli and especially Hobbes have felt was the master rule of the game (cf. economics).  But adding the one extra virtue of justice (Rawls’ move) is not enough to get flourishing humans, or a flourishing society, or indeed a minimally prudent and just society, either, since the virtues hang together or they hang separateky.

      Sincerely,

      Deirdre McCloskey

  • http://imnotherzog.wordpress.com/ Fake Herzog

    I found this comment strange:

    “But I don’t think it has much to do with Kant specifically.  It has rather to do with the shift around 1700 in northwestern Europe towards notions of liberty and dignity for ordinary people, including merchants and inventors and eventually even the rest of hoi polloi.  In the West’s case, treating ordinary people as ends rather than means made for economic growth and political democracy and all our joy.”

    Is Professor McCloskey suggesting that before 1700, Europe didn’t value the “dignity” of ordinary people”?  I know McCloskey and the Lockean liberal around here might be surprised to learn about an institution that did preach respect and dignity for the common man — in fact has preached that message since its birth and growth from the days of being a strange persecuted Jewish sect on the fringes of the Roman Empire.  There is a reasom the Church talks about man created in imago dei.

    • Deirdre2

      Dear Fake Herzog (btw, I wonder why it has become standard in blogging to conceal one’s identity; it doesn’t appear to add to the civility or precision of the discussions; oh, well, anyway:)

      It won’t do to call me to task on Christianity, or on theology, or on church history.  I am a Christian (if you are willing to accord that status to a progressive Episcopalian, the Quakerish branch of the Frozen Chosen), and in fact have been thinking of myself these days as a Christian libertarian.  I don’t use the tag much, because it infuriates the numerous atheists among us, and I don’t like to infuriate people unless they really, really deserve it!

      Further, The Bourgeois Virtues (2006) has a substantial sub-text (again, I keep it sub- because I want to bring along gently my atheist and agnostic friends) of Christian theology, and St. Thomas is my sterling guide to the philosophy of the virtues.  (It testifies by the way to the on-going nastiness of Europe’s wars of religion that academic philosophers, even of the virtues, feel they can ignore the amazing Aquinas, precisely because he was in the 19th century declared orthodox; shortly after his death he was in fact declared by many a heretic).

      To the substance: sure, all souls are equal in Christianity (and in Abrahamic religion generally: I could sneer at you for being “surprised to learn” that Judaism and Islam, not to speak of Zoroastrianism and some versions of Buddhism, have no hierarchy of souls; but I won’t).  Yet until the Reformation, and in particular until its revisions in church governance among radical Protestants such as anabaptists and reformed churches such as New England Congregationalists (in line, the Protestants imagined, with early Christianity), the theological equality of souls had little or no impact on social standing.  In fact, perversely, equal access to eternal salvation (this in contrast to Hindu hierarchy up the ladder to blessedness, say) implied until the 18th century a quietism about political and social and economic indignities.  Don’t complain: you’ll get pie in the sky when you die.  I discuss the matter in an essay in The New Republic just out (I mean the electronic copy is just out; the printed is out June 28; rush down then to your local newsagent and buy a dozen copies).

      Sincerely,

      Deirdre McCloskey 

      • http://imnotherzog.wordpress.com/ Fake Herzog

        There are many reasons to use a pseudonym when blogging but the basic one for me is that I want to protect my identity from crazy folks who would use my writing as weapons against me, my family and my livelihood.

        I am glad you hold the great St. Thomas in such high esteem.  I have learned much from him, or at least modern folks who interpret what he has to say.  My favorite is Professor Ed Feser’s wonderful little book on some key ideas in Thomistic thought called simply Aquinas:

        http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/ 

        Now I’m quite sure you reject a lot of what Aquinas had to say, given your libertarian views on a wide range of subjects, most notably in your case your views of sexuality.  But I don’t want to derail this thread, so let’s get back to the question of “social standing”.  I look forward to your essay on the subject, although I doubt I’ll have much to say in response until I read what you mean by “social standing”.  Of course the Church was always keenly interested in the common good of society and never really questioned certain social hierarchies because these were prudential matters for statesmen to resolve.  But in thinking about the common good and the inherent dignity due to all men, the Church was always at the forefront of trying to feed and clothe the poor, healing the sick, protecting the weak from violence (unless you were a Jew, and then the story is more complicated), etc.

        I really don’t mean to “sneer” at you, I’ve been reading and profiting from your work since you were Donald.  But I guess I don’t have the patience you seem to have for the athiests you hang out with and I also don’t have the patience for your own intellectually lazy statements.  I suspect you were using hyperbole, but when you tell someone up above that  “the state…has wrecked every poor neighborhood in the country by incarcerating people of color for possession of marihuana [sic]” I first spit out my iced coffee and then I wonder how someone who is so smart could say something so stupid? 

        • Deirdre2

          Dear Mr. Fake Herzog,

          You really must exercise more temperance.  You do fine until your last paragraph, in which you again become indignant and abusive.  What makes you think that fierce indignation is the same thing as argument?  I suggest you read the first chapter of Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments and its discussion of the inefficacy of anger.

          My remarks about the state’s roll in destroying African-American and Hispanic communities is uncontroversial.  Read Michelle Alexander’s lucid summary of the evidence in her recent book The New Jim Crow.  I wonder if you think the War on Drugs and the prison-industria complex supported by it have been good things.

          I also wonder why you think it relevant to bring up my gender change, repeatedly, and to descrive it as “sexuality.”  I guess you have a locker-room theory about Those Queers, eh?  I too admire Ed’s work, but was distressed that he concluded that homosexuality was a sin.  It seems to me that such a conclusion is to substitute logic-chopping for the message of Jesus of Nazareth.

          Sincerely,

          Deirdre McCloskey

          • http://imnotherzog.wordpress.com/ Fake Herzog

            Three quick points:

            1) My apologies — you are spot on in your comments related to my last paragraph and my indignation.  Whatever my feelings, any attempt to convince you otherwise is thrown out the window given my attitude.  Your comments about Smith are wise and I take them to heart.

            2) We’ll just have to agree to disagree that your statement about pot is “uncontroversial”.  Certainly the evidence I adduce and the folks I read (mostly conservatives and reactionaries, especially folks who believe in human biodiversity), lead me to believe that on balance locking up lots of black and Hispanic drug users has been good for society.  Of course, we have fundamental differences when it comes to our views on the role of the state in people’s lives, what causes violence in black and Hispanic communities in America (and around the world), how to think about the common good and how to respond to crime and drug use.  

            3) Any orthodox Christian worth his/her salt will obviously consider homosexuality “intrinsically disordered” as the Catholic Church would say and to partake in such sexuality, like partaking in other forms of fornication (e.g. sex before marriage, masturbation, etc.) is obviously sinful.  The fact that some “progressive” theologians have rejected this obvious orthodoxy doesn’t make them right.

            I will continue to learn much from you , although I fear libertarian thought is hopelessly confused.  A great writer on this subject is Jim Kalb, whose book, The Tyranny of Liberalism is quite good.

          • Deirdre2

            Dear Fake Herzog,

            Now it is my turn to be Astonished and Indignant.  I see that you are a conservative, not as I originally supposed just another confused libertarian like me.   In particular, you are of the human biodiversity group, you say. 

            Let me try to be responsive.

            It’s good, you say, to jail and disenfranchise and make unemployable millions of blacks and Hispanics for using drugs.  Since drug use is in fact higher, not lower, among whites I do wonder what justification you might propose for such a position.

            “Intrinsically disordered.”  Yes, I know the argument, and as I said I wonder how people can take logic-chopping over the good news of Jesus Christ.  Is sex for pleasure within marriage “disordered” (note the assumption that our chief telos is “order,” not agape).  Suppose my gender change does not involve sexual pleasure at all?   Still sinful

          • Deirdre2

            I hit the Send key prematurely:

            despite no biblical or Aristotelian reasons for declaring it so?  You can see why I conclude that high-church conservatives like you and Ed and J.   Budziszewski  start with their distaste for queers and then search Aquinas for reasons to go on having their distaste.  A sharper word for “distaste” is “hatred.”  I cannot understand how a gospel of love results in “God Hates Queers.”

            Sincerely,

            Deirdre McCloskey

          • http://imnotherzog.wordpress.com/ Fake Herzog

            Working backwards:

            1) It is beneath you to characterize the orthodox Christian position on sexuality as “God Hates Q__s”.  We obviously won’t get very far convincing one another of our respective positions on this subject, but I will say that aside from the Aristotelian-Thomistic arguments from the likes of Feser and  Budziszewski, I have found the old-fashioned Biblical arguments from Professor Gagnon completely convincing in their own right:

            http://www.robgagnon.net/

            2) I suspect, although I could be wrong, that most of the folks locked up for illegal drug use already have a long arrest record and/or are involved in other crimes.  According to this table, about 18% of our State prison population is there due to “Drug” crimes:

            http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/p10.pdf 

            But I do some digging and discover that drug offenses include both possession and trafficking and there seems to be a 50/50 split between the two, so I’m not sure how accurate it is to say that millions of blacks and Hispanics have gone to jail just because they used drugs.  And I would also argue that given the truth of HBD, we know that unemployability doesn’t flow necessarily from going to prison – you might have your cause and effect mixed up.  Sure, on balance it is harder for someone coming out of prison to get a job than someone who never went to prison; but my contention is the vast majority of folks who wind up in prison would have had difficulty finding and keeping a job anyway.  Until we figure out how to reduce the percent of out-of-wedlock births in minority communities, we won’t see this problem go away anytime soon. 

          • LibertarianGrump

            The wedlock comment reminds me of the old question econ professors like to toss around “Do mass umbrella openings cause wet sidewalks?”.  It also reminds me of the saying about statistics, and to remain skeptical of regressions, especially when I agree with the conclusions.

            Either way, I  would like to toss in my own thoughts on these ethical questions: Granting that homosexuality and drug use are sins (as a Christian myself, these aren’t a terrible stretch for me).  Now consider: Murder, assault, kidnapping, abuse — those are worse sins ( we get those admonitions from the Source, as opposed to prophets or disciples).  So the conservative answer is to commit the later in the hopes of reducing the former.  Higher Evil for lesser evil.  New Sin for old sin.  It seems to me that, at the end of the day, this is not merely morally bankrupt, but downright Wrong.To paraphrase Murray Rothbard: “Stop attacking peaceful people.  Just stop it! Stop it now!” :)

          • Deirdre2

            Dear Libertarian Grump,

            Right on.  Ruin the lives of millions of black children in order to “protect” suburbanite children from drugs (which fails, since they consumer more than the inner city folk).  Break into people’s homes in the night.  Shoot them.

            Regards,

            Deirdre

          • Deirdre2

            Dear Fake Herzog.

            I lost my reply by trying to use Google at the same time!  Oy.  When I am going to learn to save?

            1.) The Hebrew Bible is not a good source unless you are committed to becoming an orthodox Jew.  Anyway, it’s not the message of Jesus.  You and the rest pick two passages out of the 613 commandments from the Torah, ignoring, say, the “abomination” occurring in the very next verse of children sassing their parents: practically every teenager in America would require stoning!

            2.) You object to me labeling you a homophobe.  Got any evidence that you aren’t?  On the face of it, you sound like one, making arguments about unnaturalness that were used to defend Virginia’s laws against cross-racial marriages, say.  So, let’s see you out on the picket lines demonstrating against discrimination against queers.  Not planning to go?  What’s your excuse, my sweet homophile?

            3.) And then you turn to showing that in addition you hate and despise blacks.  You really need to read more, and get off Fox News. Charles Murray, for example, showed long ago that in the 1950s rates of black unemployment were lower than among whites.  Odd.  You do not seem to understand the level of family ruination and unemployment and gang warfare caused by the drug laws.  Do you realize that “felons” can’t get jobs, not any job at all?   Read Alexander, seriously, and report back. Do you notice that in other countries with gang warfare inspired by the supply chain to the USA the society is destroyed?  

            I’m not optimistic that you are seriously interested in confronting your own prejudices.  On the present evidence you hate queers and you hate blacks, by a definition of “hatred” that Jesus would recognize. 

            But stay in touch, and we’ll see.  I’ll pray for your spiritual growth.

            Sincerely,

            Deirdre McCloskey

          • Graham Peterson

            “God Hates Q__s”

            Queer is a mature, scholarly word for people who might fall under the particular microscope in a Gender Studies department, and is widely and openly used by the Queer and not-Queer communities.

            Your underscores evidence your particularly personal, and uncommon phobia.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bfischer3 Benjamin Fischer

    A great

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Currie-Knight/100000158541035 Kevin Currie-Knight

      Benjamin,

      I am not Deidre, and not nearly as intelligent as her, but I want to chime in on your first question; it is one I’ve thought a lot about and actually been a bit puzzled by. I was never sure that those thinkers who professed that the liberal state must remain neutral to judgments about the good life did it, because in order to remain strictly neutral, it seems to me that there could be no state, and indeed no law or rules of behavior, at all. So, at very least, the liberal state MUST not be neutral about the necessity of liberty (liberty of property, of person, etc) to the good life. And whenever we discuss things like what liberties are ‘basic’ (as Rawls does), it seems to me unbelievable that he is NOT taking stands – albeit broad ones – on what essential elements to the good life are. 

      So, I think the difference between the liberal and, say, the communitarian are less that the former is neutral where the latter is not, but that the former gives MORE LATITUDE to individuals to decide elements of the good life for themselves than communitarians and others. It is not that liberals are neutral (they do, after all, consider some liberties more basic, restrict some activities as anathema to good lives), but leave considerable latitude for individuals to choose many things for themselves. 

      • Deirdre2

        Dear Mr. Currie-Knight,

        Spot on.  I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.  “In order to remain strictly neutral, it seems to me that there could be no state, and indeed no law or rules of behavior, at all.”  Yes, and so long as the “rules” are few for the state and understood as not to be state-sponsored for people about adiaphoric matters, one ends up, as you say, with a small state.  As you also say, it’s a matter of degree, not on/off.   Our good friends the communitarians (I do not jest: many of them are my dear friends, and good) want a state that grabs property and so forth quite aggresively, as John Tomasi points out, because [a certain form of end-state] Justice trumps Prudence in their world every time.

        Sincerely,

        Deirdre McCloskey

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Currie-Knight/100000158541035 Kevin Currie-Knight

      “Assuming, for the moment, that justice has to be there at the beginning: do you think that the question “Why be moral?” still has force, or would you regard it as a nonstarter?”

      Not Deidre, but I like this question. My answer (and I assume Deidre’s would be similar?) is that it is a non-starter because to even ask the question presupposes some moral sentiment (for instance, that it would even occur to us that morality is an option, that there might be reason to be moral, and that we should entertain the question at all). 

      • http://www.facebook.com/bfischer3 Benjamin Fischer

        I’m sympathetic to your answer, but I worry about it. We have other normative goals that  makes sense to question even if we might be in the grip of them. For example, we could ask the question: why follow etiquette?, even while in the grip of etiquette. But, we should surely expect some sort of cogent answer to that answer. Similiary, Nietzche poses the question “Why want truth?” in the midst of seeking and yearning for truth. 

        Now, we might say that morality is somehow different in that we can’t conceive of a rational human agent without morality. But some work needs to be put in.
        I also think that we can’t start off from an entirely neutral playing field when it comes to the debate between the Foole (as Hobbes put it), and the moral agent. But at the same time, we should really give the Foole his due!

        • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

          Why pursue self-interest? Another good  question. If you can give an answer to that, I can again ask ‘Why do that?’ Re-iterating the ‘why?’ question leads to an infinite regress. The fact is, there is always going to be some question we cannot answer, at least for the time being. We need a stopping point, at which we say ‘That is what I do.’ Although our stopping point can always be questioned, and is always open to question by we who stop at it, it may nevertheless be that we never find a better stopping point.
          ‘Why be moral?’
          ‘Why not?’

          • Deirdre2

            Dear Mr. Frederick,

            Precisely, which is why our starting point can’t be a Rational Creature.  I say in The Bourgeois Virtues what many have said about Kantian ethics, that it claims to be based in mid-air, but can’t be (I mention Kant only as one of several 18th-century programs to get along without virtues or God: Bentham would do just as well: as you say, why follow the Pleasure-Pain principle?  One could ask it for example of Ayn Rand (and get thrown out of your local Randian club).

            Sincerely,

            Deirdre McCloskey

        • Deirdre2

          Dear Mr. Fischer,

          I worry in turn about standards of “cogent answers” and giving the Foole his due.  Not more than his due!  It seems to me lacking in point to imagine personal or political ethics from the viewpoint of a Rational Creature, when we are in fact Frenchmen or South African women or Japanese children or whatever.  Kant taught anthropology very Saturday in terms, but excluded it explicitly from ethics.  The obsession with a rational agent seems to me to be problematical—look for example at findings in social psychology about or mixed and ethical and acculturated nature.

          Sincerely,

          Deirdre McCloskey

      • Deirdre2

        Dear Mr. Currie-Knight,

        Right as always!  Moral sentiments is the ticket (to the Scottish Enlightenment).

        Sincerely,

        DeiRdre [in Northern Ireland, where everything is code for Catholic or Protestant the spelling without the middle R is Protestant; my people were Papists]

    • Deirdre2

      Dear Mr. Fischer,

      Thanks for your thoughtful post, to which I have no slam-bang reply.  

      (1.) My point if that that liberal justice alone is not enough.  “Remaining free of making judgments about the good” is one thing when the maker of judgments is the state, and another when the maker is you or me in conversation with our fellows.  You explicitly recognize the distinction, but let’s make sure that everyone realizes that the two propositions are different.  The sophomore notion that “it’s all relative” or “that [ethical judgment] is just an opinion” and the high philosophical Emotivism that ethical judgments are mere taste (which I fear might be why recent theorists are so shallow in their ethical systems) are not entailed by restraining the state from favoring Episcopalianism, say, or disfavoring soft drinks for sale greater than 16 ounces.  A helpful word from theology is “adiaphora,” that is, things indifferent (was Jesus right- or left-handed?).  Some expressions of ethical judgment by the state are good, such as prohibiting the sacrifice of widows.  So on the “anadiaphoric” matters I reckon the even the state has an interest in judgment.  (2.) It’s a non-starter, because Prudence + Justice (= in a reduced form, Rawls; and in a richer form, Tomasi) or Prudence + [shallowly defined] Justice + [some forms of non-transcendent] Love are not enough to ground political or personal goodness.

      Nothing I’ve said strikes me as profound, I’m afraid.  It’s the best I can do for now!

      Sincerely,

      Deirdre McCloskey

  • Bill Dennis

    I notice McCloskey, Tomasi, Zwolinski, Horwitz and others post their comments for all to read under their own names. Why should any of us who are interestd in this important topic even bother to read “figleaf” and others who hide their opinions behind pseudonyms? William C. Dennis, McLean, Virginia.

    • Bill Dennis

      How do I know you are Bill Dennis?  William C. Dennis, McLean, Virginia.

      • Deirdre2

        Dears,

        The
        ancient Chinese sage Zhuangzi observed of some goldfish in a pond, “See how
        happy they are!”  A companion replied,
        “How do you know they are happy?” Zhuangzi: “How do you know I don’t know?”  

        Sincerely,

        Deirdre McCloskey

      • http://frankhecker.com/ Frank Hecker

         I daresay the problem here is that “Fake Herzog”, “figleaf”, etc., are obviously pseudonyms. If they had picked something more akin to, say, “George Sand” or “Mark Twain” it would have gone unnoticed and unremarked.

        In this connection, I am very embarrassed to admit that (not being a philosopher myself) I thought “Aeon Skoble” must be a pseudonym, until I googled the name just now. My sincere apologies, Professor Skoble, for doubting your real-world existence!

    • http://EasyOpinions.blogspot.com/ Andrew_M_Garland

      Agreed. When I answer an anon commenter, it is to post a thought for the other readers. I assume the anon commenter will never take responsibility for his argument.

    • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

      I am a bit queasy about the pseudonymous posters too.  But I think it is a useful facility to have. Sometimes you might want to put out an apparently daft thought for discussion, or give a vigorous defence of an unpopular or ‘immoral’ point of view, just to see if it can be defended against attack. But one might not want to be identified personally with the thought or view one is airing, in case people think badly of you, especially if you have an academic reputation/job to maintain.

      I know that things should not be that way. We all make mistakes. And the history of human knowledge is a catalogue of errors (though one which shows definite progress in that later errors are often more illuminating than earlier ones). Further, the progress in the sciences has come from apparently mad ideas that turned out to be pregnant with discoveries. But the Academy is still dominated by the idea that knowledge grows by cautious incremental additions to an existing stock of established knowledge, which generates strong pressures for conformity. It might not do one’s career prospects much good to be seen as ‘out on a limb.’

      Of course, some of the pseudonymous posters might not be academics; but they may have their own reasons for wanting to protect themselves from being associated with an unpopular view.

      It is better to have all views out in the open, even if their proposers/defenders remain concealed.

      I never post pseudonymously myself; but I have no career to promote or protect.

      • Deirdre2

        Dear Mr. Frederick,

        A generous and well thought-out thought.

        Unhappily, I’ve noticed that Anon tends to be more vehement and sneering, not more intellectually interesting.  So anonymity protects bad behavior, not unpopular thought.  On the other hand, a liberal society should protect people from being bad, if the badness is merely verbal abuse—a point on which our High Liberal friends are somewhat confused, it seems to me.

        Sincerely,

        Deirdre McCloskey

        • Deirdre2

          I meant “protect people for being bad,” not “from.”

    • Deirdre2

      Dear Mr. Dennis,

      I agree, as I said in reply to Mr Figleaf, but want to exercise Christian charity towards the diffident or frightened.

      Sincerely,

      Deirdre McCloskey

  • Dan Dennis

    Well if you bothered to click on ‘Figleaf’s link you would see he writes a long running blog, and you could also easily find out that his real  name is in the public realm. 

    I found his posts interesting, making points worthy of serious reply.

    And yes, my name really is Dan Dennis…

    • Johnmarkbrady

       Agreed.  Months ago I checked out figleaf’s blog and found it kinda interesting.

  • Jay_Z

    Since many large businesses (Wal-Mart, McDonalds, convenience store chains) have the same minimum-wage customer base as their employee base, hopefully the foolish idea of removing the minimum wage never gets past the pundit stage.  Who knows at this point, though.

    Minimum wage offers stability and the chance for future planning.  Without it, you go back to all the bad parts of the 19th century economy and the endless depressions and panics.  Wages get cut, people can’t buy because wages got cut, more wages get cut, people can’t get another job to “make up for it” because either no one is hiring or they still make less working 80 hr. than they used to working 40.  So a large portion of the populace lives in hovels, paying week to week, because nothing is guaranteed.

    In an industrial economy we can generally produce plenty of anything.  The question is what to produce, and how to receive signals without constantly producing panics.  Mimimum wage reduces the panic element in the economy and forces business to use the layoff-firing tool.  Layoff-firing is ulitimately more stable, since people usually don’t like to do it because of the social cost.

    • Deirdre2

      Dear Jay_Z,

      The argument that we need high wages to generate demand for products (forgetting that the people unemployed by the minimum wage don’t get to be generators at all) is common on the lips of High Liberals (John Tomasi’s affectionate terminology: I mean good people like Rachel Maddow, and really do mean “good”: I watch her every night!).  It’s not good economics.  The economy is not limited by demand, but by supply. 

      But try to listen to the Knock-Down Argument Against Minimum Wages:  If the current minimum wage is such a good idea, why not raise it?  (You say, “Go to it!”)  All right.  Now: why not raise it to $20 a hour?  (You still say, “Hurrah!  A triumph for working people!”)  OK.  Keep doing it, since by act of Congress we can all become better off.  Raise it to $40 an hour.  $100 an hour.  $4,500,777 an hour. 

      Can you see what the problem is?  If the government outlaws deals between consenting adults to work for, say, anything less than $40 an hour very few people will be worth it.  The rest will be unemployed.

      The form of the argument is identical to the one to be used against protectionism in trade.  Why not protect Illinois?  Or Chicago?  Or Printer’s Row?  Or my house?  Protect my labor from competition with any other laborers, so I will do my own plumbing and wheat-growing and . . . .

      Sincerely,

      Deirdre McCloskey

      • Graham Peterson

        Sadly, the “why not protect Printer’s Row?” argument isn’t merely a rhetorical device. The Humbolt Park neighborhood in Chicago, mine, is predominantly Puerto Rican. The council believes that preventing gentrification, i.e. jamming up white entrepreneurs who would like to open up shops, redresses social injustice and promotes “local economic growth.” It may well redress colonial injustice, and we ought to have a constructive dialogue about justice our communities — but preventing people from doing deals (at least over routine things like clothing and gasoline and Arroz con Gondules) reduces material welfare.

  • Dan Dennis

    It is doubtless the case that the minimum wage increases
    unemployment. But the point is that having a minimum wage plus a benefits system
    to keep a person going during periods of unemployment, may be better for the
    least well off than having no minimum wage. Thus someone who is 80% of the time
    in minimum wage employment and 20% of the time on unemployment benefit may be
    better off than he would be in a system where there is no minimum wage and he
    is in continuous employment.

     

    Thus if your heart bleeds sufficiently, you should support a
    minimum wage… Though obviously there can be debate about what is the optimal
    level, whether it should be lower for certain age groups, and so on.

     

    The biggest barrier to employment is not the minimum wage
    but levels of ability. Increasing ability levels among the least able requires
    (among other things) education. Increasing levels of education requires (among
    other things) better schools along with better – and more accessible – post-school
    training. Increasing levels of ability in the workforce (especially at the
    lower end) is in everyone’s interest – employer and employee.

     

    This would arguably require higher taxes. It is though an
    area where higher taxes can be beneficial to everyone. The businessman pays higher
    taxes, but gets better workers, so makes higher after-tax profits…

     

     

    • Deirdre2

      Dear Mr. Dennis,

      Yes, I hear your argument among South African trade unionists.  “Improve skills” is their reply to anyone who says that a minimum wage twice what the millions of people sitting in the countryisde (the former Bantustans) on government grants are worth in voluntary employment is not a good idea for the very poor.  But the education gets worse, not better, while the people sitting lose more and more employability.

      If we turn to a serious discussion of why we have bad schools we find things like that spending more doesn’t help if the schools are poorly managed, as they are; or that neighborhoods destroyed by Prohibition (this time of drugs) are not good for school kids; or that monopoly provision of schooling (from your friendly local State) is a poor way to go about it.  Sweden—I repeat, Sweden—has in the past 15 years adopted giving poor people the money to buy better schools, and they have.

      Sincerely,

      Deirdre McCloskey

  • Dan Dennis

    With regard to your original post, Deirdre, I agree that an
    ethical theory cannot conjure up ethics/virtue in a person incapable of
    ethics/virtue. Kant would say that we need to start with an individual with the
    *capability* to be ethical/virtuous. For instance, the capability to follow the
    categorical imperative rather than hypothetical imperatives. However Kant
    recognises each person is faced with a choice of *whether* to be
    ethical/virtuous or not. He provides an argument for being ethical/virtuous.
    Virtue ethics does not provide such an argument (if I understand it correctly).
    The writings of Aristotle and subsequent virtue ethicists (including yours of course)
    can help us deepen our understanding of what *constitutes* being virtuous, but do
    not provide an argument for being virtous.

     

    Some individual readers may, when reading of the virtuous
    life, be attracted to it, and thereupon strive to become more virtuous. However
    many readers will not. And further others will try to behave a bit more
    virtuously whilst standing ready to be selfish in cases where the anticipated gains
    are sufficient. What is needed is an argument for being ethical/virtuous.
    Whilst Kant’s work as it stands is flawed, subsequent Kantians arguably offer
    the nearest we have to a decent argument for being ethical/virtuous.

    • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

       Reply below.

    • Deirdre2

      Dear Mr. Dennis,

      You say: “Kant recognises each person is faced with a choice of *whether* to beethical/virtuous or not. He provides an argument for being ethical/virtuous.Virtue ethics does not provide such an argument (if I understand it correctly).”

      I say: Yes, Kant “recognizes” the choice, but he does not “provide an argument for being ethical.”  Look at what he says.  “We must” not take merely anthropological facts into consideration in forming ethics.  Who says?  No answer.  Have a look at The Bourgeois Virtues pp. 255, 279-280, 309, 320-322. 

      Virtue ethics does “provide . . . an argument,” if not “such an argument,” by which I take you to mean “an abstract argument about hypothetical Rational Creatures on a narrow definition of ‘Rational’ and without regard to any actual human characteristic, an argument such as has been routinely made in Departments of Philosophy since virtue ethics mysteriously died c. 1790, without any ethical conclusions coming out of it.”  The argument that virtue ethics from Plato to Philippa Foot “provides” is that humans are like that.  It is a more sensible argument, more useful to actual ethical decisions and actual human lives.  Evidence?  2500 years of ethical reflection in the West (and in the East and South).  It is sneered at by Kantians or Benthamites because they have a special definition of “argument” (as in the phrase much heard in philosophical debate, “actual argument,” said in an indignant tone).   “Actual argument” start from the supposition that Kant Rules, namely, one must not attend to human telos when discussing how or why to act virtuously.  It’s circular: Kant Rules, therefore . . . Kant Rules.

      Sincerely,

      Deirdre McCloskey

  • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

    “What is needed is an argument for being ethical/virtuous.”

    But such an argument would not be an argument for being ethical/virtuous. For example, an argument that shows it is in your self-interest to be ethical/virtuous, only shows what you need to do to promote your self-interest. It doesn’t get you to virtue. This is, of course, a Kantian point (though it was probably made by Aquinas, as many of Kant’s points were).

    • Deirdre2

      Dear Mr. Frederick,

      Spot on.

      My own conclusion (I mean my personal conclusion, not at all that I am the first to think it!) is that attempts to ground ethics on abstractions, rather like attempts to ground turth on abstractions, are not useful.  As Richard Rorty said about the epistemology, we’ve tried for 2500 years to say something useful about Truth and haven’t succeeded, even once.  So it seems unlikely that going on and on trying is worth the candle.

      Better to ground ethics on human character observed in life and literature.

      Sincerely,

      Deirdre McCloskey

  • Dan Dennis

    Thanks for your replies.

     

    Danny, I agree with you when you say ‘For example, an
    argument that shows it is in your self-interest to be ethical/virtuous, only
    shows what you need to do to promote your self-interest. It doesn’t get you to
    virtue. This is, of course, a Kantian point.’  However in order to see whether there are any *successful*
    arguments for being ethical/virtuous we would have to discuss particular arguments.

     

    Deirdre, you are of course right that Kant thinks ethics cannot
    be based on anthropology:

    ‘the doctrine of morals is already clearly distinguished in
    its concept from the doctrine of nature (in this case anthropology) by the fact
    that anthropology is based on empirical principle, whereas the moral doctrine
    of ends, which treats of duties, is based on principles given a priori in pure practical reason.’ I.Kant
    Metaphysics of Morals Ak 6:385 Trans.
    Mary Gregor (Kant’s italics)

     

    I think he has in mind something like the fact-value
    distinction here – *facts* (about how I and others have acted until now) cannot
    tell me about how I and others *should* act. That a person has until now been a
    burglar is merely a fact about him, not a reason for him to continue being a
    burglar. That a person has until now been selfish is just a fact about him, not
    a reason for him to continue being selfish.

     

    I am afraid I do not understand you when you say

    ‘The argument that virtue ethics from Plato to Philippa Foot
    “provides” is that humans are like that.’

    and

    ‘Better to ground ethics on human character observed in life
    and literature’

     

    A glance at the newspapers and history books shows a lot of
    people acting very badly.

    A person who is currently selfish, manipulative, shallow,
    vicious etc (albeit with the potential/capability to be the opposite) will say,
    ‘Look this is what I am like, and lots of other people are like me. Yes other
    people are not like me, but so what?’ 

    • Deirdre2

      Dear M. Dennis,

      However we feel about the fact/value split—and I, with (say) Dick Rorty, Hilary Putnam, John Searle, J. L. Austin, and Van Quine, don’t feel it is the conversation-stopper you seem to suppose it is—there is a quite separate argument to be made that in proposing ethics for humans we take account of what humans are like. You defend Kant by attributing to him the “no naturalization” rule (which, I repeat, is dubious in itself).  I’m not at all sure that’s what he had in mind.  But anyway I did not say we use average human behavior as a guide.  That’s the sophomore principle of emotivism: ethics is “just” opinion, so I can so anything I feel like doing.  I said (and say at much greater length in Knowledge and Persuasion in Economics [1990] and again in The Bourgeois Virtues [2006]) that ethics should be about humans, not about Any Rational Creature Whatever.

      Sincerely,

      Deirdre McCloskey

  • Dan Dennis

    Dear Deirdre

    I agree that ‘proposing ethics for humans we take account of what humans are like’ and ‘ethics should be about humans, not about Any Rational Creature Whatever’. However ethicists do need to provide grounds that an individual can employ in choosing, for instance, whether to be selfish or unselfish, honest or dishonest… Simply making observations about how people currently act, and have acted in the past, does not provide that.

    Best wishes

    Dan

    • Deirdre2

      Dear Mr. Dennis,

      “How people currently act” is not the criterion.  Reducing virtue ethics to such a criterion makes it sound idiotic,  like a high schooler who justifies (as a hypothetical example) forming a little gang of five boys to beat up on a presumed queer with dyed hair by saying “Everyone does it.  Ethics is just a matter of opinion.” 

      How people have acted well and badly, recorded in literature and theology and art, and, yes, in social psyhcological experiments, too, gives us insights into a full and virtuous human life,  That’s the virtue ethics you think so little of.  But I am pretty confident that it’s how you yourself in fact run your ethical life—not with the Categorical Imperative or the Greatest Happiness.

      Sincerely,

      Deirdre McCloskey

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  • ThaomasH

    I have no conceptual reason to reject the idea
    “that one can be ethical and want to help the poor and yet also think that the minimum wage is almost as bad an idea as the War on Drugs,”
    but I’d like to see the evidence that the damage done by minimum wages (some slight increase in unemployment among some people and the negative feedback of that on their incentives?) comes within light years of the mahem going on along the US-Mexican border, Colombia (now declining), and Central America and or the civil liberties vilations committed in the persuit of the War on Drugs.

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