Jessica Flanigan – Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com Free Markets and Social Justice Wed, 15 Nov 2017 17:16:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/cropped-site-icon-BHL-32x32.png Jessica Flanigan – Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com 32 32 22756168 CFP: Ability and Enhancement http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/12/cfp-ability-and-enhancement/ Thu, 17 Dec 2015 18:00:58 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=10034 The University of Richmond is hosting a workshop on ability and enhancement in Richmond VA, April 8-9. We welcome submissions related to all ethical issues related to human abilities. For...

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The University of Richmond is hosting a workshop on ability and enhancement in Richmond VA, April 8-9. We welcome submissions related to all ethical issues related to human abilities. For example, essays addressing genetic enhancement, disability and stigma, procreative ethics, distributive justice and ability, post-humanism, sex selection, and public health ethics would all fit well within this theme. We are especially interested in papers within subfields such as bioethics, political and legal philosophy, moral psychology, value theory, normative ethics, experimental philosophy, metaethics, and feminist ethics.

Those interested in presenting a paper are invited to submit a 300-1000 word abstract by January 152015. Selected presenters will receive funding for travel and accommodations and an honorarium. Workshop papers may be considered for inclusion in an edited volume. Workshop participants will also be invited to attend a presentation by Dr. Wendy Chung on April 7, which is part of the Jepson Leadership Forum (Details here). A program committee will evaluate abstracts and finalize a program by February 1. Please direct all abstracts and queries to Shannon Best:sbest@richmond.edu.

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Effective Altruism http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/12/effective-altruism/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/12/effective-altruism/#comments Sat, 05 Dec 2015 13:41:33 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=10008 Critics of effective altruism tend to focus their critiques against the seemingly utilitarian foundations of the movement. They ask, what about special obligations? Demandingness? Is this overly cosmopolitan? What about institutional/collective...

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Critics of effective altruism tend to focus their critiques against the seemingly utilitarian foundations of the movement. They ask, what about special obligations? Demandingness? Is this overly cosmopolitan? What about institutional/collective change? For example, Judith Lichtenberg recently published a critical discussion of effective altruism. She argues that effective altruism distorts human psychology, and is elitist, and that it undermines support for institutional change and helping people in developed countries.

Richard Yetter Chappell has a great response to the article that addresses these arguments. He replies that it is not objectionable to think that people’s attitudes should change in light of moral reasons. Also, effective altruism does recognize the contributions of ordinary people. Finally, the institutional change vs. direct aid concern probably poses a false dichotomy but even if direct aid would divert resources from institutional and social change in developed countries, giving priority to the global poor is justified. On this point Richard writes,

Does anyone honestly think that the problem with western society today is that we attend too much to the global poor and not enough to our fellow countrymen?  Really?

I agree with Richard’s response here. But I also can see why critics of effective altruism may mistakenly press some of these critiques. Many effective altruists support a broadly utilitarian approach. If you are sympathetic to utilitarianism, their message sounds pretty persuasive. If you are not sympathetic to utilitarianism though, you may reject the message because it sounds like the reasons for effective altruism rely on an ethical theory that you reject.

But the reasons in favor of effective altruism do not rely on utilitarianism. I am not a utilitarian. Though I think there are strong moral reasons to give to charities, I do not think that morality requires extreme altruism. But I’m still an effective altruist because I think it’s a morally good thing to give a significant amount of your income to effective aid organizations.

For critiques of effective altruism to succeed, they should show where that claim goes wrong.

Imagine you see an ad for a new job in your field. The job requires all the same tasks that your current job requires. Your commute is the same. Same coworkers. If you had this new job, your day-to-day life would change very little. But this job is different from your current position in two ways. First, the new job would pay 10% less than you currently make. Second, by taking this job you would significantly improve the lives of dozens of people who are currently living in extreme poverty over the course of your career.

Should you apply for the new job? For most people, yes. But the same reasons to apply for the new job are reasons to become an effective altruist. You can keep your current job, but donate 10% to causes that will improve the lives of people in need.

Today, many people do make career choices that cause them to earn 10% less than they would otherwise make, often because they want their career to do more good. People go into nonprofit work. Or scientists choose academic research over the private sector because they want to do good. Private school teachers take more than a 10% pay cut relative to a public school teachers, but many teachers make this choice because private schools can offer them a greater sense of meaning or effectiveness.

In these cases, few people are critical of those who advocate for careers that offer a 10% less money in exchange for a greater sense of meaning in one’s work. But effective altruism is like this too. Are there arguments against effective altruism that aren’t also arguments against choosing a more helpful career that pays less?

Say you have a student who is deciding between one job and another job that will pay 10% less but will do more good for the world and give her a greater sense of meaning from her work. If she asks for your advice, which job would you encourage in light of moral considerations and also your concern for her? If you would support the second career path, why wouldn’t you also support effective altruism?

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Samaritanism and Duties http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/09/reasons-and-requirements/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/09/reasons-and-requirements/#comments Sat, 05 Sep 2015 17:27:00 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=9726 Singer’s famous example is taken to establish that some acts of Samaritanism are morally required. He writes, “if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening,...

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Singer’s famous example is taken to establish that some acts of Samaritanism are morally required. He writes, “if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it.”

There are three ways to interpret this claim:

1) Strong Duties: There are positive duties. This means it is morally impermissible pursue nonmoral projects instead of assisting others who are very needy. Chris says something like this when he points out that it seems that you would be morally required to throw your new TV in front of a runaway car in order to save a child.

2) Some Duties: Yes, there are positive duties. Samaritanism are morally required and it is impermissible to fail to help people. But we are not required to sacrifice our nonmoral projects to satisfy them in all cases. Sometimes, nonmoral projects can outweigh positive duties because unlike negative duties, positive duties are sensitive to costs.

3) No Duties: People have decisive moral reason to be good Samaritans (we ought, morally, to do it). But Samaritanism is not morally required. That is, it is permissible to pursue nonmoral projects even though you have decisive moral reason not to. This distinction appeals to moral categories like the supererogatory or the suberogatory, which make room for morally better and worse actions that are we are not required to do or avoid. Samaritanism is supererogatory, pursuing nonmoral projects is suberogatory in many cases.

All three of these options are compatible with the claim that you should give some or a lot of your income to charity. You should volunteer to tutor refugee children instead of going to yoga. You should rescue those in need. You should make the world a better place.

The first option seemingly classifies most people’s non-moral pursuits as morally impermissible. The theory seems committed to something like what Williams calls negative responsibility, the idea that we are responsible for the bad things we allow in the same sense that we are responsible for what we do. But we do not think that most people’s ordinary failures of assistance are wrong in the same way that it is wrong to injure or kill someone, even if both choices result in equally bad states of affairs.

The second option seems ad-hoc. If people in need have a claim to our assistance, why should it matter how costly it is to satisfy our duties to them? We do not say the same about negative duties. No matter how much I value a nonmoral project, I am not permitted to injure another person to achieve that project. So why would I be permitted to fail in my duties of assistance for the sake of my nonmoral projects?

The third option is off the table for most people. Matt writes, “The idea that individuals have no positive duties toward strangers is entirely implausible.” But is it? That idea does not deny that a person has decisive moral reason to help strangers. It just denies that helping is a requirement. Such a position can still capture the thought that you should help people, while also explaining why it is morally permissible to pursue nonmoral projects, even if they are not very important to us.

And here is another benefit of the third option. I think we should take accusations of moral impermissibility seriously. It means that someone has a claim, that her right has been violated, that she has been wronged by whomever acted impermissibly. People who act impermissibly are liable to be sanctioned. Blame is warranted (insofar as blame is a sanction), coercive or forceful interference to prevent impermissible conduct is permissible, and punishment can be justified as well.*

But it doesn’t seem like people are liable to be sanctioned at all for going to dinner at a restaurant, buying birthday gifts for their children, taking a yoga class instead of volunteering, or pursuing other morally insignificant projects even when it would not be costly to give them up. I am skeptical that it is morally impermissible (in this sense) for people to pursue non-moral projects, even though there is decisive moral reason to rescue others and donate to charity. For these reasons, I think the third option deserves a second look.

 

 

In some cases, a person could be liable to be sanctioned or punished because he did something impermissible, but it is not possible to permissibly sanction him in a way that is proportionate to the wrongful act. In these cases there should be legal ‘rights to do wrong,’ but the fact that an act shouldn’t be sanctioned or punished doesn’t make it permissible.

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Yes, Global Wealth Inequality is Unjust http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/06/yes-global-wealth-inequality-is-unjust/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/06/yes-global-wealth-inequality-is-unjust/#comments Fri, 05 Jun 2015 13:10:17 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=9382 Jonathan Anomaly asks, “Is global wealth inequality unjust?” Anomaly and Dan Moller suggest that global wealth inequality may be less unjust than a lot of people think because rich countries...

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Jonathan Anomaly asks, “Is global wealth inequality unjust?” Anomaly and Dan Moller suggest that global wealth inequality may be less unjust than a lot of people think because rich countries have good political institutions and cultures that encourage social and scientific experimentation, not because they are actively harming poor countries.

Moller’s argument is that if wealthy countries did not cause global poverty they have no duty to provide aid. His main targets seem to be Richard Miller and Thomas Pogge, who argue that the system of global trade, which is imposed on everyone in the world, does cause poverty in poor countries. I agree with Moller that if anything, the system of global trade has made everyone better off, though it has made some much better off than others. And like Moller, I don’t think inequality is necessarily a moral problem. But like Pogge and Miller, I do think it is a moral problem if a system of property is imposed on everyone and it leaves some people so desperately poor they don’t have enough.

This argument is the same as my argument for the basic income. As Harry Frankfurt writes in one of my favorite papers, we should care about everyone having enough rather than an equal share. It is much easier to calculate an equal share than to calculate what counts as enough, but enough is what matters. Though it requires a further moral argument to say what enough is, I think most of us could agree that conditions extreme poverty do not give a person enough, whatever enough means. More than a billion people live in extreme poverty, and their lives are governed by a global property system that they have no choice but to participate in. My intuition is that just as domestic property systems should provide citizens with a basic income, a similar argument can be deployed to support limited duties of assistance for people in extreme poverty if we could know that assistance could make a meaningful difference.

I imagine a lot of BHL readers will be pretty unsympathetic to this argument. Some libertarians will object to my claim that property systems are coercive in ways that require providing everyone who is coerced by a property system to have enough. Some libertarians seem to think that the existing system of global capitalism is just everyone exercising their natural pre-political property rights without violating anyone else’s entitlements. Or, some people think that assistance would just do more harm than good, and people aren’t owed assistance if it would make the global rich worse off without making anyone better off. Of course it’s hard to know what would be enough assistance. Aid may not work. If aid works, it’s hard to know why. It’s hard to know how to make aid better too. But there are amazing researchers who are working to find the answers to these questions. Some worry that aid is paternalistic or infantilizing, but it doesn’t have to be. Just because we don’t know how best to improve the lives the global poor doesn’t mean we should stick to the current system of basically not trying at all.

For libertarians who are skeptical of wealth redistribution though, here is another reason that global wealth inequality is unjust—borders. As my co-blogger Chris writes, there’s no such thing as a closed border libertarian. As far as I know, Pogge doesn’t mention the global system of borders in his argument for eradicating systemic poverty and Moller doesn’t discuss immigration in his article either. This is a striking oversight. Both Moller and Anomaly emphasize the non-zero sum nature of trade. Moller considers and responds to the objection that the rich got rich by unfair trade practices, but does not include borders on the list of unfair trade practices.

I’m not saying that rich countries got rich by turning poor people away at the border. I suspect the opposite is true, and that rich countries got rich when they had a lot of migration (like the US in the 19th century) and continue to get rich despite immigration restrictions. But one thing is clear, poorer people are poorer because of the border system. As Jason Brennan points out, opening the borders would not only respect people’s freedom of movement and association, it would also add trillions to the world economy and benefit rich and poor countries alike.

So yes, global wealth inequality is unjust. Not because rich countries cause poor countries to be poor, but because coercive property rules and borders trap people in conditions of extreme poverty. For these reasons, even libertarians should support policy reforms that improve the lives of the global poor—especially open borders.

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Gun Rights http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/05/gun-rights/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/05/gun-rights/#comments Sun, 17 May 2015 21:04:28 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=9299 When is it permissible to forbid a person from owning a gun? We’ve talked about gun rights and self-defense around here before, so I thought I would draw your attention...

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When is it permissible to forbid a person from owning a gun? We’ve talked about gun rights and self-defense around here before, so I thought I would draw your attention to a challenge to gun rights over at the Practical Ethics blog. Jeff McMahan writes,

[Imagine] a situation in which individuals are continuously at high risk of being wrongly attacked and even killed but in which the state aggressively prevents them from having guns, or indeed any means of self-defense at all.  Instead the state compels them to rely for their security on third party defenders who, like the police in domestic society, cannot be continuously present to protect them.  What [gun] advocates say scathingly of the police – “when every second counts, the police are only minutes away” – is often true of these third party defenders.  The central claims of advocates ought to apply most forcefully to people in these conditions.  It seems that such people, who are in constant danger of being attacked or killed, would be safer if they had guns to protect themselves and that the state violates their rights of self-defense by preventing them from having guns and confiscating guns from any who might acquire them.

McMahan goes on to say that this describes conditions in prisons, but that no one would ever say that prisoners should have gun rights for reasons of self-defense. Prisoners don’t have gun rights even though they do retain their rights to defend themselves against wrongful aggressors. And they would not be safer if they had guns, even though prisoners currently must rely solely on guards who cannot effectively protect all of them.

Since each prisoner is more secure in the absence of guns, McMahan argues that their rights of physical security/self-defense are not violated by a gun prohibition in prison. Similarly, if everyone in society would be more secure in the absence of private gun ownership, then rights of self-defense cannot justify gun rights.

Then Alan Buchanan and Lance K Stell posted a reply. They argue that a better case for gun ownership is not that people have rights to own guns in virtue of their rights of self-defense, which require access to guns. Instead, there should just be a presumption against depriving people of the means for defending themselves.

On their account, McMahan’s prison analogy cannot overcome that presumption because we should not presume that prisoners have the same rights as citizens, in part because states are required to provide a higher standard of physical security to prisoners than to the general population. Another reason that presumption is not met is that, if guns cause more wrongful assaults and homicides, gun prohibition may have even worse consequences in society at large, even if the consequences are good in prisons.

But their most powerful point, it seems to me, is that even if banning something had good consequences and prevented wrongdoing on balance; it doesn’t follow that the state should prohibit something just because a prohibition would make people safer, even if it made people much more likely to be wrongfully attacked. This point doesn’t even require that we justify gun rights on the grounds of self-defense. Gun rights can be justified just on the grounds that there should be a really strong presumption against banning stuff that isn’t intrinsically wrong. Owning a gun is not intrinsically wrong, so most people aren’t liable to be coerced by a gun prohibition.

The question we should ask isn’t whether gun rights are necessary for rights of self-defense, it’s whether citizens are liable to be prevented from owning guns. Even if McMahan is right and self-defense cannot justify gun ownership, citizens still wouldn’t be liable to gun prohibitions. Turning to liability, it’s surprising to me that McMahan is seemingly so against domestic gun ownership given his views about just war theory.

First, some context. Traditional just war theorists argued that all soldiers in war should be held to the same standards, a principle known as ‘the moral equality of combatants.’ It also held that combatants should be held to different ethical standards from noncombatants because there should be a presumption that noncombatants are morally immune to attack.

But McMahan convincingly argues that the principle of the moral equality of combatants and the presumption of noncombatant immunity are false because soldiers who are fighting for a just cause are not liable to be killed whereas soldiers who are fighting for an unjust cause are liable. And noncombatants can also be liable to be attacked if they are morally responsible for advancing an unjust cause. One of the mistakes in traditional just war theory was thinking that a person’s institutional role as an agent of the state was morally significant in itself. Common sense morality, when applied to war, shows us that what we really care about is whether someone is liable, not whether he is wearing a uniform.

So return to gun rights. Some members of the state and some citizens use guns to unjustly coerce or assault people. These people are bad guys. Other members of the state and other citizens use guns to protect people, or for recreation, or to decorate their homes. These people are good guys, or at least morally neutral. It seems that as in the case of combat the bad guys are liable to coercive limits on their ability to use guns (e.g. violent felons should not be permitted to own guns) but that non-liable good guys and neutral guys should be permitted to own and use guns.

Why does McMahan maintain that it is not morally significant whether a person is an agent of a state when it comes to combat, but when it comes to guns in the domestic context he suddenly thinks a person’s rights are determined by whether he is wearing a uniform?

 

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Get Vaccinated http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/02/get-vaccinated/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/02/get-vaccinated/#comments Wed, 04 Feb 2015 14:30:00 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=8912 More than 100 people have now been infected with measles as a result of a multi-state outbreak linked to Disneyland. Public officials have been eager to respond, and now it...

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More than 100 people have now been infected with measles as a result of a multi-state outbreak linked to Disneyland. Public officials have been eager to respond, and now it seems like everyone’s talking about compulsory vaccination, and it’s becoming a politicized issue.

On one hand, I think it is a good thing that most public officials are affirming the scientific consensus by saying that vaccines are good for kids, good for adults, and good for public health. And it may be a good thing to call out anti-vaxxers for recent outbreaks. On the other hand, I do worry about the fact that vaccination is the subject of a public debate, insofar as that lends any credence to arguments that link vaccines to autism. I also worry that the politicization of vaccine policy will only isolate and encourage vaccine deniers.

But despite my reservations, on balance I think it is good for people to actively encourage vaccination. And it’s also important to note that even libertarians should support public policies that promote vaccination, not because they would promote public health but because vaccine-refusal is morally wrong.

Some arguments for vaccination requirements go like this: We already have a bunch of laws that tell people what to do for the sake of their health, and those laws are good, so why not also have laws in favor of vaccines? In general, I oppose the idea that public officials can interfere with people’s choices for the sake of public health. For example, I think that drug prohibitions, soda bans, and seat belt laws for adults are all impermissible policies. People are not liable to be interfered with simply because they are making an unhealthy choice.

But vaccines are different for two reasons. First, I don’t think we should presume that parents have rights to make medical decisions for their kids. Rather, children’s treatment should be determined by what is in the best interest of the child, and that means getting vaccinated. (Tim Dare has a nice paper on parental authority here.)

Second, people don’t have rights to harm other people, and that is what vaccine refusal is. As I say in a recent defense of compulsory vaccination policies:

Vaccine refusal harms and risks harming innocent bystanders. People are not entitled to harm innocents or to impose deadly risks on others, so in these cases there is nothing to be said for the right to refuse vaccination. Compulsory vaccination is therefore justified because non-vaccination can rightly be prohibited, just as other kinds of harmful and risky conduct are rightly prohibited. I develop an analogy to random gunfire to illustrate this point. Vaccine refusal, I argue, is morally similar to firing a weapon into the air and endangering innocent bystanders. By re-framing vaccine refusal as harmful and reckless conduct my aim is to shift the focus of the vaccine debate from non-vaccinators’ religious and refusal rights to everyone else’s rights against being infected with contagious illnesses. Religious freedom and rights of informed consent do not entitle non-vaccinators to harm innocent bystanders, and so coercive vaccination requirements are permissible for the sake of the potential victims of the anti-vaccine movement.

Or in other words, compulsory vaccination policies are in principle permissible because vaccine refusal is morally wrong.

Of course, not everything that is wrong should be illegal. Adultery is wrong, saying you will meet someone for lunch and then not showing up is wrong, but it would be even more wrong to make these things illegal. Here is a reasonable test. Some choices are morally wrong because they violate important rights and are significantly harmful. If legislating against these wrongful choices would not reliably violate other important rights, then public officials can enforce policies that prevent wrongdoing. In some cases, vaccine refusal will not be seriously wrong because the risks of transmission are avoidable or small, and the potential harm of infection is not that serious. But for serious, potentially fatal diseases that are highly contagious (e.g. measles) the case for compulsory vaccination is much stronger.

As I argue in the essay, we don’t need to posit that the state has any unique moral authority to enforce laws in order to justify such a policy. If someone is doing something that is morally wrong they are liable to be interfered with if interference is proportionate and effective at stopping the wrongdoing. You don’t have to be a statist to think that it is permissible to stop someone from assaulting another person. For example, here’s Ronald Bailey in Reason making a similar point.

I think some of the reactions against the idea of compulsory vaccination among libertarians and libertarian-types stems from doubts about whether any kind of government policy can be permissibly enforced, given what we know about officials’ propensity to act in ways that exceed their moral authority. But this suspicion conflates the principled justification for compulsory vaccination with practical concerns about its enforcement. Once again, the Onion probably put it best— people don’t have rights to decide which eliminated diseases come roaring back, so they don’t have rights to refuse vaccination.

tl;dr: Vaccinate your kids.

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Mr. Jefferson’s University http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/11/mr-jeffersons-university/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/11/mr-jeffersons-university/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 17:07:26 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=8733 In 2012, a student was violently raped by a group of fraternity members at the University of Virginia, a story that was recently re-told by Sabrina Rubin Erdely in Rolling...

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In 2012, a student was violently raped by a group of fraternity members at the University of Virginia, a story that was recently re-told by Sabrina Rubin Erdely in Rolling Stone. [UPDATE: SEE BELOW] Erdely’s description of the rape culture at UVa, and the reaction to the story, is especially upsetting because it shows how universities, these beautiful institutions where people have the chance to discover and maybe even contribute to some of humanity’s greatest achievements, can tolerate and protect the worst of humanity as well.

In response to the story (and notably, not to the rape allegations, which the University was aware of before Rolling Stone broke the story) UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan announced that she was suspending all fraternities until the spring semester. In that letter Sullivan wrote:

At UVa we speak in idealistic terms: honor and tradition inform our thinking, and balance our daily actions. And it is easy here, where success is demanded as much as it is sought, to let our idealism outweigh our reality. Jefferson, as he always does, provides a compelling backdrop:

It is more honorable to repair a wrong than to persist in it.

It’s telling that Sullivan chose to reference Thomas Jefferson. Erdely describes the central role of Jefferson in the campus culture of UVa:

Thomas Jefferson, whose lore is so powerfully woven into everyday UVa life that you practically expect to glimpse the man still walking the grounds in his waistcoat and pantaloons. Nearly every student I interviewed found a way to mention “TJ,” speaking with zeal about their founding father’s vision for an “academical village”.

As Erdely reports, when a student was raped in the 1990’s, she was told that better lighting on campus would “ruin Jefferson’s vision of what the university was supposed to look like,” by a UVa administrator.

“It is more honorable to repair a wrong than to persist in it.”

Among the (many) steps that UVa’s campus community must take to repair the wrong of rape-culture on campus, one change that must be on the list is scaling back all the TJ talk. Thomas Jefferson was a rapist. If UVa is serious about changing their longstanding tolerance for rape, they should start by withdrawing any idolization of their founder- who not only owned hundreds of people he also had an ongoing sexual relationship with Sally Hemings, whom he never freed.

Although there are many definitions of rape and sexual assault, let’s agree that sex without the presence or possibility of consent is rape. Under the institution of slavery, people who are legally enslaved do not consent to work. They work because they are implicitly or explicitly threatened with death or violence, and those threats violate slave’s rights. In other words, slavery is forced or coerced labor. Similarly if a slave owner has sex with a slave she cannot consent, because if she refuses (just as if she refused work) she could be killed or otherwise assaulted and she would have no legal rights. In other words, sex with a slave is forced sex, which is rape.

That’s why Thomas Jefferson was a rapist.

It seems strange to me that I need to spell this out, but when the President of UVa approvingly quotes Jefferson in a letter about rape culture apparently it needs to be said.

If people in higher education want to show that they are serious about condemning rape, then they should stop glorifying known rapists.

I realize that it will take a lot to change rape culture on campuses. That’s why it’s especially demoralizing that Universities are unwilling to even take a small steps toward sending the message that powerful rich men cannot get away with raping women. For example, maybe universities could start by removing famous alleged rapists from University boards and taking down the statues of Rapists from American History.

No one today even knows what Sally Hemings looked like, but at UVa, Jefferson is everywhere.

 

 

Edit: Rolling Stone issued a statement that calls into question the details of this part of Erdely’s story (more here). Still, UVa, like other universities, struggles to address sexual misconduct on campus (see this video), so the University’s endorsement of Jefferson is remains troubling.

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Political Authority and the Basic Income http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/09/political-authority-and-the-basic-income/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/09/political-authority-and-the-basic-income/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 18:07:07 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=8562 Lately I’ve been thinking about my reasons for endorsing a UBI, especially given that I also share Michael Huemer’s skepticism about political authority. Consider this case: (1) Anne runs a...

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Lately I’ve been thinking about my reasons for endorsing a UBI, especially given that I also share Michael Huemer’s skepticism about political authority. Consider this case:

  • (1) Anne runs a business called PropertySystem, which manufacturers and maintains a private currency that can be traded for goods and services. The currency exists in users’ private accounts and Anne’s company provides security services for users. If someone tries to hack into the accounts she prevents them from doing so. The company also punishes users who violate the rules of PropertySystem. So if someone steals or tries to steal the currency from users, that person may have some of their currency taken away or they may even be held in one of PropertySystem’s jails. These services are financed through a yearly service fee.

This sounds fine. If everyone consented to join PropertySystem then they can’t really complain that Anne charges a fee for the services. There will be some questions about those who are not PropertySystem members, and how Anne’s company should treat them. But for the membership, consent seems to render what Anne is doing permissible. Next,

  • (2) Anne thinks that it would be morally better if she gave money to poor people. She changes the user agreement for her currency holders to increase her maintenance fee and she gives some of the money to poor people. Or, Anne decides to just print more money and mail it to people so that she doesn’t have to raise fees, even though this could decrease the value of the holdings of her richest clients.

By changing the user agreement or distribution system in this way, Anne doesn’t seem to violate anyone’s rights. And PropertySystem does some good through its currency and protection services by using the company to benefit people who are badly off. Now imagine,

  • (3) Anne decides that she doesn’t like PropertySystem competing with other providers so she compels everyone in a certain territory to use PropertySystem’s currency and protection services and to pay service fees, which she now calls taxes.

As Michael Huemer rightly points out, (3) is a significant injustice. If Anne acted like this, using threats of kidnapping and imprisonment to get people to sign up with her company, Anne would be doing something seriously wrong. This is the problem of political authority. Public officials, like Anne, are not entitled to coerce everyone to join and pay for a property system and citizens are not liable to be threatened or forced into joining.

This is Huemer’s objection to a guaranteed basic income. On his account, a basic income requires a tax system and “carrying out the coercive threats on recalcitrant citizens is practically necessary to maintaining a tax system in any realistic society.” Since a tax system that engages in wealth redistribution, like any tax system, is unjust, a basic income is unjust.

But this objection to a basic income isn’t an objection to wealth redistribution per se but rather with the coercive imposition of any property system. Once we acknowledge the initial injustice of forcing everyone to join a property system and pay taxes, it remains an open question how that system should be structured.

Consider an analogy. Bill takes Clive hostage. Taking Clive as a hostage is wrong. But given that Bill has taken Clive as his hostage, Bill could make Clive’s accommodations better or worse. Bill might say, “Not only have I made you my hostage, Clive, but I am also going to make it so you are hungry and so that my other hostages have enormous power over you!” Or, Bill could say, “You had no choice but to be my hostage, but I am going to try to minimize the harm of what I have done. Help yourself to the food in my well-stocked kitchen, and I’ll try not to bother you.” Similarly, if you are going to forcibly impose a property system on everyone, you should set up that property system in a way that tries to compensates people for the harm you have done while taking care to make it minimally burdensome to those you have wronged.

Once we concede that the imposition of a property system on all people is unjust, we should still ask the further question of how that unjust property system should be structured to not commit further injustices. It shouldn’t further violate peoples’ natural rights, it shouldn’t benefit some people enormously while leaving others to suffer from deprivation and domination, and it should refrain from additionally disrupting people’s ability to plan their lives as they choose.

Moreover, there are moral reasons in favor of Anne’s policy changes from (1) to (2). She changed the property conventions in ways that did not violate anyone’s pre-political ownership rights while still benefiting the badly off. If Anne implemented policy (2) after she started forcing everyone to join her company (3) it would still be morally better than policy (1) despite the fact that (3) is unjust.

This is the reason I favor a basic income. Such a policy balances the reasonable complaints that people may have about the effects of a property system that they never consented to join. Though redistribution cannot justify forcing everyone to join a property system, it can at least compensate people who are very badly off partly because they were forced to join that property system. Some people will do very well under a property system that nevertheless violates their rights. But it is not a further rights violation if a property system doesn’t benefit the rich as much as it possibly could.

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Is Living on the Dole Bad For You? http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/06/is-living-on-the-dole-bad-for-you/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/06/is-living-on-the-dole-bad-for-you/#comments Thu, 19 Jun 2014 14:00:19 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=8033 As a proponent of a UBI, I often encounter some version of the surfer objection: what if some people who could work instead spend their entire income allowance on surfing or drinking or...

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As a proponent of a UBI, I often encounter some version of the surfer objection: what if some people who could work instead spend their entire income allowance on surfing or drinking or some other unproductive activity? There are two main reasons behind this objection. Some people think it’s a bad for people to live on government benefits because it is bad for the person who isn’t working. Others object that it is unfair that taxpayers are required to provide an income for someone who doesn’t feel compelled to contribute to the economy by working (let’s set this objection aside for another post).

I was recently reading Brink Lindsey’s Human Capitalism and I came across a version of the first objection. Lindsey emphasizes labor-force participation as one of his primary policy goals. He writes, “Rampant joblessness among the less skilled is a terrible social blight” because it is bad for jobless adults who are “marginalized by their failure to contribute to the economy” and their children who are “raised in a deprived environment.” Lindsey then advocates  a dramatic overhaul of public education and work incentives,  as alternatives to programs that just cut people a check.

Then, on the excellent Free Thoughts podcast, Lindsey addressed the basic income directly. There he said that a UBI may be better than the intrusive and inefficient welfare state status quo, but he nevertheless objects to the UBI proposal(around 48 minutes):

“My own inclination would be not to basically subsidize joblessness with a basic income, but rather to have a system of wage subsidies that pay employers for hiring low-skilled people. That is, instead of accelerating the mismatch between the market value and the social minimum you now amplify the market wage to get that above the social minimum to keep people in the workforce. I think the welfare state designed with positive work incentives to keep people engaged in the economy, which then gives them incentives to develop and maintain skills and capacities is much more likely to lead to world where more people are living better lives than a world with a big unconditional dole.”

This argument is paternalistic. Lindsey opposes a UBI because people would live better lives if they were working than if they stayed home and did something else. He thinks this is true even in low-skilled and low wage jobs because he imagines the alternative (joblessness) doesn’t develop or maintain people’s skills as well. Therefore, Lindsey concludes that the welfare state should aim to get people to work.

There are several reasons to resist paternalism. The strongest reason is that paternalistic policies often violate people’s rights. But the right to a basic income is controversial, and if you think that people are not entitled to any welfare benefits than you probably won’t be moved by the paternalism objection. So a proponent of work incentives could argue that all welfare benefits are basically like gifts, and so the recipients cannot complain that a benefit they weren’t entitled to in the first place isn’t their first choice.

But even if you don’t believe that a UBI or any welfare benefits are rights, there are other reasons to reject a system of benefits that aims to make people live better lives by telling them what to do (e.g. telling them to work). First, there are epistemic concerns about the effectiveness of paternalistic policies at promoting well-being. Paternalism consists in substituting your judgment about what is good for someone in place of his own. Sure, lots of people think that a life on the dole is not ideal, but if it’s so bad then why not give people a basic income and if they want to they can still work? In contrast, if you only provide incentives to work then people who are rightly convinced that working in a low wage low-skilled job wouldn’t be a better life do not have the alternative option of not working available to them.

Second, paternalistic polices express a condescending or infantilizing judgment about people. By rejecting a UBI on the grounds that it is bad for people to live on the dole, Lindsey is saying that people cannot decide for themselves how best to live their lives. To borrow an old trope, the UBI has no problem with people going to work, but positive work incentives have a problem with the UBI. If you want to use redistribution to help the worst off, why not help them in a way that lets them choose how to live their lives?

In any case, I’m just not convinced that Lindsey is right that a life on the dole is so bad. Why does engaging in paid labor make people’s lives better and more flourishing, rather than doing some unpaid activity they love or doing nothing at all? Do early retirees, senior citizens on social security, college students, surfers, and wealthy men and women of leisure really have it so bad because they aren’t in the labor force? Is a society so bad when people can survive in it while pursuing projects that don’t pay? It’s just hard to believe that getting a monthly check could be a life-ruiner.

Even if joblessness fails to develop people’s capacities, lots of jobs are definitely worse than not-working. As a bonus a UBI may give employers incentives to make those jobs better (either higher quality or better compensated) so potential workers have incentives to take them instead of living off a UBI.

Or, if nothing else, the benefits of any alternative social welfare policy should be measured against the UBI as a benchmark. Just as global aid programs should be required to show that they are more effective than cash transfers, if any redistributive policies are justified then they must at least prove to benefit the worst-off more than a UBI. Lots of libertarians do not advocate for redistributive welfare benefits, but those who do should advocate for a system that doesn’t presume such a narrow view what can make a person’s life worthwhile.

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Libertarianism and Sex Work- Continuing the Conversation http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/03/libertarianism-and-sex-work-continuing-the-conversation/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/03/libertarianism-and-sex-work-continuing-the-conversation/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 01:39:50 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=7489 Sarah and Steve recently highlighted a range of views that libertarians can hold regarding pornography. Their point was that libertarians all hold that pornography should not be illegal, but people...

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Sarah and Steve recently highlighted a range of views that libertarians can hold regarding pornography. Their point was that libertarians all hold that pornography should not be illegal, but people might disagree about the further question of whether pornography is good or bad. I liked their post so I thought I’d end my blogging break by continuing this conversation and highlighting some good online conversations about this topic.

First up, Maggie McNeill is blogging at the Washington Post now! I first saw McNeill’s work in a Cato Unbound symposium a few months ago. The Cato essay by McNeill is really insightful, but the best part of it is her responses to critics. In both forums, McNeill debunks myths about prostitution that keep resurfacing and tries to trace their origins. I hadn’t realized the extent that the feminist case against prostitution relied on discredited empirical assertions. McNeil not only carefully refutes each empirical consideration against the decriminalization of sex work, she convincingly explains why many of the problems that are often associated with prostitution are caused by criminalization and not the work itself. Seriously, anyone interested in this topic even a little should read her essays and check out her blog.

Another blog I would recommend is Tits and Sass, a group blog run by brilliant, witty, insightful sex workers about their industry. I first started reading the blog while researching the ethics of licensing requirements (every wonder why Portland has so many strip clubs?), but when I peeked into the archives I found some really great discussions not only about labor law and politics, but also about consent, feminism, police power, stigmatization, and emotional labor. They also run book reviews and some pretty sharp media criticism.

In addition to the political posts, Tits and Sass also covers other industry topics, such as music, manicures, workplace politics and advertising, and some of those posts are pretty entertaining. I wish more people who wrote in favor of prohibiting or limiting access to prostitution would read these posts as well, in part because they illustrate that sex work is, well, work. A lot of these women are entrepreneurs, and these posts show that sex-work is as much a creative and challenging industry as other kinds of work, if not more. These posts also show that philosophers who cite work’s formative role in the development of the moral powers would do well to look at the skills that sex workers must develop to succeed in their industry—which involves running a small business that requires specialization as an entertainer, therapist, accountant, and advertiser.

I’m highlighting these conversations because both McNeill’s essays and the posts at Tits and Sass bring a perspective that I think is missing from a lot of debates about sex work. McNeill especially calls on us to be attentive to the actual lived experience of sex workers, and she is well equipped with the empirical support that is needed to make her case. The bloggers at Tits and Sass illustrate McNeill’s point that sex work merits the same kind of legal treatment as most other kinds of work, and a lot more respect than it currently gets.

Like most feminists, I do think that the influence of patriarchy in the labor market is a huge injustice, but policies that legislate what female workers can do with their bodies only contribute to that injustice. I also think it’s a problem that some people need to do work they abhor because their other options are truly terrible. But this can be said of many forms of work (see e.g. Matt’s work on sweatshops) and it only harms workers when well-intentioned advocates try to take those jobs off the table.

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