So, what does ‘progressive fusionism’ look like?

By skepticlawyer

This piece had its origins in a pair of posts written by Don Arthur over at Club Troppo, and followed up by Andrew Norton, Andrew Leigh, Will Wilkinson and Backroom Girl. The idea that libertarians and ‘progressives’ could hammer out some of their differences and reach a compromise far more workable than that between conservatives and libertarians is an interesting one. Parts of the debate are, I think, misconceived. Some of Rawls’ ideas about liberty – even the ones I find superficially very attractive – are pretty sketchy. That said, I do think ‘progressive fusionism‘ has potential, and I devoted part of my Oxford jurisprudence assessment to exploring the idea.

At bottom, of course, are the links between liberty and equality, and to what extent (if any) the two conflict. True to my training in analytical philosophy, I’m concerned to pin down concepts like ‘equality’ and ‘liberty’, at least as they’re used by Rawls and Hayek. Like Don, I think that Rawls and Hayek are closer together than they appear. Unlike Don, I don’t think Rawls’ normative framework is as persuasive as it appears, and I don’t think it’s clearer than Hayek’s. I found this when I came to consider one of the ideas at the heart of his ‘principles of justice’ – the idea that liberty is lexically prior to equality.

I think that liberty should have priority over equality, but that lexical priority is too rigorous a requirement. This is an admission I make reluctantly – I am, after all, a libertarian. It is nonetheless a necessary admission.

In this piece, I argue that to give liberty lexical priority over equality – particularly if one accepts some or all of John Rawls’ system as set out in A Theory of Justice – not only excludes equality (however conceptualised). It also excludes other values that are essential to good governance, as well as endorsing a thin conception of liberty. In short, according liberty strict lexical priority over equality is too demanding. That said, I also find Rawls’ suggestion – incipient in Theory, but later made explicit in Political Liberalism – that ‘basic wants’ must be satisfied before liberty can take its place at the top of the ‘values heap’ troubling.

First, I outline what Rawls means by ‘liberty’s lexical priority’. Second, I consider his conceptualisation of liberty, comparing it with that outlined by Isaiah Berlin and F.A. Hayek. Following Hayek, I import free markets into Berlin’s account of ‘negative liberty’ in order to thicken Rawls’ conception of the word. I also discuss Robert Nozick’s insight that restraining people from market participation involves continual interference with their freedom.

I then turn to ‘equality’. I argue for a non-maximal version of equality, incorporating key elements from Hayek’s account of formal equality and Amartya Sen’s notion of ‘capabilities’. Due to the latter’s concern with agency and well-being, I consider his ideas in light of Berlin’s ‘positive liberty’, and ask whether they share the potentially destructive characteristics of which Berlin warns. I also consider whether positive liberty as Sen describes it is coterminous with Rawls’ basic wants.

While I argue for the importance of this equality, I also maintain that according basic wants lexical priority over liberty may be harmful. This is not because I think that people – particularly in the developing world – should continue to live in dire poverty, but because trying to satisfy peoples’ basic needs before setting them free may have deleterious effects. To that end, I consider the large body of empirical research indicating a strong correlative link between elements of negative liberty and satisfaction of Sen’s Human Development Index.

Rawls and liberty’s lexical priority

The lexical priority of liberty is an integral part of Rawls’ schema: liberty can only be restricted for the sake of liberty. This argument emerges after Rawls develops his principles of justice. His first principle requires equal liberty for all, while his second holds that inequality – of liberty and other values – is justifiable (a) if it benefits people overall and (b) is to the ‘greatest benefit’ of the disadvantaged. Any restriction on liberty must either (a) contribute to the liberties shared by all or (b) be acceptable to the parties who end up with less liberty. This places liberty above not only equality, but also justice, welfare and efficiency.

By any criterion, this is a demanding requirement. That is not to say one cannot imagine practical applications. Consider, for example, the presence of a minority who during time of war constitute a fifth column. One can conceive of a public debate that – leaving security to one side – raises the idea that any restrictions on liberty (identity cards, employment controls, profiling) should either enhance the liberty of society as a whole or be acceptable to the group in question; perhaps both.

The demanding nature of lexical priority strictu sensu is most notable when one considers its impact on the implementation of Rawls’ second principle of justice. If liberty has lexical priority, then one cannot consider any question of equality, efficiency, justice, welfare, security or anything else unless liberty’s claims are fully satisfied. Rawls justifies restraints on liberty only as a means to protect like liberty for others. This exclusion even seems to take in the harm principle, except in forms that prevent harm by preferring one form of liberty to another. He gives the example of debates, where rules must limit participants’ liberty to speak whenever they wish in order to facilitate overall freedom of speech. Effectively, all restraints in a situation of maximum equal liberty are necessary for the protection of that maximum. This strikes me as a recipe for institutional paralysis.

Later in Theory, Rawls retreats from this maximal position. He comments that ‘until the basic wants of individuals are fulfilled, the relative urgency of their interest in liberty cannot be firmly decided in advance’. The argument seems to be that a given state needs to satisfy ‘basic wants’ up to a certain point. Thereafter, liberty is preferred to any further increase in other goods. This argument links to Rawls’ distinction between ‘general’ and ‘specific’ conceptions of justice. Although not always clear, my understanding is that the special conception – where liberty is lexically prior – governs societies that have developed such that they can satisfy citizens’ basic wants. Under the general conception, by contrast – where these favourable conditions do not obtain – the state may deny equal liberty.

In Political Liberalism he goes a step further, arguing that ‘the equal basic rights and liberties may easily be preceded by a lexically prior principle requiring that citizens’ basic needs be met’. These basic needs, Rawls argues, facilitate citizens’ comprehension and exercise of their rights and liberties.

Interestingly, Isaiah Berlin makes a similar point, fleshing out ‘basic needs’:

[T]o offer political rights, or safeguards against intervention by the state, to men who are half-naked, illiterate, underfed and diseased is to mock their condition; they need medical help or education before they can understand, or make use of, an increase in their freedom.

Slippage between the lexical priority of liberty strictu sensu and lexical priority + ‘basic needs’ raises two questions. First, how does Rawls conceive of liberty? And second (because he does not give them content), how are we to conceive of basic needs?

Rawls, negative liberty and markets

Rawls seeks to navigate through the shoals surrounding liberty’s definition by arguing that much of the dispute is not definitional at all, but about weighing the value of different liberties when they conflict. Despite collapsing positive and negative liberty into each other in an ingenious conception that refers to ‘agents who are free, the restrictions or limitations from which they are free, and what it is that they are free to do or not to do’, he argues for ‘freedom of thought and liberty of conscience, freedom of the person and civil liberties’. He thinks that these ‘ought not to be sacrificed to political liberty’ in the sense of participation in political affairs. This is close to Berlin’s negative liberty, which is conceptualised in terms of freedom from deliberate interference by other human beings and distinguished from participatory democracy.

There is, however, a crucial difference between Rawls’ liberty and that present in Berlin and – more notably – Hayek. H.L.A. Hart draws attention to the distinction between the very broad scope of Rawls’ equal liberty principle and his later restriction of liberty’s content to that of ‘basic liberties’, noting in the process a major elision when it comes to economic liberty. Hart observes Rawls’ ‘careful and repeated explanation that, though the right to hold property is for him a “liberty”, the choice between private capitalism and state ownership of the means of production is left quite open by the principles of justice.’ Limiting private ownership to personalty would clearly result in less liberty than would be the case if a given society permitted private ownership more widely. It’s also unclear whether Rawls includes freedom of contract among his basic liberties. Rawls’ liberty is thus substantively narrow but procedurally broad.

Nozick – in his famous description of liberty’s disruption of patterns – makes a powerful case for the proposition that excluding economic liberty from any account of negative liberty impoverishes the latter’s content. To be fair, Nozick wants to defeat arguments in favour of wealth redistribution. In the process, however, he outlines how any regime preventing basketballer Wilt Chamberlain from making a contractual agreement for extra remuneration interferes in Chamberlain’s life to such an extent that it ‘would have to forbid capitalist acts between consenting adults’. This assumes, of course, that Chamberlain’s basketball team is in private hands. What if – recall Hart’s account of Rawls’ schema – the basketball team were state owned?

Hayek’s account of economic liberty focuses on ‘spontaneous order’. That is, markets – like languages – emerge thanks to the interaction of free individuals acting in a non-patterned, un-coerced manner. A free market merely co-ordinates the aims and purposes of countless actors; these actors cannot know the aims and purposes of more than a handful of their fellow-citizens. It does this through the mechanism of prices. Changes in the price of a commodity are simply signals, feeding information back into the system, enabling participants to produce spontaneous co-ordination ‘automatically’. This can appear to be the product of an omniscient mind, but is actually its antithesis.

Markets, then, are a signature example of negative liberty. Hayek makes the point explicit:

Much of the opposition to a system of freedom under general laws arises from the inability to conceive of an effective co-ordination of human activities without deliberate organization by a commanding intelligence. One of the achievements of economic theory has been to explain how such a mutual adjustment of the spontaneous activities of individuals is brought about by the market, provided that there is a known delimitation of the sphere of control of each individual.

Although I find Rawls’ argument for liberty’s lexical priority unpersuasive, the thinness of his ‘liberty’ gives one pause even when arguing for a less demanding priority. I propose that negative liberty is only plausibly prior to equality – or other values – if it takes in freedom from economic coercion: the liberty to form contracts, the liberty to engage in the human ‘propensity to truck, barter and exchange one thing for another’.

Equality and capabilities – or, what are ‘basic wants’?

If ‘liberty’ is a large concept, then ‘equality’ is the omnibus term par excellence. While what I propose here is close to libertarian formal equality, I explicitly invoke Hayek’s more nuanced account of formal equality, not Nozick’s. Hayek describes a minimum of equality in terms that amount to a mild version of Berlin’s positive liberty, although compassion moves him, not a desire for equality.

While both Berlin and Hayek link positive liberty with self-mastery, they counsel caution with respect to it for different reasons. Berlin is chiefly concerned with the political system-builder who thinks he has lit upon a method for ensuring self-mastery and self-realisation, only to find that he (or his followers) is coercing others in the name of achieving self-mastery. Berlin cites as exemplum Nikolai Bukharin:

Proletarian coercion, in all its forms, from executions to forced labour, is, paradoxical as it may sound, the method of moulding communist humanity out of the human material of the capitalist period.

Hayek, by contrast, argues that confusing liberty with power leads inevitably to the ‘identification of liberty with wealth’. He points out – somewhat dryly – that while freedom and wealth are both good things, they remain different. While Hayek rejects redistribution aimed at correcting inequality, he explicitly countenances the ‘assurance of a given minimum of sustenance for all’, to be funded by taxation. With this in mind, I argue that people should have enough for ‘capabilities to achieve functionings’ (Sen).

This is in addition to the traditional basket of formal ‘negative’ rights. These rights are not only valuable because they acknowledge the impartial and universal nature of moral judgments. They are also valuable because unless citizens have equality of status along at least one key axis, economic and social inequalities may re-emerge as primary determinants of moral worth.

This explicit selection of a non-maximal account of equality strikes me as sensible for two reasons. First, few people argue for ‘simple equality’ or true economic egalitarianism. Harry Frankfurt elegantly defines the latter as ‘the doctrine that it is desirable for everyone to have the same amounts of income and of wealth (for short, “money”)’, noting that it is easy to defeat argumentatively. However, Frankfurt’s contention that what is morally important is not that ‘everyone should have the same, but that each should have enough’ is extremely persuasive. He calls this a ‘doctrine of sufficiency’.

Most disputes about inequality are misconceived: they are not really about inequality per se. No one cares much about the difference in wealth between lawyers and bond traders, say, even though – while both have expensive educations and considerable technical skill – bond traders often earn incomes orders of magnitude larger than lawyers. What they care about is that some people live in awful conditions due to poverty, or that their poverty prevents them from functioning. Few scholars write more movingly of the plight of the poor than G. A. Cohen. However, even he – in his story of the woman who cannot afford to visit her sister in Glasgow – is not moved by her ‘inequality’, but by her lack of capacity.

Second, it is possible to give Frankfurt’s ‘doctrine of sufficiency’, Hayek’s ‘minimum of sustenance’ and Rawls’ ‘basic needs’ practical substance through Amartya Sen’s account of capabilities. That is, combining Frankfurt’s moral argument with Sen’s empirical observations make Rawls’ basic wants intelligible. I do not pretend this is simple. Frankfurt observes that ‘calculating the size of an equal share is plainly much easier than determining how much a person needs in order to have enough’. That conceded, economists could do much of the empirical spadework. While Sen’s ‘capabilities’ account is concerned with effective power to act or pursue one’s ends, and argues that poverty leads to a lack of effective power to act, it is much more modest in its claims than most egalitarian philosophies.

Of course, to the extent that Sen’s capabilities account contains within it the destructive elements characteristic of positive liberty noted by both Berlin and Hayek, I argue that liberty retains priority. Similarly, I reject Rawls’ argument for the lexical priority of ‘basic wants’ for the same reason as I reject arguments for liberty’s lexical priority: it is too demanding. It requires fully satisfying ‘basic wants’ before considering any other value. It is worth remembering that lexical priority accords the value ‘on top’ infinitely great relative value. Other values can never catch it.

Some empirical points and concluding comments

As attractive as combining Sen’s capabilities with Hayek’s nuanced description of formal equality may be, I still argue that liberty remains prior. This is, however, a more generous priority regime, one without the strictures of Rawls’ lexical priority.

My reasoning is partly empirical, and is borne out by the great body of data collated over the last 18 years by economists compiling the Economic Freedom of the World Index (since 1994) and the UN Human Development Index (since 1990). Amartya Sen developed the latter index, while Milton Friedman and Gary Becker developed the former. The available data focuses on economic liberty, rather than other (negative) liberties more broadly. Even so, it is very telling. In recent years, the EFW Index has published data correlating its indices with UNHD indices. The 2004 graph is below.

Economic freedom correlates strongly with higher average income per person, higher incomes for the poorest 10%, longer life expectancy, higher rates of literacy, lower infant mortality, greater access to clean water and less corruption. There is debate as to whether lower levels of official and private corruption is an effect of liberty or a cause. There is great (and sometimes acrimonious) debate over the link between economic liberty and political liberty. It is also now generally recognised that a secure property regime is necessary before a rise in average incomes takes place. Nonetheless, the evidence that poor countries require economic liberty is solid.

Significantly, there is no relationship between the income share of the poorest 10% and the degree of economic freedom. Inequality – as egalitarians have long argued – remains a pervasive feature of all nations, both rich and poor. However, the amount of income the poorest 10% earn rises with economic freedom. And, as other indices on the UNHDI show, the poorest in free countries often have – to use Harry Frankfurt’s word – ‘enough’. An HDI breakdown across key indices is below.

In sum, while there is a growing body of empirical evidence suggesting that people who enjoy both free minds and free markets have their ‘basic wants’ satisfied more rapidly than people labouring under other regimes, there are other necessary elements of governance that have little to do with liberty per se but undoubtedly enhance its effect. They may also help to secure basic wants. The best arguments for liberty’s priority over equality are empirical, but like all empirical accounts, are rebuttable by facts on the ground.

12 Comments

  1. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    Posted May 8, 2008 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    You need a glossary for all the technical terms. However here is my take based not on the original works that you refer to but to the topics touched on.

    “My” basic wants matter more than “your” liberty. If I am starving and without options I may steal your bread to survive. Thats a given. However the term “basic wants” as used in your article seems to be a suggestion that if you are starving then we must feed you by stealing from you before we free you (not your position I know). In other words the idea is that we should institutionalise theft and oppression. This would seem to be merely another form of the usual positive rights (positive liberty) agenda that has been so destructive over the last century. In other words it’s nothing new.

    I think liberty depends on a form of equality in so far as negative rights should be universal (whilst most positive rights should be abolished). As they say we should all be equal before the law. What messes things up is when legislators and social engineers measure our equality in material terms. They are being materialists in the worst way possible because they measure people by what they have or lack in material terms. Most socialists are materialists mostly unconcerned about qualities such as character or freedom or personal responsibility.

    I think you are wrong when you suggest that people don’t care that bond traders are unequal to lawyers. People seem to care about this stuff a lot. When friends on fix figure incomes complain to me about CEOs on seven and eight figure incomes then am I supposed to interprete this as being out of concern for the worlds poor?

    Libertarians don’t need to fuse with progressives. We need to hector them where their thinking is weak. Politically we need to work with anybody (progressive or conservative) that furthers the agenda of freedom. And we need to get more people to think holistically about freedom and not just in terms of their pet freedoms or social agendas.

  2. Posted May 8, 2008 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    I’m curious about your observations on income inequality, Terje – mainly because if (as you suggest) people on six figure incomes routinely complain about people on seven and eight figure incomes, then (a) politics is shot through with envy in ways that are almost irredeemable and (b) developing some sort of realistic fusion between libertarian and progressive ideals will be very difficult.

    As a couple of people pointed out over at Troppo, envy probably has biological roots and ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.

  3. Desipis
    Posted May 8, 2008 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that one of the key sticking points between libertarians and progressives is property rights. Libertarians tend to believe in absolute property rights where something is owned by someone who has absolute control over it and should not be forced to surrender that control. Progressives tend to view property rights as a useful tool to manage wealth within society to the end goal of greater prosperity for all. Obviously where these end goals are better met through means other than property rights the two ideologies will clash.

    I find it interesting how strongly libertarians push for absolute property rights, given that property rights are inherently anti-freedom. The right for one to own property doesn’t grant any freedom to the individual, it merely restricts the freedom of all others to seek control of it. The concept of institutionalised theft is only valid once there is institutionalised granting of property rights. Systems such as taxation and regulation aren’t about restricting freedom as much as they are about shifting the restrictions already in place. Obviously from certain individual perspectives this results in a loss of freedom; however it’s the overall freedom that should be the deciding measurement.

    “Any restriction on liberty must either (a) contribute to the liberties shared by all or (b) be acceptable to the parties who end up with less liberty.”
    I think it’s important to note the use of the comparative ‘less’ in this statement. It raises the question of what is being compared. The implication (as I read it) is that the comparison is to the status quo rather than some form of absolute or natural state. It’s somewhat short sighted to consider changes relative to the status quo without considering the changes that were made to achieve it. Using a status quo comparison enables post-facto justification of an otherwise unfair shift of freedoms; after all we can’t reverse the new ‘status quo’ as that would not be acceptable to ‘the parties who end up with less liberty’ from such a reversal. This means that in order for a status-quo system to work we would need to assume that it has always been in place and always works perfectly, which runs contrary to what we know about human nature.

    When considering the notion of ‘institutionalised theft’ (taxation), the relevant comparison should be to the natural state (i.e. no property rights or communal property rights) rather than to the status quo of absolute property rights. In justifying a system that limits the control of property to a designated controller, the ‘cost’ of reducing the freedoms associated with that property of all others need to be weighed against the gains in freedom enabled by such a system.
    I see the issue of basic wants coming into the equation due to the various mechanisms in which freedom can be restricted. Libertarians tend to focus on the legislative issues regarding freedom: “we should all be equal before the law”. They do this while ignoring many of the very practical issues that also restrict freedom: “what good is a phone call… if you’re unable to speak?”. You cannot fully consider freedoms without considering the economic cost of exercising those freedoms. Even when freedom is considered the absolute metric, systems that meet the basic wants of the disadvantaged can provide greater freedom than they cost.

    “then (a) politics is shot through with envy in ways that are almost irredeemable”
    I don’t consider it irredeemable. We just need to realise that any system that enables the freedom of individuals to act for their own benefit but against the system is doomed to suffer the harms of envy and greed. We need to acknowledge this practical limitation on freedom (along with many others) and realise that such freedoms may not be practically affordable if maximum freedom is the end goal.

  4. NPOV
    Posted May 8, 2008 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    I think the third dimension that needs to be added to any discussion about liberty and equality is political realism. Democracies will always be subject to an amount of populism – and in a broad sense this isn’t a bad thing, as it means governments can’t run countries in a way that the majority of the people are unhappy with for very long. But it also means that lots of individual policies that sound good to the masses get implemented even when they are long-term detrimental, and policies that are likely to be highly unpopular but have sound theoretical and empirical backing don’t. In that sense, even if I thought libertarianism was a “better” philosophy than progressivism, the political realist in me says that progressivism is far more likely to generate policies that voters will accept. Further, not only that but libertarianism is a problematic philosophy because once you’ve reduced government down to the level that many libertarians consider ideal, there would be constant populist pressure for the government to step in and fix this, promise that, and bail out the other, and a party that just sat there and said “no, that’s against our libertarian principles” would simply get wiped out at the next election. It’s not clear how you can ever solve this problem.

  5. NPOV
    Posted May 8, 2008 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    One comment on envy – I can’t speak for others that believe in the need for redistribution for the sake of better equality, but I can assure you in my case it is not envy, given I’m one of those that I would expect to see their disposable income reduced in order to improve the lot of those less well off than myself. If it’s anything, it’s guilt – I don’t see why I deserve to be earning so much more than plenty of other people that work harder, have taken bigger risks, and have arguably contribued far more towards society than mysellf.

  6. backroom girl
    Posted May 9, 2008 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I think I’m with NPOV here. Simple solutions to complex problems, whether proposed by progressives or libertarians, are probably wrong, but they will often be attractive to politicians. For people analysing and advising on policy, It really is quite tricky to tread the line between doing little harm and hopefully more than a little good and being broadly acceptable to the community as a whole.

    I’m not sure that it’s ever possible to come up with schemes that will please all of the people all of the time, and as NPOV points out displeasing most of the people most of the time will get you thrown out of office pretty quick smart). The best you can usually hope for is to please most of the people most of the time. (Sounds kinda like the definition of democracy, don’t you think?)

    As a general philosophy, I do believe that it is important for people to have the capacity to make important decisions themselves and ‘take charge of their own lives’ if you like and that, as much as possible, people should be left to get on with things themselves. But one big question about government’s role, for me, is what approach to take where individuals apparently lack this capacity, or make decisions for themselves that have adverse impacts on others, such as their children.

    I don’t really like the nanny state approach of simply telling people what to do, or else. In the first place, most people do have a pretty good idea of how to improve their own lives (though they may need a bit of extra help along the way) . For those who don’t, simply expecting them to follow instructions is not really a long term solution because what those people need is help to develop the capabilities to look after themselves.

    For me, then, the kinds of policies I am interested in seeing from government are those that will make a material difference to the aggregate capacity of the population as a whole to be productive and self-reliant. If, in an ideal world of equal opportunity, individuals chose freely to exercise their capacities in ways that lead to inequality of outcomes, how could I quibble?

    As I hope I have made clear in a number of blog posts, I am personally comfortable with a degree of income inequality, in particular, if it arises from choices that people have freely made. This is in part because I recognise that Australian statistics don’t really measure ‘cash’ income very well, but also because cash income is not an adequate proxy for ‘true’ income, standard of living or life satisfaction. And because I think the Australian system of income redistribution, imperfect as it is at the margins, does a pretty good job overall, and couldn’t easily be expanded without risking a number of undesirable consequences.

    To sum up, I have no idea whether I am a progressive fusionist, but just someone working in the policy sphere who knows that it is all an incredibly complex balancing act.

  7. NPOV
    Posted May 9, 2008 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    backroom girl, your “how could I quibble” question sounds fair enough to me (with one caveat: we can’t allow a section of the population to gather so much wealth that it becomes more powerful than the government. Government has checks and balances to prevent abuse of power, corporations and other associations don’t). So it comes down to how much you believe that existing inequalities are down to free choice. My suspicion is “not all that much”. Basically, modern technology hugely amplifies the wealth-creation abilities of those who happen to have particular talents and/or grow up in privileged environments. I include myself here – I happen to have a brain that’s well-geared towards manipulating technology to achieve a level of productivity that the market values highly, and I was brought up in an environment that encouraged me to pursue that path. Consequently I’ve never really had to take any risks, or work long hours, or under high stress levels. Is it fair then that I should be in the top 2-3% of all earners?

  8. Posted May 9, 2008 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    Many thanks for your very thoughtful input all – I’m going to take some time to take some cool DC pics just now (since I’m here) to put up on the site, and I’ll respond properly this evening (DC time).

  9. TerjeP
    Posted May 12, 2008 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    NPOV – take a look at the annual revenue of the Australian federal government and then name one individual in the world that has an annual income that large? Even if you look at income collectives of the upper tier of society you are still talking about a very large mass of people (and a significant percentage) before they can rival the government. And typically they have very little interest in forming some political conspiracy. More likely they are expounding their feelings of guilt on blogs.

  10. TerjeP
    Posted May 12, 2008 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    p.s. When you get richer it is rarely at the expense of somebody else. Economics is not a zero sum game.

  11. NPOV
    Posted May 12, 2008 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    Terje, sure, I’m not suggesting that Australia is anywhere near the point that there are individuals or groups of individuals with incomes comparable to that of the government. I’m just pointing out that it would be highly dangerous to let it happen.

  12. NPOV
    Posted May 12, 2008 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    As for “economics is not a zero sum game” – of course, I don’t think anyone seriously believes it is (otherwise society as a whole would be no better off than it was 200 years ago).
    As for making money at the expense of others – I’d argue there are companies where the employees are responsible for creating, say, 50% of the wealth of a company, and employers the other 50% – but the proceeds aren’t split up that way: the employees might get 40% to share between them and the employers 60%. In such cases you could argue that the employers are making money at the expense of the employees. Obviously then the difficulty is how one determines what percentage of the wealth is actually created by the employees vs the employers – and I’m not sure I accept that leaving this decision entirely in the hands of the employers is always justifiable.

5 Trackbacks

  1. By Going solo (sorta) « Thoughts on Freedom on May 8, 2008 at 6:36 am

    […] at Catallaxy. There’s plenty of stuff up already, although of interest to libertarians is this piece on Rawls and […]

  2. […] She writes: The idea that libertarians and ‘progressives’ could hammer out some of their differences and reach a compromise far more workable than that between conservatives and libertarians is an interesting one. […]

  3. By Club Troppo » Where Missing Link leads… on July 22, 2008 at 3:35 am

    […] any case, we’ve kicked off skepticlawyer.com with – among other things – my response to Don Arthur’s thoughtful posts on inequality and ‘progressive fusionism’. […]

  4. By Club Troppo » How much is enough? on July 22, 2008 at 3:41 am

    […] consequence whether some had more than others", says Harry Frankfurt. Skepticlawyer agrees. In a recent post on ‘progressive fusionism’ she suggests combining Frankfurt’s ‘doctrine of sufficiency’ with Amartya […]

  5. […] insisted that these could only be achieved by conservative means. This sounds a lot like the ‘progressive fusionism‘ promoted by the Cato Institute’s Brink Lindsey. In a 2006 essay for the New Republic, […]

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