So this is really interesting: The Court, according to John McGinnis, doesn’t really deliberate about the law when it comes to high-profile cases. It functions instead as a “cognitive elite”— the aristocratic part of a mixed regime. It’s job, I guess, is to supply wisdom and virtue to counter popular and legislative ignorance and expediency. First off: I don’t know about the virtue part; after all, they were trained to be lawyers and not philosopher-kings. And if what they were doing were “cognitive” in the sense of listening to reason, why do they so often divide 5-4 on the high-profile cases? All reasonable men and women should assent to the truth. when they hear it.
In my last post, I discussed why one should care about economic mobility for the poor rather than income equality. The basic point is that we should care how well the poor are doing rather than their relative position compared to the rich. If we can increase the wealth of the poor by $100, we should do so even if that involves giving the rich an extra $200.
So why do some people on the left focus on income equality rather than mobility for the poor. One possibility is that focusing on income equality allows them to argue directly for the result that they like – equality. If they had to discuss whether certain institutions, such as free market institutions, helped the poor, it would at best make their arguments messier and at worst sometimes support free markets. It is safer and simpler to argue for income equality and implicitly assume that money provided to the rich is always taken out of the pockets of the poor.
But this explanation simply moves us back a step: why don’t these people on the left care enough about the poor to focus on their situation, even at the risk of allowing these “argument costs.” There are several possibilities.
Hovering like a stern schoolmarm over much of our political discourse and decision-making is a sort of lurking censor, monitoring political decisions to ensure that they are based on “secular” grounds and purposes. Let us call this regulator “the secularism constraint.”
In many cultural neighborhoods, the secularism constraint seems almost as natural and ineluctable as the law of gravity. Legal scholars and political theorists argue for one or another variant of the constraint (a/k/a “public reason”), or more often just take it for granted. Constitutional doctrine– the so-called Lemon test, from the case of Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971)– provides at least ambiguous validation with its “secular purpose” requirement for government action.
It may only be rock and roll, but Alan Krueger, the outgoing chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, likes it, not least because it is economically illuminating. Among the ways in which the economy and the recording industry are alike, he said in a recent address at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, is that outcomes in both depend substantially on luck. The suggestion is that distributions dictated by chance are arbitrary, problematic and—this last point is unstated but seemingly latent—fair game for rearranging. The typical conservative response is to deny that luck rather than merit is at play. But were the point ceded just for fun—and luck stipulated as a potent force in economic affairs—an interesting question might result: So?
“All we ask is that law and policy be based upon reason.” So begins Ralph Hancock’s latest book, Responsibility of Reason: Theory and Practice in a Liberal-Democratic Age. This opening quote was actually delivered by a frustrated political scientist at an academic conference, who asserted “the authority of simple reason” against perceived rubes who doubt its truth or rather its efficacy for impartially reconciling competing claims within a pluralist democracy.
John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness has the intellectual ambition of formulating a synthesis – at least a tentative synthesis — of key elements of libertarian or classical liberal thought on the one hand and social democrat thought on the other hand. From the former Tomasi purports to take robust economic rights that have a strong claim on being recognized within any acceptable social-political order and an appreciation of the beneficial outcomes of spontaneous orders; and from the latter, he takes a strong commitment to “social justice” that is understood in difference principle fashion as a commitment to making the worst off members of society as well off as possible.
Over at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians site, they are having a symposium on John Tomasi’s new book Free Market Fairness. The book takes a Rawlsian approach to political philosophy, but argues that Rawlsians should treat economic liberty as one of the basic liberties. Under this approach, economic liberty would not simply be ignored by Rawlsians and treated as part of the matters that are subject to the difference principle, but would be given a very high priority similar to personal freedoms. The symposium includes a lot of important philosophers and is well worth reading. Here is a brief summary of one…