This week’s EconTalk podcast featured Jonathan Haidt. It was an interesting discussion. This part made me go hmmm…., cock my head a little to the side and squint my eyes a little:
Russ: …I think libertarians have handicapped themselves tremendously by failing to realize that most people aren’t like us. Guest: That’s right. I agree. Russ: Most people are groupish, most people are emotional. They don’t want an analytical argument. Most people don’t. They want an argument that appeals to the heart; and they want to feel part of something. So the libertarian–obviously there are many different strands of libertarianism, but I think the worst strand is the one that is totally individualistic and totally analytical; and that appeals powerfully to an analytical individualist. And then they can’t understand why no one wants to go with them. And the answer is because you’ve made it unattractive.
I think there’s more to it than an attractive emotional argument. The people who prefer them also seem prone to believe that attractive emotional arguments provide enough information to know the answer and not have to think about it any more.
Update: Adding to my last thought, it helps if the argument is emotionally attractive and easy to envision. More about that in the next post.
What ‘earned success’ means to a…
…libertarian: You take risks and with quite a bit of luck, persistence and hard work you discover something that creates value by improving other folks standard of living so much that they willingly trade some of the value they have created (or been given) for it. Folks earn their success by providing for the needs and wants of others.
…conservative: Smart people take risks and with persistence, laser-like focus, the right connections and hard work build an empire. Conservatives tend to gloss over parts about luck and providing for the needs and wants of others.
…moderate: You work hard and become successful.
…liberal: You win prestigious awards, you are viewed as humanitarian or anything else deemed praise-worthy, like designing a really cool phone or giving a heart-felt portrayal of a monster of history on the big screen.
…progressive: Being picked as a winner by a progressive government. If you do what the that government deems as worthy, you’ve earned it. If government is not controlled by progressives at the moment, look to the next most progressive government to see what they deem as worthy.
Don Boudreaux and Steve Horwitz rebut this part of Jeffrey Sachs’ critique against liberty:
Libertarians hold that individual liberty should never be sacrificed in the pursuit of other values or causes. Compassion, justice, civic responsibility, honesty, decency, humility, respect, and even survival of the poor, weak, and vulnerable – all are to take a back seat.
Both rebuttals are worth a read. Here’s a sample from Boudreaux:
…libertarians argue that these other values and causes are best promoted by individual liberty, and that too many people who insist that achieving these other values requires the suppression of liberty are cynically seeking convenient cover for their own self-aggrandizement.
Horwitz makes the same point (though I can’t see that site now because of the Sopa protest).
Jeffrey Sachs wrote what bugs him about libertarianism. Here’s one passage:
Suppose a rich man has a surfeit of food and a poor man living next door is starving to death. The libertarian says that the government has no moral right or political claim to tax the rich person in order to save the poor person. Perhaps the rich person should be generous and give charity to the neighbor, the libertarian might say (or might not), but there is nothing that the government should do. The moral value of saving the poor person’s life simply does not register when compared with the liberty of the rich person.
While I find this to be an unimaginative and simplistic false choice, I’ll play along.
I’m assuming Sachs believes it is moral for the government to tax the rich person to “save” the poor person. In other words, it’s moral to force the rich person to do something.
The question I have for Sachs is whether he also thinks it’s moral to force the poor person to do something? For example, can the government force the poor person to give two hours of his labor to the rich person in exchange for receiving the tax?
Keep in mind, the poor person would not have a choice in the matter, just like the rich person. The poor person wouldn’t be able choose not to work in order to not receive the tax. The poor person would be forced to work and to receive the tax, just like the rich person would be forced to give up some of the proceeds from his work effort.
Is that moral? Why or why not?