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Monday, May 4, 2009

Klein on the Theory of Moral Sentiments-Econtalk

So over at Econtalk they are doing a book reading of Adam Smith's "Theory of Moral Sentiment." And they touched on a couple of related subjects that I didn't buy/understand/agree. Ok. So naturally, social welfare came up. In the context of moral sentiment, and I am not talking about Smith's theory, because I wouldn't say that I know enough about it to comment one way or the other, but the idea came up that social welfare programs destory the morality of giving. Meaning, when you have no choice to give, when a certain portion of your income is given to the needy, it destroys the morality of the people who are giving. It breeds anger and resentment, and divorces the giver from the givee. It is an interesting point, and I agree with the last statement in full. However, I think that Smith, and the folk at Econtalk are missing an important point. Who gives a crap about the morality of giving. You want people to care, but is it really necessary? I mean a Kantian perspective would certainly indicate just the opposite. In fact, by one reading, you could say that social welfare is a Kantian device. Granted there's no choice in the matter, but those who give who do not want to are indeed making the MOST moral choice. As opposed to those who want to give, and receive a feeling of well-being and happiness from the giving--indeed a selfish feeling no matter the sacrifice. The fact is, needy people are in need of help--not morality. And even the guys at Econtalk were forced to concede that there was no way social welfare would be able to drum up anywhere near the amount that it has were they forced to rely on donations.

I also think that they lumped social security into that category, which is just plain wrong. FDR established Social Security as a personal retirement program for the entire country. When you're on it, you're getting your own money back. There is no charity there, no morality. Just smart planning. The economist would say that people like me should suffer for my lack of ability to plan my own retirement, and that programs like SS make people less likely to plan for their retirement. I think that this is unsupported by any data. The day to dayers, the people who are in the lowest brackets would never be able to make a retirement plan. But I think the majority of people are concerned, and do indeed work towards one. Another interesting point for me is this idea of disassociation from your neighbor. Though I think that this has happened, to blame this on social welfare programs is, I think, a bit unjustified. Disassociation from your neighbor is, I think directly related to the dissolution of the family. Nuclear families living in two-three bedroom homes.

My final issue was a statement that suggested that government wealth redistribution plans were a form of tyranny. Even though I think I can appreciate the sentiment, I find it to be somewhat ludicrous. The scales of wealth in this country have far tilted to the right. Even now in Obamaland. That needs to be realigned. Seriously, it is in EVERYONE's best interest. You saw the mob fury of the fall and winter of 2008. Better to legislate than burn. So you can't take anyone's money, but you can readjust the tax code, you can enable small business owners, you can get education out the people who are trying to make the jump between classes.

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