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Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Definitional Issues

Bret, I'm not sure I have much more energy for this discussion, but I'll attempt to make one or two more points about the Ends and Means issues. I think you missed my point that the rules and regulations of economic activity are not in the realm of morality. In my opinion, it's not an issue of morality whether the State should tax or how much it should tax. It's an issue of effectiveness. Clearly, the 100% taxation (Soviet) model was ineffective. Between the year 2000 and the year 2004, net taxes collected by the U.S. federal government will have dropped from 20.9% of GDP to a projected 15.7% of GDP (which will be the lowest level since 1950 - if my source is accurate). I don't see this as a moral issue one way or another. The question is whether it is effective. To actually address that question, it may require some more data -- such as what the overall debt level and the annual deficit are. In my opinion, they're too big and will cause other problems down the road, therefore, tax revenues are either too low or expenditures are too high. Although I think we underspend on a few things (i.e., third world economic development and democracy incenting), I think the main problem is we spend too much on a bunch of things. If it were me making the decisions, I'd quickly phase out all spending on energy ($20+ billion), agriculture ($80+ billion), and NASA (over $15 billion). I'd also begin reducing defense spending -- which I realize would make me virtually unelectable today. On the revenue side, which probably must be worked as well, reversal of Bush's tax cuts for those making over $100K would close the budget gap by another $180 billion or so. (Of course, complete taxation restructuring, as we've discussed, is preferable, but probably not practical without a fairly long transition period.) Obviously, it would be nice to reform Social Security and Healthcare as well, but I think it would be awfully hard to start that process with an expectation that huge savings would result.

Now, let's compare this Ends and Means debate (which, especially within the relatively narrow percentage differences of U.S. taxation policy, has no morality associated with it) with an issue that is quite a bit about morality -- i.e., deposing/killing rulers we deem unsavory whether or not they are causing harm to us or threatening egregious levels of harm. Let's also stack on the side of the attackers these judgments: the people of the country in question are requesting intervention, the military campaign can be conducted with a near guarantee of success, and the desired endgame is one of democracy and freedom for the country. What are the means that would be justified to achieve the desired end? In my opinion, there still should be constraints on the means despite the envisioned virtuous ends. There's an important word: envisioned. Because the ends do not always come to pass -- in fact, they rarely come to pass -- as envisioned. But, the means -- if they contain untruth or indiscriminate punishment of the innocent -- have a funny way of being even worse than envisioned -- and this corrupts the ends before they ever get a chance to take root.

So, yes, I stick by my statement: Ends do not justify Means. Don't get me wrong -- this is not to say that just Means can never be brutal. The American Revolution was won with bravery and brutality. But, the brutal Means were based on premises and principles that were explained openly and honestly. There also could have been just Means to remove Saddam (whether brutal or otherwise), but they were not vigorously pursued.

Finally, I do hope, despite the corrupt minds of our administration who seem to think that these issues are too complex to trust to the American people to decide, that Iraq somehow emerges free and democratic. This would be a tribute to the attractiveness of democracy and freedom, not to our poor example of how they are to be exercised. The form of global shaping that we have embarked on is not sustainable, and I believe it has planted the seeds of hatred and distrust of America around the world and has reinforced the principles of winning through mafia-like brutality. Clear, just, and effective principles attract followers; dishonest plots breed more dishonesty and fear.

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