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September 07, 2006



I'll answer out of order, if I may...

1. Precisely.

3. If B acquires or uses legal means to expropriate A's greater opportunities, the law is necessarily treating them inequally, to B's advantage. In other ways, it could be said that the law is enforcing equality of other opportunities between A and B, but by doing so it has compromised its own reference to equality.

2. Ha ha! There is a tricky one. A Lysander Spooner would argue that no government-enforced law -- at least on any large geographic scale as it does now -- should exist at all because there is no way everyone can help write or contribute to the law equally. Philosophically correct, but I don't want to argue from an anarchic standpoint. Leaving aside the question of who gets to write the law, though, maintaining the principle of equality before the law through, say, constitutional means would at least discourage the opportunism of special interests in acquiring special privileges. Not that a constitution is any guarantee that it won't corrupt itself, unfortunately. But in any case, self-serving special interest groups that seek special legal privileges and immunities deserve sarcasm and contempt. Those that seek voluntary special consideration are an entirely different matter.


Okay, I'm not sure I'm following this discussion at all, but it seems to accept a neccessary inequality between people: Dave and Lisa seem to assert that, yes, A has more oppurtunity than B, and that this is perfectly legitimate. The interesting question here isn't if B should get some of A's oppurtunity, but, rather, why the fuck does A have such "greater oppurtunity" in the first place. And, chances are, that "greater oppurtunity" derives from the usual sources: class, race, gender, family, etc - that is, it speaks to the sociological positioning of A vis a vis B. Which is to say, why should the rich son from some rich and important family - say the Westons or the Eatons - be granted more opportunity than Jamal from Jane and Finch or or Sarah the milkmaid from the farm in Fallbrook?

This all, of course, points back to the discussion between Mandos and I in the first place: those with "greater opportunity" don't need to justify why they are granted this opportunity by birth and those with "less opportunity" have to remain happy with what life dealt them.


Why should the rich and important father have to give up his wealth and property to the equalizing committee? I like charity, but I like to decide for myself who's getting my money, thanks very much for asking.

'[T]hose with "greater opportunity" don't need to justify why they are granted this opportunity by birth"

To whom? To you? Why?

"[T]hose with "less opportunity" have to remain happy with what life dealt them."

Dude, that's up to them. Of course they could decide instead to actually work for an opportunity -- that's what I'm doing. Except in extreme circumstances such as legitimate physical or mental disability, there's nothing stopping them, you know.


I find it interesting that your moral and legal philosophy includes the notion that it is wrong to make lifesaving exceptions for anaphylaxis in a hypothetical situation.

To your response to my (3), how so? If A were ever in B's situation, A would be able to make use of the same mechanism, no? Then clearly "equality before the law" is preserved. I mean, most laws apply at different times to different people depending on the circumstances, since that's precisely what laws are for. So how is this different?

To your response to my (2), that's not really what I meant. I'm slightly sympathetic to your "Lysander Spooner" argument, but I agree that this is besides the point. We are talking about laws defining and governing ownership and opportunity, no? And we are talking about a "before" and an "after"---the "after" being when then nasty socialists introduced variations on property rights. I am asking who wrote the laws *before* so that property and opportunity were arranged as it was, and did "equality before the law" as you define it ever exist then so that it could be denied by the commies?


I myself hate to think that the law could reach such a point of absurdity that lifesaving exceptions would need to be made at all. Clearly any law that would require these kinds of provisions are utterly arbitrary and equality before them becomes rather a secondary consideration.

I see what you mean about equality of the law now. It is a nice thought that I could rather share when it comes to simple punitive misdemeanour or criminal laws. I was thinking rather more about the law including all other legislation. For example, spending by government departments is allowed by legislation, and it clearly permits subsidies, exemptions, immunities, grants, and all other kinds of privileges upon certain people. As do human rights tribunals, the creation of whole ministries and government departments, etc. The law favours in this case either people who belong distinctly to certain groups or people who can only take these opportunities by aligning themselves with particular interests that the law supports over others. There's a million or so examples of this kind of inequality before the law.

Addressing your last point, that gets into a whole area of natural rights that I haven't the time or inclination right now to get into properly, so I'll avoid it altogether. I apologize for leaving it so. Suffice to say that life and property existed before the law itself, and the rights to them are inalienable, equal and not granted by the law. I don't think equality before the law has ever existed in a perfect sense, although the original Constitution of the US came pretty damned close to recognizing the ideal for the first time in a codified sense. In short and long order it, or at least its interpretation, became corrupted by political interests of course.


Dave, a classic question: given that you seem to believe that rather than being disenfranchised, ostensibly disenfranchised groups are actually the enfranchised groups and ostensibly enfranchised groups are actually the disenfranchised group - this is, I think, your point about, for instance, human rights tribunals - would you have preferred, knowing the benefits of enfranchisement, to have been born otherwise. Say, a black lesbian, or a FAS native boy? Assuming you're a white guy from the lower middle or middle class, would you give that up to be something else? What would it be?

Same question to Lisa, if she's still playing along. Hell, same question to Mandos, if he wants to play.


I didn't know that was a classic question, but it's rather a silly question. I don't deny that being a straight white male who speaks English has its advantages, but they are cultural not legal (except the English part, that's functional). If I were not part of that "elite" establishment, and believe me my parents were no part of any elite group that anyone would recognize as such, I would hope to be able to prevail on my own merits, which fortunately most people of any race, colour, background, gender, etc. are already able to do. I would hope not to locate advantage through political means. I would gladly give up political opportunism, however. Cultural biases against accidents of birth, as much as they still exist which I do not think is much, ought properly to be opposed but only on a voluntary basis — mandating particular privileges based on race or other accidents of birth, apart from being racist itself, creates a never-ending competition for resources on an ever increasingly political track. Opportunities then become limited by political groupings. Don't get me wrong — we are still far removed from politics being the deciding factor in opportunity instead of initiative, but anything apart from voluntary persuasion is decidedly unfortunate. You might think that you can make legislation that corrects for cultural biases temporarily, but trust me that methodology becomes permanently entrenched and competition along political lines eventually overcomes voluntary endeavours. Go a little farther down the line and you reach fascism. It's a much stepper price to pay than persuasion.

To be fair, though, I'll answer your question directly. I would not trade my position as a white straight male from a lower-to-middle class position, for all that it's worth. Certain political advantages do not accrue to me because of this, but other cultural advantages do. Get rid of them both, don't entrench one, especially the one that's hardest to get rid of. Ideally, though, I'd love to have come from an upper-class position, but hey that's life.


Given your love of iniative and good old guption, how do you feel about inheritance? Doesn't inheritance - call it "culture," but a "culture" of networks in the form of clubs, family ties, business ties, educational ties, and political ties does indeed separate a small ruling elite from everyone else - result in an unlevel playing field. That is to say, the market of oppurtunities is necessarily skewed towards those who had the good sense to have rich, well-connected parents?


He'll say that this emerges from the voluntary transmission of wealth as the right of property, a Standard Answer. Advantages to individuals that accrue from this right of property are themselves a reflex of the right of property and genuine equal treatment.


The correct path is to note that his concept of natural rights emerges from a fool's errand that produced nothing but an arbitrary justification for an arbitrary allotment and that his concept of the equality of the law is ill-defined and all those who wrote documents that enshrine his viewpoint (like the US Constitution) had a transparent series of motivations to develop these convoluted justifications.

Of course in more detail.


Yeah, it's a right of transmission of property, of course. Do you suggest that you have that right instead? If I accumulate wealth through my endeavours without expropriating other's (not that I've got any yet), I've got the bloody right to do with it what I want, including passing it along to my kids. Don't tell me what I can and cannot do with it — you're free to suggest as much as you like, but it sounds like you favour using the long arm of the law to forcefully dispose of it to your own preferences. You convince me of your right to do so, and I might listen to you, but otherwise neither of you have put forward any argument for doings so. In the absence, I could suggest a few choice words except that I've been raised better.

More in detail? I look forward to it. While you're at it, be careful not to suppose that something like the US Constitution "enshrines" my or similar viewpoints but that it derived from them in the first place. No phony attributions, please.


"You convince me of your right to do so, and I might listen to you, but otherwise neither of you have put forward any argument for doings so."

We did, but you weren't listening. The series of claims and the critique of corrective action which you raised lead to abstract moral absurdities and can only be defended in a world that has been designed for them. Your concept of "equality of the law" cannot be implemented in any robust legal system. Property cannot be protected without a robust legal system. And so on---the logic runs itself inexorably into the ground.

Just to give you one example of an absurdity.

You are nitpicking on my use of "enshrine". I should have used the words "reflect" or "contain" or "are congruent to". Obviously, I was saying that the formulation of the ideas behind the US Constitution cannot be separated from the history and class interests of the formulators.

And I said "Of course in more detail" as a comment to Craig that I wasn't going to provide it myself.


Dave, I'm just trying to understand your position on its own terms. There are a number of points I'm not getting: you suggest that sociological differences don't matter, and then suggest that well, maybe they do in a cultural sense, but you keep saying that what really matters is individual iniative. If there are sociological differences - that is, differences at the statistical and group level that do impact upon empirical individuals in a probabilistic manner - then it seems that if you are serious about your position in the first place that you'd want to do as much as possible to level the playing field; that is, negate the sociological differences. Afterall, if everyone were distributed equal opportunity, more people would flourish. Hence, my question is as follows: inheritance is a primary means of unlevelling the playing field - were inheritances put into a general fund such that medicine (including dentistry and drugs), education (including primary, secondary and post-secondary), child care, and a certain number of other things (roads, water, power, possibly a basic social wage, loans, etc) were paid out of a general fund such that everyone had equal and universal access to these resources, wouldn't that maximize the possibilities of individual iniative?

The only reason you could have to want to pass inheritances on to particular individuals rather than individuals in general is to skew the "market" of opportunity in their direction: in other words, you are fine with controlled and managed markets, so long as the controlling and management is in your favour.

Once again, I'm just trying to understand what you're saying because it seems that a number of people think like you and I really don't understand what you (and them) are saying.


Craig, I would want to "skew the "market" of opportunity" in the direction of my children. I should think that I would be monstrous if I didn't -- to the extent that I would want to pass on my own earnings, I should like to decide for myself what parts of the "general" is worth supporting. Since no one else earned it, I don't recognize their automatic claims to it. That goes for health, education, the rest… I agree that everyone benefits from those things but not that they necessarily benefit from automatic entitlement to those things. They must be earned and/or made by someone after all, unlike equality before the law. As far as the rest, I do think that sociological differences matter as far as opportunity goes, but that using the law to manufacture a sociological level playing field imposes a far greater cost both sociologically and individually. So far as they go, they are cultural manifestations, not deliberately manufactured ones. For cultural change to have any meaning to its participants, it must be wrought within by its participants instead of through the force of the law. Otherwise resentment is bred, artificially that is, meaning politically. I think that you will find for the most part that advocates of absolute equality of the law are not bigots at all and demonstrate a commitment to a level playing field of opportunity. It seems to me that opportunity is mistaken for circumstance, though, and it is quite natural and obvious that none of us are born or raised into the same circumstances. Like I said, that's life whether the law is involved or not. Since you are interested, Craig, I've bookmarked your site and will try to email you at some time and elaborate some more. I must retire now for the weekend. Cheers.


Sorry, one more thing… I don't mind controlled or managed markets? I don't see how that follows. I might hope to extend the advantages I have accrued to my beneficiaries, but not by importuning political devices. Absolute equality before the law presupposes not controlling or managin markets by artificial -- political -- means. I am under no illusion that the current "capitalist" structure does not take advantage of political means to support and further itself. See what happens when you introduce special privileges, though?


"Sorry, one more thing… I don't mind controlled or managed markets? I don't see how that follows. I might hope to extend the advantages I have accrued to my beneficiaries, but not by importuning political devices."

The point is the heart of what Craig is attempting to tell you. A particular group of people are designated by your theory of property to decide the overall allocations in the economy due to their potential control over large portions of it. This is a managed market---managed, at minimum, by the father's decision that his son and not someone else should accrue the bulk of his wealth. It's no different from any other kind of managed market except in the principle by which you chose the manager, a principle that is hardly undisputable.

Another way to select this group is by election.;

Another way is to do what Craig suggested and have NO allocators. The closest approximation to an unmanaged market is one in which no one can confer a starting advantage on anyone else. This requires equal reapportionment of wealth generation by generation.


A few things. First, perhaps, the more trivial: why are politics "artificial" and markets "real"? Both are equally "real" in that both clearly exist and both are clearly domains in which human action can take place. But, if there is a difference, its that politic is known in one form or another in all societies; the market is not. Even if we reduce the discussion to "the West" we see that politics has existed since the beginning, but that the market is a relatively new invention - dating to about the late eighteenth century or early nineteenth - and the actor on the market - the homo economicus - was only conceived of in the very late seventeenth century and early eighteenth century. (His invention, by the way, was to make a political point and not an economic point.) I find what you say to be rather strange.

But let's return to the substantive discussion and let's recall what you've agreed to:

(1) Individual initiative is the best good there is;
(2) Individual iniative can be compromised by an unequal distribution of opportunities;
(3) These opportunities are unequally distributed in a sociological fashion (those from Jane and Finch have fewer opportunities than those from Forest Hill);
(4) But, all the same, nothing should be done about those sociological differences. (As you said, you'd prefer to be a lower middle class white guy than from a "minority" group - a subtle racism, perhaps.)

Here's the thing I'm getting at: if individual initiative is the good you want to defend, why do you also defend a structure that prevents a majority of people from realizing that iniative in the first place? If you were consistent in your position - individual iniative is a good, if not the greatest good - wouldn't you want to maximize its possibilities through the creation of a level playing field, that is, an entirely free market free of any form of bias in the starting position?

I suggested the contradiction - fatal one at that - could be resolved through putting unspent wealth at the time of death into a general fund which would see to it that everyone has access to first rate health, education, infrastructure and (possibility) a social wage.

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