Wednesday, August 12, 2009

income equality # 3

My Response to Larry:

Wilkinson is a very smart guy and I think in this small exchange was more impressive than Chait who seemed ponderous. That said I am more on Chait’s side on this issue but don’t agree with him that that the utilitarian argument is the best one for “income redistribution”, which phrase itself needs some unpacking.

As to your points:

1. I think to the word “care” is apt in viewing a liberal libertarian spectrum of thought on what I will refer to as income redistribution. Chait misguided his own position by in fact talking about taking from the rich guy and giving it to the poor guy, which then allows you fairly to talk about “forcing”. The social mechanism underlying this debate is taxation and progressive taxation at that. Taxes are the implementation of social policy. And there are two big issues which arise in this debate: progressive taxation—the rich pay more as a matter of marginal rates; and what help hands ought to be given as a matter of social policy. If the metaphysics of liberalism includes proactive government trying to extend warranted helping hands in contrast with that libertarianism which looks to minimize government’s role and leave people to their own devices after the social infrastructure is ensured—roads, security and the like—and minimize thenotion of a commonwealth, then I think caring going to these differences. I make no moral judgment in that distinction as both social visions are normatively defensible, but, rather, than an empirical one.

2(1) Respectfully, I think your second point is not responsive to the real issue, which I tired to give some brief sketching to above, and I blame Chait for getting the discussion off track by making A giving money to B a fulcrum of his arguments.

2(2) Chait also, as I suggested, obscures the issues by arguing that the argument from efficiency is the most compelling one for liberals arguing for income distribution. Nobody wants inefficiency but I can imagine certain social policies that are relatively inefficient but humane and just and consistent with the idea of commonwealth. To exclude that from the range of argument is to distort and emasculate the liberal case.

3/4. There may be some susceptibility to labels in the argument here. True the argument at the highest levels is traceable back to first principles of governance animating specific policies; but the concrete issues are the specifics of particular polices, the balances and compromises those policies entail, their means and effects in relation to their purposes and so on. Otherwise the discussion is rather airy.

5. The television example is ludicrous and is consistent with the distortion of the issue by Chait’s conflation of the personal with the social and political. The issue is not being given money to buy a better television; the issue is social policies helping with the necessaries of life including health care and education and urban renewal for a few.

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