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Tuesday, February 03, 2004

More on Ends and Means

Jim wrote some responses to my post Ends, Means, and the Modern State. First with regard to the Tragedy of the Commons:
It is this type of situation where regulation is often applied (i.e., in this case, fines for littering) because it is hard (although maybe not impossible) to create incentives for the individual. This can be generalized to many environmental issues.
The libertarian framework described by Nozick quite easily deals with the tragedy of the commons. People are only free to "order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit" as long as they don't "harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions". Since each possesses a share of the commons, anyone who trashes it is doing other owners of the Commons harm and that would be prohibited and enforced by the minimal state. The same holds for all environmental considerations.
The collective superstructure, which contains the economy and the economic activities of all individuals, has its own special set of rules and requirements that don't really have any relationship to morality...
If we stop this quote here (there's more, which changes the meaning), this would be exactly my point. The rules (Means) of the Modern State are often not moral. However, they are often justifiable because they benefit the collective whole. In other words, the Ends justify the Means!

As an example, consider taxation (beyond what's required for the Minimal State). Taxation is the act of taking possessions from someone. An individual would not have this right. However, let's assume for a moment that all taxation by the State is moral (because of some special collective rights that we have yet to discover the basis for). What if you take a twenty dollar bill out of your pocket which you have obtained legitimately and you burn it (and it doesn't cause too much pollution)? Certainly utilizing your own property (the $20 bill) in this way is within your rights. What if the government takes that $20 bill from you via taxation? Our assumption is that this is moral. An agent of the government then burns the $20 bill as directed by the rules and regulations of the government. (Unfortunately, this is a good metaphor for what happens with a lot of government revenues). Given that the Means of taxation is moral (our assumption for this paragraph), and the Ends of disposing of property obtained by legitimate Means is also moral, then the taxation and burning of money by the government is completely within the moral realm. In fact, taking all possessions and burning them would also be morally acceptable using this logic. Yet I don't think we would agree that it is okay for the government to take our money and burn it.

What if, instead of burning the money, it was used to build lavish palaces for government officials to live and work in? We would probably agree that that would be better but still not legitimate. What if, instead of building palaces, the money was used to educate poor children? We would certainly agree that that would be better and most of us would agree that that was legitimate.

The Means for each of these examples remained the same (taxation). Only the Ends changed. Thus, the Modern State is inherently Ends based as far as determining what is legitimate and what isn't. We are willing to allow the State to utilize evil Means as long as they are justified by the Ends. Virtually every non-Minimal State function falls in this category.
Kevin Phillips pointed out that it doesn't matter how much his taxes are cut, nor how much anyone else's are cut, this will not address the challenges that we face. No matter how much money he saves in taxes, Kevin Phillips will not be able to do anything about the environment, national defense, or the healthcare system.
Does this make sense to you? I think this is probably too simplistic. On the one hand, virtually every time taxes have been cut significantly (Kennedy, Reagan, possibly Bush II, Ireland, Chile, etc.), economic growth has greatly increased. On the other hand, most times that taxes have increased (Hoover/Roosevelt, Bush I, Argentina, etc.), economic growth has slowed. The extreme cases, where taxation was essentially 100 percent, such as the communist Soviet Union, economic growth become non-existent or even went backwards. An increase in real growth of 2% per year translates into a doubling of the real GDP in a mere 36 years. That means that in 36 years you have twice the resources to address the problems! So ironically, in the long run, Kevin Phillips might actually help the environment and the like more in the long run by paying less taxes now! Especially the environment, which is a very long term game.

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