Monday, September 29, 2014

Doug and Skeeter Discuss Kant - ht @KarmaKaiser 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

While individuals get our empathy and sympathy, institutions seldom do. The “we’re in this together” spirit of films from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s later gave way to a reflex shared by left and right, that villainy is associated with organization. Even when they aren’t portrayed as evil, bureaucrats are stupid and public officials short-sighted. Only the clever bravado of a solitary hero (or at most a small team) will make a difference in resolving the grand crisis at hand.

This rule of contemporary storytelling is so nearly universal that it has escaped much comment — because you never notice propaganda that you already agree with. In other words, the reflex is self-reinforcing. A left-leaning director may portray villainous oligarchs or corporations while another film-maker rails against government cabals. But while screaming at each other over which direction Big Brother may be coming from, they never seem to notice their common heritage and instinct — Suspicion of Authority (SOA) — much in the way fish seldom comment on the existence of water.

Indeed, one of the great ironies is that we all suckled SOA from every film and comic book and novel that we loved… and yet, we tend to assume that we invented it. That only we and a few others share this deep-seated worry about authority. That our neighbors got their opinions from reflexive, sheeplike obedience to propaganda. But we attained ours through logical appraisal of the evidence.

No, you did not invent Suspicion of Authority. You were raised by it.

"Susicion of Authority" is Also Propaganda - From 
Saturday, September 20, 2014

Matt Bruenig on Poor White Supremacy

Of course poor whites have an interest in maintaining structures that keep down blacks. Presently, poor whites are in the lowest economic class alongside poor blacks, but they aren’t in the lowest social caste. In a society with white supremacist structures, poor whites avoid being in last place. They aren’t up with the rich whites, many of whom regard poor whites as inferior trash. But they aren’t all the way down with the poor blacks. They occupy a social rank that is near the bottom, but not at it.

That’s Matt Bruenig’s opinion at least, on the “New Jim Crow” of mass incarceration. 

My take is that penultimate poverty is not very convincing as a positional good. Especially when the literature suggests people care more about intra-group status. Alas the zero-sum thinking is strong in this one. The correct answer is that poor white classes have a massive interest in the success of poor black classes because the pie is not fixed.

Consider the other “New Jim Crow” elephant in the room: the rise of rampant civil asset forfeiture. The poor of every race have an interest in calling attention to this trampling of property rights.

For more on how class based rhetoric hurts the poor, see part three of my post on social capital and the welfare state.

Thursday, September 18, 2014
Robert Brandom connects objective idealism to pragmatism and makes both more intelligible. Source.

Robert Brandom connects objective idealism to pragmatism and makes both more intelligible. Source.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Here is Robert Brandom explaining how Hegel improved on Kant’s understanding of normativity by showing it to be fundamentally social. 

About pragmatism… Just thought you should know

Hay guys, just thought u should know that

pragmatism does not consist in the explanatory privileging of practical discursive activity over theoretical discursive activity, but rather in the explanatory privileging of act over content within both the theoretical and practical domains.

That’s all kthnxbai  

Brandom on Norms, Selves & Concepts

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Our Modern Euthyphro Dilemma

Does god make his commandments base on what is right, or is what is right based on his commandments? This is the Euthyphro dilemma, and it has boggled theologians and moral philosophers alike for literally millenia

The dilemma is supposed to challenge believers in divine command theory, but it has relevance for modern secular moral theory as well. This is because the original dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro was not really about the nature of god, but about the nature of normative authority more generally. By being constant through time and space and separate from human particularity, God simply reflects the idealized universality and generality which we seek in our principals of justice.

In lieu of god, secular moral philosophy from Kant on has been trying to somehow leverage sureness back into our moral sense through convoluted transcendental arguments. Such efforts usually involve the metaphysical construction of an “ideal self” in some ideal scenario behaving in ideal ways to which we must all rationally assent. Our secular Euthyphro dilemma thus becomes: Are our abstract moral theories based on what is right, or is what is right based on our abstract moral theories? Against any Kantian construction, the dilemma is no less powerful as when levied against divine command.

Take 20th century Kantian philosopher John Rawls, for example. His concept of the “original position” asks us to imagine ourselves standing outside of society bereft of any knowledge of our personal identity, including our conception of a good life. Behind this veil of ignorance, he argued, we’d all rationally agree to an egalitarian society in which there was the greatest benefit for the least advantaged.


With this idealized social contract, Rawls’ goal is to establish a formal derivation of political authority in order to justify a particular macro-distributive end. But what appears to be an innocuous thought experiment is on closer inspection a series of arbitrary and inconceivable stipulations. After all, what is left of a self after its identity has been stripped away? How can a purely instrumental rationality even motivate a choice, much less reveal risk preferences? Why does the nation state set the boundary of social justice? Even taking the exercise at face value, the construct fails to establish a meta-ethical bridge to true normativity because it merely pushes the prescriptive element onto an unfounded imperative to act according to one definition of rationality.

To do Rawls justice, I should add that he was aware of all this and so in addendum wrote hundreds of pages of tedious conceptual scaffolding. This guarantees the incompleteness of my rough sketch, however the flaw with constructing a Kantian normative architecture lies not in the design specifics or even the level of detail, but in the very idea that normative authority can be grounded via ethical autoCAD. With sufficient prodding all Kantian constructions invariably implode under their unnatural abstract formalism. Indeed, examples span the political spectrum to include Kant inspired libertarians, whose invocations of the non-aggression principal are similarly void of content, and become contradictory fast once any substance is added.

Thus when contemporary Kantians debate it winds up being a symmetric game of mutually assured deconstruction. Distributive justice types are able to accurately reveal the inconsistencies of their opponents, while procedural justice types make a science of egalitarian absurdities. In the end, beneath the twin rubble piles that result, there remains only the meek voices of special pleading.

If what is right is not based on abstract moral theory, then normative authority must be antecedent to our modern moral philosophy. In later posts I will try to explain how normativity arises from the bottom up, from the particular to the general, rather than the other way around. As Nietzsche famously argued, relinquishing god as the locus of normative authority was essential to opening new possibilities of human development. Today, the same should be said of all secular moral frameworks which give normative authority the same god-like unity of voice, contra the polycentrism we actually observe. So say it with me:

Kant is dead. Kant remains dead. And we have killed him.

The above was originally written for Sweet Talk

Friday, September 12, 2014

alyoshasdream said: I must say, you are one of the few people who, when your posts appear on my dashboard, I'm immediately interested and find I learn something new, or at the very least consider a different angle of a subject. Thank you for your efforts, keep it up!

Thank you! This blog is pure self indulgence so I’m glad someone else is able to find value on it.

My 15 year old self reviews Great Expectations

7 years ago this week I was beginning grade 10 pre-IB English & I found these response essays I wrote for the summer assignment. They’re pretty funny for how pretentious and thesaurus driven they are. See if you can tell how resentful I was for having to read Dickens (who I still regard as a piece of shit).

Great Expectations response 1

by Samuel Hammond

I cannot understand how quickly some people resolve to propitiate Dickens unbearably long novels on the basis of their themes and formidable writing styles. I cannot stress enough how needlessly long his books, particularly this one, are. Therein, Pip’s story is like an eloquent British chap of maturing age who is still allowed to awkwardly breast feed off his aging mother, with an ostentatious pinky in the air; literally, Dickens is milking it for all it’s worth.

I have even heard Dickens called the JK Rowling of the 19 th century, if not for his popularity, for his awful tendency to pad books with so much filler, that unnecessary words adorn each page; so much the back cover becomes stained with innumerous redundant paragraphs. There should be a warning on this book in big red letters: May cause catatonic state!

            Pips adventure – once one gets passed Dickens axiomatic attempt at turning a relatively short story into the Encyclopedia Britannica – is actually quite depressing. If it wasn’t sad enough that his earnest efforts for Estella’s hand were in lifelong vain, then Estella’s coldly corrupted personality, and gelid objectivity, coerced by the equally void Miss Havisham, should knock you out of the Fenway park of happiness, into the desolate car lot of Charles Dickens desire for happily-ever-after.

            Mrs. Joe Gargery’s injury and untimely death left me feeling dismayed that she never connected with Pip, save with the back of her hand. Pip’s inability to adequately express loving gratitude toward Joe was frustrating if irritating, and worsened once Pip became the rising gentleman. In other words, the book itself is gloomily abhorrent; and totally sunshine corrupt, despite its captivating beginning and plot. Its’ essence is that of a repugnant teenager helping a crippled lady up a flight of stairs, only to gingerly toss her arthritis filled hand away, and smirk as she falls hard on her back; this is the end of Pip’s third stage of expectations. “Sorry Ms’. Twas an accident,” he lies, as Dickens does with Havisham’s silly break down, and Estella’s out of character semi-decency near the end.

This book is the Alex DeLarge of bildungsromans, and though it struggles to end-happy, with Estella’s decency, for instance, its’ attempts are transparent, and the books great expectations couldn’t be farther from fulfilled, which really is rather appropriate.

Great Expectations response 2

by Samuel Hammond

To me, this book seems to be one moral dilemma after another: Pip lies; Pip lies again; Pip is rude; Pip lies; Pip is ungrateful; and so on. Whomever Dickens is representing with Pip; the lying ungrateful, insolent hound, he must really dislike him. If read closely, you find that Dickens often shows sympathy for Pip, by shading each scenario with Pip’s inner sincerity, innocence, and unknowingness, which incidentally, makes it seem like Dickens is deliberately trying to let Pip off easy, by making it someone else’s fault, that Pip didn’t know what he was doing, or that Pip was corrupted, and fundamentally he was not to blame.

            For what reason is this sympathy assigned? Yes, I understand that Pip is the narrator, and people tend to sympathize with themselves, but I do not think it is quite that simple. Pip, throughout the book, is portrayed so objectively, be it humiliation or an instance of amoral consciousness, that it is hard to imagine Pip, with his expected bias, to narrate so openly without hiding behind a name. The book is peculiar for its mix of intense objectivity and labored sympathy. Let me give a few examples where objectivity peaks:

1)      Pip is portrayed as shallow when Joe visits and Pip expresses shame.

2)      Pip is portrayed as shallow when he chases Estella, whereas Biddy is more suitable match.

3)      Pip is portrayed as unkind when he is mostly indifferent to the news of his sisters death. This is slightly redeemed in light of Pip’s negative views of Orlick.

4)      Pip is portrayed as ungrateful for Magwitch’s expenditure.

The first two of these examples are Pip’s arrogances from coming into wealth, but that is irrelevant, as they are objective nonetheless. If we are to expect that Pip is really the one writing the story, and not Dickens, it would more consistent for Pip to let himself down easy on every possible short coming through excuses and rationalizations. The third example is particularly good, because it’s not written out quite so explicitly as the other two. Examples for peak sympathy are as follows:

1)      Pip rationalizes his lying about the pie, brandy, and file, as done so in fear of the convict.

2)      Pip seldom downplays his contempt for his sister, and typically his sister is demonized among him and Joe. This behavior is not scorned by future Pip, proving the contempt, or indifference remains. Dickens is thus sympathizing with Pip’s exaggerated description of heartless Mrs. Joe Gargery, which would accurately be described as ‘only being Pip’s side of the story’.

3)      Estella’s insolence towards Pip is accented on every occasion, as if Pip, or Dickens, was making an extra effort for you to feel bad for him.

4)      The reader is also obviously meant to sympathize with Pip regarding the unwelcome presence of Bentley.

So what does this inconsistency mean? The peeks and valleys of both objective self criticisms, and shameless self sympathy seem to tell the story of an insecure Charles Dickens who is more or less telling his life story, though most of it likely did not happen to Dickens himself.

Great Expectations is Dicken’s autobiographical self-demagogy. Careful deconstruction reveals Dickens general contempt for women, via sympathetic passages rationalizing Pip’s personal contempt for Mrs. Joe, Mrs. Havisham, Estella, Camilla, Sarah Pocket, and Geogiana, as being heartless, cold, and condescending money grubbers. To be fair, similar criticisms are placed on several of the men. I think the women stand out, however, because unlike the women, the men aren’t all so vile. Biddy is an exception, which may have been modeled after Dickens’ mother, or dream mother, as is suggest once Joe and her marry.

Further observation suggests that Dickens had a personal self loathing, too. One commonality with which many of the people that Pip/Dickens are contemptuous to, are that they are wealthy. I think in this, Dickens is showing disappointment with himself. Dickens through fame inevitably became wealthy, and with that wealth emerged his personal arrogance. I think Pip, in his ungrateful gentleman stage, is Dickens in disguise. Dickens is ashamed of his self, and secretly wishes that he can grow humble like Pip, or return to his innocent childhood. Until then, he documents his subtle misery in his book’s characters, which are modeled after him. Pip’s examples of ‘rudeness’ are like Dickens’ insecurities, which, in Great Expectations, is why he usually lets himself off so sympathetically in those cases, too.

Great Expectations is like Charles Dickens personal cry for help. You can’t write a five-hundred page novel that features one character on every page for all fifty something chapters without knowing something about them; and who does Dickens know best but Dickens himself.

Some twitter round up

I’ve been tweeting more than tumblring. Here’s a little round up:

My problem with politics is that the deeper I get in with a particular tribe the more I recognize its false premises and rhetorical crutches

Whenever I see my own beliefs coming out of someone else’s mouth they suddenly seem fallible


Political “money ball” has helped congress move from a normative-expectations equilibrium to the pareto inferior hyper-strategic equilibrium.

My model is V(x) = U(x) + kN(x) The value of doing x is given by its utility plus its norm appropriateness weighted by k

k is how much you weight normative considerations and is a reaction function based on other agent’s k. k has declined

It’s hard to pinpoint when because its self-fulfilling, in the same way discovery of saber-metrics caused a cascade of adjustment

The shift is pareto inferior by construction because N(x) is assumed to exist for stability of cooperative strategies


I don’t know what  is but it sounds like a shitty knock-off of Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ


Start with perfect resource egalitarian state X. Assume heterogeneous preferences. There exist welfare improving trades away from X


Fact: Your deontic constraints only exists to form my doxastic constraints.

"Trust is simply a state in which everyone believes that everyone has a broadly norm-compliant disposition"

"Con" artists are literally people who are good at tricking you into giving them your confidence. You trust / model them as norm compliant.

Real trust is created by history of repeat interaction. When new political leaders say “trust me” they are literally being con artists


The European style of holding the knife in the left hand comes from a time when people wielded weapons in their right. It signaled trust


What kind of second order conditions are involved with “People Before Profits”?


The Lockean theory of private property fundamentally relies on the

Scholars widely acknowledge Locke’s tacit use of Pareto. Two ex: 

John Locke built a theory of government, going beyond Hobbs, based upon the Pareto standard.

Or “we buttress the attempt to classify Locke as a proleptic follower of Pareto.

The Pareto reading is actually consistent as a thread implicitly running through all of liberalism.


A priori moral principals don’t exist. We rationally reconstruct them by empirical investigation of time invariant normative presuppositions

what the hell is a time invariant normative presupposition?

Non-zerosumness, for example. Its logic is discovered/reconstructed by studying backwards from its many social manifestations

Pareto efficiency is an invariant normative presupposition hidden within many seemingly unrelated human practices

The point is anti-Kantian. Kant went from transcendental reason to a categorical imperative. This starts at concrete experience

The key benefit of adopting a “reconstructed” Pareto welfare standard is that it avoids the problems of aggregation


Grand Theory of 20th Century: Great Depression strengthened family norms. Carried through 1950s boom. By 1960s said norms became auxiliary.


My current intellectual interest is brainstorming public choice strategies to make libertarianism a nash equilibrium


The common law works itself pure by rules drawn from the fountains of justice - Lord Mansfield

Hayek usefully distinguished between Law and Legislation. But to legal realists like Robert Lee Hale there was only legislation

Legal realism fails to provide an account of law’s “internal point of view” while also being useless to practical jurisprudence

Progressive legal theorist Robert Law Hale redefined coercion so broadly as to make natural scarcity and use of violence equivalent


Assistant profs in math & stats departments ALWAYS have photos of themselves backpacking, hiking, rock climbing, etc. on their course page


The welfare state a la Rawls and the rent seeking state a la Tolluck share the view that the state primarily exists to redistribute.


Monopoly power must be abused. It has no use save abuse. - Henry C Simmons

John WIlkins on the differences between Materialism and Physicalism 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

John Wilkins argues that mind uploading “unequivocally” will not work. We may get something mind-like, but differences in the physical substrate will multiply. Characterizing the brain as just computation ignores the vagaries of biochemistry. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How the Welfare State Enhances Social Capital

The following is a x-post of an essay which I originally wrote for the blog SweetTalk:

Lamenting the atomism of modern society, the decline of community, associations and other forms of “social capital,” is such a common refrain on both the left and right that one wonders why they haven’t put aside their differences to form a club! I hear there are some vacancies down at the YMCA, and I bet you rates have never been so good. Call it… the Enemies of Anomie & Toastmasters Society.

Yet theorists of social capital spend more time writing about it (in itself a highly autonomous practice) than they do actually forming new co-valent social bonds. Perhaps its because, for both camps, the decline is seen to have been caused by such deep and hard to resist forces that they are equally resigned to pontification.

On the right, the deep source of creeping atomism is the all-encompassing, bureaucratized welfare state. Redistribution in this view is inherently trust-reducing due to its zero-sumness (Mary robbing Peter to pay Paul). For example, its argued that universal social programs crowd-out private safety-nets, like religious organizations or the family, destroying unseen pro-social externalities. In some accounts this merely accelerates a feedback loop of eroding social norms that was initiated the second Western Civilization embraced value pluralism.

Surprisingly, many on the left have come to similar conclusions, if only in a different vocabulary. Habermas, for example, has argued that state welfare systems “colonize” more natural forms of solidarity, contributing to their “reification" — an objectifying process by which implicit social relations are made explicit and impersonal, sapping them of their moral character. Readers of Sweet Talk might know this as a re-balancing from the sacred to the profane, the inherent transcendental and instrumental duality of all social relations.

Heady stuff. But is any of it accurate? Is it an inexorable law of late capitalism that we become individuated narcissists? Is there some theorem in Public Choice that says more welfare = less social capital? The answer to both is a big fat no.

In fact, the inverse relationship between social capital and the modern welfare state has been greatly exaggerated. There are three main reasons for this tendency, which I explore below:

  • 1: Too much of the analysis has focused on the US

Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone is surely the most extensive and influential survey into the decline of social capital, and is an important work. But its subject is exclusively the United States, which makes it extremely difficult to draw any causal inference into the “collapse of American community”. This isn’t for lack of other research. There are now many studies into the determinants of social capital in Europe. Not only has there been no comparable collapse in social capital, on the role of welfare results by-and-large contradict the US narrative. Indeed, empirical studies tend to talk of welfare being “trust enabling”.

Independent of these empirical problem, it is difficult to draw general conclusions about the effects of welfare policies by studying the US for the simple reason that its social programs are delivered in such bad faith and with manifestly poor design. It’s gotten so bad political scientist Steven M. Teles had to coin a new term for it, Kludgeocracy: a system of government befitting “an ill-assorted collection of parts assembled to fulfill a particular purpose”. In his own words:

For any particular problem we have arrived at the most gerry-rigged, opaque and complicated response. From the mind-numbing complexity of the health care system, our Byzantine system of funding higher education, and our bewildering federal-state system of governing everything from the welfare state to environmental regulation, America has chosen more indirect and incoherent policy mechanisms than any comparable country.

An optimist might argue that the US just takes the theory of the second best really, really seriously. Unfortunately, the more plausible story is that America’s political system produces abnormally bad policy. Putnam famously argued that social capital, manifested in high levels of trust and civic engagement were essential to an effective democracy. Though I agree, I suspect in America’s case the causality runs mostly the other way. Extreme democratic dysfunction is fuel to civic apathy and distrust of conventional sources of authority. Indeed, being suspicious of government is a time-honored American tradition. The fact that so many conspiracy theorists focus on the US government thus doesn’t surprise me. The level of surface incompetence is so utterly beyond belief that Infowarriors sound reasonable to insist it must be a cover for some hyper-competent core.

But just as there’s no good reason to expect the effects of US social policy to match more coherent welfare regimes, there is no necessary reason US policy has to be so incompetent and self-sabotaging going forward. There are legislative ideas out there that could dramatically simplify the US welfare system overnight. Yet, for reasons likely inherent to the structure of US federalism, America has so far earned its title as the reluctant welfare state.

  • 2: Aggregation misses the important details of institutional design

I got acquainted to the kludge through my own research into the effects of welfare expansion on religious affiliation. I even had empirical results that track closely with the view the social programs crowd-out private forms of collective action. As I wrote in my honours thesis conclusion,

Religious organizations, as natural providers of community social insurance, are entwined in the U.S. hospital care system. But with the rapid expansion of state subsidized health spending on the poor … Medicaid and Medicare expansions interacted with the increasingly profit-oriented hospital sector, and many religious hospitals closed down or converted to secular ownership. Falling congregational membership followed suit … This is one example of the non-neutrality of the U.S. welfare system on forms of social capital.

But to view this as a choice between public health care and community provision is a false dilemma. In order to de-stylize ones facts one must look to the deeper parameters. In this case, social capital was damaged precisely due to the perverse ways public and private spheres interacted in the US health system. As nursing professor Dr. Barbra Mann-Wall has written, due to the nascent pool of federal Medicaid and Medicare dollars that became up for grabs, the 1980s

witnessed the growth of for-profit hospital networks, resulting in increased vulnerability of smaller not-for-profit institutions. More than 600 community hospitals closed.  It was at this time that both for-profit and not-for-profit institutions began forming larger hospital systems, which were significant changes in the voluntary hospital arena. …The balance of power in these institutions shifted from caregivers to the organized purchasers of care, with Medicare and Medicaid becoming a huge governmental influence in all types of hospitals.

That’s just one example. Many peculiarities of US federal social programs make them poised for trust-reduction. Extensive needs tested introduces space for discretion on one end and cheating on the other, exemplified by the US disability program. Then there’s the heavy reliance on a complex income tax system, which relative to a VAT is easily abused. In short, it’s a disaster.

If there’s any common denominator to the worst US federal programs, it’s surely the degree of centralization. For comparison, consider that Sweden is one of most comprehensive welfare states in the world but also ranks near the top in measures of social capital. Part of the reason may relate to the high level of decentralization of many key social programs. For example, financing and delivering healthcare is the responsibility of County Councils, while welfare, disability and elderly are controlled by municipalities. Swedes also have very high rates of union membership. Yet instead of being confrontational with the employer, the norm is mutual advantage. In turn these unions are entrusted to manage stuff that in the US would be cynically regulated, like employee insurance and sick leave.

Economists extol the virtue of this kind of decentralization or subsidiarity for reasons of asymmetric information. That’s a reified way of describing the truism that in tight communities, everyone knows everybody. I was astonished to learn, for instance, that 75% of Swedes report attending “study circles,” 10% on a regular basis. These are regular meetings of a dozen or so people organized by larger voluntary associations that “range from the study of foreign languages to cooking to the European Union question.”

The typical response is to ascribe it all to Nordic cultural homogeneity. The problem is that when this isn’t just code for race, it is in many ways no more than a synonym for strong social capital, and therefore explains the phenomena self-referentially. Nonetheless, it doesn’t alter the fact that changes in welfare policy within Nordic countries shows no evidence that thick communities and welfare are substitutes, either.

  • 3: The redistributionist model of the welfare state is taken for granted

The embrace of egalitarianism by the American left ensures discourse on welfare is biased to a trust reducing conclusion. Indeed, the welfare state a la John Rawls and the rent seeking state a la Gordon Tolluck basically agree that the state primarily exists to redistribute.  If you’re on the right, it’s taking from the makers and giving to the takers, while the left romanticizes itself as a Robin Hood-esk rebuke of trickle down economics. Either way, all metaphors of class conflicts and opposed interests are framed as a fight over a fixed pie.

This is unfortunate, since the egalitarian logic rarely fits the facts. As philosopher Joseph Heath has pointed out, the largest “welfare programs” in advanced economies are really better characterized as state level insurance schemes that have historically arisen due to high transaction costs and economies of scale. “The tendency to misclassify social insurance programs as redistributive is quite firmly entrenched in the literature,” he writes:

There is, of course, a sense in which any system of insurance is redistributive, in that its net effect will be to transfer money from the lucky to the unlucky. But this is true regardless of whether it is public or private. Car insurance transfers money from those who don’t have accidents to those who do, just as health insurance transfers money from those who don’t get sick to those who do. In both cases, however, the logic of the redistribution is not egalitarian, but rather assurentiel. This is reflected in the fact that, first, people voluntarily buy insurance, because the transaction is Pareto-improving ex ante, and second, there is nothing to stop the transfers from being regressive with respect to income.

The pension system, a supposed “paradigm case” of wealth transfer, isn’t even obviously progressive in its effects:

Indeed, one of the factors that diminishes the level of progressivity of the system as a whole is that the rich tend to outlive the poor, and the core function of the system is to redistribute from those who die young to those who live for a long time. This is because the retirement system in the Social Security program is essentially a defined benefit pension scheme, which is to say, a collectively purchased life annuity. And a life annuity is an insurance product, designed to protect individuals from the risk of outliving their savings.

Recognizing the efficient logic of welfare states is essential to defeating the fallacy that they erode trust and create dependency. In economics, the key virtue of efficiency is that it represents a win-win space, characterized socially by a sense of harmony through mutual advantage. This the central conclusion of Ordonomics, an approach derived from ordoliberalism that bridges economic and institutional systems with semantic or ethical discourses. In a presentation on Ordonomics, German economist Ingo Pies illustrates the conventional view of how cultural pluralism reduces the intersection of common values:

But rather than erode community, value heterogeneity leads to the consensus around liberal norms like tolerance. This follows the same Pareto logic of social welfare, which Dr Pies calls the “orthogonal position”. In contrast, solely relying on egalitarian logic insists on making a “rotten compromise” which risks conflict where two value systems are in tension. In the United States this manifests in the perennial debate over whether welfare recipients deserve to be stigmatized. Importantly, the social structure of institutional incentives is paramount to whether harmonious interaction reigns supreme:

Even a country with heterogeneous values has ample space for harmonious and welfare enhancing cooperation. This includes the provision of social services, which is a homogeneous enough product to unite the most heterogeneous value pluralists together in cooperation.  As political scientist Bo Rothstein wrote of the Swedish welfare state, “its main architects sought a social policy based on the idea of ‘people’s insurance’ that would supply all citizens with basic resources without incurring the stigmatization associated with poor relief.” In turn, the people’s insurance enhanced social capital across Scandinavia by giving responsibilities of provision to civil society and voluntary associations.

It is of course true that before social insurance swept the modern world private forms of charity and mutual aid filled the gap. But we must never forget that social capital in this era was built on sacrifice and stigma, which put massive epistemic burdens on collective action, and oriented opposing communities in conflict. In contrast, modern forms of social capital are secured without sacrificing freedom of conscience or value plurality. It is in this spirit that Kant defined human dignity as the moral self-constitution of autonomous subjects. Sadly, that the US is such an exception to the rule betrays the cynicism of its political order, and leaves the average citizen poorer and less dignified for it.

On the misuse of “privilege”

Most debate about “privilege” is ignorant of the actual critical theory that underlies the concept, and is instead talking about a common sense understanding of the word. That is a very sensible thing for someone to do, because honestly the learning curve to grasp most contemporary marxism is not worth it.

Nevertheless, the concept of privilege is a bit deeper than common sense lets on. Indeed, that’s the whole point. Cultural marxism purports to get at the deep sources of superstructures like ideology, namely the capitalist system of production. Integral to the idea of privilege is the conceit that nothing short of revolution with solve it.

Not violent coup d’etat. No, that idea was like three or four “waves” ago. This is a revolution in the primary constituents of our reality: semantics. That may sound absurd, but just ask the literary critics that figured it out. Of course, in a few more “waves” marxism will be mainly run by culinary critics, and the primary constituents of reality will be seen as tomatoe sauce. First order of business. Make all sous chefs just *chefs*. Cutting onions is oppressive.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014
I wonder why Anglicans are so relatively libertarian. From a new Pew release. Ht @noahpinion

I wonder why Anglicans are so relatively libertarian. From a new Pew release. Ht @noahpinion