Quick Roundup 154

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Boaz Simovici on Robert Tracinski

Stop by Noodle Food if you haven't already and read another spot-on analysis of Robert Tracinski's still-infinished "What Went Right?" series. This passage in particular reminds me of a point I have noticed myself, although Simovici does a far better job of fleshing it out.

Tracinski argues that western institutions are the mechanism of philosophical change in today's world. The experience of scientific education, capitalism and liberal democracy leads to a wider acceptance of enlightenment ideals: reason, individualism, the pursuit of happiness. Men are "inducted" into a rational worldview -- they form new and better ethical concepts implicitly -- by experiencing the rewards of certain virtues (honesty, thrift, initiative). This mechanism constitutes nothing less than a "virtuous cycle," at the end of which a philosophy of reason takes over the culture. Western institutions --> implicit philosophy --> Moral revolution....

Much of this argument has the ring of truth. It's true, for instance, that existential and political conditions play an important role in the spread of ideas. This is hardly an original point -- within or outside of Objectivism.
Incidentally, Diana notes in her comments that the post is the 2000th at her blog and that she is closing in on five years of blogging. Be sure to stop by and thank her for the superb job she has been doing there.

War Debate in Boulder

Here's another one you've probably already heard about, but which is worth repeating....
America is often harshly criticized at home and abroad for its conduct in war, not just by "doves" hoping to restrain American military might but also by "hawks" seeking more vigorous military action. So what does morality require of America in war? Is a vigorous defense of American interests abroad compatible with justice? What are the military's obligations toward the civilians of an enemy nation? What is the moral response to today's pressing problem of global terrorism? On Tuesday, March 13th, Dr. Yaron Brook and Dr. Martin Cook will debate these questions at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

What: Debate on "Justice in War" with Dr. Martin Cook and Dr. Yaron Brook

Where: Wittemeyer Courtroom, Wolf Law Building, University of Colorado at Boulder

When: Tuesday, March 13th, 2007, 8:00 to 9:30 p.m.
For more about the event, the debaters, and its sponsoring organization, Think!, follow the link.

Blogroll Addition

Via Mikes's Eyes and Principles in Practice, I have learned that Lisa VanDamme has started her own blog on education, Pedagogically Correct. You can now find it on the side bar here. The blog contains some, but not all of the content from her school's newsletter of the same name. Mike N has more details about the newsletter at his blog, where he posts an installment.

With Friends Like These...

Over at TCS Daily is one of the worst articles on taxation I have read in a very long time.
Ask an economist and she'll tell you there are two basic approaches to tax fairness. One is "benefits received" which says taxes are fair if those who use the most government pay the most taxes. The other is "ability to pay" which says to forget how much government we use -- people who make more money should pay more tax.

In today's policy world, ability to pay wears the pants
. ...

So here's a question. If graduated tax rates on people are fair, are they also fair for corporations?

I hope you're sitting down, because the improbable answer is that they're not fair.


Every freshman economics class teaches companies can't bear taxes, only people can. Companies are just legal fictions that shove off taxes onto customers, employees and shareholders. The firm itself pays nothing. And so the age-old notion that we should hammer rich companies because "they can afford it" is really based on a simple misunderstanding.

Personally, I blame lawmakers for the mix-up. They notoriously preach the gospel of "tax companies, not people" with campaign promises to shift taxes from families onto businesses. But business taxes are just a tricky way of dumping tax burdens back onto different people. So in the world of corporate taxes, the right measure of ability to pay isn't the profits of the Fortune 500. It's our own pocketbooks.


Sam Walton was rich. But the poor families who bought jeans at Wal-Mart this morning aren't. Why soak them for shopping at a profitable company? Why not tax the Waltons directly, and forget the rococo con game of corporate taxes altogether?
This legalistic, sophomoric, and wholly unconvincing argument is nothing more than a cowardly attempt to avoid sticking one's neck out to make a moral stand against government redistribution of income

Why tax Sam Walton (or any other individual) at all? Aside from taxation violating his individual rights, soaking producers -- who will be "able to pay" precisely to the extent that they show ingenuity and initiative -- will rob them of significant incentives to do the work that drives our economy.

Personally, I blame economists like Andrew Chamberlain for our current welfare state quagmire. In pretending that moral issues do not matter, such men do an injustice to the world's most moral and practical political system, capitalism, while making the welfare state and foolishness like soaking the rich appear to be moral and practical.

-- CAV


Galileo Blogs said...

Your last paragraph is a profound realization. In an undergraduate economics class, I recall how the professor acted as if it made no difference economically whether a dollar was consumed by a private citizen or by government. His amorality on who owned and spent the wealth was an implicit endorsement of unlimited government power to grab and "redeploy" assets at will.

Interestingly, his amoral perspective on property also led to lousy economics, for a dollar in the hands of government is not the same as a dollar in the hands of an individual. That professor may have been later hired by the World Bank and spent the rest of his life wondering why his "income redistribution" plans never seemed to work in the poor countries he advised across Africa and South America.

The lesson the professor never learned is: the moral is the practical, especially when it comes to understanding economics.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you.

What is amazing to me is that even for many altruistic goals, capitalism yields superior results.

Of course, this isn't a good argument for capitalism, but it should give many more people pause than it does about arguments like that one.