Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Liberal Blindness: The Global Poor, Minimum Wage Unemployed, and Energy Industry Worker

144 days until the first day of class - and it is looking now as if I will, indeed, have a class on Monday, August 28. It will be a class in environmental philosophy - which fits well in my intention of learning practical philosophy.

My two other classes will be the semi-required seminar in ethics - required of PhD students, but which I will certainly want to take anyway. The third course will be a class in modal logic - the logic of possibility and necessity. I think I could use a brush up in that area.

In other news, a particular blindness among liberals is becoming clearer to me. It is likely a feature of human nature - to simply ignore the implications of a desired policy that make it unfavorable, and turn a blind eye to those who are harmed.

I have encountered three areas of this.

One is an issue that I have written about often - particularly in relation to Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign and the "justice Democrats" who have arisen from that movement. This is their blindness to the fate of the global poor. They talk about bringing factory jobs back to the United States - claiming that it is unfair for American workers to be forced to compete against people willing to accept $2.00 per hour.

They ignore the fact that they are talking about human beings who are willing to accept $2.00 per hour. They are more than happy to take that $2.00 per hour away from those workers - returning those people to the conditions that made $2.00 seem like a good deal - without a shred of regret or sorrow.

In fact, when they speak of those people who are willing to take $2.00 per hour, they tend to talk about such people as if they are something less than human - something deserving of the wretched life they will have once those jobs are returned to the United States.

The second example of this form of moral blindness that I have encountered among liberals is blindness to those who may be harmed by increasing the minimum wage. An honest look at the evidence shows that professional economists themselves have not reached a consensus on whether increasing the minimum wage causes unemployment. All economists believe that it will at some level, but at what level? That is difficult to determine at this point in time.

Yet, many liberals act like the answer is certain.

Of course, the only reason they judge the answer to be certain is because this is the answer they like. It has nothing to do with the evidence - because if the evidence was there then it would have convinced at least a substantial majority of the economists who study this particular issue. When the evidence fails to convince a body of experts, an amateur is simply being arrogant to claim that she knows better than they do that the conclusion she likes most is also the one that happens to be true. How convenient?

The people harmed by a minimum wage increase would not be just some random set of workers. It would be those who suffer some form of employment disadvantage. They are the people whose health is not that good, or who have family commitments that make it difficult for them to keep regular hours. They are the people with a criminal record trying to get a fresh start, those who do not speak English, those who are poorly educated, and those who suffer from some form of implicit or explicit bias. The liberals I am writing about take these people and make them worse off, and then turn a blind eye to their fate because they find the existence of these people problematic.

The third area where I have found liberal bias is in the area of climate change. Many liberals extol the virtues of green and renewable energy. Indeed, switching to a carbon-free energy industry would be a net benefit to society. Yet, those benefits will not be evenly distributed. Many liberals who embrace renewable energy simply ignore the fact that there are a couple of million workers in or related to the fossil fuel industry who will suffer greatly as a result of these programs.

It does not take a lot of compassion to say that the energy program should include some way to transition these fossil fuel industry workers out of their existing jobs and into new jobs. However, the liberals in question prefer to turn a blind eye to the fates of these families - to leave them to suffer the burdens of this change in policy on their own.

It is as if these liberals consider the energy industry employee to be morally tainted by finding a job in this industry and thus deserve whatever suffering may be imposed upon them. I dare say that the fossil fuel industry worker does not likely share this attitude.

It would be useful if liberals would, generally, put some effort into discovering these areas of moral blindness and illuminating them. It would certainly improve the quality of life for the victims of their favorite policies (which, I will add, are generally beneficial). It might even buy them some political capital they can spend elsewhere.

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