February 18, 2013

"I don’t endorse the argument of the philosopher John Rawls that no one is entitled to a high income because..."

"... even characteristics that we think internal rather than external to a person, like IQ and leadership skills and athletic skills and energy and good health, are ultimately the product of luck. Therefore, Rawls argued, no one should be allowed to keep more of his earnings than necessary to 'incentivize' him to exert himself in a way that will maximize the social product."

So says Richard Posner. His objection is:
That treats people like the cells of an animal’s body, or the ants in an ant heap. Rather my point is that, to the extent reducing income inequality increases overall social welfare, there is a case for programs, financed by the well to do, that increase overall welfare by more than the cost of the programs. There is no reason to think that the cost would impose a crushing burden on the well to do, a result that would be objectionable quite apart from the costs in diminished incentives, and related costs such as tax avoidance and emigration.
Chew on that. I was distracted by "ant heap." Who says "ant heap" rather than "ant hill"?  I'm more the literary type than the economic. But speaking of departmentalization of each of us having our various skills and predilections, whether inborn or cultivated, my searching for the answer to my heap/hill question brought me quickly to this Robert Frost poem, "Departmental":

An ant on the tablecloth
Ran into a dormant moth
Of many times his size.
He showed not the least surprise.
His business wasn't with such.
He gave it scarcely a touch,
And was off on his duty run.
Yet if he encountered one
Of the hive's enquiry squad
Whose work is to find out God
And the nature of time and space,
He would put him onto the case.
Ants are a curious race;
One crossing with hurried tread
The body of one of their dead
Isn't given a moment's arrest-
Seems not even impressed.
But he no doubt reports to any
With whom he crosses antennae,
And they no doubt report
To the higher-up at court.
Then word goes forth in Formic:
"Death's come to Jerry McCormic,
Our selfless forager Jerry.
Will the special Janizary
Whose office it is to bury
The dead of the commissary
Go bring him home to his people.
Lay him in state on a sepal.
Wrap him for shroud in a petal.
Embalm him with ichor of nettle.
This is the word of your Queen."
And presently on the scene
Appears a solemn mortician;
And taking formal position,
With feelers calmly atwiddle,
Seizes the dead by the middle,
And heaving him high in air,
Carries him out of there.
No one stands round to stare.
It is nobody else's affair
It couldn't be called ungentle
But how thoroughly departmental
Put that in your Rawlsian/Posnerian analysis.

95 comments:

cubanbob said...

Rawls. Communist. Waste of time.

edutcher said...

You earn it, it's yours.

I begrudge no one who makes their money honestly and fairly whatever they make.

The ant heap didn't make the money; maybe the people in that company helped, but they get compensated, too.

You built that; the ant heap didn't.

Sam L. said...

I like this: "There is no reason to think that the cost would impose a crushing burden on the well to do, a result that would be objectionable quite apart from the costs in diminished incentives, and related costs such as tax avoidance and emigration."

Yup. No reason at all. Wouldn't happen. Nobody in government would do a thing like that. No way. Never gonna happen.

(That was a good'un! Tell me another, Judge Posner!)

Schorsch said...

There is a book called "The Ant Heap" by Vincent Dethier that falls under the category of "insect politics, allegorical." Dethier's better book is "To Know a Fly." He talks about his entomological research on the appetite of flies with verve and good prose. Each chapter is introduced by a few lines from "archy and mehitabel," the ne plus ultra of insect poetry.

Schorsch said...

There is a book called "The Ant Heap" by Vincent Dethier that falls under the category of "insect politics, allegorical." Dethier's better book is "To Know a Fly." He talks about his entomological research on the appetite of flies with verve and good prose. Each chapter is introduced by a few lines from "archy and mehitabel," the ne plus ultra of insect poetry.

Freeman Hunt said...

I remember arguing the same thing Rawls argues here to my mother in college. I thought myself so liberal and freedom-loving, and I remember my mother saying, "Isn't it strange how the liberal position is so often about controlling people when they act like they're all about letting people do what they want.". I was incensed! "Buh, buh, buh..."

Synova said...

The thing is that it takes very little at all to incentivize the "lucky" to contribute less than their top effort to the general good.

It also takes very little in incentivize the "lucky" to put their efforts, time and talents into making their money by finding ways to pay fewer taxes rather than putting similar effort into finding ways to increase their personal production.

Freeman Hunt said...

I shouldn't write "Rawls argues here," as it's Rawl's argument as described by Posner.

Chip S. said...

I find that Lou Rawls offers more insight than John Rawls on the subject of improving the lot of the less well-off:

I ain't gonna come back to this dead-end street no more
No
'Cause I'm gonna get me a job

I'm gonna save my dough
Get away from here
I ain't gonna come back no more
I'm tired of a dead-end street
I want to get out in the world and learn something
Tired of breakin' my back
I want to start usin' my mind


Dead End Street

Synova said...

And then there was that guy who spoke so disrespectfully at the prayer breakfast who said something like... because it hurts the poor person worse to pay $1 in taxes, doesn't mean that fairness means that we have to purposely hurt the guy that just paid $1B in taxes. He just paid $1B in taxes!

Skyler said...

Posner talking about economics is like getting advice about nuclear physics from Chris Rock. If he is the best defender against Rawls then we are doomed.

Shouting Thomas said...

The great, routinely forgotten, lesson of the 20th century:

It's easy to imagine ideal solutions to human dilemmas. These solutions must be implemented by self-interested, corrupt humans. Strange, unforseen things happen in the transition from idealization to the implementation.

Every generation seems condemned to learn this all over again, as if the past never happened.

chuck said...

no one should be allowed to keep more of his earnings than necessary

And someone will need to decide what is necessary, and to avoid argument they will need enforcement, and the hierarchical power structure that results will inevitably be corrupted, the children of the privileged will enjoy unfair advantage. And of course the privileged will have more than they need, not because it is just, but because they can. That is the nature of the beast. The founders understood these tendencies and sought to ameliorate them. Modern philosophers, I think, envision themselves in the role of tyrant, well meaning of course, but endowed with superior minds and morality. And there, right at the beginning, is where they fail, already corrupted by their vision.

Chip S. said...

Posner talking about economics is like getting advice about nuclear physics from Chris Rock.

Chris Rock has published a famous tome called The Physics of Comedy?

Larry J said...

I saw an Obama bumper sticker yesterday that read (as near I can recall) in small print: "Because everyone deserves a share of what you worked hard to achieve."

Now, if that was meant to be a joke describing a socialist's point of view, it was a good one. On the other hand, if it was serious, then fuck you, fuck you hard and without remorse.

Seeing Red said...

Even Fauxahontas refuses to define the middle class, who are the well-to-do?

wholelottasplainin' said...

I am Derek Jeter.

I read Rawls' argument that, no matter my talents, I shouldn't be rewarded a high income.

I decide a la Groundskeeper Willie, "Wot's za YUUUUUSE!!!?", and turn over in bed to go back to sleep.

The Yankees lose the pennant. For that matter, there IS no such team, or "major league baseball" for that matter. Everyone's hanging out at the beach.

Thanks a pantload, Rawls.

Methadras said...

The premise is false because under the current free market system we have now, there is something in the strain of economics known as Market Value. And that market value applies to everything.

The communist/collectivist nonsense that Rawls ascribes to washes out even the parameter of luck to distill it down to work done rather than the being doing the work. In effect communism/collectivism is evil simply due to that trait alone because you are nothing more than a slave to the state that simply produces work based on the need they want you to fulfill regardless of humanity. And it is a fallacious ideology as well, in that everyone serves a purpose, but the reality being that a chosen few, against even the tenants of that ideology become you centralized planning masters who reap the benefits of what you have all collectively sown while doling out what they think you deserve for that work applied. Pure, unadulterated evil without repentance.

LilyBart said...
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30yearProf said...

Unfortunately, I have a high enough IQ that I am not "incentivised" by amounts below $150,000 nor by a benefits package worth less than $50,000.

And it ain't luck.

LilyBart said...

to the extent reducing income inequality increases overall social welfare, there is a case for programs, financed by the well to do, that increase overall welfare by more than the cost of the programs.

For the record, I don't want to see anyone starve in the streets or feeze in the winter. And I've given a lot of money in charity to help the poor.

But I do NOT believe in confiscating people's hard earned money to 'reduce income inequality'. What evidence do you have that 'reducing income inequality' actually increases social welfare? There is pleanty of evidence it increases the size and scope of governement and increases the politican's personal 'welfare'.

Synova said...

"...that increase overall welfare by more than the cost of the programs."

Perhaps like the Obama bumper sticker this caveat was both sly and purposeful and we're just slow nobs.

After all... what program is there, other than investment in the private sector, that increases the overall welfare MORE than the cost of the program?

LilyBart said...

Rawls argued, no one should be allowed to keep more of his earnings than necessary to 'incentivize' him to exert himself in a way that will maximize the social product

This is such a failure of an ideology, and leads to misery.

Chip S. said...

After all... what program is there, other than investment in the private sector, that increases the overall welfare MORE than the cost of the program?

In 1797 the U.S. government approved the expenditure of $44,000 in federal funds for the construction of the Cape Hatteras Light.

Presumably they thought this project was worth more than its cost. And Karl Marx hadn't even been born yet.

Scott M said...

To build an economic system around "nobody should make more than they require to incentivize them" requires flying directly into the face of human nature. It requires a fair, incorruptible arbitrator that can make the decisions, at an individual level, on what individual compensation should be.

No, scratch that. You would need thousands, if not tens of thousands of such fair, incorruptible arbitrators. Either that or an honest-to-goodness, on-the-news-every-night, resident-deity. And, frankly, if you had that, you wouldn't need an economic system.

bagoh20 said...
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Michael K said...

I just read Conrad Black's book, A Matter of Principle and have no time to even think about Posner. He is an ant heap of a man. Black demolishes him, in my opinion.

To me, "Heap" brings the thought of computer memory.

bagoh20 said...

I agree that at the core it's all luck, but while that may give one a moral reason for splitting it evenly, the prescription fails even it's own objective by simply not working.

This is shown by an endless list of failed experiments with the idea.

Even without the empirical evidence, logic alone should tell you that if you have an entity that is superior at taking wealth and increasing it though application of it's abilities, then taking wealth away from that entity will result in less wealth being created.

Then the question becomes what is the best way to distribute the resources produced? Even if the natural abilities are derived via luck, they still need the opportunity to be realized and most importantly challenged so as to assure the best ones are not crowded out and robbed of opportunity by the the less lucky. To do this with the maximum number of simultaneous experiments and to do it fairly, requires freedom, and a free market. A challenging, but fair and competitive testing ground. Any falsely imposed aids or cruches that handicap the the best, weakens the level of play of the champions, and the overall performance of the the society as a whole.

As always it's the choice between equality at a very low level, or unequal excellence. But, equality is never really possible, so the price is paid with no hope of achieving the goal.

Lem said...

The ant hill/ant heap reminded me of The Fool on the Hill.

But nobody wants to know him,
They can see that he's just a fool,
And he never gives an answer,
But the fool on the hill...

bagoh20 said...

Imagine if you were to do this with a sports team. To insist that the guy who always scores the most points give the ball to other players on his team until they catch up to his performance.

Meanwhile the other team kicks your ass, and there is always another team. In real life, sometimes the other team is mother nature. She don't even play fair.

Chip S. said...

To build an economic system around "nobody should make more than they require to incentivize them" requires flying directly into the face of human nature.

And yet this is precisely what competitive labor markets do, at the margin.

I think the simplest critique of Rawls is that once the importance of incentives is recognized the Difference Principle loses most of its force, and it becomes hard to see a real distinction b/w Rawls and Reagan.

LilyBart said...
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Lem said...

I agree that at the core it's all luck...

That's like a permission slip I used to have to get my parents to sign before a field trip.

Synova said...

Ah, Chip. I meant to speak "programs" in terms of income redistribution, not the building of roads or training of armies... which have no real necessity to function as wealth multipliers with a greater return than cost... like rural electrification. Maybe it should be done with tax dollars but in truth there is not a return in excess of the cost.

bagoh20 said...
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ricpic said...

Spirit killers. That's what commie thugs are. The trick is to become safe as Althouse. Then it's all "amusing."

bagoh20 said...

I think it's pretty hard to argue against the idea that it's luck. You have no choice over either the nature or nurture you are born into. By the time you do have the ability to choose your environment, you are well on your way, and even your personality that gives you the desire and ability to change is already predetermined by who and where you were born.

bagoh20 said...

For example, there is no way I can do anything about my inability to type even the simplest sentence without typos, I can try, I can try real hard, but in the end it will come out in errer.

McTriumph said...

I prefer "ant farm", it somehow more representative of the re-education camps needed to implement Rawl's philosophy.

LilyBart said...

Spirit killers. That's what commie thugs are


Yep. They *promise* hope - then they kill it.

The Godfather said...

"Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, 'Did God say that you shall not eat of the tree that is in the middle of the garden?' The woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but not of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, or touch it, or we shall die.' But the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing how much a person must be allowed to keep out of what he or she produces to incentivize him to exert himself in a way that will maximize the social product.'

"And the woman said, 'I may have been born yesterday, but I'm not stupid enough to fall for that line.' And, lo, she struck the serpent a mighty blow with a great stick. And the serpent was laid low."

Scott M said...

And yet this is precisely what competitive labor markets do, at the margin.

Not really. An perspective employer has no idea what it will take to incentivize you. You do. You walk in, they want you, and you start negotiating.

Without integral knowledge of what it would take to incentivize you, that employer has no idea what to offer you. They only know how much they value the given position.

Plus...you're free to quit at any time and go do the exact same job for another employer that may offer a better deal.

I don't see a system such as that which Rawls describing allowing you that much freedom.

Shouting Thomas said...

@The Godfather!

I call foul! We are not allowed to learn anything from the traditional wisdom of our ancestors. They were just stupid and superstitious!

Do you hear me!

There is nothing to learn! The AIDS epidemic came out of nowhere. There is nothing in the Bible that could possibly have suggested that something like that would occur.

Shame on you!

Rusty said...

Aw jeeze. Save us from overeducated twits.

elkh1 said...

"no one should be allowed to keep more of his earnings than necessary to 'incentivize' him to exert himself in a way that will maximize the social product."

Who is to "allow"? Our presidebnt who is like a father to some of his supporters?

Who decides how much is necessary to "incentivize" someone to exert himself? A Death Panel type commission of the politically connected?

What is "exert himself"? Get up in the morning is exerting to some.

Who is to decide what "social product" to maximize? Another Death Panel type commission or the president, some nitwit's father figure?

Who the hell is this Rawls guy?

Chip S. said...

Not really. An perspective employer has no idea what it will take to incentivize you. You do. You walk in, they want you, and you start negotiating.

Just what do you think the negotiating is about?

Scott M said...

Just what do you think the negotiating is about?

If you are a skilled negotiator, you can get far more than what you would actually accept to do the work. I would freely admit that I'm way, way overpaid for the work I actually do and would probably accept 10-15k less to do the same thing. I am, on the other hand, a skilled negotiator because that's what I do every single day.

Plus...I'm a joy to work with and for.

Aaron said...

There is also the matter of what you are NOT getting when you reduce the incentive to the lowest possible. You are NOT getting a super rich person who spends money on a pet project. (By definition, they will not have that "excess money" to waste.)

Thus, no Gates foundation, no Elon Musk taking money from PayPal into Tesla and space exploration.

Nope. In a Rawlsian system, some benevolent bureaucrat would have liberated that excess cash and Elon Musk would be a mere millionaire with a mansion in the Bay area.

Revenant said...

The odds of being born in the richest 1% of Americans are around 1 in 2400. The odds of being born YOU, i.e. a person with your exact genes, are astronomical -- winning every lottery on Earth simultaneously is likely in comparison.

So if things acquired by luck aren't rightfully yours, what does that tell us about your right to life, or your right to your own body?

Chip S. said...

If you are a skilled negotiator, you can get far more than what you would actually accept to do the work.

OK, now I see. It's the qualifier "at the margin" that you didn't understand in my earlier comment.

Yes, of course people get paid more in total for what they do than the minimum necessary to induce them to do the job as specified. But unless the increment to their compensation is exactly the minimum necessary to induce them to agree to the least agreeable part of their jobs, neither they nor their employer is doing as well as can be done.

kentuckyliz said...

I heart Godfather's adaptation of Genesis.

I think we should have an open bidding system on the jobs of the elites. Publish their job descriptions with qualifications, and what the current occupant's compensation package. Put it on eBay--employeeBay. Let other qualified candidates bid on the job. I will do that job for $x less than the current occupant. You're hired!

Then the current occupant can decide if the competitive bid they have to match is incentivizing enough.

Turn their proposals against the mofos. No more padlocked ivory towers.

I think the rest of the world should adopt this "your pay is enough" scheme, and America should be a land of opportunity and attract the cream of the crop talent from all over the world.


Shouting Thomas said...

The odds of being born in the richest 1% of Americans are around 1 in 2400. The odds of being born YOU, i.e. a person with your exact genes, are astronomical -- winning every lottery on Earth simultaneously is likely in comparison.

OK. But, my oldest sister was born in a shotgun shack in the middle of the cornfields in Illinois, just like me.

She and her husband earned a fortune in the tens of millions of dollars and live the life of royalty in Hawaii.

Chip S. said...

So if things acquired by luck aren't rightfully yours, what does that tell us about your right to life, or your right to your own body?

Cf. Rawls's 1st principle of justice.

Maguro said...

"no one should be allowed to keep more of his earnings than necessary to 'incentivize' him to exert himself in a way that will maximize the social product."

Who is to "allow"? Our presidebnt who is like a father to some of his supporters?

Who decides how much is necessary to "incentivize" someone to exert himself? A Death Panel type commission of the politically connected?

What is "exert himself"? Get up in the morning is exerting to some.

Who is to decide what "social product" to maximize? Another Death Panel type commission or the president, some nitwit's father figure?

Who the hell is this Rawls guy?


Yes, very well put. In all these grand utopian schemes that philosophers devise for the benefit of humanity, the real question is always "Who decides"? That's what it's all about. Who decides?

Methadras said...

LilyBart said...

Spirit killers. That's what commie thugs are


Yep. They *promise* hope - then they kill it.


After you've accepted it. Just to show you they can.

Chip S. said...

@Scott M--I'll grant your point in some cases, such as Major League Baseball.

Incentive-based contracts are largely prohibited in MLB as far as things like batting average are concerned. Minimum innings conditions are problematic b/c they're jointly determined by players and management.

So I agree that Derek Jeter (and most other major leaguers) are being paid more than the minimum necessary to get them to play baseball instead of doing something else. However, they are paid only a little bit more than the amount necessary to get them to play for the particular team that employs them.

Revenant said...

Cf. Rawls's 1st principle of justice.

Unhelpful.

Chip S. said...

Well, at least you tried.

Revenant said...

Rawls deals with the problem by simply declaring it doesn't exist: that people have a right to live, even though his reasoning indicates that they should not.

Thus, his theory of justice isn't helpful for dealing with the problem I mentioned.

Crimso said...

To paraphrase Napoleon: "Great people are great not because they are lucky; but, rather, being great, they have learned how to master luck."

One would think a great philosopher would understand that, but I guess Rawls must have considered himself to have simply been lucky.

Paul said...

So Rawls is a "each according to his ability, each according to his need" kind of guy, right? But who decides who's needs or who's abilities, Rawls?


And that is just one flaw, one speck of a flaw, in communism.

Communism is a perfect system designed to be ran by perfect people. Capitalism is a imperfect system designed to be ran with imperfect people. Guess which one works and which does not?

Chip S. said...

his reasoning indicates that they should not.

Wrong.

Your interpretation of his reasoning indicates that.

Paul said...

And Rawls, like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, would do anything to get his perfect society, even a Gulag and mass executions, all in the name of equality.

The hint was calling society a ant heap. He views people as ants, insects.

To him, soylent green should be people.

Chip S. said...

Guess which one works and which does not?

Guess which one Rawls was writing about.

Posner as quoted by Althouse was criticizing Rawls on a fairly narrow--maybe even technical--point. And I agree w/ Posner's disagreement w/ Rawls about maximizing tax revenue (not rates) on the top income class.

But most of the comments in this thread have almost nothing to do w/ Rawls' theory.

Chip S. said...

Paul said...
And Rawls, like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, would do anything to get his perfect society, even a Gulag and mass executions, all in the name of equality.

This may well be the most ignorant comment I've ever seen on this blog.

Astro said...

Posner wrote: 'Probably (in my opinion) the net effect of government is to reduce income inequality...'
I don't share his opinion. I look at the 'Wall Street Bailouts' and see that in one fell swoop the government substantially increased income inequality. That kind of 'crony capitalism' goes on all the time and makes the wealthy wealthier.

Revenant said...

Wrong.

No, I'm quite obviously right. Rawl's philosophy sacrifices human lives in order to ostensibly improve the overall well-being of humanity. That's typical of collectivist philosophies, which treat individual human lives as nothing but means to an overall societal end. The closest Rawls can really come to a concept of "right to life", logically, is that humans have a right to however much life can be provided to all humans, and anything more than that isn't rightfully theirs.

And on a side note -- you need to stop saying "at the margin" until you learn what it means. Salaries *average* to what it takes to motivate people. At the margins, they differ wildly from what it takes to motivate someone.

Eric said...

It also takes very little in incentivize the "lucky" to put their efforts, time and talents into making their money by finding ways to pay fewer taxes rather than putting similar effort into finding ways to increase their personal production.

How true. That's the story of the 90% tax bracket days over which lefties have recently been waxing nostalgic. Wealthy people didn't pay any more in taxes than they do today; they just spent more time figuring out how to avoid taxes.

Eric said...

What people like Rawls want is to get you arguing over what policies the government should use to address economic inequality and completely skip over the question of whether a government has any business trying to address economic equality.

Smilin' Jack said...

That treats people like the cells of an animal’s body, or the ants in an ant heap. Rather my point is that, to the extent reducing income inequality increases overall social welfare, there is a case for programs, financed by the well to do, that increase overall welfare by more than the cost of the programs.


That treats people like the cells of an animal’s body, or the ants in an ant heap.

I've found that the best way to deal with arguments like this is to extend them. Posner doesn't realize that, by global standards, he is the "the well to do." Everything he makes above the global average income (about $300/year) should be confiscated and donated to Bangla Desh, where it will do the wogs far more good than it does him. He can make no non-hypocritical argument against this.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Crimso: My son the 12 year old golfer once remarked to a local TV interviewer that "the more you practice, the luckier you are."
Smart kid.

rhhardin said...

The thing about the rich is that they don't consume much of their income.

Where does the rest go?

It goes into making stuff that people actually want, so that people are better off.

It goes into heavy equipment to do that making.

It raises the productivity of workers using the equipment so that their work is worth more and pays more.

Everybody winds up better off. The national standard of living rises.

Government programs cost more than the good they do, and lower the nation's standard of living.

That's even before disincentive effects, just counting what the wealth is directed to do.

The disincentive effect is don't build a business in the US, which is pretty heavy on its own.

rhhardin said...

There is a category of rich that consume all of their income.

Lottery winners.

Why is it that the regular rich aren't stereotyped the same way?

They act differently.

Nini said...

I am not very familiar with the philosophy of John Rawls but I agree that our IQ, and propensities are products of our karma or products of our luck. However, I do not agree with the conclusion that he reached. If luck (nature) indeed determines what we will turn out to be, then it naturally follows that there will be social stratification in society than there would be social equality. And therefore because communism is not completely in conformity with reality, it was never successfully implemented.

Of course an extremely disadvantaged section of the society is not beneficial to the society at large. Think of crime-- you might become the next victim. Or the non-intellectual type of people always getting sick--who will collect the rubbish bins or clean the roads. Therefore there is always a measure of collective contribution to get the society efficiently moving. And that is in the form of taxes.

And I agree with Posner that, “there is a case for programs, financed by the well to do, that increase overall welfare by more than the cost of the programs.” He also says “there is no reason to think that the cost would impose a crushing burden on the well to do, a result that would be objectionable quite apart from the costs in diminished incentives, and related costs such as tax avoidance and emigration.”

He might be right here only in so far that the cause and effect in the Laffer curve is considered. The Laffer curve shows that humans modify their behaviour in response to positive and negative stimuli. Taxable income will change in response to changes in the taxation rate because the more educated and productive people are the more they know how to modify their behaviour for their own self-interest.

nick said...

Shorter Rawls: Luck is immoral. So replace it with politics and coercion instead.

Dante said...

I wonder where the biosphere would be if nature were fair. I doubt there would be humans. We would probably all be microbes divvying up the resources to the less fortunate.

And insofar as this guy's ideas, why not the other way around? If evolution requires being not fair, then shouldn't we be thinking how to weed out those that don't contribute to society? Sure, it isn't fair to the current crop, but it's definitely not fair to the future of Humans to let them reproduce. There will be less to go around, because the unlucky reproduce, and produce more unlucky humans.

Especially not in this age in which people who would never survive in the wild to to this or that issue of genetics. Now the future of the human race is inheriting these traits. Is that fair? I'm just extending this guys arguments beyond his myopia of "right now."

My personal hope is that the genetic code and RNA are unraveled enough that these kinds of arguments will be silly in the future. The fact is, we will get back to natural selection, one way or the other. Animals always come to some balance with their environment, one way or another.

Jeff said...

"... to the extent reducing income inequality increases overall social welfare, there is a case for programs, financed by the well to do, that increase overall welfare by more than the cost of the programs."

Posner is pulling the wool over your eyes here. He knows, as does any decently-trained economist, that you can't do these kinds of interpersonal utility comparisons. There is no "utility" function into which you can plug consumption of various goods, services and leisure and get out a number. Even if there were, how could you add them up across the populace? Does Mother Therasa's utility get the same weight as Sirhan Sirhan's? Who decides on the weights?

This link on interpersonal utility comparisons is to the New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, an online compendium of standard economics. I find it hard to believe that Posner doesn't know this stuff, so I question his motives in putting out such nonsense.

There is only one way to find out whether or not one individual values object A over object B, and that is to see if he is willing to trade an A for a B. Anything else amounts to mind reading.

Kirby Olson said...

Will that prevent envy? There is still the problem of beautiful women. Should they surgery so they look like the rest? There is still the problem of Shakespeare. Should we rewrite his lucky plays until they look like something anybody could write? I thought the left was the party of Darwin? And aren't we a social species struggling for dominance? And isn't that what the professor is doing: trying to dominate by seizing assets and redistributing them? He's not redistributing his books or signing them Anonymous. He's trying to get to the top of the barrel of monkeys. It's our nature Darwin says.

Rusty said...

Fred Drinkwater said...
Crimso: My son the 12 year old golfer once remarked to a local TV interviewer that "the more you practice, the luckier you are."
Smart kid.

A lesson Rawls and his friends have yet to learn.

Astro said...

I know this gets quoted a lot. The Instapundit probably posts it a couple times every month. But I figure it's time to quote it again here.

Robert Heinlein:
“Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded- here and there, now and then- are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.This is known as "bad luck.".”

Mitchell the Bat said...

Isn't there scientific proof now that our thoughts occur to us a millisecond or so before we know it?

Hmmmmmmm . . .

* strokes chin *

furious_a said...

And then there was that guy who spoke so disrespectfully at the prayer breakfast...

Yes, but, remember...We don't know what contribution [that guy who spoke so disrspectfully] made to the writing of the speech.

Pulled over for SFNWB ("Speaking from Notes While Black")

furious_a said...

This is known as "bad luck."

Or, as some later added, "or Sacramento".

Scott M said...

This may well be the most ignorant comment I've ever seen on this blog.

That, my friend, is a very high standard.

Scott M said...

Who decides on the weights?

Me.

I'm omnipotent. That's "potent" with an omni in front of it.

William said...

There's something in nature that doesn't like a level playing field. You can build any number of stone walls tryin to clear the debris from the field......Equality like chastity is more honored in the breach than the observance. Philosophers like Rawls would now acknowledge that the quest of the most high minded for perfect chastity was, in fact, subversive of their happiness. I wonder how long it will take high minded philosophers like Rawls to acknowledge that the quest for equality is likewise subversive of the basic instincts of humanity.

JMS said...

"Rawls argued, no one should be allowed to keep more of his earnings than necessary to 'incentivize' him to exert himself in a way that will maximize the social product."

We already to that on the margin. Now who decides which workers are enjoying surplus wages?

And who keeps the surplus, the employers?

Amartel said...

Towards a Philosophy of Theft: The Endless Search to Justify Taking Other Peoples' Stuff.

Amartel said...

One guy says no one is entitled to high income because high income all comes down to luck. The unlucky should get the same as the lucky.

The other guy demurs, slightly, because someone's got to pay for the social welfare programs.

Chew, chew, chew. Spit. Feh.

Amartel said...

The underlying premise is a complete disregard for private property. Your earnings will be divided with the state and you will keep only what the state thinks is best for the state.
What could possibly go wrong?

Crunchy Frog said...

I prefer the words of the noted philosopher, Neal Peart:

Now there's no more oak oppression
For they passed a noble law
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet, axe, and saw

Crunchy Frog said...

I prefer the words of the noted philosopher, Neal Peart:

Now there's no more oak oppression
For they passed a noble law
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet, axe, and saw

caplight45 said...

Amartel said: "What could possibly go wrong?"

How could you think anything could go wrong. Marxism and the life of the collective has been a fabulous success everywhere it has been tried.

Besides, if Leftists dream it then it must be so.

Patrick said...

For example, there is no way I can do anything about my inability to type even the simplest sentence without typos, I can try, I can try real hard, but in the end it will come out in errer.

Saw that coming a mile away.

Patrick said...

I remember arguing the same thing Rawls argues here to my mother in college. I thought myself so liberal and freedom-loving, and I remember my mother saying, "Isn't it strange how the liberal position is so often about controlling people when they act like they're all about letting people do what they want.". I was incensed! "Buh, buh, buh..."

Most people do. Some grow out of it, fortunately.