Friday, February 3, 2012

'Fairness' and politics

A quote from Robert Anton Wilson (from the Illuminati Papers): "Politics consists of demands, disguised or rationalized by dubious philosophy (ideologies). The disguise is an absurdity and should be removed."

Those political demands, I would argue, usually are made using claims for "fairness."

Here's another quote from his article about Aleister Crowley, which you can read under the "Feature Articles and Interviews" section of this page "If you recognize that your latest problem is totally without 'moral' significance -- for instance, you have a disease which you can't, by the wildest stretch of the imagination, blame on anybody -- then it's just a question of coping with the situation as best you can. When you finally realize that people are on the same natural evolutionary continuum with bacteria and wild animals, then you can begin to deal with hostile humans the same way you deal with infections or four-legged predators -- rationally, without claiming you're 'right' or they're 'wrong.' This discourages cruel fanaticism, and encourages sane horse-trading."

I mention these two quotes because we are in the middle of the political season (i.e., the "ideology" season) and there going to be a lot of discussion about "fairness."

One of my favorite bloggers, Will Wilkinson has just written a piece on fairness and it's one of his best. Wilkinson doesn't quite agree with Scott Adams' acid observation that fairness is "a concept invented so dumb people could participate in arguments." Wilkinson says, "I would conclude not that judgments of fairness are purely subjective, but that the rhetoric of fairness is used so opportunistically that we would be wise to look upon arguments from fairness with a jaundiced eye."

Except: "Suppose I'm a surgeon pulling down six figures. Perhaps doing my fair share is to pay 33% of my income in taxes. But, hey, wait! My sister, who could have been a surgeon, chose instead to make pottery in a little hippie arts colony. She makes only as much as she needs to get by, works relatively short hours, smokes a lot of weed with her artist friends, and pays no federal income tax at all! If paying 33% of the money I make saving lives is doing my fair share, then it's hard to see how my sister—who could have been a surgeon, or some kind of job- and/or welfare-creating entrepreneur—is doing hers. But if she is doing hers, just playing with clay out there in the woods, benefiting next to no one, paying no taxes, then clearly I'm doing way more than my fair share. Which seems, you know, unfair.

"Are you doing your fair share? How would one know? Actually, I just made myself feel slightly guilty for not going to med school and joining Médecins Sans Frontières. But unless government can come up with a way of taxing the leisure of people who aren't doing as much as they might for kith and country, I reckon I'll just stick to part-time pro blogging and let all you 9-to-5 suckers finance the necessary road-building and foreigner-bombing."


Thom Foolery said...

Thoughts off the top of my head...

1. Not too many would argue that a surgeon's salary is unfair compared to his hippie artist sister's income. Compare the salaries of the loan officers and bank executives whose fraudulent activities nearly collapsed the global economy with those of their secretaries and janitors (or of surgeons, for that matter) and the "fairness" of those arrangements becomes a little harder to rationalize.

2. It is a fallacy to say that simply because a person pays a lower percentage and/or amount of income taxes that they pay "no taxes." Nearly every activity in our society is taxed, and those who don't pay much in income tax get hit with regressive taxes every time they buy a book, stay in a motel, fill the gas tank, etc.

3. I wonder how we judge what is "beneficial to others" in a social order in which activities that actively destroy the planetary life support systems reap huge monetary and social rewards while activities that generate beauty (art, music, theatre, dance), meaning (philosophy, religion), new human beings (parenting) receive little or no compensation. I wonder when (if?) we will discover that our systems of valuation are ass-backwards in many ways.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Hi Thom,

1. It doesn't really invalidate the point you're trying to make, but do any economists believe that ALL of the blame for the recession can be attached to bad behavior by bankers?

2. This is a fallacy often committed by Republicans who complain about low income people not paying income taxes. Of course, they pay withholding taxes and all of the other taxes you mention. I think it's pretty clear, though, that Will was talking about federal income taxes.

3. Kind of hard to comment on this without knowing which active destroyers you are referring to.