Monday, June 13, 2016

Welfare for the Wealthy - Climate Change

In an earlier post I discussed how much of the law is concerned with transferring wealth from the poor and middle class into the pockets of the wealthy.

Climate change provides a useful illustrative example of this process.

There is no major moral system in existence that condones the act of putting things into the air that harms the life, health, or property of others without them at least agreeing explicitly to the risk in a voluntary non-coerced transaction, and potentially obtaining some compensation in exchange.

Specifically, neither capitalism nor libertarianism allows this.

Libertarianism prohibits acts of aggression - understood as the initial use of force or violence against another. Putting something into the air that destroys the life, health, or property of others is an act of aggression. As such, libertarian principles prohibit such acts unless and until one has secured a permission to do so by those who would be - or who are put at risk of being - harmed.

Capitalism, for its part, allows only voluntary transactions or trade. Forced transactions distort the market and prevent the free-enterprise system from functioning as it should. Whenever one person performs an action that harms the property, health, or life of another without their consent, then this is a violation of market principles - a market distortion.

However, because of the political influence of money, wealthy people can - and some do - obtain a legal permission to harm the health and property of others, and even kill them, for the sake of improving the corporate bottom line and the personal bank accounts of those who order and execute these actions.

Meanwhile, poorer people, whose activities are far less harmful to humanity as a whole (and generally far less beneficial to those who commit them), are imprisoned - placed under a threat of death if they should try to resist.

This is no minor injustice. This is not the case where one can argue that the system is nearly balanced but still requires some tweaking. This is a system where some wealthy people have purchased a government-provided immunity against destroying whole cities and even a few countries while poorer people tend to lose years or decades out of their lives for the crime of taking a few dollars.

The people who commit these greater harms and do so on a such a grand scale are also the most richly rewarded, enjoying among the largest accumulations of wealth. This gives them instant access to those with political power - those who are able to give them legal immunity from punishment for the vandalism, assaults, and murders that they commit for the sake in the name of increasing their wealth.

Even when it comes to mitigating these effects - building seawalls to protect cities - these costs do not come from those who are making them necessary. They come from "the general treasury", to be paid for by all of us.

It would be little different, though on a smaller scale, if your neighbor were to perform some action that would destroy the paint job on your car unless you personally accepted the expense of protecting your car from these harms. In fact, morally, you would be within your rights to demand that your neighbor NOT engage in these actions unless your neighbor first compensates you for the harm done or pays whatever costs are necessary to prevent the harm from occurring.

All of these harms can be accurately described as a transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to people who already have a great deal of wealth. The poor and middle class suffer a reduction of wealth - an uncompensated loss either in the form of destroyed property, health, or loss of life. Meanwhile, those with money are permitted to pocket even more money. They are made wealthier precisely because they have purchased a legal immunity against compensating others for harms done.

Let me be clear - I do not accept the "natural rights", "intrinsic value" basis for libertarianism or capitalism. There is no intrinsic value. These principles, if they are to be justified at all, can only be justified in terms of their social utility - their capacity to fulfill desires and, thus, provide individuals with reason to adopt them (and no further). These injustices not only violate the philosophies of libertarianism and capitalism, they also violate all moral philosophies that base the legitimacy of policies on promoting the overall social welfare.

In this case, we do not need to provide the poor and middle class with extra government benefits to improve the quality of their lives. We simply need to protect the rights they already have - to end the government immunity that some wealthy people have purchased, giving them legal permission to destroy the property, assault their health, and even take their lives for no reason other than self-enrichment.


Unknown said...

Hmm...Alonzo, you are showing your hypocrisy a bit here. The "wealthy"? Poor versus rich? Isn't this something you have been lambasting Sanders for this entire campaign? ;)

By the way, I agree with the article. The problem is, sociopaths often end up running large corporations due to their ability to divorce emotion from business decisions. Needless to say, with a sociopath at the helm, the empathy and altruism for the poor is non-existent.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Yep, you were right.

As I wrote the blog, I thought to myself that I needed to keep clear the distinction between what wealthy people do and what having money makes possible.

In light of your criticism, I reread the post and discovered that there were, in fact, places where I made a poor use of language - doing exactly what I have criticized others for in using broad general terms without qualifiers where qualifiers were needed.

I have rewritten relevant parts of the article in the hopes of clarifying those parts - replacing phrases that take the form "wealthy people do or have done X" with phrases of the form, "there are wealthy people who do or have done X."