2013-05-24

Excellent Commentary

I have no idea who "Handle" is, but here is his/her website.

Here is an excerpt from a comment Handle posted on David Friedman's blog:
The response I get then is basically sentimental or a kind of sympathetic simulation of what they would want or think "fair" in similar circumstances. The moral instinct of many bleeding hearts is to imagine that they'd fallen on hard times are somehow couldn't escape the circumstances that led them to become poor, or a prisoner (they never imagine themselves as Soldiers, revealingly), and to imagine how nice they'd have to be treated to not feel awfully deprived given the affluent lifestyle to which they've become accustomed. 
The extra (unaddressed) paradox for Rawlsian thinking is that the disagreeableness of prison, or poverty, provides the incentive for work and deterrence of crime. The nicer you make it, the more the incentive is undermined. Pure "involuntariness" is required to avoid this problem, and that is highly unrealistic. With any degree of voluntary control over one's circumstances, Maximin delivers a society of corroded incentives. In the short-term transition depleting a large stock-pile of social capital built up over previous eras, one is not likely to notice much change. But over time you'd see the emergence of a vast underclass with endemic and multi-generationally transmitted crime and dependency. That's just crazy speculation though. 
At any rate, what is the point of all this? The point is that I (we?) suspect that what Bleeding Hearts really want is something like a social tithe - society pays a reasonable fraction - 10-20% of GDP perhaps (but certainly no less than 10%!), to accomplish various redistributions from the relatively more productive to the relatively less productive. That's what "minimally nice" means - bread and roses and certain fuzzy psychological "ego" and "dignity" effects too. 
Dr. Friedman's inquiries are met with evasions precisely for this reason. Because it's embarrassing for someone purporting to be purely rational to admit that, at bottom, they're policy preferences are based in subjective sentiment or opinion or taste or something quasi-religious in character. Worse than that, sentiments with no clear limiting principles or constraints, and which lead, and which actually led historically, to hard left conclusions.