Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Sad Fate of Future Generations

One area in which I am pessimistic is on the question of whether future generations will be well cared for by present generations. It is not likely.

The United States in the future will be a nation collapsing under the strain of a mountain of debt, while rising sea levels destroy the states of Florida and Louisiana and several coastal cities.

The Definition of Moral-Should

The question of whether the definition of moral-should includes the desires of future generations or not is not a serious question. It is as trivial as the question of whether the term planet should include Pluto.

The size, shape, and orbit of Pluto does not hang in the balance depending on how we define our terms. Similarly, the objective facts concerning the relationship between future desires and present action is also not dependent on how we define our terms.

What matters are those objective facts.

Future Desires and Present Action

Future generations, if they exist at all, will certainly have reasons to reach back in time and mold our desires to be compatible with theirs. However, they lack the power to do so. The reasons for action that will exist are entirely impotent in the current world.

All of the motivation to bring current desires into harmony with future desires has to come from the people living today. If those reasons for action do not exist today, then people simply cannot be brought to act in ways that are harmonious with future desires.

Even the effort to mold current desires into those that are compatible with future desires must be motivated by current desires. We may find those motives in the national parental concern for the well-being of their offspring, in the interest to promoting an aversion to harm, and in the interest in promoting a desire to help the defenseless. Wherever we find it, if that motivation is not found in current desires then it cannot be a reason for action that exists for current actions.

Even to the degree that it does exist, the total weight of reasons for current action to make current desires compatible with future desires will never be as strong as they would have been if future generations could reach back in time. Future generations will always be worse off than they would have been if they could find the power to mold current desires to be harmonious with their own.

The National Debt

The National Debt, above a particular level, is an example of intergenerational slavery.

You have a group of populations, a group of people who vote, and a group of people who do not vote. The politicians, in a bid to get elected, engage in a policy of taking whatever they can from those who do not vote (taxation without representation) and redistributing their wealth to those whose votes they want to buy. Effectively, they make those who do not vote economic slaves to those who do vote.

The people who do not vote are future generations – and there is no way to give the a vote in current elections. The people who do vote are the people who are of voting age today.

The National Deficit is the redistribution of wealth – the value of the slave labor – that is to be taken from those who have no political voice to be handed out to those whose votes the politician wants to buy.

It is no different than imposing a tax that is imposed only on those who are black, then using that money to write checks that are distributed to white people.

There are some legitimate reasons for government debt. If the future generation is going to enjoy the benefits of an action it is reasonable to ask them to pay for that action. So, it is reasonable to ask future generations to pay to construct a road (by issuing bonds), to expect future generations to pay for their own public education, and to expect future generations to pay to fight current wars in defense of their liberty.

However, to a large degree, with our current deficit, we enslave future generations for our own enjoyment.

Future generations will never get a vote in current elections. Therefore, politicians will continue to confiscate the wealth of future generations and use it to buy the votes of current voters. This will continue to the point that future generations can no longer stand the weight of the burden placed on them, and the system collapses.

We may find the motivation to end this practice – to promote such an aversion to enslaving those who cannot vote that we choose not to do so. However, if we cannot find the motivation to make this change in current desires, then it does not exist. Defining moral-should to include future desires will not change this fact.


Anonymous said...

Alonzo> "Defining moral-should to include future desires will not change this fact."

You may not be "defining" moral-should to include future desires, but you are clearly stating that we moral-should include future desires in our moral calculations.

Why so much emphasis on the "defining" anyway?

Emu Sam said...

Clear communication requires that we agree on the terms involved. It may not matter to the theory, or to reality, what terms we use. A word is only a symbol for a real thing or idea, and the thing or idea will continue to exist even without the word. However, when communicating an idea for which there is no word, or for which the word can mean many different things, it is important to be precise to avoid misunderstandings.

Defining sea life to include shore birds can change the meaning of phrases like "Sea life harasses beach vacationers." (not the best example)

I think Alonzo is preemptively addressing a possible objection - whether moral-should includes future desires or not. He is, in fact, saying that the definition does not matter, and anyone who presents this argument is not addressing the point of how our actions affect future desires.

Ken Coman said...

Alonzo -

I wanted to let you know that I felt this is very well written and well thought out. Your perspective is good - thank you very much for sharing.