The End of Poverty

The cover story in TIME this week is a heart-wrenching excerpt [subscription only] from Jeffrey Sachs' forthcoming book, The End of Poverty.

The presence of death in Thandire has been overwhelming in recent years. The grandmothers whom we meet are guardians for their orphaned grandchildren. The margin of survival is extraordinarily narrow; sometimes it closes entirely. One woman we meet in front of her mud hut has 15 orphaned grandchildren. Her small farm plot, a little more than an acre in all, would be too small to feed her family even if the rains had been plentiful. The soil nutrients have been depleted so significantly in this part of Malawi that crop yields reach only about a half-ton per acre, about one-third of normal. This year, because of the drought, she will get almost nothing. She reaches into her apron and pulls out a handful of semi-rotten, bug-infested millet, which will be the basis for the gruel she will prepare for the meal that evening. It will be the one meal the children have that day. [...]

Children with no home other than this sleep in a train station in Jakarta, Indonesia

A few centuries ago, vast divides in wealth and poverty around the world did not exist. Just about everybody was poor, with the exception of a very small minority of rulers and large landowners.

Life was as difficult in much of Europe as it was in India or China.

Your great-great-grandparents were, with very few exceptions, poor and living on a farm. The onset of the Industrial Revolution, supported by a rise in agricultural productivity, unleashed an explosive period of modern economic growth. Both population and per-capita income came unstuck, rising at rates never before imagined. The global population rose more than sixfold in just two centuries, while the world's average per-capita income rose even faster, increasing around ninefold between 1820 and 2000. In today's rich countries, the economic growth was even more astounding. The U.S. per-capita income increased almost 25-fold during this period.

In beholding that success, many people embrace faulty social theories of those differences. When a society is economically dominant, it is easy for its members to assume that such dominance reflects a deeper superiority—whether religious, racial, genetic, ethnic, cultural or institutional—rather than an accident of timing or geography.

Such theories justified brutal forms of exploitation of the poor during colonial rule, and they persist even today among those who lack an understanding of what happened and is still happening in the Third World. In fact, the failure of the Third World to grow as rapidly as the First World is the result of a complex mix of factors, some geographical, some historical and some political. Imperial rule often left the conquered regions bereft of education, health care, indigenous political leadership and adequate physical infrastructure.

Often, newly independent countries in the post-World War II period made disastrous political choices, such as socialist economic models or a drive for self-sufficiency behind inefficient trade barriers.

But perhaps most pertinent today, many regions that got left furthest behind have faced special obstacles and hardships: diseases such as malaria, drought-prone climates in locations not suitable for irrigation, extreme isolation in mountains and landlocked regions, an absence of energy resources such as coal, gas and oil, and other liabilities that have kept these areas outside of the mainstream of global economic growth. Countries ranging from Bolivia to Malawi to Afghanistan face challenges almost unknown in the rich world, challenges that are at first harrowing to contemplate, but on second thought encouraging in the sense that they also lend themselves to practical solutions. [...]

In a hospital's tuberculosis ward in Zimbabwe, where AIDS has made millions vulnerable to such diseases, the only available bed is often on the floor

The outside world has pat answers concerning extremely impoverished countries, especially those in Africa. Everything comes back, again and again, to corruption and misrule. Western officials argue that Africa simply needs to behave itself better, to allow market forces to operate without interference by corrupt rulers. Yet the critics of African governance have it wrong. Politics simply can't explain Africa's prolonged economic crisis. The claim that Africa's corruption is the basic source of the problem does not withstand serious scrutiny. During the past decade I witnessed how relatively well-governed countries in Africa, such as Ghana, Malawi, Mali and Senegal, failed to prosper, whereas societies in Asia perceived to have extensive corruption, such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and Pakistan, enjoyed rapid economic growth.

What is the explanation? Every situation of extreme poverty around the world contains some of its own unique causes, which need to be diagnosed just as a doctor would a patient. For example, Africa is burdened with malaria like no other part of the world, simply because it is unlucky in providing the perfect conditions for that disease: high temperatures, plenty of breeding sites and particular species of malaria-transmitting mosquitoes that prefer to bite humans rather than cattle.

While I don't agree with all of Sachs' proposed remedies, especially his unwavering support for the U.N., the problems he identifies are enormous, and do not get anywhere near the attention they deserve. Endemic Third World poverty should be the primary focus of civil society's charitable efforts. And while systematic theft is never justified, no matter how praiseworthy the goal, we can certainly divert funds from the some of the more ridiculous, wasteful, and expensive government programs like Social Security, Medicare, the war in Iraq, and the drug war, as a stepping stone to eliminating these programs entirely. Surely helping save the lives of starving children is more important than persecuting non-violent drug offenders, nation building, and welfare for rich old people.

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Joe, The American Cancer

Joe,

The American Cancer Society, Easter Seals and the March of Dimes all target specific groups, so on your reading, wouldn’t they be guilty of bigotry and discrimination, too? Governments are formed to help specific groups of people.

I have not come across a definition of bigotry that I am entirely happy with, but for now, the following is a pretty good starting point: "a bigot is one whose partiality towards members of one’s own group and intolerance of those who differ is irrational." Now, I guess we could say that the American Cancer Society wants to be partial towards those people with or at risk for cancer. And the same is true for all other organizations that specialize in helping specific groups. That's simply a function of the division of labor. But groups like the American Cancer Society don't seem intolerant of those who differ, nor is their partiality irrational.

Perhaps we can come up with similar justifications for restricting government welfare to only those born within U.S. borders, or for restricting immigration - for reasons of efficiency and specialization. But I don't find these justifications very convincing; immigration in the absence of overly-generous welfare policies is a net plus to society (and some would argue even in the presence of these welfare policies), and extending welfare to only U.S. citizens and not foreigners doesn't seem any more efficient than extending it to all. These national distinctions, in my view, are irrational, unjustified, undeserved, and immoral.

This is a tricky move, and it’s one that Singer is guilty of, too. Positive rights (or recipience rights) do not create corresponding obligations in particular individuals in the way that negative rights (or non-interference rights) do. That is, I have a right not to be killed unjustly; you have a corresponding obligation to refrain from killing me unjustly (as does everyone else). But a positive right does not attach to any particular person; rather, it attaches to society as a whole. Singer’s mistake is to think that those general obligations to society attach to specific individuals. (Actually, we’d really need to discuss Singer with different terminology, since he doesn’t believe that there are any rights at all.)

I find Singer's argument much more convincing than yours. I don't think "society" is the kind of entity that can have moral rights or obligations; morality only applies to individuals, because only individuals act. And I don't see any good reason why those who believe in positive rights should make this sharp distinction between positive and negative rights. (And yes, I am aware that Singer is a utilitarian and doesn't speak in terms of rights; it's just easier for me to write informally since it captures the essence of his argument either way.)

Your use of corporations as a counter-example is interesting, but problematic, since society gives special status to corporations and often treats them as legal entities equivalent to individual people. I don't think its accurate to say that organizations, of which corporations are a type, can have moral rights or obligations. When we say "corporation X owes me money," what we are really saying is that the individuals who manage corporation X have a legal or moral obligation to pay me money, or that the individuals who co-own corporation X have a legal or moral obligation to pay me money.

I've been trying to look up a specific quote that relates to this issue, but can't seem to find it. It was by a historian who warned against the dangers of anthropomorphizing nations. When we say something like "In 1914, Germany went to war against France," we must not lose sight of the fact that what we mean is not that some entity called "Germany" went to war against another entity called "France," but that some German politicians and military leaders decided to command groups of German soldiers to invade certain territories and kill some French people. Collective entities do not act; people do. Thus, collective entities cannot have moral duties or rights; only people can.

If I’m person B, I might well think that the corporation ought to pay back its debts, but it’s not clear to me that I would have an obligation to do it myself if others at the corporation don’t do their part, too.

As a matter of law, and perhaps morality too, this doesn't follow. If I and a group of others join together to form a business partnership, and the rest of the group decides to bilk me and our suppliers and abscond with the cash, I am still held responsible for the company's debts, even though I myself did not solely create them, and may in fact be in no way directly responsible for them, other than through my business relationship with these other swindlers. I think the same would hold true with both positive and negative rights. If I have a positive right to X, then everyone else in the world has an individual obligation to provide me with X, regardless of whether other people fulfill their moral obligations.

“How does that last sentence follow? My birthday present from my grandmother was not deserved. I did nothing to earn it. Is it unfair for me to keep it?”
I think that we’re comparing apples and oranges here. When I talked about unfair and desert, I was referring specifically to starting positions.

But this is deeply related to your argument. If it is fair for me to keep my birthday present from my grandmother, and unfair of other people to take my birthday present away from me, then the same should be true if the birthday present was given to me on my very first birthday and is in the form of a very large inheritance my grandmother leaves to me. Neither of these gifts are deserved, but if we wish to defend the right of people to give and receive gifts, then we must also defend the right of people to give and receive large inheritances, even though these inheritances provide undeserved advantages and opportunities to some.

“And those who are attacked are justified in excercizing dominion over their attackers, for the reasons that Locke himself laid out: ownership of self entails the right to defend oneself, just as ownership of property entails the right to defend one’s property.”

I wonder if this doesn’t beg the question. We’re trying to determine whether we actually have property rights in the strong sense that you’ve been defending. If it is the case that you don’t have a right to all the property that you think you do, then taking that property isn’t exercising undue or unjust dominion over you.

I completely agree: if we can determine that I don't have a right to my property, then it may not be unjust for others to take that property from me. But I don't think we've established that. And many of the claims made in defense of government redistribution is that the government has greater authority than we as individuals do, so while it may be wrong for you and I to take other people's undeserved property, it is perfectly fine if governments take it. This is the kind of inequality of authority Long is talking about.

Locke’s provisos (there are two: as much and as good and spoilage) actually work together to avoid the ‘zipper effect’ problem. Locke argues that property that is being used productively will always produce far more than the property would if left alone. So by taking it and using it, I actually create more wealth than existed before. I don’t have to leave the same stuff, just as much and as good. And I have to use the property productively. That’s what the spoilage proviso requires.

I understand that much, but I still don't see: (a) why these provisos are necessary, (b) why they are justified, (c.) how they are derived, and (d) how they avoid the zipper effect. Even if I take property and use it productively, I am still depriving someone else of that use. And so long as we live in a world of scarcity, any act of consuming a scarce resource deprives someone else of an opportunity. This is especially true with land in modern society: how can I be justified in claiming this plot of land as my own to live on, even if I use it productively, when there are millions of other people out there who don't own and cannot afford to buy their own land? If my piece of land was left unclaimed, they might have a shot, but my occupation deprives them of as much and as good.

Further, it is not so clear why productivity should enter into the moral equation. If I believe I can use some piece of property more productively than its current owner, should I be able to expropriate it? And what about direct consumption as opposed to capital goods? Goods used for direct consumption have no productivity in themselves.

The only way that we would run into the ‘zipper effect’ would be if there were some upper limit to the productivity that we could get from our remaining land and if the population were big enough that there was at least one person left out.

Don't both of these conditions hold? Though we may not know the upper limit of productivity, we certainly know that such a limit exists, at least for the foreseable future. As one of my environmental economics professors used to say, no matter how advanced fertilizer technology may one day be, you can never grow the world's produce in a flower pot.

I don’t see anything inherently problematic with lotteries, because again, the desert argument isn’t meant to apply to all of your individual bits of property; it applies only to starting positions.

I'm not so sure about that. This sounds an awful lot like what Nozick's Wilt Chamberlain argument was intended to disprove. And again, in order to maintain roughly equal starting positions, we must be willing to severely restrict inheritance and thus severely restrict gift giving. If people deserve the fruits of their own labor, don't they also deserve the right to bequeath these fruits to their children if they so choose? Surely no one deserves a gift or an inheritance, but than no one else deserves the fruits of the original worker's labor any more than his or undeserving child does.

I would think, by the way, that this would be a tax that even libertarians would like. It’s purely voluntary, and it is paid only by stupid people.

This libertarian doesn't really like it. State lotteries only work because the government prohibits private gambling. Are there state lotteries in Las Vegas? I doubt it. And if there are, why don't private companies offer cheaper tickets or larger payouts than the state?

BTW, I’m not sure if this is appropriate or not, but I couldn’t find a link to your bio. I’m just curious as to who it is that is providing such a stimulating argument. I haven’t had this much fun since my last big philosophy conference.

I apologize; I'm very lazy and would much rather engage in interesting debate with someone like you than write about myself. My co-bloggers keep pestering me to put up a bio already, but I just keep procrastinating.

I'm an undergraduate student at Georgia Tech majoring in Economics and Management, and minoring in Philosophy and Pre-law. I hope to go to law school next year and possibly graduate school in economics or political philosophy as well. If you teach at a top school and your department is desperate for new graduate students, let 'em know I'm interested. :smile:

Andy, "When you take this

Andy,

"When you take this tactic, you’ve moved out of the realm of moral persuasion to its antithesis: brute force. It’s a somewhat subtle form of argumentum ad baculum: you don’t have to persuade me of my moral obligations because if you fail, you’re going to force me to fulfil them anyway."

I'm not seeing how my argument is an appeal to force. Coercion is an appeal to force, but I'm not threatening you into accepting the argument. I am, however, shifting the burden of proof. I am asking you to show the difference between coercion to enforce negative rights and coercion to enforce positive rights.

You take up that challenge in paragraph 2, but I'm not sure that it works. Your argument there is that you can use force to defend negative rights b/c in trying to violate those negative rights, I've already, in some sense, consented to the position that the use of force is okay. That works nicely for punishment in murder, rape or theft cases. But there is one other important sort of right, one that is particularly crucial for capitalists, namely, that of enforcing contracts. When I violate a contract, I am not necessarily using force on you. I am, however, harming you. Yet you are, it seems to me, justified in coercing me into keeping my contract. You can use force here even though I didn't use force on you to begin with. So with positive rights. It's the harm part and not the force part that justifies the coercion.

"Nozick never recanted. He

"Nozick never recanted. He maintained that he was a libertarian until his recent death."

I suppose that if Nozick means by "not as hardcore a libertarian" someone who is comfortable with rent-control and some redistribution of wealth, then I'll be willing to grant that he didn't recant libertarianism. Sorry, that's my snarky comment for the day.

Seriously, though, one of the frustrating things about Nozick was his refusal to ever consider a subject a second time. He didn't ever teach the same course twice and he wouldn't return to a subject once he had written about it. There has to be a line somewhere between writing once about everything (Nozick's route) and writing everything about the same subject (Rawls, for example).

"I view favoritism of U.S.

"I view favoritism of U.S. citizens and discrimination against non-U.S. citizens as a form of bigotry, and thus morally wrong. And since all national governments must necessarily engage in this form of bigotry, these governments are not only illegitimate but immoral."

Surely this isn't right, though. The American Cancer Society, Easter Seals and the March of Dimes all target specific groups, so on your reading, wouldn’t they be guilty of bigotry and discrimination, too? Governments are formed to help specific groups of people. To the extent that it’s possible, they should try to help others, too (like the March of Dimes, which moved to a new project once polio was cured). Certainly rich nations could do more of this.

I am no Locke scholar, so I cannot conclude one way or another which reading of Locke is most accurate.

I’m not either, though I wrote my dissertation under one in graduate school. That was enough to make me sensitive to the Locke is a libertarian charge. Now if you really want to see me get in a tizzy, start arguing that Mill is a libertarian.

“My fundamental commitment is certainly not to positive liberty, if by that we mean a set of rights that all humans have against each other to provide a minimum level of resources…I do not think that any of us have a strict obligation to do so, for if we did, each of us would have a moral obligation to do what Peter Singer tells us to do: give away all of our worldly possessions except for the bare minimum necessary to keep ourselves alive, and use these proceeds to feed starving children in Africa. The fact that none of us, including Peter Singer, actually does this, indicates that none of us truly believes that this is morally required of us.”

This is a tricky move, and it’s one that Singer is guilty of, too. Positive rights (or recipience rights) do not create corresponding obligations in particular individuals in the way that negative rights (or non-interference rights) do. That is, I have a right not to be killed unjustly; you have a corresponding obligation to refrain from killing me unjustly (as does everyone else). But a positive right does not attach to any particular person; rather, it attaches to society as a whole. Singer’s mistake is to think that those general obligations to society attach to specific individuals. (Actually, we’d really need to discuss Singer with different terminology, since he doesn’t believe that there are any rights at all.)

The mistake here would be similar to thinking that because corporation X owes me money, individual B, who happens to work for corporation X, is on the hook to provide that money personally. But it doesn’t work that way. The corporation has to discharge its obligation; it does that by taking (in some previously specified way) a little bit of money from lots of different people who work at or own corporation X. The same seems to be true for society with respect to positive rights. That’s why I think that it’s rational to make everyone else do his/her share, too. If I’m person B, I might well think that the corporation ought to pay back its debts, but it’s not clear to me that I would have an obligation to do it myself if others at the corporation don’t do their part, too.

“How does that last sentence follow? My birthday present from my grandmother was not deserved. I did nothing to earn it. Is it unfair for me to keep it?”
I think that we’re comparing apples and oranges here. When I talked about unfair and desert, I was referring specifically to starting positions. I don’t want to try to argue that you have to deserve everything individual item that you own. But I do think it follows that, insofar as I don’t deserve my advantageous starting position, it is unfair if I then go on to benefit from those advantages.

“In order to do so, we would need to prevent parents from giving gifts of money, education, upbringing, attention, love, and so forth, to their children in unequal amounts, for all of these factors effect opportunities later in life.”

Agreed. We cannot get perfect equality of opportunity without abolishing families, and I don’t particularly want to do that. I happen to adore my two-year-old son. I also know that he’s going to get advantages that many of his friends won’t have. After all, I am a college professor with lots of college professor friends and my wife is an immunologist working on an MBA with lots of friends both in science and in B-school. So Matthew will almost certainly get a boost in academics and will probably have networking advantages, too. There isn’t any way to fix that short of putting him in foster care. But it is possible to at least mitigate the inequalities between children, and to the extent that we can do this while keeping families intact, I think that we ought to.

“And those who are attacked are justified in excercizing dominion over their attackers, for the reasons that Locke himself laid out: ownership of self entails the right to defend oneself, just as ownership of property entails the right to defend one’s property.”

I wonder if this doesn’t beg the question. We’re trying to determine whether we actually have property rights in the strong sense that you’ve been defending. If it is the case that you don’t have a right to all the property that you think you do, then taking that property isn’t exercising undue or unjust dominion over you.

“I’ve never really understood Locke’s proviso. I can’t remember if it was Nozick or someone else who mentioned the “zipper effect” criticism of the proviso - that is, where we can work backwards and show that any appropriation of property violates this proviso.”

Wow, this could take a while. Locke’s provisos (there are two: as much and as good and spoilage) actually work together to avoid the ‘zipper effect’ problem. Locke argues that property that is being used productively will always produce far more than the property would if left alone. So by taking it and using it, I actually create more wealth than existed before. I don’t have to leave the same stuff, just as much and as good. And I have to use the property productively. That’s what the spoilage proviso requires.

The only way that we would run into the ‘zipper effect’ would be if there were some upper limit to the productivity that we could get from our remaining land and if the population were big enough that there was at least one person left out. Given that we currently inhabit only the land masses of the planet we’re on and that we occupy only one planet in the entire universe, I think that we probably have some time before we have to worry about upper limits.

The problem the provisos show, though, is that much of the property that we (and by this I mean Westerners generally) have probably violates the spoilage proviso. Locke allows us to accumulate property as long as we don’t waste it. But I would hate to have to argue that we all make non-wasteful use of our property. The size of our landfills, the number of external storage units available for rental, and the quantity of fat on our citizens, and the size of our SUVs all attest to some pretty seriously wasteful habits. That extra property that we’re wasting may not be legitimately ours.

“And why do lottery winnings not count here? Don’t lottery winnings make it impossible for others to exercise their liberty? After all, if we confiscated all lottery winnings and used the proceeds to help feed starving children, that would certainly satisfy a great many positive rights.”

Okay, Raskolnikov. No, lottery winnings don’t by themselves make it impossible for others to exercise their liberty. Lottery winnings combined with no redistributive schemes whatsoever do make it impossible for others to exercise their liberty, but there the fault is with the lack of redistribution, not with the lottery winnings. I don’t see anything inherently problematic with lotteries, because again, the desert argument isn’t meant to apply to all of your individual bits of property; it applies only to starting positions.

We could fund lots of positive rights with lottery winnings, but we could fund them with lots of other things, too. And we shouldn’t forget that lotteries take in more money than they pay out, with the difference being used to fund (partially) the very sorts of redistributive programs that I like. I would think, by the way, that this would be a tax that even libertarians would like. It’s purely voluntary, and it is paid only by stupid people. (I truly hope that you aren’t an avid lottery player. If so, please change the ‘only’ to ‘mostly’.)

BTW, I’m not sure if this is appropriate or not, but I couldn’t find a link to your bio. I’m just curious as to who it is that is providing such a stimulating argument. I haven’t had this much fun since my last big philosophy conference.

Possession of some minimal

Possession of some minimal amount of property is a necessary condition for the exercise of positive freedom. Any commitment that I then have to universal positive freedom entails that every person has a right to those minimal amounts of property. I just can’t see any way around that, provided that I really do think that everyone is entitled to positive freedom. But for X to have a right is for someone to have a correlative obligation to fulfill that right. The right, in this case, is a claim on all of society.

But this is also a claim on you. If you yourself do not find your own argument persuasive enough to change your own actions, why should we take your claims seriously?

I should note that I am making an explicitely ad hominem argument of the form Tu Quoque, and I explain why I think this is a valid use and not a logical fallacy elsewhere.

Here is a more detailed version of my argument:

Action is as good an indicator of belief as any, and based on my observation that nearly everyone, including Peter Singer, refuses to give away all of their wealth above and beyond the minimum necessary to sustain themselves in order to feed starving children in third-world countries, I conclude that most of us do not in fact believe we have any such obligation.

Of course, we could all be wrong, just like majorities have been wrong in the past with regard to slavery, women’s rights, etc. I grant that possibility, but it should make us a bit skeptical of any claims to the contrary, since even its advocates don’t live up to the advocated standards.

Further, this should dispel any notion that there is "right to be saved from a situation of great potential harm by someone who can do so without unreasonable cost or risk to themselves."

Suppose it only costs $20 to save a starving child from a situation of great potential harm. Surely $20 is not an unreasonable cost (and if it is, simply lower the amount to $2 or $0.02). Alas, of course, there is not merely one starving child but millions of them. If we have an ethical obligation to donate $20 (or $2 or $0.02) to save the life of a starving child, then why do we not also have an ethical obligation to give away all of our wealth above and beyond the minimum necessary to sustain ourselves? But surely this would require "unacceptably frequent and severe disruptions of individuals' activities as rational planners or to intrusions that are intuitively unjust."

Hence, it is not implausible to believe that positive rights would lead to such an unacceptable framework if taken to their logical conclusions.

(I would, however, point out that the fact that libertarianism is silent on the question of whether one ought to be charitable counts as a (significant) strike against it as a political/moral theory. It seems pretty clear that we do have charitable obligations; a moral theory that is silent on those obligations is a suspect theory.)

Libertarianism is not a totalizing moral theory. Its only focus is on those social interactions that involve coercion, which is generally related to government politics but also occasionally private actors. However, since the theory does not claim to cover all social interactions outside this realm, libertarians are free to disagree with each other on issues like the proper level of charity, whether self-mutilation is a good idea, if holding bigoted opinions is immoral, which if any God we should pray to, and so on. Our beliefs on these extra-libertarian issues can have a profound effect on society, and can determine the success or failure of a libertarian civil order, so in some respect these issues are important to libertarianism. But in another respect, these are side-issues, and not central to the question of how coercion should or should not be used in social interaction.

Failure to address these sorts of questions is not a mark against libertarianism, just as failure to make an omellete is not a mark against a bookshelf. Libertarianism doesn't claim to be a totalizing moral theory, and bookshelves don't claim to be omellete-makers.

That’s the same

That’s the same distinction that led Robert Nozick to later recant Anarchy, State, and Utopia.

Nozick never recanted. He maintained that he was a libertarian until his recent death.

Julian Sanchez discussed this issue with Nozick in an interview held in 2001.

JS: In The Examined Life, you reported that you had come to see the libertarian position that you'd advanced in Anarchy, State and Utopia as "seriously inadequate." But there are several places in Invariances where you seem to suggest that you consider the view advanced there, broadly speaking, at least, a libertarian one. Would you now, again, self-apply the L-word?

RN: Yes. But I never stopped self-applying. What I was really saying in The Examined Life was that I was no longer as hardcore a libertarian as I had been before. But the rumors of my deviation (or apostasy!) from libertarianism were much exaggerated. I think this book makes clear the extent to which I still am within the general framework of libertarianism, especially the ethics chapter and its section on the "Core Principle of Ethics."

Eric, I heard “It’s

Eric,

I heard “It’s important to me; I hope it’s important to others; I don’t know many people who disagree.” That’s it? Can you give me any reason for why it’s more important that carries with it the force of “two plus two is four”?

No, I cannot give you any moral argument that carries the force of logic. Morality doesn't work that way. At the end of the day, it all comes down to basic intuitions, atomic beliefs that cannot be subdivided or justified any further. In this case, basic empathy for our fellow human beings is the atomic intuition, and there is nothing I can say to a sociopath to convince him that he should empathize with other people's suffering. (Other than perhaps asking him to imagine placing himself in the suffering person's shoes.) If you do not share that feeling, so be it. My argument isn't for you.

Joe: "I can’t seem to wrap

Joe: "I can’t seem to wrap my mind around any sort of coherent reason for thinking that coercion is okay when it comes to negative duties but that it’s somehow completely beyond the pale when it comes to positive duties."

When you take this tactic, you've moved out of the realm of moral persuasion to its antithesis: brute force. It's a somewhat subtle form of argumentum ad baculum: you don't have to persuade me of my moral obligations because if you fail, you're going to force me to fulfil them anyway.

"Ah," you might say, "then why is it okay to use force to prevent someone from stealing, robbing, raping, or murdering? You're being inconsistent." Not at all. The potential robber, rapist, or murderer has already revealed that he thinks it's okay to use force to get what he wants. He has no coherent complaint against someone who uses force against him.

Which is why it would be just, but not prudent in most cases, for me to use force to protect my life and property against those who want to make sure I fulfill what they see to be my positive obligations to others.

Joe, The fact that

Joe,

The fact that government is morally illegitimate simply means that no government meets any sort of criteria for legitimacy (e.g., consent, fair play, gratitude). That means that no government is entitled to my allegiance.

But I think it means much more than that. Bigotry is not only morally illegitimate, but morally wrong. I view favoritism of U.S. citizens and discrimination against non-U.S. citizens as a form of bigotry, and thus morally wrong. And since all national governments must necessarily engage in this form of bigotry, these governments are not only illegitimate but immoral.

But I suppose that my deeper worry really is that if your fundamental commitment really is to liberty, namely the Lockean sort of positive liberty that you allude to, then I don’t see how other considerations can outweigh the provision of all the necessary conditions for exercising that positive liberty.

I am no Locke scholar, so I cannot conclude one way or another which reading of Locke is most accurate. But in either case, I am in no way committed to what Locke said (nor is anyone else), so this rhetorical strategy, while perhaps interesting from a historical perspective, does not seem very important for any contemporary debate. My fundamental commitment is certainly not to positive liberty, if by that we mean a set of rights that all humans have against each other to provide a minimum level of resources. I think this is a good, praiseworthy thing to do, and I would want to live in a society that accomplishes this, but I do not think that any of us have a strict obligation to do so, for if we did, each of us would have a moral obligation to do what Peter Singer tells us to do: give away all of our worldly possessions except for the bare minimum necessary to keep ourselves alive, and use these proceeds to feed starving children in Africa. The fact that none of us, including Peter Singer, actually does this, indicates that none of us truly believes that this is morally required of us.

But when I put away my selfishness glasses and view the world through an objective lens, I realize that my advantages are not deserved. I did nothing to earn them. So it’s unfair that I have them.

How does that last sentence follow? My birthday present from my grandmother was not deserved. I did nothing to earn it. Is it unfair for me to keep it?

Any gift or prize gained by luck is undeserved in an important sense. Does that mean that all gifts and prizes are unfair? But to say that all gifts and prizes are unfair is to imply that it is right to take away these gifts and prizes, which is to say that it is morally justified to prevent person A from giving his legitimately deserved property to person B who does not deserve it, and that it is morally justified to prevent persons A, B, and C from chipping in together to play a poker game where one of the three will win all of the proceeds from the other two. Which moral intuition strikes you as more widely shared: the belief that all gifts and prizes are unfair, or the belief that taking away gifts and prizes is unfair?

I thus think that it’s right to give those advantages up, but I’m going to do so only if everyone else gives up their unearned advantages, too.

Why? Why must you follow what everyone else does? If you know that doing X is universally required of all of us, then you should do X, regardless of whether other people also do X. It is moral cowardice to say that you refuse to do what you know is right unless everyone else does it too.

My point, and I don’t see how Cowen’s response would apply here, is that there are certain starting conditions that need to be in place before any game is fair. We have to make everyone play by the same rules and we have to make sure that everyone starts from an equal position with respect to the goals of the game.

I understood the point you were making. I was trying to show how these sports analogies break down. Life is not like a board game or a sporting event, for one very important reason. (Incidentally, I wrote a rather lengthy article on this same topic, the similarity between social and economic life in an online multiplayer video game and social and economic life in the real world.) That important reason is the presence of continuity in real life. In a game, we can easily separate one game from another, without committing any great injustice. In real life, we cannot. In order to do so, we would need to prevent parents from giving gifts of money, education, upbringing, attention, love, and so forth, to their children in unequal amounts, for all of these factors effect opportunities later in life. Children with caring parents who provide lots of resources are much more likely to succeed than children whose parents are absent or uncaring. And unless we are willing to confiscate all inheritence gifts, remove children from their biological parents, and place them in communal orphanages as they did in Israeli Kibbutzim, there will always be significant inequality of opportunity at the starting point of life. Yet again, the cure appears to me to be much worse than the disease.

Wouldn’t this sort of strong reading undermine even the possibility of punishment? Isn’t that exercising dominion over another?

Sure, punishment is exercising dominion over someone else, but there is nothing wrong with exercising dominion over someone else, so long as that dominion is justified. Parents are justified in excercizing dominion over small children for their own good. Those who enter contractual agreements with each other are justified in excercizing dominion over each other insofar as the contract allows. And those who are attacked are justified in excercizing dominion over their attackers, for the reasons that Locke himself laid out: ownership of self entails the right to defend oneself, just as ownership of property entails the right to defend one's property. These are all forms of dominion, but justified in the sense that everyone has equal authority and no one has unjustified dominion over another. Governments necessarily violate this rule.

If your property is undeserved (and no, I don’t think that lottery winnings count here; undeserved property would be property that you have, your possession of which is making it impossible for others to exersice their liberty–it’s a violation of Locke’s ‘as much and as good’ proviso), then you have no rights to it in the first place.

I've never really understood Locke's proviso. I can't remember if it was Nozick or someone else who mentioned the "zipper effect" criticism of the proviso - that is, where we can work backwards and show that any appropriation of property violates this proviso. And why do lottery winnings not count here? Don't lottery winnings make it impossible for others to exercise their liberty? After all, if we confiscated all lottery winnings and used the proceeds to help feed starving children, that would certainly satisfy a great many positive rights.

Lisa, I'm not sure what I

Lisa,

I'm not sure what I have said to convince you that I take equality to be a primary goal. I think that (relative) equality is instrumentally valuable because a society that is (relatively) equal is likely to have a higher overall level of happiness than one that is radically inegalitarian. I think that equality of opportunity is important for similar sorts of reasons, namely, that there are a lot of smart and talented people who might make tremendous contributions to society provided that we don't mire them in hopeless, crushing poverty right out of the gate.

That said, I don't have any sort of equality fetish. There are lots of ways to make people equal. Equally poor and equally miserable are two forms of equality, but I hardly think those worthy of aspiring to. So, no, the mere fact that someone achieves some sort of equality doesn't entail that doing so was just. Castro would run a legitimate government if everyone in Cuba were given a real chance to consent to his policies, did freely consent, and those who did not consent were moved elsewhere at no cost and set up in an equivalent life elsewhere. Since these conditions are unlikely to be met in Cuba (or anywhere else, for that matter), I would say that Castro is a morally illegitimate ruler. In fact, I hold that all governments are morally illegitimate, in the sense that no one has a moral obligation to obey them. But it doesn't follow from that that all governments are bad or that we shouldn't support some of them, even if we've no moral obligation to obey them.

As far as who decides, well, for me the question of how much equality is a purely empirical one. I require however much equality is necessary to maximize happiness in the world. I suspect that that means far more equality than currently exists. I don't think that it means the sort of equality that Marx (or even Peter Singer or maybe even Rawls) requires. I'm not a socialist or a Marxist; just your garden variety welfare capitalist.

Andy, But you would, I

Andy,

But you would, I assume, feel free to force me to refrain from killing innocent people. It's perfectly legitimate to coerce someone when that someone attempts to do something that is morally wrong. And the fact is that private charity proved insufficient during the periods of relatively laissez-faire governments (18th to mid-19th C Britain and late 19th to early 20th C America). So given that people are failing in their moral duties, I see it as no more wrong to coerce charity via redistribution than it is to coerce non-interference. I can't seem to wrap my mind around any sort of coherent reason for thinking that coercion is okay when it comes to negative duties but that it's somehow completely beyond the pale when it comes to positive duties.

So the answer to your question is, yes, I am entitled to force you to meet your obligations. Possession of some minimal amount of property is a necessary condition for the exercise of positive freedom. Any commitment that I then have to universal positive freedom entails that every person has a right to those minimal amounts of property. I just can't see any way around that, provided that I really do think that everyone is entitled to positive freedom. But for X to have a right is for someone to have a correlative obligation to fulfill that right. The right, in this case, is a claim on all of society. I think that governments fulfill those claims more efficiently (since individuals will always have incentive to wait for someone else to fulfill those obligations).

Btw, by no means did I mean to imply that I think you personally ignore your obligations of charity. I don't know you at all; unless you tell me that you are a Randian who thinks that charity is morally wrong, I won't assume that you are. Sorry if I gave offense.

(I would, however, point out that the fact that libertarianism is silent on the question of whether one ought to be charitable counts as a (significant) strike against it as a political/moral theory. It seems pretty clear that we do have charitable obligations; a moral theory that is silent on those obligations is a suspect theory.)

And you're perfectly free to

And you're perfectly free to meet those moral obligations as you see them, Joe, just as I am. The question is, are you justified in forcing me to help people you feel obligated to help?

Libertarianism is silent on whether one ought to be charitable, Rand notwithstanding. I give to charities, I help stranded motorists, I feed my children. I would never consider forcing you to do any of the above.

Andy, "We’re not forcing

Andy,

"We’re not forcing anyone to play the “game” of life. I’m not, you’re not, and everyone is collectively not. It’s not a game, and the universe/reality enforces the rules with an iron fist. If you think life itself, the fact that people have needs and wants, and can’t have them fulfilled magically, is unfair, your complaint is with the universe, not with me."

It's the very fact of the finiteness of humans that makes libertarianism so dreadfully unappealing. If we were in fact all born able to fulfill all of our basic needs or if we were the sorts of creatures whose basic needs were automatically fulfilled at birth, then I would be a libertarian, too. The fact that we are finite gives us different moral obligations than we would have were we not finite. Libertarianism fails to acknowledge this distinction. That's the same distinction that led Robert Nozick to later recant Anarchy, State, and Utopia.

Micha: "Why do you find this

Micha:

"Why do you find this hard to believe?"

Probably the Bell Curve mainly, but more than that, people are different--their genes are different. Different genes are prevalent among different ethnic groups. I don't think it ridiculous to believe such different genetic makeups could have an effect on the distribution of intelligence among a particular ethnic group. What I do think is unlikely is that somehow--given all the genetic differences between ethnic groups--that they are nevertheless precisely identical in the expression of one trait, whether it be intelligence or other. I think the idea that whites and Asians have on average the same intelligence is about as possible as believe as the idea that whites and Asians have on average the same height.

Joe, Good point. In truth,

Joe,

Good point. In truth, I don’t care at all whether one solution is more natural than the other. It’s a peripheral argument that I sometimes apply when dealing with those who insert extraneous words like “suffering” and “innocent”. I will henceforth try to keep my arguments central.

Every time the debate focuses on how to spend stolen money the issue of whether or not to steal that money in the first place takes a back seat. The issue of principal import to me is theft by force. I don’t care about the starving, suffering, innocent, helpless children of poor African countries (please forgive my redundancy). I will not care about them so long as I am being robbed by men who say “we can” and “we should.” (Incidentally, I would not have disagreed with Micha had he said “I” instead.) That said, I await the continued extortion-by-force by Sachs’ altruist comrades.

Micha,

I heard “It’s important to me; I hope it’s important to others; I don’t know many people who disagree.” That’s it? Can you give me any reason for why it’s more important that carries with it the force of “two plus two is four”? (Or even “I may not know what two plus two is, but I know that it converges”?) I heard “I think it’s five; I hope others think it’s five; I don’t know many people who feel like it isn’t five.”

…we can educate and enrich poor families so that they don’t choose (or need) to have that many children in the first place.

You show me a poor African family that won’t breed more when fed by some distant externality and I’ll show you a socialist who can draw a supply and demand curve. If you feed them they will multiply. If you try to educate them not to have sex you will learn new meaning of the word “futility.” If you think that anyone needs to have children that they can’t manage to feed… then you’re actually right, because there are a hundred million Americans who will “feel empathy” and send cash.

Don’t give them anything. Let them serve as a warning to the rest of the world of the dangers of non-self sufficiency. Let the world see that constant war, female circumcision, reckless breeding, decorative and cultural mutilation, warlordships, slavery, corruption, and unrestrained promiscuity have (surprise!) consequences. Let the world see that those consequences extend to the children of those who practice unreason. Let the message be “irresponsibility causes starvation which causes death”, not “irresponsibility causes starvation which causes charitable rewards.” For the sake of evolution let them die!

And just as an extra bonus, you’ll be less inclined to rob me. Always a plus.

One final note: I am tired of the incessant claim that malaria and drought keep these people down. They don’t. Europe had plagues, drought, fires, earthquakes and volcanoes, but somehow still managed to progress beyond marginal survival. It isn’t the absence of environmental predation that leads to abundance; it is the presence and practice of reason.

Last sentence there,

Last sentence there, awkward. Sorry I am. But the point I was making you are understanding.

Joe: "Suppose, to use a

Joe: "Suppose, to use a different analogy, that we forced everyone in a particular room to play poker. [...]But remember that we force everyone to play."

Yes, this would be quite unfair, if anyone was in fact doing any forcing.

We're not forcing anyone to play the "game" of life. I'm not, you're not, and everyone is collectively not. It's not a game, and the universe/reality enforces the rules with an iron fist. If you think life itself, the fact that people have needs and wants, and can't have them fulfilled magically, is unfair, your complaint is with the universe, not with me.

Now, in a sense, parents have in fact forced a child into the world, but it's a stretch to equate creating someone with forcing them from somewhere into reality. They simply didn't exist before, and most people show by their actions that they prefer existence to non-existence (if preferring the latter is even a coherent concept.) I don't have much problem with saying that parents are, for some period, responsible for a child they created, but I am certainly not. I'm responsible only for the ones I helped create.

Oh, and just about anyone can exit at any time, although I don't recommend permanent solutions to temporary problems.

Sorry- I was not going for

Sorry- I was not going for an ad hominem argument. I think the example of Castro is useful, because he is an example of someone who has risen to a place where he wields a remarkable degree of power over other people. From this position, he decides what is just, what is fair, and what millions of people in his nation "deserve" to have. He can accomplish this because he wields power, and force, over all these people. In discussions of Cuba in my classes, people love to point out that although Cuba is very poor (and by American standards, they are), in their society everybody is equal. It may be equality characterized by opression and poverty, but it is equality. So my question is- if equality (whether of opportunity or outcome) is accomplished by force by someone like Castro, does that make it just and his authority legitimate? It seems that equality as a goal can be accomplished by many very undesirable means. How do you decide which ones are unacceptable?

Micha, "The Marxist poli-sci

Micha,

"The Marxist poli-sci professor Bertil Ollmann gave a similar sports analogy recently."

That's not a similar sports analogy at all, really. He is trying to show that playing basketball by the same rules capitalists use would be absurd. He's right. Cowen is also right that it would be silly to play basketball by the same rules that we use to exercise democracy. (Actually, neither would be silly. Both could be legitimate games; they just aren't really basketball any more. Neither sounds like much fun, either.)

My point, and I don't see how Cowen's response would apply here, is that there are certain starting conditions that need to be in place before any game is fair. We have to make everyone play by the same rules and we have to make sure that everyone starts from an equal position with respect to the goals of the game. The latter proviso is important. It's not to say that everyone has to start out the same size and ability. It's only to say that, given whatever it is that we're aiming to do, no one gets to start out having to do less (or more) than anyone else. So we start races from the same spot, ball games from the same score, board games with the prescribed number of pieces, etc. Once we are playing the game, we don't change the rules, either.

Suppose, to use a different analogy, that we forced everyone in a particular room to play poker. At the beginning of the day, we gave everyone had an equal number of chips. They play poker throughout the day, with better (or luckier) players gradually taking a bigger and bigger share. Now suppose that someone new gets (forcibly) pulled into the room by one of the current players. The current player is pretty lousy, so he has very few chips remaining. But remember that we force everyone to play. The new player is at a tremendous disadvantage if he gets chips only from the person who pulled him in. Since we are forcing everyone to play the game, it seems only fair (I think) that the new guy should begin with the same number of chips that everyone else began with. We don't have to start over; instead, we take chips from each player in a proportional amount (plus perhaps a few extra from whomever pulled the new guy in), leaving each of the old players in the same position relative to one another, but giving the new guy the same starting place that everyone else enjoyed.

I know that there are weaknesses here. The system I've laid out doesn't leave any room for creating new wealth. In an economy, the number of chips is not fixed. If enough new people get pulled in, my system would eventually bankrupt everyone. I would agree that we would have to stop well before we got there. But in actual economies, the current players are, in effect, making new chips as they play. Poker is zero-sum whereas economies are not. Still, you get the idea.

"Again, I don’t think this is an accurate reading of Locke. We can quibble over whether or not he is a libertarian; his theological justification is certainly not. But I’ve never heard anyone claim that he is closer to a redistributionist egalitarian than a libertarian."

See John Tully, A Discourse on Property: John Locke and his Adversaries (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1980); John Simmons, A Lockean Theory of Rights (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993); Jeffrey Paul, ed, Reading Nozick: Essays on "Anarchy, State and Utopia" (NY: Rowman and Littlefield, 1981), and Jeremy Waldron, The Right to Private Property (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988). Debunking Locke's supposed libertarianism has become a cottage industry in philosophy, so much so that John Christman wonders aloud, "when will this cease to be necessary in books on Lockean property theory?" (Ethics 107:3, 1997, p. 521).

"Those who are naturally free and equal to each other do not have the right to claim dominion over each other, even if that dominion is used to confiscate undeserved property (like lottery winnings, for example)."

Wouldn't this sort of strong reading undermine even the possibility of punishment? Isn't that exercising dominion over another? But that's pretty clearly okay for Locke. Indeed, my point is that redistributing property isn't actually that much different. If your property is undeserved (and no, I don't think that lottery winnings count here; undeserved property would be property that you have, your possession of which is making it impossible for others to exersice their liberty--it's a violation of Locke's 'as much and as good' proviso), then you have no rights to it in the first place. Indeed, taking property that violates one of the provisos is itself immoral; it harms another person's rights. When I take that property away from you, I'm not confiscating it; that implies that it was ever really yours to begin with. Rather, I am taking back something that you had no rights to in the first place. I prevent you from harming others. That's perfectly consistent (even required by) respect for liberty, positive or negative.

Here's an excellent

Here's an excellent expression of something that's occurred to me
regarding the callousness of many libertarians; particularly the concluding sentence. I guess it's a bit remniscent of Shaw's argument for social spending, but I think it's less cynical and truer:

Catallarchy » The End of Poverty

As Sachs ar...

Lisa, Some sense of humor.

Lisa,

Some sense of humor. That part about it being my definition: that was a joke. I'm appealing to a shared set of intuitions. Yes, equality of opportunity does require some sort of coercive power, and it requires that precisely because you don't want to give up your advantages. I don't particularly want to give mine up, either. I get lots of advantages from being a white, middle-class male whose family has lived in the U.S. for a lot of generations. I'm starting out ahead of, say, you since we differ in at least one of those traits. But when I put away my selfishness glasses and view the world through an objective lens, I realize that my advantages are not deserved. I did nothing to earn them. So it's unfair that I have them. I thus think that it's right to give those advantages up, but I'm going to do so only if everyone else gives up their unearned advantages, too. Everyone (or nearly everyone) can, I think, agree that this is the fair thing to do. The difficulty is in enforcing that agreement. That's where we need some coercive power. It's called a social contract. Hobbes, Locke, Nozick and Rawls (among others) talk about them.

"That’s very convenient, not to mention being in line with how someone like Castro views the world."

And that is called a circumstantial ad hominem argument. It's a fallacy; we talk about them in introductory critical thinking courses. Calling me names or saying that someone that nobody likes says similar things is a rather poor substitute for actual arguments. Besides, the simple fact that Castro likes something doesn't entail that it's bad. Castro also likes baseball and cigars.

Micha, "If you accept the

Micha,

"If you accept the claim that national origin is morally arbitrary and distinctions based on nationality are morally unacceptable, as both of us seem to accept, then you must also accept the claim that all national welfare systems and immigration restrictions are morally illegitimate. They may be pragmatically desirable for other reasons, but not themselves moral. Further, accepting the conclusion that something is both immoral but pragmatically desirable leads to great cognitive dissonance, and leads us to either reject the view that it is immoral or reject the view that it is pragmatically desirable."

This move is too quick. It doesn't follow from the claim that government is morally illegitimate that government is immoral. The fact that government is morally illegitimate simply means that no government meets any sort of criteria for legitimacy (e.g., consent, fair play, gratitude). That means that no government is entitled to my allegiance. That doesn't mean that government is immoral. First, it's possible that some government could be legitimate at some point; such a critter would look very different from anything that we have now, but it's at least a possibility. And second, a government may very well be doing things that are perfectly morally legitimate. It's possible to have a government that passes only just laws (i.e., that commands only what we ought to be doing anyway). It would be odd to describe such a government as immoral; we may not owe it obedience, but that still doesn't make it immoral.

"Better to have this social minimum provided willingly by a more productive and wealthy civil society."

Agreed. But I think that a review of the empirical evidence will show that this doesn't happen, either. But I suppose that my deeper worry really is that if your fundamental commitment really is to liberty, namely the Lockean sort of positive liberty that you allude to, then I don't see how other considerations can outweigh the provision of all the necessary conditions for exercising that positive liberty. Yes, providing those conditions might impose some restrictions on your liberty. But liberty, for Locke, is not Hobbesian license. Your freedom is already constrained in a number of ways; if your license to do whatever you want must already be constrained in order to achieve real positive liberty, then I don't see why you are so bothered by a few more constraints, provided that those constraints are the minimum necessary for respecting everyone's positive liberty.

Is this "giving gap" chart

Is this "giving gap" chart reflective of only foreign aid or is it reflective of private contributions also?

Can you please explain for

Can you please explain for me the last sentence of your post? You say that helping feed starving children is more important, but you don't say to whom. To me the importance of all those things is equally zero.

The opening example of the woman with 15 orphaned grandchildren strongly implies that those inhabitants have exceeded their environment's carrying capacity. Biology (and by that I mean "reality") has a very specific mechanism for correcting this excess. Are you and Sach proposing we stand in the way of this process?

Jeffrey Sachs - The End of

Jeffrey Sachs - The End of Poverty
Micha Ghertner at Catallarchy posted an excerpt from Jeffrey Sachs' forthcoming book, The End of Poverty, which is due out next week. Sachs writes: Politics simply can?t explain Africa?s prolonged economic crisis. The claim that Africa?s corruption is...

"And while systematic theft

"And while systematic theft is never justified, no matter how praiseworthy the goal, we can certainly divert funds from the some of the more ridiculous, wasteful, and expensive government programs like Social Security, Medicare, the war in Iraq, and the drug war, as a stepping stone to eliminating these programs entirely."

I think I understand the sentiment, but A:it'll never happen B:coercive charity is immoral on its face.

The differnce between rank-and-file African dictators and Fidel Castro is: Castro pretends to have "the people's" interest in mind. What has happened to the untold billons in loans and gifts that various African countries have recieved for decades?...pissed away on presidential perks while the populace breeds and malitias pillage, rape, maim and murder. Money will not solve the cultural and institutional problems of many African nations.

David, I wondered the same

David,

I wondered the same thing myself. I'd assume that it's only a measure of government spending since that is easier to measure. Still, I found it interesting because it nicely contrasts the "larger slice of the pie" versus "expand the size of the whole pie" argument. Even though the U.S. gives a smaller percentage of GDP, we're so rich that we're still giving a larger absolute amount.

Eric,

It's more important to me, and I would hope more important to other people as well. I don't know very many people who wouldn't feel a great deal of empathy after reading Sachs' article and viewing those pictures.

Biology (and by that I mean “reality") has a very specific mechanism for correcting this excess. Are you and Sach proposing we stand in the way of this process?

Yes. We are not slaves to nature. Instead of letting innocent children suffer and die as a means of decreasing the population, we can educate and enrich poor families so that they don't choose (or need) to have that many children in the first place.

Or, so they can afford

Or, so they can afford families that large.

I agree with your sentiment

I agree with your sentiment wholeheartedly, but government aid money has a horrible track record. People who give away their own money at least put some effort into making sure it will get used well. And they have no interest in kickbacks - what they want back, they keep. People who distribute other people's money are in a very different situation.

I'm in favor of charitable aid, I'm just not sure government-directed charitable aid does much. ie our efforts through the World Bank / IMF are crap (see _Perpetuating Poverty_ from Cato). Its not even clear if its better than what we spend money on now - ie what if aid is propping up a dictator? Although on average, it probably is better.

I agree, Patri, although I

I agree, Patri, although I don't think Sachs is as critical of the track record of government-directed foreign aid as he should be. On the other hand, he is very critical of the track record of the World Bank and the IMF.

Micha, here's my objection,

Micha, here's my objection, related to Mr. Davidson's comment.

There are billions of people - right now - who, by our measure of wealth, live in abhorrent conditions. The conditions they live in, as described in your quoted section, are not merely superficial, but deep-seated and endemic. Therefore, to successfully emerge from that poverty, wholesale social change must take place. Without it, the temporary benefits of donations and monetary aid are not likely to be invested on the longer-term solutions to the problems they face.

That will not be cheap. Furthermore, what about the cost of supporting them past the initial stage? Think of it as the amounts of energy required to propel a modern oil tanker from dead rest by tug boats. The first investment will have to be massive (in the aggregate), but it doesn't end there. The ship can only go so far on the energy provided by the tugs before it has to get under way on its own power (again, aggregately speaking).

That "power" can only come from the individuals themselves in those countries. No small part of that comes from their active choice to engage in peaceful, self-interested economic transaction. Will they be willing to even acknowledge the stark necessity of applying that idea to all?

I'm pessimistic about the regions under discussion being able to do what THEY need to do in order to grow, the far more important problem in the long run.

Charles, I'm not sure how

Charles,

I'm not sure how you got the impression that I believe "temporary benefits of donations and monetary aid" are all that is needed, or even desirable by themselves.

Trust me, folks, I'm intimately familiar with Garrett Hardin's Lifeboat Ethics argument against foreign aid. Neither I nor Sachs nor anyone familiar with the economic arguments favor simply cash transfers, let that be the end of it. We need technological, medical, agriculural, educational, structural, sociological, cultural, political, and systematic economic changes. But these sorts of improvements cost money, and because of the particular plights under which people living in these Third World countries suffer, they are unable, individually, to solve them. And they have no social system that can solve these problems either. As Sachs argued, I think successfully, we cannot continue to blame the unfortunate for their dire situation, for many of their problems are accidents of chance or the fault of previous generations, and even as far as they themselves are responsible, they cannot possibly solve these problems alone.

This is an area that libertarians must not ignore, even though we are tempted to blame everything on either the government or the individual. Some problems are nobody's fault, and though the left is wrong to consider this an injustice, that doesn't mean civil society shouldn't do anything about it.

I hate to be a bit of a

I hate to be a bit of a downer here, but this reminded me of a post by Godless Capitalist that takes a rather more pessimistic view. The short version is that Africa's problems may not necissarily be fixable because the average IQ of black africans is painfully low, which would be a hindrance even if all the right economic policies were taken up. Now I personally don't put as much weight on this stuff as he does, and to be honest I really really don't want this to be true. But either way this is definitely something that needs to be addressed in discussions of this kind.

While the jury is out with regard to the above, three things would definitely help:

1) DDT, and lots of it. Kills bugs dead. There is no excuse for malaria to be killing as many people as it does in Africa. I'm continually appalled that environmentalists would put the wellbeing of animals (and their own feelings of righteousness) ahead of that of humans who are dying by the thousands every day of a preventable disease.

2) End all trade barriers and agricultural subsidies in Europe and North America immediately. Once again, it's sickening that wealthy nations are preserving the welfare of their own farmers at the cost of those who are more desperately poor.

3) Start getting a lot harder on despots. Ideally I would like to see these guys forcibly booted, but I know that's a pipe-dream. At the very least stop giving them money! It amazes me that anyone with half a brain actually believes that a single red cent that a regime like Mugabe's recieves actually goes toward bettering the lot of those stuck under his heel.

Other than that, applying all the usual carrots and sticks to try to get countries to pursue sound economic policy is the best we can really do right now. Giving aid money through private charity is good, but it's only a patch.

Matt, I'm with you on points

Matt,

I'm with you on points 2 and 3, but you should check your facts a bit more on point 1. First, as it turns out, DDT isn't actually banned in the developing world. Yes, it's true that most industrialized nations have banned DDT, but there is no world-wide ban. The WHO publishes guidlines for DDT use.

DDT is still used indoors in certain areas. Other developing nations do not use DDT at all (and few use it outdoors) because mosquitoes develop resistance (and in some cases have already developed resistance), rendering DDT ineffective. There are, in fact, a number of alternatives already in use that are more effective at killing mosquitoes.

To be fair, I don't think that there are many environmentalists who prefer dead Africans to dead birds. Yes, there are some, though it's hardly fair to judge all environmentalists by their loony fringes.

see http://kenethmiles.blogspot.com/2004_02_01_kenethmiles_archive.html#107570569615970184

Matt, I am very skeptical of

Matt,

I am very skeptical of claims that different ethnic groups have intrinsic intelligence differences derived from inheritance and not social factors, and that these differences explain economic success or failure. Thomas Sowell, who is clearly sympathetic to this sort of research, provides the best criticism of these sorts of claims I have seen. I think that lack of education, lack of adequate nutrition and other environmental issues do a much better job of explaining both the IQ differences and the economic growth problems of Africa.

Your other three solutions are pretty solid, but I think more is needed, and not only political solutions, but efforts that require significant charitable contributions as well.

Eric, I'm going to go out on

Eric,

I'm going to go out on a limb here, but I would be willing to bet that you probably eat with a fork, pee in a toilet and have sex in (at least relative) privacy. When you're sick, you probably take medicine, and when you want to communicate with others across large distances, you type on your computer rather than shouting. None of these behaviors is natural. Indeed, much of what makes humans distinct is our ability to transcend nature; we are, fundamentally, creatures who do our best to thwart the natural order. Unless you're Amish (in which case you wouldn't be in on this conversation) you do this, too.

So it's not clear to me why we should let nature take its course as a response to dire poverty. The mere fact that a problem might solve itself if left alone does not imply that leaving it alone is the best solution. The argument that you make here could be equally applied to medicine.

Micha,

Why think that it's so odd to call certain bad situations injustices? Doesn't a commitment to liberty entail equality of opportunity? I can't see how one could reasonably hold that a child born into the sorts of desperate poverty that Sachs describes above really has any sort of meaningful equality of opportunity.

This, by the way, is what stumps me about libertarianism. I just don't see how one can have a non-trivial account of freedom that doesn't also require some sort of rough equality of starting positions. It's as if one says, "Hey, we're running a race, and you're welcome to join. We promise not to try to trip you or throw things at you. But you have to start from 800m behind the rest of us." Now I'm not saying that we have to somehow make everyone have the same qualities, nor do I think that everyone ought to finish the race at the same time. Those who are more talented, harder working, better strategists, or just plain lucky should finish first. But we ought not make people start from further behind, particularly when we have done nothing to deserve our starting places.

I am willing, in other words, to concede that we might deserve the product of our labor and I'm even willing (more hesitantly) to admit that we deserve our talents. But I can't see any good reason for thinking that we deserve our parents or our country, and I particularly can't see that we deserve to start our race ahead of others when we got there because our parents pushed some of their competitors down (the metaphor gets strained here, but you see the point).

Joe, How do you define

Joe,
How do you define "deserve", and who gets the godlike power to decide who deserves what? Wouldn't the easiest way to achieve equality of opportunity be to deprive everyone of opportunity?

Why think that it’s so odd

Why think that it’s so odd to call certain bad situations injustices?

Because injustice implies that people, and not nature or bad luck, are at fault. To use a recent example, the tsunami was devastating and terrible, but it was not an injustice.

Doesn’t a commitment to liberty entail equality of opportunity?

No. A commitment to liberty requires equality of authority.

But we ought not make people start from further behind, particularly when we have done nothing to deserve our starting places.

I'm not sure what you mean by this. We certainly shouldn't purposely disadvantage people, but if the only way to correct these inequalities is by disadvantaging those with natural talents, that doesn't seem fair or justified either.

But I can’t see any good reason for thinking that we deserve our parents or our country

I completely agree, and I've written about this issue many times on Catallarchy. One important thing that follows from this is that if national origin is morally arbitrary, then governments have no justification for discrimination in favor of their own citizens and against foreign citizens. Thus, the welfare offered to U.S. citizens by their own government must equal the welfare the U.S. government offers to non-U.S. citizens via foreign aid. Further, all immigration restrictions (other than criminal background checks) are unjustified. Both of these arguments independently lead to the conclusion that only two sets of government arrangements are morally justified: either a single world government or no governments at all. I favor the latter.

Lisa, "Wouldn’t the

Lisa,

"Wouldn’t the easiest way to achieve equality of opportunity be to deprive everyone of opportunity?"

Probably. Of course, the easiest way of achieving liberty would be to kill all but one person. That doesn't make it a particularly good idea, though. I'm not sure why the fact that something is easy is a virtue.

"How do you define 'deserve'"[?]

I suppose that I'm using 'deserve' in its ordinary sense, to mean something like, "to have a right to" or "entitled to". I meant to use the word itself in a pretty non-controversial way. I had in mind something like Locke's sense or perhaps Nozick's. I'm not trying to beg any questions by importing some strong Rawlsian sense of "deserve". (Rawls says that we don't really deserve much of anything; even our acquired traits are often the product of circumstances outside of our control. I think that's too strong.)

"who gets the godlike power to decide who deserves what?"

Well, that depends on what it is that you think we're supposed to decide on. I wasn't claiming that we had to go around dividing up all of the goods in the world and determining exactly who deserves what goods. My claim is only that we all deserve to start the race from the same place. But I think that the who part might be the wrong question to ask. What is important is that the decision be fair and correct, not that it be made by one particular person or another. And just to anticipate your next question, "Whose definition of fair will we use?", well, I think that the answer there has to be to determine what it is that we actually mean by 'fair'.

I think here that an appeal to intuitions will be sufficient. Suppose that we decided to restructure the Olympics. Under the new format, nations whose athletes have won gold medals in previous years get to start out ahead of other athletes. The amount of the head start is to be determined by just how many gold medals a nation has previously won. So in the 100m dash, Americans will start at, say, about 60m. Canadians will start at 55m. But the poor, plodding Swedes have to start back at 0. And those really slow Samoans; we make them start from -25m. Kenyans have to run only 12 of the 26.2 mi marathon, the U.S. Basketball team gets 30 points on the board to start, etc. I don't think that you'd find very many people who would regard that as fair. After all, the point of the competition is to see how particular athletes perform. We test that by having everyone compete in the same event.

I propose that we have to apply the same standard to the economic game. So I guess that the answer to 'who decides?' is I do, but my standard for deciding is the same one that pretty much anyone else would give.

Micha, "No. A commitment to

Micha,

"No. A commitment to liberty requires equality of authority."

This is just a deep misreading of what Locke is actually doing. Actually, the problem with this interpretation is that it ignores (when convenient) Locke's very direct links between Freedom and Property. For Locke, property is absolutely essential to freedom itself. I quote from John Simmons at length:

"Where the argument from human needs ...affirms a natural right of self-preservation, Locke’s mixing argument begins with a broader right of self-government (control over one’s body and labor), which is , of course, in part just a right of noninterference with respect to other persons. This emphasis on self-government, including control over one’s plans and projects, is explicit in Locke’s texts. And property is an indispensable condition of self-government *(in that we need it to carry out our plans)* Property does not ,then, just insure survival *and carry out God’s intent that we be fruitful*; it is also the security for our freedom, protecting us against dependence on the will of others and the subservience to them that this creates. Our ‘Intellectual nature" makes us "capable of dominion" precisely because each is naturally free and the equal of any other; property secures that freedom and equality. Those who emphasize that property is essential to choice, freedom, or agency, then capture an important part of the spirit of Locke theory of property." (A Lockean Theory of Rights, p. 274).

John's point here is that, for Locke, freedom and property are inseparable. We can't really achieve the sort of Lockean freedom that is described without property. Thus the problem with using Locke to justify libertarianism: Locke isn't a libertarian. His conception of freedom is a positive one, not a negative one. For Locke, liberty is freedom to and not freedom from; property is a necessary condition for exercising that freedom to. So securing some minimal level of property for everyone is a precondition for the very type of freedom that you allude to above. It's simply a mistake to think that positive freedom of the sort you endorse can be separated from equality of opportunity in the way that you are trying to do.

"Both of these arguments independently lead to the conclusion that only two sets of government arrangements are morally justified: either a single world government or no governments at all. I favor the latter."

I think that you overstate the case here. I would agree with you that no government is morally legitimate. But that's a very different claim from saying that there ought not be a government. The latter doesn't follow from the former. It might well be that there are no governments out there that are morally legitimate (in the sense that everyone has consented to it, say). But that hardly means that having a government isn't a good idea; they may well do things that are pragmatically useful. Indeed, they may well do things that I ought to support (because I have an independent moral reason for doing so). What I will not have is a moral obligation to obey the law simply because it is a law. If a law commands what I already have an obligation to do, then yes, I ought to do it (as when I follow laws that prohibit theft). But the fact that it is a law is not my reason for acting (or at least it's not a moral reason for acting).

Ah, I see. So we use your

Ah, I see. So we use your definition of desert and your definition of fair, and claim that everybody agrees on them. That's very convenient, not to mention being in line with how someone like Castro views the world. Creating equality of opportunity still entails some people wielding power over others to create equality of opportunity. If I don't want my money taken from me to give someone else opportunity, then it must be accomplished by force. Who deserves this kind of power over other people, and why?

Matt, Micha: "I am very

Matt,

Micha: "I am very skeptical of claims that different ethnic groups have intrinsic intelligence differences derived from inheritance and not social factors, and that these differences explain economic success or failure."

Whereas I am rather sympathetic to such claims, since I find it hard to believe that ethnic groups could be uniform across the board in any trait. Also, the Bell Curve is one of my favorite books.

Rawls says that we don’t

Rawls says that we don’t really deserve much of anything; even our acquired traits are often the product of circumstances outside of our control. I think that’s too strong.

How is this too strong? I agree that one could perhaps criticize the view that all human efforts, themselves derived from arbitrarily-given innate ability, are undeserved, because even those with ability can choose to not exercise it. But Rawls is right to say that our motivation itself is partially a product of luck. Will Wilkinson focuses on issues of moral desert much more than I do. Personally, I don't think the issue of moral desert is all that fruitful, for our moral intuitions go both ways: starving children in Africa don't deserve to die; lottery winners deserve to keep their winnings even though they didn't "earn" the money through their own efforts.

Suppose that we decided to restructure the Olympics.

The Marxist poli-sci professor Bertil Ollmann gave a similar sports analogy recently. Tyler Cowen's had a cute response:

But if we are going to play the game of caricatures, I'd like to see a "democratic NBA." The vote of the crowd determines who wins the game. Your points can be taken away from you at any time and given to the other team. And note that foreign policy -- arguably the most important thing our government does -- is determined solely by the vote of the crowd of the home team.

This is just a deep misreading of what Locke is actually doing. Actually, the problem with this interpretation is that it ignores (when convenient) Locke’s very direct links between Freedom and Property. For Locke, property is absolutely essential to freedom itself.

I don't think Roderick Long ignores this aspect of Locke's thought at all; he merely combines the importance of property with the importance of equality in authority. This aspect is even mentioned in the passage you cited: "Our 'Intellectual nature' makes us 'capable of dominion' precisely because each is naturally free and the equal of any other." Those who are naturally free and equal to each other do not have the right to claim dominion over each other, even if that dominion is used to confiscate undeserved property (like lottery winnings, for example).

Locke isn’t a libertarian. His conception of freedom is a positive one, not a negative one.

Again, I don't think this is an accurate reading of Locke. We can quibble over whether or not he is a libertarian; his theological justification is certainly not. But I've never heard anyone claim that he is closer to a redistributionist egalitarian than a libertarian.

So securing some minimal level of property for everyone is a precondition for the very type of freedom that you allude to above.

Even if we accept that claim, that still leaves the question of whether satisfying this precondition using coercive government is possible without sacrificing even greater values. That is to say, is it possible to constrain government to only providing this welfare minimum and not expanding into a Leviathan that threatens the property of everyone else? My reading of the empirical evidence of the history of governments suggests not. Better to have this social minimum provided willingly by a more productive and wealthy civil society.

But that hardly means that having a government isn’t a good idea; they may well do things that are pragmatically useful.

Agreed. I was only making a moral argument here. If you accept the claim that national origin is morally arbitrary and distinctions based on nationality are morally unacceptable, as both of us seem to accept, then you must also accept the claim that all national welfare systems and immigration restrictions are morally illegitimate. They may be pragmatically desirable for other reasons, but not themselves moral. Further, accepting the conclusion that something is both immoral but pragmatically desirable leads to great cognitive dissonance, and leads us to either reject the view that it is immoral or reject the view that it is pragmatically desirable. You can tell which direction I went.

Scott, since I find it hard

Scott,

since I find it hard to believe that ethnic groups could be uniform across the board in any trait.

Why do you find this hard to believe?

I suppose that if Nozick

I suppose that if Nozick means by “not as hardcore a libertarian” someone who is comfortable with rent-control and some redistribution of wealth, then I’ll be willing to grant that he didn’t recant libertarianism.

Actually, in that same interview I previously mentioned, Nozick reiterated his opposition to rent-control laws and expressed regret for taking advantage of them in an attempt to get back at his landlord.

One thing that I think reinforced the view that I had rejected libertarianism was a story about an apartment of [Love Story author] Erich Segal's that I had been renting. Do you know about that?

JS: I did hear about that. The story that had gone around was that you had taken action against a landlord to secure a certain fixed rent…

RN: That's right. In the rent he was charging me, Erich Segal was violating a Cambridge rent control statute. I knew at the time that when I let my intense irritation with representatives of Erich Segal lead me to invoke against him rent control laws that I opposed and disapproved of, that I would later come to regret it, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

I'm not as familiar with Nozick's later views on redistribution of wealth, but I do know that Milton Friedman and FA Hayek supported a small level of redistribution, and both are considered libertarians.

Seriously, though, one of the frustrating things about Nozick was his refusal to ever consider a subject a second time. He didn’t ever teach the same course twice and he wouldn’t return to a subject once he had written about it. There has to be a line somewhere between writing once about everything (Nozick’s route) and writing everything about the same subject (Rawls, for example).

Agreed. We must find a golden mean between these two points.

I believe part of Nozick's

I believe part of Nozick's motivation was that he didn't want to be pigeon-holed as strictly a libertarian philosopher, when he had much to say on many other topics.

And it may have been a wise move, since it seems that he did in fact have many intelligent things to say on a wide array of topics. It would have been a shame to have lost his viewpoints on other areas because he was bogged down in a constant defence of Anarchy.

So what's a utilitarian

So what's a utilitarian definition of equality of opportunity? How do you know when you have it? It's always struck me as a slippery concept that people seem to find attractive and at the same time difficult to define. Hope you get through your government-provided flu ok. Don't say the government never gave you anything! :sad:

Lisa and Micha, Both of you

Lisa and Micha,

Both of you are worried about the claim that positive rights might attach to society generally and not to specific individuals. And you are right that the entities I'm describing are odd. Yes, I do recognize that there are dangers in anthromorphizing nations; Micha's example of just war theory is a nice one, and I agree completely that it's not, say, Germany that is responsible for WWII, but rather specific Germans who are responsible. I actually argue this way myself with respect to the current war in Iraq. (See http://www.fsu.edu/~philo/STP/index2.html#current)

But I do think that there are some instances in which it does make sense to talk about groups having certain rights. It is the case, for instance, that corporations, in this country do have rights and responsibilites. And it actually isn't true, I think, that those rights are really just equivalent to the rights and/or responsibilities of the individuals who work there. (Micha, I think that you'll find that American law grants owners of corporations considerable protections. Corporations in the U.S. are mostly limited liability, meaning that owners are not usually personally liable for corporate debts, a claim which you denied above. That was at least the gist of all the texts I reviewed in Business Ethics. But I didn't do law school, so I wouldn't swear to this.)

So I am, in essence, defending natural rights of recipience. These aren't positive rights strictly speaking, since positive rights are usually described as contractual rights of recipience. Pretty much everyone agrees that we have (or can have) those. Ditto for negative rights, which are usually described as natural rights of non-interference. (There isn't a category for contractual rights of non-interference, since negative rights already cover all this ground.)

I'm working up a defense of natural rights of recipience, though you'll have to wait until Monday for them. I'm nursing my son through the flu, so getting time at a computer has been a bit tough the last couple of days. (Though the fact that he couldn't get a flu shot this year puts me even more in your camp on deregulating (or at least loosening regulations) on drugs.) Fair warning, though. My defense is only going to be loosely in terms of rights, since I'm a utilitarian and thus think that, except as shorthand, rights don't really exist. :wink:

Joe, You said that positive

Joe,
You said that positive rights do not place obligations on individuals, but on society as a whole. How is this possible? Is society not made up of individuals, each of whom must shoulder this responsibility that you claim is theirs?

Joe: "I’m not seeing how

Joe: "I’m not seeing how my argument is an appeal to force. Coercion is an appeal to force, but I’m not threatening you into accepting the argument."

You've said you're willing to force me to go along should I not accept your argument. That means that I'd be better off accepting it, so, you know, no one gets hurt. You're trying to push the threat back one level, but it's still there.

"But there is one other important sort of right, one that is particularly crucial for capitalists, namely, that of enforcing contracts. When I violate a contract, I am not necessarily using force on you. I am, however, harming you. Yet you are, it seems to me, justified in coercing me into keeping my contract. You can use force here even though I didn’t use force on you to begin with."

There is honest debate among market anarchists over when force is justified, or prudent, in cases of contract breach. Can specific performance be compelled? Can monetary judgements be enforced with possibly violent seizure of assets? I personally favor a more reputation based system, with contract insurance and escrow as security for the risk averse, but I think either way would basically work.