Social Contract and Morality

Friday, June 11, 2010 \PM\.\Fri\.

Kyle Cupp has a brief post describing the dehumanizing moral effects of seeing human dignity and rights as springing entirely from a social contract (implied or explicit):

This reduction occurs when we understand and act upon our moral obligations to one another only within the framework of a social contract–when we limit our obligations to those who have entered into such contracts and consider ourselves obligated only to those who share our citizenship, have signed a treaty we have signed, or participate with us in some other contractual arrangement. I make this reduction when I don’t care about torturing terrorists because they’re not signers of the Geneva Conventions, when I wish to alienate the immigrant who enters my country against my country’s laws, when I ignore my obligations to those not yet born because the laws of the land do not recognize their personhood, or when I insist that others shouldn’t be given Constitutional rights when the rights I wish to withhold from them are basic human rights.

I think that he’s right as far as he goes, but I don’t think that his point that basic human rights and duties are inherent to humanity (rather than assumed via some sort of contract/relationship) is actually the point usually at dispute in our society. Rather, what seems often to be disputed is what the extent of basic human rights are — and which “rights” are merely agreed civic rights which we grant explicitly via the social contract.

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Left=Economic Illiteracy?

Friday, June 11, 2010 \AM\.\Fri\.

Great minds think alike.  I had prepared a post on this subject and I see that Darwin already has posted on the same topic.  Normally I would simply trash my post, but this time I think our readers might find it amusing to see our different takes on this topic.

Everyone loves a pop quiz right, especially on economics!   Here are eight questions.   Possible answers are :   1) strongly agree; 2) somewhat agree; 3) somewhat disagree; 4) strongly disagree; 5) are not sure.

Here are the questions:

 1) Mandatory licensing of professional services increases the prices of those services.

 2) Overall, the standard of living is higher today than it was 30 years ago.

 3) Rent control leads to housing shortages. 

 4) A company with the largest market share is a monopoly.

 5) Third World workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited.

 6) Free trade leads to unemployment.

7) Minimum wage laws raise unemployment.

8)  Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable. Read the rest of this entry »


Ideology and Economic Knowledge

Friday, June 11, 2010 \AM\.\Fri\.

Prof Daniel Klein of had a brief piece in the WSJ this week talking about how people’s economic knowledge or ignorance breaks down by ideological lines.

Zogby researcher Zeljka Buturovic and I considered the 4,835 respondents’ (all American adults) answers to eight survey questions about basic economics. We also asked the respondents about their political leanings: progressive/very liberal; liberal; moderate; conservative; very conservative; and libertarian.

Rather than focusing on whether respondents answered a question correctly, we instead looked at whether they answered incorrectly. A response was counted as incorrect only if it was flatly unenlightened.

Consider one of the economic propositions in the December 2008 poll: “Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable.” People were asked if they: 1) strongly agree; 2) somewhat agree; 3) somewhat disagree; 4) strongly disagree; 5) are not sure.

Basic economics acknowledges that whatever redeeming features a restriction may have, it increases the cost of production and exchange, making goods and services less affordable. There may be exceptions to the general case, but they would be atypical.

Therefore, we counted as incorrect responses of “somewhat disagree” and “strongly disagree.” This treatment gives leeway for those who think the question is ambiguous or half right and half wrong. They would likely answer “not sure,” which we do not count as incorrect.

In this case, percentage of conservatives answering incorrectly was 22.3%, very conservatives 17.6% and libertarians 15.7%. But the percentage of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly was 67.6% and liberals 60.1%. The pattern was not an anomaly.
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But Why Does Obama Hate Donkeys?

Friday, June 11, 2010 \AM\.\Fri\.

Obama as a President is a flat failure.  As an unintentional comedian he is the finest in our history!


In Defense of American Exceptionalism

Friday, June 11, 2010 \AM\.\Fri\.

“Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just — a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.”         Abraham Lincoln, December 1, 1862

As a liberal democracy, is the United States different in any appreciable way from other liberal democracies in the western tradition, and if so, does the thought of its founders explain this?

 That is the question posed yesterday by commenter and Vox Nova blogger Morning’s Minion.   Commenter Art Deco took up the challenge:

I do not think you are going to find a nexus of social phenomena that is explained by a single cause. To the extent that intellectual genealogies influence people’s conceptions of what their interests and ideals are, the thought of that corps of politicians is important. To the extent that the social evolution of the United States has been shaped by political institutions which were informed by the thought of these men, their thought is important.

Any society has its signature elements. I am not sure why it escapes you what ours are, in the political realm and outside it. We can defer for a moment the more interesting discussion of the country’s social history and historical geography and just look at aspects of the latter-day political order, as you insist.

1. The political parties have tended to manifest conflict between subcultures rather than between social strata.

2. The political parties are haphazard and decentralized in comparison with their European counterparts (France excepted).

3. Formal political institutions are likewise, with many accumulated barnacles.

4. We maintain a common law system, which is not indebted to the Code Napoleon.

5. Our constitution antedates all but a few in Europe by a century and the forms delineated therein derive from institutions of colonial government more than 150 older than that; there has been intramural political violence in the United States but also absolute continuity of local institutions for more than 400 years and continuity of continental institutions for in excess of 200 years.

6. Because our institutions are comparatively antique and because they were delineated by a single statute, aspects of political practice in Britain were retained here while being abandoned there and elsewhere. Notable is the absence of parliamentary government, something quite unusual among the fifty or so most durable constitutional systems. (I believe the United States and Costa Rica are the only examples).

7. Both in politics and society, trade and industrial unions are much weaker here, comprehending just 9% of the private sector workforce. Unions in America are now lobbies for the interests of public employees.

8. The multiplication of the functions of the state and corporatist institutions and practices have been much more restrained here. Public enterprise has tended to be limited to natural monopolies owned and operated by provincial and local governments; the federal government operates a postal service, some hydroelectric stations, and maintains a large inventory of land, but that is it.

9. The political intelligence and moral sentiments of our elected officials (not our judges) remain more resonant with that of the general public than is the case elsewhere. I think it was Oriana Fallaci who once complained that if you ask a British legislator what the intellectual influences on him were, he might offer Marx or Burke; his American counterpart would name his own father. There is a reason we have capital punishment in this country and they do not in Canada, and that reason is not differences in public sentiment.

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