Ethos of Family vs. Economy

Cohen can babble all he wants about how one ought to treat fellow citizens in a communist society like relatives. (225)

But none of the problems plaguing socialist egalitarianism afflict the family.

The incentive problem is overcome, because the husband and wife love each other with intense, personal, and intelligent charity-love. Their wills are intertwined: such love is marked, as St. Thomas teaches, by union, mutual indwelling (of souls), ecstasy, and zeal (in acting for the sake of the beloved). Each spouse considers, nay, feels the welfare of the other to be as important as their own. They have no general duty to sacrifice for each other, because they are to a great extent one heart not just one flesh.

The computation problem is overcome, because a typical household economy is technologically exceedingly simple.

I will even grant to him that if one could treat citizens like relatives, then it would have to be done. Imagine a society of paradise, a communion of saints in which “there is no loss of individuality, yet such an interdependence that the saints are ‘members one of another,’ not only sharing the same blessings and exchanging good offices and prayers, but also partaking of the same corporate life…” Imagine further that the omniscient Jesus is the chief central planner for whom the computation problem is not an obstacle. Then, if there is any sort of production going on in paradise, it could well be perfectly efficient socialism.

(It’s a rather grotesque example, though, and I don’t actually think that’s how the heaven / paradise system works.)

Cohen may regret that earth is not heaven; he may even insist that “justice” calls for earth to be heaven; but as he himself fully realizes, reality and facts of life can make justice unattainable.

Rescuing: Conclusion

I leave Cohen with the following thought. I have suggested that man is a capitalist by naturally being in control of his human capital — inborn talents, nurseries of virtue, and suchlike; and an entrepreneur who by himself directs his management of that capital.

Capital, including human capital, does not beget profit; capital, left to itself, decays and begets only loss; the greater the amount of capital, the greater the loss. Again, the greater the human potential unrealized or even perverted toward evil, the greater the loss and shame.

I have likened one’s developing his talents to capital gains and the happiness from converting the use of that capital through labor into pleasure to dividends.

Now justification implies some sort of merit for which a reward is due. Can one merit a proportionally greater reward for shepherding his relatively greater talents toward a successful career? The greater the initial endowments, the higher the potential for both joy and sorrow; both the higher and the lower one can go. Thomas Morris even asserts that “the smarter you are, the more you can suffer.” (Philosophy for Dummies, 342)

The human capital one finds himself with is morally arbitrary, but non-arbitrary merit is obtained for entrepreneurial victory over adversity in which this capital plays a role.

The reward is not anything external: success and the happiness achieved are their own rewards. And yet they are justly one’s own, and it would unjust for “society” to take or tax them away.

Rawls and Cohen Revisited

Reading Huemer reminded me of my notes on Rawls and Cohen. Again, if I were behind the veil of ignorance, thinking about what sort of society I’d want to live in, it would occur to me that since I can’t influence who I personally will be incarnated as (as rich or poor, healthy or sick, smart or dumb), I would focus on making the overall society as efficient as possible. This means in particular not its “total happiness” at any given moment, but the speed (and acceleration, etc.) at which this total happiness increases with time.

But that society is precisely libertarian laissez-faire capitalism.

Rawls seems to think differently. He’d rather live in a society where the “morally arbitrary” distinctions between persons, such as the quality of their families or IQs are erased. In practice, that would mean that the accidentally better-off shall toil thanklessly for the benefit of the worse-off. Rawls concedes that there can be “incentives” for the more talented so as to elicit the appropriate effort from them which would regretfully cause society to deviate from perfect equality. Cohen asks why, if justice is our ideal, any incentives are necessary. People should work as hard as they can only to give up the fruits of their labors to the poor out of a sense of moral duty. Perhaps we can even have full-featured capitalism, as long as all consumer goods are distributed equally.

In response, I argue that people act for ends. They perceive future pleasures; choose between them; choose between various means to attain these ends, and act with a hope of bettering their lot. “Moral duty” is not in the equation at all. One is never content with merely following the moral law, for a stone or any other inanimate object, too, is perfectly righteous in this sense. One follows the law for the sake of physical or spiritual survival. But he seeks happiness by working to satisfy his various desires and succeed in his pursuits.

In that case, a man must be ruthlessly brainwashed from childhood in order to forget his own ends and work like an automaton only to have his product confiscated. But what if he wakes up from this nightmare and thinks for himself? That’s presumably where the “incentives” would come in. What if he, responding to the tax laws, refuses to work? Then he must be enslaved and forced to work under threat of the whip. And what if he tries to run away to free himself? Then he must be killed, lest other slaves mutiny, as well.

We can see that Cohen is a murderer of both mind and body. Hs soul is his own business. But murdering talented people does not benefit the worse off, as Rawls himself acknowledges. Nor does enslaving them, since slave labor is extremely unproductive. Nor, in the final analysis, does treating them as tax-serfs. Up we go in this manner until we reach libertarian unhampered free enterprise system as the pinnacle of human social evolution.

This, I think, is what really follows from Rawls’ “original position.”