The God-Fearing Democrats

People in my family don’t follow sports much, but, to make up for it, we follow politics and cheer on our party as though it were an athletic team. At a very young age, I came to understand that the Democrats represented most of the things that were good about America- fairness, equality, diversity- while the Republicans represented the things we ought to work against -elitism, dogmatism, and stinginess. Democrats were the party of the poor and also the party of the intellectually inquisitive (my family being both), while Republicans represented the rich and the religious, an unholy alliance brought together by Reagan (a quasi-demonic figure in my non-religious household).

Life and education have slowly stripped away the simple political narrative that shaped me. I now know that some Republicans are atheists, and lots of them are poor, just as some Democrats are racists, and lots of them are dogmatic. Still, I was a bit shocked to learn from Charles Blow’s most recent New York Times column that, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted last week, more Democrats than Republicans expect Jesus Christ to return to the Earth by the year 2050. Blow takes this information in stride, explaining that two highly religious groups, black and Latino voters, currently comprise about 37 percent of the Democratic base, and another 20 percent of the base is composed of very religious white people. The Democrats are becoming more religious because they are the party of growing ethnic minorities. These groups, comprised mostly of the descendants of former slaves and recent immigrants, have become a significant chunk of the party’s base because they see the Democrats exactly as I did- the party of fairness, equality, and diversity, and the party that represents the interests of the poor and the working class.

I don’t call myself a Democrat these days. I don’t even think it’s important that I vote. But, I have to confess that there is something about my home team putting bets on the Apocalypse that really makes my skin crawl. The explanation behind this recent trend reveals something that has long-embarrassed Democrats, which is why they have failed to exploit it the way Republicans have: Class is highly correlated with education, and education makes people more tolerant and less religious, in other words, more liberal. If anything, this observation seems like it should favor Democrats, but clearly the Republicans have made better use of its strategic implications. Over the last 35 years, the Republican Party has successfully managed to convince millions of working-class, religious white people who did not go to college to consistently vote against their own economic interests. It has done this by telling a story of cultural identity that exploits religious faith, racial prejudice, and xenophobia, and makes the base believe that labor and environmental regulation hurt their job prospects and that immigrants and “welfare queens” steal their hard-earned income through redistributive taxation. Republicans have managed to convince their base that intellectual sophistication rather than material privilege is the sign of true elitism, and that the people who teach their kids, not the people who own the means of production, are their political adversaries. The Democrats, in contrast, have no story of common identity and are reticent to identify a common enemy. They are the party of organized labor and most college professors, but they fear both populism and elitism.

Picturing an average Republican is easy: He’s white, drives an SUV, owns a gun, waves a flag, and goes to church on Sunday. Of course, the next Republican you meet might not fit any of those descriptions, but that doesn’t stop the image from persisting. In contrast, picturing an average Democrat is difficult. A Prius-driving vegetarian, a blue-collar AFL-CIO rep, and a black church-lady, wealthy or poor, are all equally plausible models. Even though the average Republican may have gone to college, may have gay friends, and may believe in evolution, he can be counted upon to vote with the party that panders to Christian fundamentalists because that’s what it means to be a Republican. The meaning of “Democrat” is, in contrast, much less precise. Some of the same Democrats who voted to elect Barack Obama voted against gay marriage on the same ballot in California. And a similar vein of social-conservatism runs through “purple” rust-belt states such as Pennsylvania, where the Democrats who get elected are often both pro-labor, and “pro-life.” Religious and cultural identity is likely to influence whether you are a Republican, but not how you vote. The same can’t be said of Democrats, and this is why the rise of the religious Left scares me.

I would like to believe that the Democratic Party is attracting more religious people because the religious are starting to believe that the Democratic platform better reflects their values (aid to the poor, fairness, etc.), but I think it’s more likely that they just see the Democrats as better representing their interests*. This isn’t all bad. I’m glad that religious people in my tax bracket want their vote to represent their economic interests because I share the same interests. However, I don’t share the same values as religious Democrats, and that’s a problem because, as we’ve seen with the religious Right, values are at least as important to most voters as economic self-interest. I haven’t seen as much pandering to the anti-gay, anti-choice, evolution-is-just-a-theory- crowd by the Democrats as I have seen by the Republicans, but there really isn’t any good reason to think that the Democrats won’t pander to this group if it becomes politically advantageous for them to do so, and, with growing numbers of religious Democrats, it may. I could say that a robust package of social programs, including low-cost higher education is likely to make the children of today’s religious Democrats less religious and more socially liberal than their parents, but that hope reeks of just the sort of paternalism that embarrasses liberals like me. I want my “team” to represent the interests of the common person, but I want the common person to share my values. This is why I don’t study politics anymore.

*Let’s be clear here, I don’t actually think the Democratic Party really represents the interests of poor/working people, regardless of race. The Republicans have just done such a good job of alienating black and Latino voters by pandering to racists and xenophobes that the Democrats have won them over by default.

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Poverty, Values, and Why I Don’t Like Ruby Payne

I have training as a philosopher, but I pay my bills through my employment at a Community Action Program, working with the homeless.  Unsurprisingly, working on the practical side of a field in which one has lots of theoretical understanding can be as frustrating as it is rewarding.  I certainly wouldn’t expect any of my coworkers to be able to summarize Rawls’ Difference Principle (let alone trace the connection between A Theory of Justice, Johnson’s Great Society, and the subsequent CAPs that were a result of the Economic Opportunity Act), but their lack of interest in foundational issues in economics, politics, and ethics sometimes shocks me.  Recently, I had an especially polarizing experience with my co-workers when I was required to sit through the Bridges out of Poverty workshop, based upon the book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, by Ruby Payne.

If you are not involved in social work, you may be unfamiliar with the work of Ruby Payne, which is primarily based upon anecdotal observations about the "hidden rules" of social class.  Despite the fact that Dr. Payne’s "research" is widely dismissed even by sociologists for its lack of methodological rigor, the revelation that poor people have different attitudes about food from rich people appears to be profoundly enlightening to some people, at least if anecdotal observations of my co-workers is any in indication (maybe I should write a book).  To be fair, the Bridges Out of Poverty program is well-intentioned, at least as far as I can tell.  Though after a seven-hour workshop I was still unable to identify a single explicit foundational principle or specific directive, the implicit theme seemed to be that people in different classes see the world differently, and the general directive seemed to be that we should be sensitive to that fact in our work with the indigent.

The polarizing moment came when talk moved to values. After spending the better part of a morning listing less-than-revelatory observations about how poor people view violence, bedtimes, school performance, and other aspects of everyday life, the speaker cautioned us that these views were not good or bad and the program was only meant to inform us about the different ways in which people in different classes view the same issues.  I raised my hand and commented that this seemed like a bit of an exaggeration.  "Surely," I said, "we can appreciate that a person living in the inner city has reasons to fight or sell drugs, and we can still make a value judgment about why that behavior is bad."  I was met with polite nods, but nobody seemed to appreciate that my comment was a subtle criticism of the myopic relativism of the program.  I tried again after lunch.  The speaker said explicitly that we were not there to make judgments about the values of the different classes, only to learn something by observing their differences.  This time I was more explicit.  "But, surely," I blurted out, "we all know that this program and the work that we do is biased toward the values of the middle class.  I mean, we may understand why poor people don’t value education the way middle class people do, but we still make a judgment that education is valuable, and we push that value to our clients."

This time I was met with blank stares.  Several of the other participants volunteered less-than-useful responses which belied the fact that they really didn’t understand my point.  Each response was some version of,  "But, poor people really do want the same things as middle class people, they just don’t have the tools/knowledge/resources to achieve those things!"  After succeeding in annoying everyone in the room, I waited until break to take up the issue privately with the speaker who nodded sympathetically when I explained that debate about the empirical effectiveness of different means to the same end is not the same thing as a genuine difference of values.  "Insofar as there is a genuine disagreement about values, I don’t think that any reconciliation is possible," I said, "But, don’t get me wrong.  I think most people value similar things, which is why outreach programs are useful.  We aren’t teaching people to value different things, we’re teaching them better means to their ends."  Again, I was met with a blank stare, but, perhaps believing I agreed with her, she nodded and walked away.

As I tried to explain to my coworkers, my objection to the Bridges Out of Poverty program is not an objection to the implicit middle-class value judgments that give social work its motivating force.   For the most part, I share the same values as my coworkers, and I share the intuition that most of the practices that we push through education and outreach are attractive to our clients precisely because they share those values as well.  (Of course, this is another way of saying that I don’t really believe that class plays a major role in determining values in this first place.)  My objection is to the absurd and contradictory combination of explicitly stated relativism and implicitly assumed objectivity that is pervasive in the work of Ruby Payne and the people who follow her.   And, it maddens me that so many people in social work seem to miss this rather simple point:  Either values are objective, or they are not.  If values are objective, then they are not relative to class.  Also, if values are objective, then there is a fact of the matter about how people should behave, and we absolutely can and should make judgments upon people who fail to promote objective values.  If values are not objective, then it is silly to argue about them.  The only discussion worth having is about which actions are more efficient means to the promotion of values, not about the values themselves.

Though I find the contradiction between explicit relativism and implicit value objectivity worrisome, I have a pretty good guess about why it is so pervasive in my field.  On almost every level, education and outreach work is based upon the assumption that the poor have some control over their poverty.  Political activists can organize strikes, mobilize voters, and publicly denounce economic policies that create and maintain class disparity.  Social workers take on clients who have very few resources and try to improve their condition by giving them information alone.  We may privately believe that poverty persists because of huge variation in the distribution of political and economic power which will never be altered by changes in individual behavior, but our job is to reassure people that they will be able to get out of poverty if they work hard, follow the rules, and take advantage of the meager resources provided by public welfare programs.   Unfortunately, the belief that hard work and education will get you out of poverty implies that individuals who aren’t getting out of poverty are either not working hard enough or are ignorant about the resources available to them. It’s a hard truth, and nobody wants to admit it, but discussions about why different classes value different things are pointless.  The discussion we need to have is about why different classes have different things.  Community Action Programs like mine were founded upon a very simple, value-driven principle:  Poverty is a bad thing.   We don’t need a framework for understanding it.  We need practical strategies for ending it.

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Reconsidering “Choice”

I just read an interesting review of a new behavioral psychology book, “Addiction: A Disorder of Choice,” by Gene Heyman.  As the review states, the key theme of the book is “that the idea [of] addiction [as] a disease has been based on a limited view of voluntary behavior.”  As a remedy to this limited view, the author draws out the distinction between addiction and diseases such as Alzheimer’s or multiple sclerosis, the course of which cannot be altered by voluntary behavior.  In contrast, he argues that the success of treatment programs which provide reinforcement for sobriety demonstrates that a key element of addiction is choice- if it were not, incentives just wouldn’t work.   Of course, this suggests that the move toward viewing addiction as a disease rather than a choice is problematic in light of what we normally mean by “disease.”  But, what’s far more interesting to me is the implication that the “disease of choice” thesis has for our concept of “choice.”  This is the issue I will explore further.

The person snorting her first line of coke or dabbing a little bit of heroin does not want to become a hopeless crackwhore or junkie anymore than the person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s wants to lose her memory.   In this way addiction resembles a disease more than a choice.     Most rational people don’t want to destroy themselves, and most addicts start out as rational people who want to feel better.  Addiction is the sum of incremental choices made on an ever-sliding scale of rewards and negative consequences.  It feels good and doesn’t seem that bad the first time, it might seem worse the next time, but it feels even better, and so on and so forth until it is a serious, life-swallowing problem that you just can’t resist.  Except of course, you can resist it, and if and when you do resist it, the negative symptoms of addiction get better.  The same can’t be said of Alzheimer’s.

The possibility of resisting addictive behaviors is what makes addiction a “choice,” but no addict manages to resist indulging unless he has stronger incentives to refrain than to continue.  Of course, as anyone who has studied the philosophy of David Hume can tell you, this isn’t just the way choice works with addicts.  A choice is always determined by competing desires.  This is as true of the martyr debating whether a vow of silence is more important than a cry for help as it is for a junkie debating between one more hit and passing his court-appointed drug test.  We are all slaves to our desires, some of us just have crueler masters.

The fact that actions are determined by desires, and desires themselves are, on some basic level, unchosen, raises a serious question about ultimate moral responsibility.  I’m not going to offer an opinion on that question, but I mention it because this is clearly the issue that motivates the move toward viewing addiction as a disease rather than a choice.  If addiction is a choice and addicts do terrible things, then they are morally responsible for those terrible things.  If addiction is a disease, then addicts shouldn’t be blamed for the “symptoms” of their disease.   Intuitively, I think most of us want to carve out some sort of middle position in between these two extremes.  What’s troubling about addiction is not the content of the desire.   Wanting a line of coke is not like wanting to rape a child.  The problem is the overwhelming force of the desire:   Addicts privilege their fix over all other competing desires, including the desire to fulfill moral obligations to other people.  So, to preserve the intuition that addicts can be responsible for bad things but not be bad people, we are intentionally opaque in the use of terms like “disease”- which addiction really isn’t- and “choice” -which addiction really is, but which implies a level of freedom and self-determination that nobody really has.

I think Heynman is right to characterize addiction as a “choice,” but the word needs to be trimmed of its metaethical weight.  Addicts have a choice because their behavior is determined by one desire, and that behavior could be altered if competing desires become more powerful.   Treatment programs are designed to strengthen the motivational force of these competing desires by focusing the addict’s attention on all of the things that they can keep or get by staying sober and all of the things which they stand to lose if they don’t.  These programs also offer incentives that tip the balance of competing desires by making some desire-fulfillment much easier than other desire fulfillment.  All of this suggests that addiction- both the active problem, and the process of recovery- is not a singular, moral choice.   Choice is never-ending sequence of battles between competing desires.  The fact that treatment programs work by reinforcing certain desires and disincentivizing others should not suggest to us that addicts have much in the way of power or freedom to change on their own.  It simply means that, given the right support and opportunities, they can change. Of course, the same description of choice is equally applied to non-addicts as well.

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The Problem of Spiritual Consolation

The Washington Post has been running a series of essays by religious authorities in response to the recent earthquake in Haiti.  The idea of the series is to examine how people of different faiths explain the age old question of why bad things happen to good people.  I would like to say something about this tragedy as well, but I approach the issue from almost exactly the opposite perspective.   I do not believe that there is any good answer to the question of why terrible things happen, but I do believe that it is insensitive to explain away such calamities with fables or myths.  Moreover, I think that "spiritual consolation" becomes offensive when it implies that suffering could have been prevented through alternative thinking, praying, or other "spiritual" practices.

If you believe that God has a Plan or that there is a "cosmic order" to the universe then you necessarily believe that awful things happen for a reason.  This applies not only to natural disasters but also to diseases, acts of malice, and personal tragedies.  Of course, you may believe that particular events are exacerbated by evil human intent (or corruption) and that those who knowingly do wrong things ought to be punished, but this does not get you out of the deeper metaphysical problem of evil.

Let us start with the idea of God’s Plan.  If it is the case that God is omniscient, then God Knows that some priests are going to rape some alter boys.  It is an unpleasant but entirely necessary part of the gift of free will that God allows such acts to occur, just as it is a part of God’s Plan that every day thousands of people will die in accidents, epidemics, and massacres.  From a philosophical perspective, I do not find this position to be particularly problematic because I can accept that God could be omniscient and omnipotent but that His omnibenevolence is so far from what we imagine (usually some kind of cosmic Santa Claus) that it can contain atrocities and still be, ultimately, Good.   What puzzles me is why anyone would take comfort in believing in a god like that.  Moreover, the idea that praying to a god who already has a set plan will make any difference in the course of future events is both absurd and borderline offensive.  After all, if I accept that the same God that allows earthquakes and child rape occasionally answers prayers, then it looks as though I must accept that people who suffer devastation may, in fact, be responsible for their own suffering.  If prayer works, and some people still suffer and die from things God could have prevented, then they must not have prayed or prayed the right way.

So, to recap, the two religious alternatives appear to be that 1) Your suffering is a part of God’s Plan, and can’t be helped or 2) Your suffering is a part of God’s Plan but can be helped by prayer, so if you continue to suffer even after prayer, then it is your own fault.  In light of this, I can see why the not-religious might seek out some alternative form of consolation.  I expect that the appeal of New-Age self-help programs like "Heal Your Life" and "The Secret" has a lot to do with this.  The idea behind New Age thought seems to be that we can explain away our old suffering in terms of a cosmic order (usually something like Karma, but it varies) that we didn’t understand before, and that we can prevent new suffering by understanding this cosmic order and harnessing  "positive thinking" or "positive energy" in our lives.  On the surface, New Age thought seems appealing because it offers up all the reassurances of religion (ultimate meaning, a purpose-driven life, etc.) without a nasty god who may hold you accountable for all of the bad things you did in your miserable life.  Unfortunately, the "cosmic order" view doesn’t offer any insightful explanation for why bad things happen, and it is even more conducive to a blame-the-victim conclusion than the "God’s Plan" view.

What virtually every New Age system holds in common is the belief that "non-physical" aspects of people such as "positive" or "negative" beliefs, "auras", or "spiritual energy" have an effect upon the physical world such that they determine the health of the body as well as events in a person’s life.  For example, the New Age self-help guru Louise Hay claims that she cured her cancer without drugs or surgery through "an intensive program of affirmations, visualization, nutritional cleansing, and psychotherapy."  In other words, Louise Hay claims that she cured cancer by thinking differently.  Leaving aside the obvious empirical problems with this claim (and the serious philosophical problems, and the fact that she is lying), what is troubling about Louise Hay is that her program implies that those who suffer and die of illnesses such as cancer could have chosen to do otherwise (by thinking differently!)  and that, for this reason, they are ultimately responsible for their fate.   The same implication follows from the principle of the self-help documentary "The Secret" which suggests that economic success is not the result of mere fortune and labor but is instead the result of a mysterious "Law of Attraction" whereby individuals attract fortunate events and interactions through positive thinking.  Thus, people who live in poverty could have done otherwise and those who remain in poverty have failed to take available measures to improve their luck.

I understand that most people who offer up their prayers, thoughts, meditations, and/or "positive energy" to those who suffer do so with honest intentions and good will, but this is no excuse for promoting a position that blames the victim.  The people of Haiti did not make a deal with the Devil nor tip the Karmic scales so as to necessitate an earthquake, and no amount of prayer or positive thought could have changed their circumstances.  Consolations based upon spiritual conjecture are an insult to their injury.

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Economics and Values

Paul Krugman’s recent article in the New York Times Magazine traces the history of two competing schools of economics from the Great Depression to the current great recession.  Without being over-the-top, it is clear that Krugman, who had been warning about the dangers of a financial collapse due to lack of regulation for years, feels somewhat vindicated by recent economic history.  Krugman belongs to the school of economic thought which is sometimes called Neo-Keynesian, after the economist John Maynard Keynes.  It holds that government regulation in financial markets is a necessary intervention because free markets are not perfectly self-correcting entities.  This view comes in contrast to the Neo-Classical school of thought (popularized in the latter half of the 20th Century by the economist Milton Friedman) which holds that the free-market is a self-correcting system of which recessions are a necessary part, and that any government intervention into the market system is likely to prolong or worsen recessions, not shorten or eliminate them.  In his essay, Krugman makes the interesting observation that one reason the Neo-Classical view is so attractive to economists is because it involves elegant mathematics and a beautifully symmetric theory of the marketplace.  By contrast, Keynesian economics is messy, and its attempts to calculate for the chaos of the marketplace and the related irrationality of individual economic agents, while empirically useful, lacks the same kind of philosophical symmetry. While reading his essay, it occurred to me that many other non-empirical value assumptions figure into the attractiveness of an economic theory as well.  I want to explore a few of those here.

I find it difficult to believe that aesthetic beauty alone is reason to prefer one economic theory over its competitors.  Elegance is nice, but it’s no substitute for predictive success and explanatory power.  Economics is at least as much science as it is philosophy or mathematics, and that is why economists are compensated more than their counterparts in purely theoretical disciplines.  They are supposed to tell us something about how the world is.  But, economics is not a purely descriptive discipline either.  Every economic system has real-life consequences for the agents who comprise it, and every economic theory makes some normative assumptions which must be defended on independent grounds.   I find it troubling that so few economists are explicit about these assumptions, and I find it even more troubling that so many people seem to have a confused or incoherent notion of the intrinsic justice of certain economic systems.  So, I’m going to try to make some of these normative assumptions explicit.  Readers may judge for themselves whether my account is useful or illuminating.

1) The Consequences Are Better.

The first argument that a proponent of any economic theory is likely to make is that his proposed system “works” better than rival systems in the real world.  Libertarian-free-market-Neo-Classical-Friedmanites, social-democratic-pro-regulatory-Neo-Keynesians, and total planned-economy-Marxians may disagree on every other fundamental, but they all make the argument that their proposed system generates more stable prosperity over the long run than any other rival system.  And it would be a great argument if only it involved a less-dubious empirical claim.  Almost all of us prefer an economic system that generates technological innovation, wealth, and stable growth and development over time to one that is stagnate, poor, or unstable. Unfortunately, the claim that a particular economic system will be the former and not the latter can only be tested against history and theoretical models.  And, since every real-world economy is unique and every theoretical model infinitely less complex than the real world it attempts to reflect, it’s hard to make a strong case that one economic system will consistently promote these ends better than its rivals.  As recent history has reminded us, economics is notoriously unsuccessful as a predictive empirical science.  Fortunately, (at least for economists) there are other things that recommend an economic theory besides its predictive success.

2) Freedom Is Intrinsically Valuable.

Another major normative assumption that underpins virtually every economic theory is the notion that freedom is intrinsically valuable.  Some economic systems are intrinsically more just than others, proponents argue, because some economic systems preserve freedom while others do not.  Of course, the definition of freedom differs radically from the Right-Libertarian ideal of liberty from taxation and government regulation to the Left-Libertarian ideal of liberty from oppressive poverty.  It is a bit of a misnomer to speak of the “freedom” inherent in the “free market” because the only really "free" market is one that emerges in total absence of laws which protect extra-personal property.  If I pay taxes into a system so that there is a law and a police force that grants and protects my right to property, then I am sanctioning a form of government regulation.  Likewise, the Leftist ideal of “freedom from poverty” is peculiar inasmuch as that “freedom” can presumably only be guaranteed in a system that generates sufficient wealth to ensure it, meaning that my “freedom” is contingent upon others generating that wealth, which may be a constraint upon their liberty.  The problem here is that it is useless and confusing to stipulate that value of freedom without explicitly and narrowly defining the term, and then making an independent argument for its value.  “In what sense does this economic system promote freedom?” we must ask, and “Is this type of freedom a worthy goal?”  Generally speaking, when pressed on these questions, defenders of an economic theory will appeal to one or both of the following normative assumptions:

3) People Should Get What They Deserve.

Certain Marxians and Left-Libertarians bring up the issue of desert, but it is a more common point of appeal for people on the political and economic Right.  Both sophisticated Neo-Classical economists and unsophisticated adherents of Ayn Rand’s political philosophy share the common conviction that an unregulated free market* rewards virtue (hard work, ambition, innovation, and natural talent) and punishes vice (laziness, apathy, and dullness).  The idea that a certain economic system actually promotes moral ends within a society is thrilling, and it makes for a very elegant and symmetric socio-economic philosophy.  Unfortunately, this claim is simply not empirically substantiated, and it’s hard to make the case that it ever could be.  Random chance, both genetic and environmental, plays a huge role in the distribution of wealth within an economic system.  It is impossible to say how much of an individuals’ accomplishments are the result of favorable (or unfavorable) genes, upbringing, and opportunities, but each of these factors will play a role in an individual’s economic outcome, and none of these factors is deserved.  Moreover, even if the notion of desert itself weren’t so conceptually problematic, it is practically impossible to implement an economic system that consistently gives people what they deserve.  We start out in circumstances which we don’t deserve and develop dispositions which we don’t deserve, and we are motivated by ends, which we may or may not get, but which we certainly do not deserve.  These aspects of individual behavior are the foundation of every economy.  So, the argument for an imaginary economy where each of us gets what we deserve is about as compelling as the argument for an imaginary world in which we don’t manifest these characteristics.

4) Equality Is a Fundamental Part of Justice.

Just as we are not born into circumstances that we deserve, we are not born into conditions of natural equality.  We are not equally smart, strong, attractive, or ambitious.  This fact of inequality poses a problem for economic redistributivists similar to the problem that desert poses for Right Libertarians.  Generally speaking, programs that redistribute economic holdings from the rich to the poor are directed at one of two egalitarian ends:  Total economic equality or equality of opportunity.  The Marxian goal of total economic equality requires either a defense of the intrinsic value of economic equality or a compelling argument that it is the only means toward some other intrinsically valuable political end.  Suffice it to say, both cases are hard to make because natural inequality is persistently at odds with economic (and political) equality.

Admittedly, I am sympathetic to the social-democratic case for equality of opportunity (which, incidentally, syncs with Neo-Keynesian economics quite nicely).  But, when we ask why an economic system that promotes equality of opportunity is preferable to one which does not, it is likely that our answer will involves one or more of the following appeals:  1) The economy will be more productive, 2) People will have more freedom of opportunity, 3) Everyone will have a better chance of getting what they deserve, or 4) Equality is preferable for its own sake.  All of these assertions are problematic, but, as we have seen above, they are also perennial.

Whatever the economic theory, we can’t escape normative assumptions.

*Of course, as I pointed out above, they don’t really mean a "free" market.  They mean a police-protected system of private property ownership with limited government regulation and taxation, a capitalist free market.

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