Money Doesn’t Need a Bill of Rights–but our Children Do

By Madronna Holden

This year’s Supreme Court decision allowing corporations unlimited campaign spending is as unconscionable as it is frightening.

Money doesn’t need a Bill of Rights.  It already has rights aplenty– rights  directly linked to US economic woes.  A recent report of the Institute for Policy Studies  indicated that the differential between salaries for the the top 50 CEOs responsible for worker layoffs in the US and those same workers are 42 per cent greater than the global average.

In other words, those with more money have the right to lay off those with little money– and to gain more in the process.

Do these folks really need to saturate the airwaves with ads about problems with the national debt, scapegoating welfare programs (responsible for one per cent of our national budget), while tax loopholes for the wealthy cost US taxpayers 20 billion dollars annually in lost revenue?

In a democracy we can’t choose without information, but the Supreme Court decision has given corporations the right to manipulate that information any way they wish.

For instance, oil-linked corporations have financed billions of dollars worth of ads undermining scientific information on climate change, such as the ad that asks, “If the climate is getting warmer, why is such is and such a city getting colder?”  In fact, the cities mentioned in these ads are not getting colder, but posing the question in this way leads the viewer to assume s/he has seen proof positive against global warming.

Congress recently tried to safeguard our right to know with the The Disclose Act— which would require that campaign ads state who paid for them.  However, this bill went down to defeat in the Senate as a result of a Republican filibuster.  In a strange twist, those who killed it claimed to be supporting the Constitution.

If money did have a conscience, the Supreme Court might have been justified in giving corporations comparable rights to human beings.  But too many believe the famous statement of Milton Freidman that the ethical responsibility of corporations is to increase their profits.

And in this goal all others  get shunted aside.  A recent article in the Annuals of Internal Medicine found that research funded by the pharmaceutical industry yields results favorable to its products eighty-five per cent of the time. That is four times the rate at which positive results are produced by independently funded research.

This tabulation reaffirms the importance of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who see getting out public information as essential to their role as scientists and Integrity in Science, who follow the money in terms of scientific research funding.

A few states do have disclosure laws for campaign ads.  This is how citizens found out that Target supported the anti-gay Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer with big bucks.

In California, oil-related industries Valero, Koch, and Flint, gave huge contributions to an initiative campaign to overthrow the state’s green energy bill.  As the Union of Concerned Scientists observed, the main focus of the ads supporting this initiative is to “muddy the waters”.   Such corporate spending sprees are off target in a democracy.  Monied interests should not have the right to protect their interests—and to do so secretly–  at the cost of the rights of our children to inherit a natural environment that sustains life.

Corporations can do the right thing when their interests are on the side of good science, as in the case of the insurance industry that has had to deal with claims resulting from increased tornadoes, flooding, hurricanes, and fire in the past few decades.  The Hartford Insurance Company’s “Statement on Climate Change” is illustrative.

In fact, as the folks at Ethical Markets and CSWire illustrate, corporations can do the right thing because they are smart enough to see that their success is linked to social justice and environmental sustainability. But we are not encouraging that trend by allowing corporations to twist the Bill of Rights to protect their profits.

In a democracy, a Bill of Rights should protect the most vulnerable rather than the most powerful.  Protecting the rights of all humans with whom we share our earth was the goal of the International Declaration of Human Rights passed by the UN in the wake of World War II, when the nations of the world saw just how far things could get out of hand if such rights were not protected.

Rather than to corporations, we need to apply such rights today to the millions of girls who are kidnapped and forced to serve in brothels.  In their book, Half the Sky, Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Pulitzer Prize winning reporters Nicholas Kristof and Sherly WuDunn report  from the field on both the horrors of ruined and lost lives for such girls—and the models some of them provide for courageous resistance.

The current UN report on violence toward women underscores the tragic fact cited in this book that it is statistically more dangerous to be born a woman than it is serve as a soldier on the front lines of battle.

These are the heroes among the most abused of women who have started schools or networks providing legal protection for other women.  Wu Dunn and Kristof not only share their stories but indicate the importance of the international community’s shining the spotlight on the situation of such women, as Amnesty International has done. Heroic as well as inspiring are women like Sunitha Krishman of India, legendary for her fight against local slavery at substantial personal danger to herself. Her work is also supported by the Ashoka foundation who support such “social entrepreneurs” worldwide.

WuDunn and Kristof also indicate ways in which others have become “social entrepreneurs” who change the world for the better in remarkable ways.  Zach Hunter, raised in Atlanta, began his activism at age twelve when he heard of human slave trafficking and instantly became a self-declared “abolitionist”. After raising money to get women out of slavery with his Loose Change to Loose Chains campaign, he published a book for potential teenage activists and fostered chapters of his anti-slavery organization throughout the US.

There are other vulnerable ones who deserve the protection of a bill of rights as well—earth’s others upon whom our ecosystems—and ultimately, our own sustenance—depends.  Takelma Siletz elder “Grandma” Aggie, chair of the International Council of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers sees her own role as a “voice for the voiceless”—speaking on behalf of those lives, human and more than human, that have relatively little power in the contemporary global society.

In the context of such generous acts, the corporate fight for their own “human rights” seems especially perverse.  Twenty years ago, Carl Meyer published an extensive article in the Hastings Law Journal detailing the ways in which corporations have garnered not only legal “personhood” but every one of the protections of the Bill of Rights for themselves through their legal maneuvers.

Our country did not set out to grant such rights to corporations. Indeed, the original framers of the Constitution were so leery of corporate power, they made corporations subject to short-term operating licenses  periodically assessed to make sure that the corporate activity was still necessary to the common good.

Our precious constitutional rights—such as the right to avoid “chemical trespass”—should belong to our children, who have a right not to be exposed to toxic chemicals so that a few can earn greater profits.  As David Korten observes in his Agenda for a New Economy, the status of our children’s well being presents an “a remarkably clear picture of society’s state of health”.  Korten also notes that Adam Smith, hailed as the “father of capitalism”, had a “substantial antipathy toward corporate monopolies and those that use their wealth and power in ways that harm others.”

It is time to assess who we should be protecting with our Bill of Rights:  the vulnerable lives that represent our social and environmental future or the corporations acting as if the only thing we need to protect is money. I know my own answer:  I have signed on to the “motion to amend” our constitution stating that corporations are not persons and should not be allotted their rights.

Money doesn’t need a bill of rights, but our children—and all the children of the world– do.

12 Responses

  1. To the contrary, the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United validated the inherent right of corporations to enjoy the same free speech rights exercised by unions such as the NEA and the AFL-CIO. In addition, to assign blame for the state of the US economy to “money” is a gross oversimplification, and one based upon a left-leaning ideology that relies upon the incitement of class warfare to achieve its ends.

    “These folks” who operate businesses, small and large, are the backbone of the US economy; it is “those folks”–the top 25% of earners–who pay 85% of the taxes that fund those “scapegoated” welfare programs. The idea that “tax loopholes for the wealthy” cost US taxpayers money in “lost revenue” is based upon the false premise that the government has an inherent right to arbitrarily seize earnings from individuals and business entities; that money earned by individuals or corporations belongs first to the government, and that the government has the legitimate right to determine how much income an individual or a corporation should earn. That premise is not a constitutional one; it is not an American one, but a statist, and indeed, a Marxist one.

    Congress did not attempt to safeguard our right to know when it proposed the DISCLOSE Act, but rather, the Democrat majority tried to put forth a biased, one-sided bit of legislation that was thrown together without transparency, without debate, and without markups or amendments, almost entirely by Democrats (sponsored by a Democrat, cosponsored by 112 Democrats and 2 Republicans) that exempted some of the most corrupt organizations in American society, unions, from DISCLOSE requirements. Is it constitutional to permit unions to exercise free speech in an election cycle, but to refuse to allow those from whom the unions extort their monies to have an equal say?

    Continually equating “money” with corporations makes for good theatre, but not good logic, and it is no basis for reasoned debate. Similarly, it is not a rational argument to posit that American corporations are somehow responsible for the heinous acts of second- and third-world societies against those that are weakest among them. It borders upon the disingenuous to promote the UN Human Rights Council as a legitimate arbiter of what is proper behavior or treatment of the women and children of the world while turning a blind eye to the fact that the world’s worst offenders sit on that body—Pakistan, where pre-pubescent girls as young as 12 are married off with impunity and where upwards of a thousand honor killings take place a year; Saudi Arabia, where in 2009 a judge (all judges in Saudi Arabia are male) ruled that it was acceptable for a husband to beat his wife if she spent too much and where women are valued at approximately ½ of the value of a man, and China, where female babies are regularly aborted, or left to die, in a society that values men much more highly.

    Finally, Congress is an American institution. The responsibility of our elected officials is to promote the continued success and security of America and Americans, not to promote a utopian global society that takes from the rich and gives to the poor. The UN is not Robin Hood, and the UN cannot and should not have any control over the United States’ legislative process.

    • I appreciate your thoughtful reply, though I disagree with some of your conclusions, Darcy.
      “Cititzens United” does apply equally to unions as well as to business corporations, as you note. I stand by the point that when we allow such groups “free speech”– including buying unlimited ads without any oversight in terms of letting the readers of those ads know who composed and sponsored them, it undermines our democratic process. One vote, one person, does not weigh in properly when groups with money (and I say this advisedly, since those with the most money are the ones who can afford the most ads) get to influence public opinion in this way. I am for limits on campaign financing for the same reason. NOT doing this makes it all too likely that those with money are able to “buy” campaigns, which undermines our democratic system. This is the same reason that corporations were so radically restricted in the early day of our Republic–and only allowed to operate on condition that they could prove substantial contribution to the public welfare.
      I don’t know where you get your stats on taxes, but I think you might want to look around a bit more critically, as these are vastly different from the stats I have seen. and consider this: do we really have a free market when nearly twenty per cent of US children go to bed hungry in the US today (according to our government’s own stats)? In a free market, we should be able to purchase what we wish–and parents would certainly buy food for their children if they were able. In fact, we will have a free market that responds to the wishes of the populace when everyone is able to enter this arena because they have the money to enter it and register their vote by what they buy-including food.
      I wonder what you think of the fact that the gap between rich and poor in this country is growing exponentially. It is also a fact that the CEOs of corporations given recent bailouts gave themselves raises while letting go of thousands of workers. We currently spend one per cent of our budget on all welfare programs– the majority of which benefit children–and homeless veterans. It is a shame that the majority of homeless in Oregon, for instance, are veterans with children coming in second.
      I am glad that you picked up the idea that MONEY has no identity of its own– that was precisely my ironic point here. Money is only good for what you do with it. There is plenty of money to go around IF earning money for its own sake were shifted to values enacted by corporations like those at CS wire linked here. The trouble is that when our system runs on competition alone, values (except for those of beating out the other guy) too easily get lost. Some of those with money ARE (as I said here) stepping up to the plate in terms of the responsibility they once held (in the days when our economy was thriving– post WWII, they paid the majority of our income tax, which is not the case now). Bill Gates Sr. is sponsoring an initiative in Washington State that would add to schools and health budgets bv raising an income tax on the wealthy. Cheers to him!
      I am not sure what you mean by “statist or Marxist” politics: I would like to speak in terms of concretes rather than labels– it is true that the majority of Western Europe now operates in terms of what they call “social democracies”- which creates more of a safety net of economic rights for its citizenry. I would love to see the US take up leadership in this regard again.
      I am not sure what you have against the UN: it is representative of a global community that should be operating in the interests of all of us. It would sadden me greatly if the US no longer upheld the values of the UN statement on human rights which was actually pioneered by the US in the post WWII era.
      Congress certainly is a US institution: I would hope that we are able to do something about the inappropriate weight of lobbyists so that ordinary citizens have their one vote properly weighted again in electing this body. My own sense is that we are all in this together and a world in which there is such wretch disparity between the rights of the rich and of the poor will never be a world in which any of us can be secure– or successful in terms of realization of human potential as well as the society we want to safeguard for our children’s inheritance.
      Thanks for your post: keep thinking for yourself and being passionate about your beliefs.

    • I do want to thank you for bringing up the point on statistics, Darcy. Here is a clarifying note I received from another source that I wanted to share with you:
      “While it is technically true that the highest earning 20% of Americans pay about 85% of the Federal income taxes received (actually, a bit less in recent years, closer to 69%), that isn’t terribly surprising as they also “earn” about 55-60% of the total income earned, and own more than 90% of the real wealth. Further, if we expand our view beyond federal income taxes, and to the total tax burden (social security, state income tax, sales taxes, etc), then the top 20% only pay about 45-50% of the total taxes overall, while still “earning” about 50-60% of the total income. And the bottom 20% percent, who earn less than 5% of the total income, pay between 5-10% of the total taxes. So however you cut it, your general point that the rich are not paying their “fair share” is surely correct, all the more so when we think about what the rich gain (lots and lots!) by having a functioning society..”
      And here is something else to ponder. In 1960, when our economy was thriving, the average gap between CEO and worker salary was 12-1 (today it is over 200-1), and the wealthy paid 90 per cent of our tax burden.

      • You’re arguing from the perspective that it is not only acceptable, but desirable, to force the higher skilled, higher wage-earners to foot the bill for entitlements for those who earn less. I am arguing from a belief that everyone in a society should be taxed at the same rate. I don’t believe that because of one’s higher earning power, one should be required to pay more. By “more” I mean a higher percentage, and not higher dollar amounts. I disagree with the premise of wealth redistribution via the IRS.

      • Hi Darcy, the idea that a skilled laborer should earn more than unskilled one is an important point to consider. In this context, I don’t think we should be paying CEOs hundreds of billions of dollars for running their corporations into the ground, draining them of resources, and leaving. Being rewarded for their work should mean successfully administering their business.
        And for CEOs that do their job properly, do you really think we ought to tax those earning hundreds of billions of dollars at the same rate as those who are earning minimum wage and working full time at their jobs and still falling below the poverty line?
        In fact, the massing salary distinctions between CEOs and workers is coincident not only with increasing poverty levels, but squeezing out the middle class, which has grown smaller and smaller since the 1960 point I mentioned above. As a conservative, I would think you would wish to claim the legacy of the Eisenhower economic policy–which was very different from the Bush economic policy. You might recall that a commission instituted and supported by Richard Nixon suggested that we give all citizens a negative income tax of $10,000 each to stimulate the economy and do away with the administrative oversight costs of the welfare system. Stimulating the economy is also related to creating an ACTUAL free market: which might be a good idea if we actually had it.
        Adam Smith (father of modern capitalist theory) stated that the free market would express social values of the economic community (and control a competitive economic system that might otherwise lead to serious abuse) by allowing each citizen to vote with their dollars– thus valuing and rewarding production of socially desirable goods. Necessary to this free market is the condition that each citizen of an economy be able to “vote” with their dollar–which they can’t do if they don’t have any money, and can’t get any because unemployment rates are high– or they because they are incapable of working such as many homeless veterans. And all our hungry children in this nation surely shouldn’t be punished because they are not holding down a paying job.
        In Smith’s true capitalist meritocracy, capitalists would be rewarded if and only if they produced social goods. Without this provision, as Smith stated in his second book– on capitalist ethics– we have a free for all rather than a state of free citizens.
        The other point that weighs in against a free market in the current day is what economists have termed “perverse subsidies”– government subsidies given to interest groups (corporate or otherwise) that work against the public good– largely subsidies to corporations that create pollution without benefiting the public good. It is such subsidies for instance, that makes highly processed commercial food transported thousands of miles less expensive than locally produced food grown sustainably- or allow the building of nuclear power plants. Without such subsidies, we would not have a one of the latter, since no private insurer will currently insure a one of them.
        In a skewed rather than free market system, citizens cannot truly vote their preferences, since information is also skewed. They may not know how the product they purchase was produced– or its environmental costs. By making the latter into “externalities” that do not need to be accounted for on any business ledger, we set up a system which degrades the environment inevitably, since “ecosystem services” such as clean water or air are currently counted as moneymakers only if they are used up– and the system is set up so that private property owners lose money for protecting them.
        As an added point, in the 1960s, minimum wage was geared to allow one worker to support a family of four above the poverty level. The idea was that any laborer who worked at his job full time and did a decent enough job at it to remain employed deserved a living wage job for himself and his family.
        In questioning who “deserves” a living, you are bringing up the question of meritocracy here: does making money automatically signal that you merit it in the present system? Drug cartels make quite a lot of money, for instance. I think few of us would argue they deserve their earnings because they are capable of making them. And what about disabled workers or elder workers or children? Do they not deserve some of our consideration?
        Would you not agree that there are things that cannot and should not be priced-and that we must care for them as a community? These include, in my book, the ecosystem services that not only sustain the economy but all natural life.
        On your idea of rights– I would suggest that there is a non-competitive view of rights as well. A democracy is at essence a community of citizens together shaping their government. The whole idea of the Bill of Rights is that one citizen’s rights are not in competition with another’s– but interdependent.
        These are essential questions in a thriving democracy. Thanks for your comment.

    • I want to respond to one particular claim in the above, namely that:

      “The idea that “tax loopholes for the wealthy” cost US taxpayers money in “lost revenue” is based upon the false premise that the government has an inherent right to arbitrarily seize earnings from individuals and business entities; that money earned by individuals or corporations belongs first to the government, and that the government has the legitimate right to determine how much income an individual or a corporation should earn. That premise is not a constitutional one; it is not an American one, but a statist, and indeed, a Marxist one. ”

      First, taxation is *not* the “arbitrary seizure” of earning, and to frame the issue that way reveals a willful ignorance of how legitimate states are, and need to be, run.

      Private property, as we currently understand it, cannot exist without a state — it is, in many ways, the product of the existence of state entities (note that people can ‘have’ things w/o a state, but *ownership* requires particular kinds of rights, and rights, if they are meaningful, require enforcement). Ownership of property — indeed, all real / enforceable rights — requires a state with the ability to collect taxes, and paying for the functions of a legitimate state is not, and cannot be, optional.

      Once we recognize that there is no right to real property (at least no right that exists in an enforceable form) without a state, it becomes clear that a functioning market (free or otherwise) depends on the existence of a state (legitimate or not).

      None of this implies that any *particular* scheme of taxation is the right one, or that there is one particular scheme that is ‘best’. Rather, the implication I want to stress is that these issues require real thought (and debate).

      There are many reasons that one might favor a “progressive” tax system, one in which people with higher incomes pay a higher percentage of their incomes in taxes. For example, note that while one can have ‘stuff’ w/o a fully functioning state, the accumulation of property, and especially real wealth, requires a functioning state; it is only through state action that the accumulation of real wealth by individuals is possible. So the wealthy are getting something very important from the existence of a state. Or, alternatively, one can note that people with higher incomes can simply afford to pay more, and given that a certain amount of money is necessary for states to function, and that it has to come from somewhere, the high-income set is the only set it can come from.

      If we accept that, as a society with a (legitimate) functioning state, we have made some of the these decisions together, the complaint about the rich / corporate tax “loopholes” becomes clearer. When the top 400 earners are paying an average federal tax rate of under 17%, while the total tax burden for the working poor in most states is similar or greater, the claim that something has gone wrong with our commitment, as a society, to a progressive taxation scheme.

      Just a thought.

      Jonathan

      • An essential point, Jonathan. The “government” is not an outside entity created by others to usurp our rights: we are the ones who have created it. It performs services (building roads, for instance) that all of us rely on daily. As you point out, it allows private property to exist in the first place. We should make our decisions as a country together and in an informed manner. This is why I am so concerned about unlimited corporate advertising without attribution of its source.
        You have an especially pertinent concern about the working poor: when a full time minimum wage job does not pay enough to take a worker out of poverty in many states (minimum wage varies from state to state), we need to carefully consider whether we want to tax such a worker at the same rate as someone who earns billions of dollars a year.

      • To an extent, I agree with your perspective on the issue of a state’s legitimate right to levy taxes. However, when those taxes are levied in such a manner that they violate equal protection and due process under the Constitution, I believe the state loses legitimacy in its ability to tax, and yes, those taxes do become arbitrary seizure of assets–for instance, the State of Oregon’s recent referendum to retroactively tax the state’s businesses.

  2. While the court in Citizens United ruled to treat unions and corporations equally, in your vehement exception to that ruling you claimed that DISCLOSE treats unions and corporations the same; that is regrettably false.

    There are multiple exemptions within the DISCLOSE act that were the result of special deals negotiated by Congress with various interest groups. DISCLOSE Act exemptions include the NRA, the AARP, and the Sierra Club. In fact, all non-profits with membership over 500,000 are excluded from the DISCLOSE act requirements. In the House version of the bill, HR 5175, the so-called “manager’s amendment” submitted by Robert Brady (D-PA), would permit labor unions to consider monies contributed as part of regular union dues as attributable to an individual union member, rather than the union itself, and this would apply to any money transferred between “affiliated entities.” In addition, the average amount of dues paid by an individual union member is well under the $600 threshold for mandated disclosure. (http://www.rules.house.gov/111/AmndmentsSubmitted/hr5175/brady_33_hr5175_111.pdf and http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703460404575244772070710374.html?KEYWORDS=disclose+act)

    Clearly, based upon the numbers released by the OMB and the IRS, the top 25% of wage earners are paying over 86% of all monies into the federal coffers.

    Additionally, you've equated "corporations" with "money" and generalized in such a way that your negative opinion seems to apply to all businesses, and your reference to the early days of Hamiltonian governance don't exactly support what you mean to infer—that the republic began as an anti-business proposition. Rather, Hamilton worked to create an environment that was conducive to growing business and securing investment from businesses in the new nation.

    I’m not sure you understand the free market, but I’m convinced by your comments promoting “socialist democracies” that you don’t support it. A free market ensures that those willing and able to earn money are able to buy the products they desire in a competitive market. It does not and should not mandate that those who work hard to earn the means to buy goods on the open market must then give a portion of what they earn to those who cannot, do not, or will not work for themselves. A free market is also not intended to ensure that everyone, everywhere, can or must buy equal amounts of the very same goods. In a free market, you should (and are) able to purchase what you wish and that you are able to afford.

    I often ask myself how it is that a rational human being can justify the viewpoint that he is deserving of something simply because he wants it. How does a man look to one who is better off than he and come to the determination that the well-off man owes him something because of that success? Why do some look at those who are wealthy and believe they are due some of that wealth? What festers in the heart of a man who looks at another and concludes that he is deserving of a portion of that man’s wealth because he has none of his own? Why is it that so many seem to believe that those who work hard and earn more, or at least enough to afford to pay for their own needs (including their own health insurance, but that’s another story), should be required to pay to provide for the needs of others? How is that conceivably justifiable? Obviously, I refer to those who feel entitled by merit of their existence, those who demand something for nothing–who expect to be cared for without being willing to care for themselves or work for themselves–who would rather demand handouts, reparations, entitlements, etc. from the government, than work on their own behalf.

    I disagree with the premise that a person is somehow entitled to food, drink, shelter, medical care, education, etc. by merit of his very existence–that there is no obligation for him to earn these things, but that they should be provided without question. Those things are not guaranteed or even “natural” rights. A person does not have the right to demand that I provide him with water because I have a bottle of it; he cannot rightfully demand to sleep in my house because I have a spare bedroom; he cannot require me to pay for his children's education for no other reason than that I earn enough to afford it and he does not.

    Similarly, free food and water are not “natural” rights. The equal opportunity to compete for food and water is a human right. If one desires water, he should pay his water bill or live next to a stream…or walk to the stream, get the water, and then drink it–and in homage to environmentalism, preferably boil it first. Once he has successfully acquired it, he must then, of course, endeavor to prevent someone who is either unwilling or unable to go to the creek for his own water from taking it by force or by government fiat, unless he is willing to return endlessly to the stream, bringing back water for the freeloaders while never getting any for himself.

    If one is the freeloader—the one receiving the benefit of another's work—if one is getting the water without having to walk to the well or the stream—if one is getting money for nothing, I imagine one would view the system as a good one. However, this school of thought is so far removed from the mindset of Americans at the time of the founding of our country that I don't know if the Founders could have imagined a people so unwilling to work to feed and clothe and educate and care for themselves, but rather, who spend more and more of their efforts in determining new ways to take what they need from those who ARE willing to work.

    The way to achieve a better life is to advance your skills and your abilities so that you have more earning power and therefore place yourself in a better position for the future. That's why we further our education, why we continue to seek knowledge and skill.

    When I say something is statist, or Marxist, I mean: using the power of the government to achieve a goal (statism) of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” (Marxism).

    The part of socialism, or “socialist democracies” that so many seem unwilling to recognize is that the majority of citizens pay no taxes at all, placing the burden for financing the needs of the masses on those who do earn—the free-rider problem. Socialism discourages the producers from working–why should I work if I am unable to enjoy the fruits of my labor? Why should I work, if it is only to support people who are unwilling to make the same financial decisions or expend the same effort to improve their marketability in the workplace that I made? By what right does one demand that someone else support him or his family? It is not "the government" who pays the price, it is the taxpayer–people who work hard and would prefer to keep a larger portion of the 37% of their income that the United States government appropriates.
    How could I possibly explain to someone who demands my money—albeit through a middleman–that he is not deserving of it by merit of the simple fact that he has less than I have? Generally, we respond to extortion and strong arm robbery with the law–unfortunately, the law is now the means of extortion—the means of “redistributing” wealth.

    • Many of the above remarks seem to presume that the justice of institutions can — and perhaps even should — be judged synchronically. A market is ‘free’ if *at this point in time* there are no immediate distortions, etc.

      But of course, societies (need to) persist through time, and part of the function of government is to ensure that the resources necessary for e.g. the continued function of free markets continue to be available.

      Some of these resources include things like education — if all education were only available on a market basis, the ability of the e.g. children of the (currently) poor to succeed would be greatly diminished. On a similar note, ones birth is clearly outside of ones control, and there are reasons that a state interested in protecting the continued freedom of markets might want to put in place mechanisms that make it matter relatively less (rather than relatively more) whether one is born to rich rather than poor parents (for example).

      Given that (enforceable, meaningful) rights are the product of states, if one asks “why should the wealthy be willing to pay a higher proportion of their income to support the state, including provisions to ensure that e.g. the children of the poor have a reasonable chance of success?” one perfectly reasonable answer is that the wealthy are only wealthy because of the existence of a state that can grant meaningful, enforceable rights.

      Put another way, if I am the member of a large, poor minority, and the state is a minimal state that protects only property rights (only protects people from force or fraud), why should I respect that? Why shouldn’t the poor simply kill all the rich, and take their stuff? What is so special about our rights to property and to be free of violence? Why does the state have a legitimate monopoly on the use of force?

      If, on the other hand, the goal of the state is to forward the ideal of a society as a fair system of cooperation (to use Rawls’ phrase) then both the rich and poor have good reasons to continue to support it. More later.

      • Thanks for raising essential points about the nature of a democratic state as providing both stability and justice, Jonathan. Why indeed should the poor accede to a social system that places them by birth in a status that does not serve their own interests in any way?
        This was an issue Aristotle tackled (in perhaps an ironic sense): if (as he supposed) one is limited by birth to a particular social status, then he noted that an essential thrust of any government must be how to stop the populace from revolting.
        Justice demands that we consider a position of fairness beyond that which is allocated to us at birth (as is a focus of Rawls “fair system of cooperation”).
        I can think of nothing that so strongly expresses this than the story of a gentle and kind man I interviewed who went to pan gold in Northern California during the Depression. There he saw riverbanks lined with hungry families attempting to pan enough gold “for a loaf of bread”. Looking at the faces of those desperate parents who could not feed their children, he knew in his heart that this country would have gone up in flames had Roosevelt not instituted his WPA program to give so many jobs and hope.

  3. Please do not patronize me by saying that I may not wish to read your comments–I’ve read them, and re-read them. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on your website.

    I do not aim to antagonize you, Dr. Holden, but I believe that I understand you implicitly. May I remind you that your statements, once public, are no longer subject only to your own qualification or an interpretation that you wish to force upon others, but must stand or fall upon their own merit?

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