Leftists for Slavery

 Posted by on 13 April 2005 at 12:20 pm  Uncategorized
Apr 132005

Based upon Tom Palmer’s review, Cass Sunstein’s new book The Second Bill of Rights: FDR’s Unfinished Revolution and Way We Need It More than Ever is nothing more than a absurd plea for welfare rights. I find the line of argument discussed by Palmer below to be of particular interest, as it seems to be gaining currency among hard leftists frantically seeking a new rationalization for the Altruistic Leviathan. (If I recall correctly, Thomas Nagel made a similar argument in a co-authored book a few years ago.)

So what is the argument? It is that because government is necessary for the creation of wealth, individuals have no right to the wealth they create. The whole argument depends upon a total dropping of context, particularly of the obvious fact that the rational, productive activity of the individual is also necessary for the creation of wealth.

Tom Palmer’s review traces some of the absurdities of this argument:

Second, Sunstein insists that without government protection no one would enjoy anything of value, and therefore that all value must be attributed to the action of the state: “Government is ‘implicated’ in everything people own…. If rich people have a great deal of money, it is because the government furnishes a system in which they are entitled to have and keep that money.” The problem here is that Sunstein’s economic theory of value is stuck in the period of the classical economists, who tried to attribute all value to one necessary factor of production; for them, that was labor. Sunstein merely substitutes what he has decided is the one necessary factor: the state. But after the “marginal revolution” in economics (circa 1871), no serious thinker should make such a mistake. It is now recognized that we make choices across a great many margins, and that value is not created by a single necessary factor. If that were not so, we could say that farmers produce all value, since without food none of the rest of us would produce anything else; likewise, for other groups and factors of production. The theory of value on which Sunstein rests his case for the welfare state is remarkably naive and primitive.

Third, the ethical implications Sunstein draws from his theory of value do not withstand scrutiny. He says that “to believe that people have a right to their current holdings, so that any diminution of those holdings amounts to a violation of their rights… is an utterly implausible position. Those who possess a great deal do so because laws and institutions, including public institutions, make their holdings possible…. In the state of nature — freed from the protection of law and government — how well would wealthy people fare?” Let’s see what else this theory would entail: If a doctor were to save my life, then, since the doctor would be responsible for my existence, and therefore for all of the liberty and wealth that I might enjoy or create henceforth, the doctor would have the right to decide what should happen with that liberty and that wealth, since without the doctor neither I, nor the liberty, nor the wealth would exist. In short, Sunstein’s ethical theory is just silly.

Paul will be pleased to learn that his patients literally owe him their lives, not merely a fee. Of course, he might be master over those patients, but he’ll also be a slave to everyone else from his parents to the postman. So maybe he won’t be so pleased after all.

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