Monday, September 19, 2011

Libertarian Bizarroworld

Bryan Caplan gives the game away:
Since you're nerdy enough to read EconLog, I assume you're familiar with Bizarro WorldBizarro Superman, and Bizarro Jerry.  Now imagine adding a new figure to this mythology: Bizarrro Wolf Blitzer.  In Bizarro World, the masses and the mainstream media (Blitzer included) are thoroughly libertarian.  Statists are just a handful of hard-blogging oddballs.  To signal his open-mindedness, Bizarro Blitzer invites a leading statist on his show....
My claim: The people of Bizarro World have a far better understanding of right and wrong than the people of the real world.  In Bizarro World, people know that it's morally permissible to refuse to help a total stranger who failed to purchase health insurance, and morally impermissible to treat a peaceful immigrant like a criminal.
My response on EconLog was censored, because apparently "WTF" is such strong language that it makes Galtian supermen clutch their pearls and head for the fainting couch. So reproduced (reconstructed) below:

WTF does "morally permissible" mean? It can't mean "moral under the generally accepted moral code of western civilization", since that makes charity a moral requirement (as stated explicitly in the Torah, in the New Testament, and in fact by most moral codes elsewhere).
If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth. "  -- Deuteronomy 15:7-8
So it must mean "moral according to the rules of libertarian bizarroworld", which inverts the usual moral codes. In libertarian bizarroworld, selfishness is a virtue and charity is a sin.  The sociopath-admiring Ayn Rand I guess is the prophet of this inverted religion.


So Caplan's "claim" is basically a tautology; that in bizarroworld, inverted morality is "better" and more generally accepted than normal morality.  That's fine for bizarros, and you know who they are. But it has nothing to do with the real world except to serve as a horrible counterexample of how to think and behave.

[[update: this is too good (emphasis added):

Suppose a guy with no health insurance and no assets shows up at a hospital emergency room with an urgent life-threatening condition. Should you let him die? Ordinary compassion says no. The heightened compassion of the economist says, at the very least, maybe.

Has there ever been a field so self-regarding as libertarian economics? Any field that is so in love with its own abstractions, so convinced that they confer moral virtue?

I will give the author of that quote, Steve Landsberg, credit for making it a "maybe" (sure, anything might be true), and focusing on an important issue (the scope of compassion). But still.]]

10 comments:

scw said...

Did the ancient Jews have a modern welfare state, in which the alms given to the poor were provided from taxes exacted from the public by the ruler's coercion? The quoted passage is an exhortation to personal charity, and not one to enact the "Great Society" programs of Lyndon Johnson. It is perfectly possible to criticise the numerous perverse consequences of the latter, without personally lacking in charity.

Even if you observed them personally, you would not, I suspect, favor state enforcement of the Torah's injunctions regarding adultery, sodomy, or blasphemy - would you?

mtraven said...

The ancient Jews of course did have a "welfare state" in that their society was structured so that the poor would be cared for rather than left to die in the street.

It is not always obvious how to map rules made for a small nomadic society to a 21st century industrial one.

In particular, the idea of a private sphere that is wholly separate from public life and in which an individual is more or less autonomous is definitely a recent invention. So to call the commandment to open your hand to the poor about "personal charity" is wrong twice. It's not personal, and it's not about charity but about justice (the Hebrew word is tzedakah, cognate with tzadik which means justice, righteousness, wisdom).

scw said...

You have evaded my questions.

Among the ancient Jews, were the alms given to the poor provided from taxes exacted from the public by the ruler's coercion?

Do you also favor state enforcement of the Torah's injunctions regarding adultery, sodomy, or blasphemy?

Here are some passages from the Old Testament more relevant to the issues of the modern welfare state than the one you quoted:

"Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? When wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man." Prov. vi:6-11.

"He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich. He that gathereth in the summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame." Prov. x:4-5.

"The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it." Prov. x:22.

"As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to those that send him." Prov. x:26.

"The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat." Prov. xiii:4.

"Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction: but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured." Prov. xiii: 19.

One point of difference between the poor of that "small nomadic society" and the so-called poor of our Great Society welfare programs is that, in Biblical times, the poor were mostly those that absolutely could not support themselves otherwise: the widow, the orphan, or the cripple. They were not sturdy adults who, generation after generation, remained on the dole, while supplementing it with the proceeds of petty crime. Such people, far more typical of beneficiaries of the modern welfare state, were (as Proverbs clearly shows) distinguished from those whose poverty was caused by their own idleness and vice.

It is a significant failure of the modern welfare state and its supporters that they do not distinguish between those who are poor because of some calamity beyond their control, and sluggards who are the architects of their own ruin. The basis of modern leftism, and the welfare state it has created, is not Biblical compassion for the widow, orphan, and cripple; it is resentment and envy of the successful and diligent. As Robert Sheaffer reminds us, "those 'have nots' so pitied and honored in resentment's litany are typically not only 'have nots,' but also 'do nots,' 'can nots,' 'will nots,' and nearly always 'think nots,' as well."

scw said...

Correction to the last sentence of the penultimate paragraph above - it should read:

"Such people, far more typical of beneficiaries of the modern welfare state, were (as Proverbs clearly shows) distinguished from those whose poverty was not caused by their own idleness and vice."

scw said...

Here's an interesting summary of what constitutes being officially "poor" in the U.S. today:

http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2011/09/Understanding-Poverty-in-the-United-States-Surprising-Facts-About-Americas-Poor

Among other fascinating data presented there, we learn that -

"The following are facts about persons defined as “poor” by the Census Bureau as taken from various government reports:
80 percent of poor households have air conditioning. In 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
92 percent of poor households have a microwave.
Nearly three-fourths have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more cars or trucks.
Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV.
Two-thirds have at least one DVD player, and 70 percent have a VCR.
Half have a personal computer, and one in seven have two or more computers.
More than half of poor families with children have a video game system, such as an Xbox or PlayStation.
43 percent have Internet access.
One-third have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.
One-fourth have a digital video recorder system, such as a TiVo."

Citing a passage in Deuteronomy to justify forcible exactions from the productive so that the "poor" may have wide-screen television sets, DVD players, and XBox or Playstation, stretches the meaning of "sufficient for his need" far beyond the breaking point.

mtraven said...

You have evaded my questions.

Not really. But I don't think I ever signed a promise to respond to your questions. I will if I find them interesting or have something interesting to say in response.

scw said...

You won't answer the questions, because you know that the straightforward and true answers to them won't support your position. That should be evident to any reasonably literate person who bothers to read this comment section.

It is ridiculous for a supporter of abortion-on-demand and sodomitical "marriage" like yourself to complain of libertarians or anyone else "invert[ing] the usual moral codes."

TGGP said...

There are strict standards at EconLog. I was banned from there, and Barkley Rosser is boycotting its comments section because of their policies. It is apparently Lauren Landsburg behind the strict policy rather than the bloggers.

Caplan's an atheist and thought that stance was obvious from an early age, so it's doubtful scripture would be much of an argument to him.

mtraven said...

scw: My RSI is flaring up, which probably means I shouldn't be blogging at all, but at least it gives me an excuse to limit myself to conversations that I find worthwhile.

@tggp: their loss. If they want an echo chamber they can have it.

Atheism has nothing to do with it. The point was that caring is at the center of the moral code of the west (and not just the west). Caplan's morality is the opposite. His metaphor gives away that even he realizes at some level that it's an inversion.

scw said...

Apparently, then, continuing a conversation is not "worthwhile" for you when you cannot respond without making evident the internal contradictions of your own arguments.