User Tag List

Results 1 to 6 of 6

  1. #1
    Senior Member Kephalos's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    MBTI
    INTJ
    Enneagram
    5(?)
    Socionics
    LII
    Posts
    103

    Default The Window of Knowledge

    Some people make a distinction, in political choice, between decisions that involve establishing a framework within which subsequent decisions are going to be made, and decisions that occur within a framework. The latter would be ordinary political decisions and the former would be "constitutional" choices. This distinction is made to stress the thesis that actors have different criteria for making each kind of choice: in ordinary political decisions, narrow self-interest is foremost, such as getting more votes by getting would-be voters more goodies; but in constitutional choice, there is as it were a wider view, because one is never sure when the constitutional rules might be used against them, so reasonably fair rules are chosen. For example, John Rawls gave a more extended argument and said that "social rights" are just because people, if uncertain about what would be their economic position once the social contract is concluded, would prefer to have such policies.

    My quibble is that any informed reading of actual "constitutional choices" would conclude that those who are making the decision do so trying to figure out what rules would be most likely to produce the results that they would like after the constitution is adopted. And it seems to me that this should be right because after all, even if we are not completely sure what the results of our planned actions will be, we always try to work out what's next with our limited information. For example in Forrest MacDonald -- although he argued in a book against the view that the vote of people in the conventions that ratified the US constitution was influenced by economic interests -- describes the series of compromises that lead to what would become the US constitution; the composition of the Senate, initially representing each State equally was composed so to appease small states who thought they would be overridden by bigger states with more representatives. Another example is the Mexican primaries: there is no method for selecting candidates for any election so every time an election comes a method has to be agreed upon to select the cadidate (a sort of "constitutional" choice, although it is made over and over); the upshot is that every man who wants to be a candidate promotes the method that he thinks will result in his being selected.

    I suppose what I am making is a claim to knowledge: that it is unreasonable that, assuming rational action one can also say that individuals won't try to figure out what rules will have what effects after the veil of ignorance is lifted. Let me tell you that I am one of those people who wouldn't lament the disappearance of "social rights" that would supposedly be preferred under the veil of ignorance. I am tempted to say that the right general interest that should be considered would tend to limit the powers of government over its subjects very much -- but I am also kind of a cynic, and think that people, in the end, choose what is in their narrow self-interest (although I may be underestimating such things as ideology and simply the preservation of the status quo).

  2. #2

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Kephalos View Post
    I suppose what I am making is a claim to knowledge: that it is unreasonable that, assuming rational action one can also say that individuals won't try to figure out what rules will have what effects after the veil of ignorance is lifted. Let me tell you that I am one of those people who wouldn't lament the disappearance of "social rights" that would supposedly be preferred under the veil of ignorance. I am tempted to say that the right general interest that should be considered would tend to limit the powers of government over its subjects very much -- but I am also kind of a cynic, and think that people, in the end, choose what is in their narrow self-interest (although I may be underestimating such things as ideology and simply the preservation of the status quo).
    So are you saying that you object to the idea of social right per se and the Rawlsian argument that they can be a consequence of rational choice from behind a veil of ignorance?

    There's a lot of other authors who would concur with that, I think Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia was a response to it.

    Some conservatives object to the idea of constitutionalism per se because they associate it with abstract reason and social engineering as opposed to received tradition mitigated by generations of practical reason and reflection. Mind you some of those conservatives would be more favourable of a concept of "social rights", properly understood but not so called, than others.

    I believe that properly understood its likely that people will rationally choose to recognise social rights or welfare rights from behind a veil of ignorance, although I do think that what Rawls was talking about was a lot less generous than many of his welfare liberal or social liberal supporters have imagined. At least that's what I've thought from reading Rawls' follow ups to the A Theory of Justice, such as Political Liberalism.

    I'm a little more interested in why you oppose social rights, what you understand by social rights and why you dont believe they would be or could be rationally agreed upon.

    To me while Rawls' book is good, its got good thought experiments and it tries to put debate on a thinking, reasoning footing rather than an emotive one. That's a good move.

    However, its a product of its age, at the time of drafting the US constitution for instance the economy didnt exist to make social rights possible for the most part, the idea of social rights itself didnt exist, objectively there was a lot less interdependence in society or the economy. A modern economy which owes its prosperity as much to consumers spending money as it does to producers or suppliers of goods and services would be unrecognisable to the drafters of the US constitution. The idea of the vast majority of businesses and individuals being directly or indirectly dependent upon government spending would be a surprise to say the least.

    The US constitution and constitutionalism of the age it was drafted, which emphasised limited government in opposition to absolutism (or totalitarianism), tolerated levels of homelessness, starvation, shortened life spans which would be obscene outside of the under or undeveloped world.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Kephalos's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    MBTI
    INTJ
    Enneagram
    5(?)
    Socionics
    LII
    Posts
    103

    Default

    PERHAPS THE most telling mark of current liberal vocabulary is the frequency of the words "right" and "rights". Rights are agreeable, reassuring, beneficial to the right-holder, morally or materially valuable. It is not immediately obvious whether they cost anything. Perhaps they are the "free lunch" par excellence and need only to be recognised in order to be enjoyed. A position that is "against rights" would hardly be tenable; to be "for rights" is to be sympathy with the general aspirations of mankind. Securing men and women in their rights is confirming them in what they ought to have.

    It is only natural that political theories, and the parties, groups or movements by and large identified with them, have taken to rights and rights-talk with mounting enthusiasm.They keep proclaiming lists of human rights, civil rights, minority rights, women's rights, "economic and social rights", rights to education, employment, opportunity and security, "democratic" rights, "development rights", cultural rights and many other rights whose exact meaning and practical effect are far from being always evident.
    Anthony de Jasay, Choice, Contract, Consent: A Restatement of Liberalism, p. 33 (bold mine).

    I think what I basically said was that using the veil of ignorance to pass "social rights" as just is implausible at best. If there are social rights, it is not because some enlightened self-interest in a constitutional choice, but because someone stands to benefit from them (narrow self-interest) or maybe as a result of some non-rational factor like ideology.

    I do not, however, want to turn this into a deathmatch between welfare-statism and libertarianism but since you are interested in why I am opposed to the former, I will tell you as simply and briefly as I can. The long quotation with which I bored you at the beginning says it all in my opinion -- why I am in favor of certain rights (like those that protect property rights or those protecting freedom), and oppose other rights, such as the right to education, health, housing, minimum income, etc. Firstly, one set of rights tends to limit the power that government exercises over its citizens and the power that persons exercise over each other through the political process. To see why this is so it's necessary to mention that rights have correlative duties: if you lend me money, you have a right to be payed principal and interest, which is equivalent to saying that I have an obligation to pay you principal and interest. When I say that I have the right to practice the religion, if any, of my choice, I am really saying that the government cannot dictate to me what religion I should practice. On the contrary, when it is said that I have the right to a "decent home", like in the Mexican constitution, then what is being said is that the government must see to it that everyone has a decent home or apartment -- it means that it has to subsidize construction or build homes and apartment buildings by itself, or it means that it also has to micromanage the terms of contracts in rental markets. So far you could say that I oppose social rights on principle: I suppose that you could say that I also oppose them on utilitarian grounds, especially by saying that in modern welfare states the political process becomes a massive and wasteful competition between groups for this or that benefit -- with the cooperation of people who want to gain power by means of granting them. That is not to say that I don't think there should be anarchy (no government at all) -- I think government's protective function is important, and even more important its function to enforce property rights when there are conflicts.

    As for your remarks on conservatives, it really depends very much on whom you are talking about. Joseph de Maistre liked absolute monarchy and that certainly qualifies as being against constitutionalism. One could say that he would be in favor of a constitution as a charter to confirm and legitimate the power of the king. Other "conservatives" like Burke and Hayek, in my opinion, cannot be said to be against preventing arbitrary power -- which is pretty much the end towards which the constitutionalism of the liberal age tended to.

    I would like to finish my reply by making a remark on what you said, Lark, about the historical moment and the intellectual heritage of the framers of the constitution of the United States. You are perhaps right that in that time it was technically impossible to have a large centralized welfare state: but dirigisme, underconsumptionism and even social rights had been advocated well before that time and those ideas were known to the framers of the US constitution. I refer you to Novus Ordo Seclorum, by Forrest McDonald, who goes into some detail about the different schools of political economy -- especially mercantilism -- that influenced people like Hamilton, Madison, and Adams.

    I think this is as good an explanation as I can give right now.

  4. #4

    Default

    Thanks for the reply, it was interesting and I like your style of writing.

    I appreciate that the US mission statement has been and is always likely to be limited government and ideally government limited to the protection of property rights at that, if that's your first principles then the results are going to naturally be averse to social rights, wether ill defined or not, however I would suggest that if property rights trumph pretty much all else it could be an invitation to tyranny, provided its the proper sort that is, ie does the bidding of proprietors first and foremost. Whether or not that's sufficient to impression upon the public that its authority is legitimate I suspect will have a cultural and contextual basis.

    Its interesting that you mention mercantilism et al and I knew those there familiar, do you really think that the debates around those economic concepts at that time are perrenial? I'm only interested because I do think your perspective is legitimate, you live in a democracy and people can choose to live however they want, however strictly limited government which would recind social rights and restructure the economy and society to reflect that is, to my mind, akin to the choices which the Amish communities make to preserve a particular style of early frontiers like way of life.

    The US would be in a much, much subordinate position internationally if it adopted that kind of existence, I dont see how a modern or hegemonic armed forces, intelligence community or other, generally favourable spending priorities among the political right wing, could be maintained in that scenario, the manufacturing base and productivity could be seriously harmed too but it has mostly moved abroad already.

    Generally I find that libertarianism is one of the last great Utopian movements, although it doesnt really accept any or all of its visions as Utopian at all, however I dont see a great deal of difference between the promises of prosperity made in libertarian visions, such as Jefferson's independent republican yeomanry, and left wing alternatives, such as participatory economics or iterative economic planning by consumers and workers councils or syndicates.

    The welfare state itself has mixed origins and really is a mixed blessing but does underpin the economies of the developed work in many unacknowledged ways which are anathema to many of the values and precepts of classical economic theory (which I find pretty utopian aswell, not to mention ideological, given contemporary research into motivation and behaviour).

    Some of your problems with social rights I do share, they are vague, because they are relative and the concept is very much open to abuse, what would be considered a right is contextual and historical, although I would say that I think of that with reference to rights per se. However, I dont really share the view, which I think is implicit in your post, that they are solely for the benefice of others, or at the very least select individuals operating from rational/legitimate self interest. I would suggest that where this is the case it is not a social right at all which is under discussion or consideration but something else. Genuine social rights are those conceptualised rights which have definite social consequences and implications, for instance the containment of disease through vacinations, diseas being no respector of property rights or any other status qualification.

  5. #5
    Senior Member lowtech redneck's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    MBTI
    INTP
    Posts
    3,705

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Lark View Post
    Thanks for the reply, it was interesting and I like your style of writing.

    I appreciate that the US mission statement has been and is always likely to be limited government and ideally government limited to the protection of property rights at that,

    however strictly limited government which would recind social rights and restructure the economy and society to reflect that is, to my mind, akin to the choices which the Amish communities make to preserve a particular style of early frontiers like way of life.

    Genuine social rights are those conceptualised rights which have definite social consequences and implications, for instance the containment of disease through vacinations, diseas being no respector of property rights or any other status qualification.
    1.) Liberty has always taken precedence over property in the American "mission statement." Property rights and free enterprise are understood as both rights in themselves and necessary tools for the preservation of liberty.

    2.) Whatever one's opinion on the economic potential of a libertarian state, limited Constitutional government and small government are not the same thing.

    3.) Those would be public goods designed to promote the "general welfare," and thereby subject to political debate in response to current conditions, not rights that must be protected regardless of circumstances. Classifying such things as 'social rights' not only tends to come at the expense of individual rights, but makes social rights into an oxymoron whereby citizens of rich countries that are able to afford greater public goods will always posses more 'rights' than citizens of poor countries.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Kephalos's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    MBTI
    INTJ
    Enneagram
    5(?)
    Socionics
    LII
    Posts
    103

    Default

    I apologize for taking so long to respond, and I also apologize if I only respond to some of the arguments you make, and also if I respond to some of them at more length than others.

    I also find it rather interesting -- and also, being an economics student, rather frustrating -- that ideas in economics sort of come and go in waves. I think part of the answer is that the main subject-matter of economics, the market economy, is a pretty complex phenomenon and this fact makes that the evidence to which we can allude in making assertions about it is often inconclusive. This is, I think, more clear when we talk about empirical evidence, especially statistical evidence. I think I have to say something here about a field called experimental economics, where people are put in situations that are meant to replicate economic theories and see how those situations play out. Some people, I think erroneously, conceive of this field as intended to test if people really behave like economists think they do (they don't, by the way); economics is rather about what results when people interact with one another in a certain way, like trying to do what they like to do as much as they can -- there have been incredible experiments with people interacting with one another, and in which the outcomes of those interactions closely resemble those described in economic theory.

    I agree with you that classical liberalism or libertarianism is a radical political program. Look up Murray Rothbard's essay "Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty" for a brief defense of that -- and for the argument that the abandonment of radicalism was a cause of liberalism's decline in the later nineteenth century. Another essay that I would refer to is F.A. Hayek's "Principles and Expediency".

    Some economists say that the insufficiency of statistical evidence means that we have to use theoretical reasoning, or logical evidence, as a sufficient basis for economic arguments. But the problem with this approach is that one can make a compelling logical argument for different propositions, and given that empirical evidence is not conclusive, it's difficult to choose between one logical framework and another. I have to confess that I am a little sympathetic to this way of thinking, meaning that I tend to look more at logical arguments than to some statistical or experimental argument. So when neither logical evidence nor empirical evidence is conclusive, then you can see that someone can come up with a new argument that supports a conclusion that everyone thought had been refuted. And this is compounded when talking about economic policy, where conflicts of ideology and self-interest also have their influence.

    I don't want to make it sound like economists don't agree on anything. In fact there are parts of economics on which it is thought that a consensus has been reached, but there are also open questions on which economists disagree. I don't know whether the question of public provision of public goods is one of them. I hesitate to enter into this question, but I think the standard economic argument (that the state must provide public goods) fails to consider why a government would provide public goods at all -- whether it is in the self-interest of the people who control the state to provide public goods. That argument is also used to advocate the for the state's providing goods which are not strictly public goods -- like schooling and health.

    I think you and I conceive of property rights in different ways. You seem to equate them to the interest of the proprietors. That is true, to the extent that no one likes, for example, some random person breaking into our house. But this is not true in other respects. I suppose that the way I see property rights is as a framework within which people can go on pursuing their different interests, and providing for some cases when these interests are in conflict (though not always, as, for example, in the case where a new business displaces an old one).

    For the rest, I don't know how to answer that property rights are consistent with tyranny. I suppose it depends on how you define tyranny: if you define it to mean a political regime like a dictatorship. I suppose that has a grain of truth, although I would say that depends on the inclinations of the group in power: but these inclinations can change, and if a new group and/or a new leader take power and discontinue respect for property rights, then there is nothing to do. But nonetheless, this is not how I see the question. What I mean is that by truly respecting property rights then a government -- any government -- protects a sphere within which every individual or voluntary organizations enjoy freedom to act.

    I would agree with you that classical liberalism is a radical political program. Look up Murray Rothbard's "Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty" and Hayek's "Principles and Expediency" for the argument that it can only be a radical political program.

    PS.

    I guess I mislead Lark a little bit: I don't live in the US, but in Mexico. That being said, a lot of topics regarding the United States interest me very much.

Similar Threads

  1. Replies: 39
    Last Post: 01-03-2016, 04:49 PM
  2. Replies: 30
    Last Post: 09-25-2011, 08:55 PM
  3. Eyes: The Windows of the Brain?
    By Santosha in forum The Bonfire
    Replies: 0
    Last Post: 07-10-2011, 04:31 PM
  4. How does the level of scientific knowledge of the public hurt or benefit society?
    By Octarine in forum Politics, History, and Current Events
    Replies: 0
    Last Post: 04-15-2011, 06:55 AM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
Single Sign On provided by vBSSO