Arnold Kling  

Morality, Rhetoric, and Politics

Age, Sex, Looks, and Attractio... Does Liberty Come from the Sta...

Dwight R. Lee meditates,

Still, as long as there are people who cannot resist the appeal of morality on the cheap, the political process will continue to serve up cheap morality. And the result will continue to be neither moral nor cheap.

I think that the rhetoric of morality gets perverted when applied to politics. Your motives for redistributing your own money can be described in terms of morality. When you are talking about redistributing other people's money, your moral rhetoric should be more restrained.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (8 to date)
Les writes:

When it comes to redistributing my money, its no business of anyone else - unless I'm breaking the law.

When it comes to redistributing other peoples' money, it is not morally acceptable to redistribute anyone's money without their express permission.

flawed writes:


The left disagrees with you

Alex J. writes:

I think one measure upon which politicians compete with each other is the production of rationalizations, so that their customers, voters, can be bootleggers in fact while maintaining a baptist self-image. Hence the appeal of minimum housing quality regulations that "help" the poor by mandating certain features, and oh by the way, make the rich voters neighborhoods too expensive for actual scruffy poor people. It's one thing for a person to have bad housing, another for a sympathetic rich person to see a poor person in bad housing, and quite another for a poor person's bad house to bring down the value of a rich person's house.

But perhaps I've spent too much time in Chapel Hill.

Lord writes:

The immorality here is that you think it is your money.

Daniel Klein writes:

I always enjoy Dwight Lee, this one included.

His distinction between mundane and magnanimous moralities line up quite well with the following:

commutative and distributive justice in Smith (TMS, 269-70).

morality of duty and morality of aspiration in Lon Fuller, The Morality of Law.

BTW, in characterizing commutative justice, only sometimes did Smith include reputation (which I and Walter Block would not include). I think Smith's fullest characterization in TMS is top of p. 84, where he leaves it out. (Mark Bonica is writing his dissertation at GMU on this; there's much in LJ that pertains.)

Hyena writes:

I don't think Lee is targeting "morality" so much as charity. That it's not really useful to run charity through government isn't really debated.

The push for programs which help the elderly, poor or sick have, at their base, a conception of justice which entitles those people. There's nothing which can be said by an economist to overcome that idea and there is really nothing a libertarian can say, either.

A theory of justice pretty much precludes all their "now that we've settled what should belong to who" systems and throws us to a discussion of what the distributions should be.

N. Joseph Potts writes:

I think that when people presume to redistribute other people's money, they are reprehensible and to be condemned, resisted, thwarted, and subjected to the utmost moral opprobrium.

"More restrained," indeed!

Lorne M. writes:

I find Dwight Lee's thoughts rather unclear sometimes, in sense that they do not really offer a solution. It is obvious that you morals are going to get perverted, it has unfortunately been proven many times. The real question is how to prevent that, transfer of powers? divide them to the higher cause of controlling each other? Yeah, maybe there is a way, make two greedy dogs guard the same courtyard, the question is whether they will prevent each other from theft or they are going to steel twice as much.

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