Sunday, March 26, 2017

Anger, Guilt, and Agent-Centered Sentimentalism - and Two New Arguments Defending the Minimum Wage

154 days until the first class.

The class paper is going poorly. I am not at all happy with my writing on the section that discusses anger and its implications for agent-centered sentimentalist moral theories. The actual problem is, I think that agent-centered sentimentalist moral theories are so wrong that the paper sounds mean.

I mean . . . according to agent-centered sentimentalism, if I say that your act is wrong, then I am saying that I am disposed to be angry with you for doing that act. But . . . look at that from your point of view. Is it the case that for you to say it is wrong is to say that I would be disposed to be angry at you for performing the act? No. It means that you are disposed to feel guilty for performing the act. And the two need not be at all related. I can be disposed to be angry at you for something you are not disposed to feel guilty about. Thus, I can say that your act is wrong, and you can say that it is not wrong, and both of us are right.

One of the more disturbing implications of this is . . . do you want your act to quit being wrong? Well, then quit feeling guilty about it. If you can quit feeling guilty about lying, about rape, about murdering your noisy next-door neighbor - then it is not wrong. I need to find a way to take this view seriously so that I can criticize it . . . and I am having difficulty. My arguments sound like mockery - the type of claim that one would find in a twitter comment. But, it is really easy to mock agent-centered sentimentalism.

I introduced a couple of arguments that I actually have not experienced elsewhere in discussions of the subject.

Argument 1: If there is a negotiation between one person whose basic needs are at risk (by which I mean having enough food to eat, shelter, medical care, the well-being of one's children are threatened due to lack of income) and another whose basic needs are secure, then this cannot be considered an example of a voluntary contract. The person whose basic needs are at risk is negotiating under duress. It's much like taking a cattle prod and waving it over one of the children and saying, "Agree to my salary proposal or the child gets it." That contract is not freely entered into.

This is an answer to the libertarian argument that there is something intrinsically wrong with interfering with a voluntary agreement among two individuals. Rather than argue that it is sometimes permissible to interfere with such agreements - this answer says that it is not a voluntary agreement between two individuals. One of the parties can turn down the offer and continue to live a good life with his basic needs met. The other cannot turn down the offer without facing drastically unpleasant circumstances. One of the parties can act voluntarily, the other cannot.

The other argument looks at the consequences of having a minimum wage versus not having one.

One of the standard arguments against increasing the minimum wage is that it increases unemployment. In 2014, the Congressional Budget Office produced a report on the effects of a law that would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.

Now, I know a lot of people believe that raising the minimum wage does not cause unemployment. However, the evidence on this matter is uncertain. There are some professional economists who believe that this is the case, and some who do not. Until economists have reached a consensus, the only rational and responsible position for us amateurs to take is to hold that raining the minimum wage creates a risk of unemployment. And this risk is not borne evenly. The people who are at greatest risk of losing their jobs are those with health issues, family commitments that make it difficult to maintain a decent schedule, suffered from a low quality education or have language barriers, or suffer the effects of implicit and explicit biases. The CBO report said that raising the minimum wage would reduce the number of jobs available to such people by 500,000. That's a heavy cost for raising the minimum wage.

But, to use this as a reason against raising the minimum wage - think about this implies.

This means that we are going to adopt a policy to protect these jobs that places the entire financial burden on the poorest workers by an accumulated total of $17 billion. This is the difference between the income that would be earned by the poorest workers if the minimum wage is raised compared to if the minimum wage is not raised. Our policy to protect these 500,000 jobs leaves this group $17 billion poorer than they would have otherwise been.

Furthermore, the "no raise in the minimum wage" option puts $17 billion in the pockets of the very rich. They get this money because they are able to make higher profits by paying a lower wage rate. So, this is a money transfer of $17 billion from the poorest Americans to the richest - those who, according to the CBO, make 6 times or more the poverty level.

If we are going to protect those 500,000 jobs - or those people with the employment handicaps who would lose those jobs - it makes little sense to adopt a program that (by analogy) we fund with a tax on the poorest Americans. The people we should look to for protecting those 500,000 Americans are the very wealthy - the people who can most afford it. Either the wealthiest corporations, or the wealthiest individuals, or both.

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