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May 20, 2005

blast from the past (two)

Don Herzog: May 20, 2005

It's one of my favorite pamphlets, but alas, it isn't reprinted any more.  After the author published it, he handed it off to the Association for Preserving Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers — yup, they don't name political groups like they used to — and they circulated it widely.  Twenty-five years later, one radical was appalled to notice a newspaper ad for a new edition.  "It is false," he thundered, "that whilst some have exorbitant fortunes, the rest are happy."  Circulating such views "in the midst of desolation and ruin" was outrageous, "mocking the poor man's sorrow — jesting upon his misery."  Eight years after that, a conservative newspaper reprinted the whole text.  It was a dangerous time, they warned, "when the servant turns upon his master, and the shopman claims to be a philosopher," and the venerable old pamphlet was called for once again.

How the mighty have fallen:  this delicious pamphlet hasn't even been publicly available online.  But I have boldly taken matters in hand and now it is.  The pamphlet is William Paley's Reasons for Contentment, Addressed to the Labouring Part of the British Public, first published in 1792.  And that "British" matters.  I know of nothing like this piece from contemporary America.  As you read on, think about what that means about those American conservatives devoted to tradition, and especially the Anglophiles in the crowd.  Why are they devoted to foreign traditions?  Anyway, you should read Paley's deathless pamphlet.  All nine pages of it.  But here's a quick overview.

To put it politely, the English authorities were jittery in the aftermath of the French revolution.  A helpful soul, Paley — moral philosopher, theologian, and Anglican churchman — put his shoulder to the wheel to try to quiet radical demands for equality.  His pamphlet insists so vehemently on the superiority of poverty that it becomes entirely mysterious why the rich don't try to find some poor suckers to take their wealth off their hands.  Or for that matter why they don't just burn it outright.

Those grumbling about inequality, Paley sweetly explains, should recall that property rights are good for one and all.

The laws which accidentally cast enormous estates into one great man's possession, are, after all, the self same laws which protect and guard the poor man.  Fixed rules of property are established, for one as well as another, without knowing, before hand, whom they may affect.  If these rules sometimes throw an excessive or disproportionate share to one man's lot, who can help it?  It is much better that it should be so, than that the rules themselves should be broken up:  and you have only one side of the alternative or the other.  To abolish riches would not be to abolish poverty; but, on the contrary, to leave it without protection or resource.

Then too, Providence has ensured that most people can be happy without wealth.  Workers are busy, so they have no time for the "irksome and tormenting" thoughts that afflict the wealthy in their leisure.  "Frugality itself is a pleasure."  The poor provide more easily for their children:

All the provision which a poor man's child requires is contained in two words, "industry and innocence."  With these qualities, tho' without a shilling to set him forwards, he goes into the world prepared to become an useful, virtuous, and happy man.

The poor even get more pleasure from food and drink.

The rich who addict themselves to indulgence lose their relish.  Their desires are dead.  Their sensibilities are worn and tired.  Hence they lead a languid, satiated existence.  Hardly any thing can amuse, or rouse, or gratify them.  Whereas the poor man, if something extraordinary fall in his way, comes to the repast with appetite; is pleased and refreshed; derives from his usual course of moderation and temperance a quickness of perception and delight, which the unrestrained voluptuary knows nothing of.

Much has changed since Paley's day.  Today's poor are far better off materially.  (Would Paley regret the change?  Should we?)  And while I am deeply committed to equality of opportunity, and think that that requires equality of starting points, I flatly reject equality of outcomes.  (I've sketched my views here and in the two preceding posts linked in that one.)  Then too I think some of Paley's sentiments are exactly right for governing one's private life.  That sardonic reproach, "he who dies with the most toys wins," captures something important.  Whether Paley's sentiments properly play a role in justifying public policy is another matter.

So I don't produce Paley to sneer that the opposite of what he says is true.  Nor do I produce him to insinuate that conservatives haven't budged since his day.  Instead, I want to raise two questions.  One:  how much of what Paley says is right?  Two:  how much of what Paley says still circulates in public debate?  Well, three questions.  (These longwinded academics with their insufferable homework assignments!)  Three:  how much overlap is there between one and two?


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Although I think of myself as a libertarian, I confess that I've never read Hayek's Road to Serfdom...but I suspect that this version (via Left2Right) may not capture everything in Hayek's 320 page classic. But note what happens when central plann... [Read More]

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Posted by: Shag from Brookline

Ted Turner was recently interviewed by Charlie Rose. On the subject of his wealth, Turner commented "That's how we [the wealthy] keep score." This applies to today's CEOs.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | May 20, 2005 7:21:46 AM

Posted by: Rivers

I think what he says is right in a sense: everyone SHOULD try to be happy with their station in life. As Paley was a clergyman, his relaying of this message is certainly appropriate.

To the extent that this message is delivered today, if it is, clergy would still be the best ones to talk about this sort of thing, in my opinion. However, it does seem as if we have political hacks today that make the same argument, with no spiritual trappings. After all, "only the rich pay taxes; the rich are stretched as far as they can possibly be; etc."

So the "rich are miserable" argument is still being made. However, there is probably no overlap today, at least in our civil debates, since the "rich have it bad" argument has been completely secularized.

Posted by: Rivers | May 20, 2005 9:00:34 AM

Posted by: john t

I hope a fair amount of what Paley said still circulates today,if property is not afforded protection who gets to control or own it,the Dept of Health and Human services,the Bureau of Land Management? I assume Paley's comment about "innocence and Industry" is meant to refer to a willingness to work and sufficent virtue to advance oneself in a decent mode of behavior,nothing wrong with that. So yes their is still currency to what Paley said and the rightness is to be judged by the transporting thru time of the practices he outlines,which hopefully will continue. Regarding a connection between Don H's questions one and two,well most people still work toward self betterment and property is one of the payoffs and the ideas are still with us. So it's fair to say there is overlap.

Posted by: john t | May 20, 2005 9:19:41 AM

Posted by: Mtnmarty

Thanks for the recommendation, I thoroughly enjoyed the pamphlet.

My short answers.

1. A lot of what he says is right.
2. Very little of what he says still circulates.
3. I think that because we are all rich now( that is, we all have enough leisure to contemplate our lot in life) that we prefer too distract ourselves with anything but the type of truths he discusses.

Some anecdotal evidence of number 2. I have two teenagers that I have tried to teach points similar to those Tolstoy makes whether in the form of Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Illich, or that it is better to give than to receive from the New Testament, or beware the green-eyed monster jealousy from Othello, or about not gathering more manna from heaven than one needs for the days food, or from Bhuddist teachings that desire creates suffering or from homespun homilies such as those that marry for money earn every penny.

I am likely a poor teacher and teenagers may be especially unreachable on these points. They tell me not that I am a hypocrit but that I am crazy because NOBODY lives this way.

More anecdotes, indulge me, its my birthday. I think I do believe this way because similar to some characters from a John O'Hara novel I grew up in a town small enough where the same elementary school had kids whose parents were on welfare and kids whose grandparents were on the Forbes 100.

Money does not make people happy. Envy does make people unhappy.

It trust my kids: few believe it, no one lives it.

Posted by: Mtnmarty | May 20, 2005 9:22:51 AM

Posted by: Aaron S.

Paley?! Hell, I can't even ask him for the time of day without him ogling his watch.

Posted by: Aaron S. | May 20, 2005 10:22:52 AM

Posted by: catfish

Well, the contentment that Paley speaks of is good advice for anyone. However, his definition of poverty is completely ridiculous. Poverty, in our day and in his, is best defined, not by a lack of luxury items, but the lack of control. Those who are impoverished today are people who cannot afford health care, adequate housing, a decent education for their children, or adequate child-care. Many impoverished people also live in areas that are physically dangerous due to high crime rates. Many of these same people do not have adequate skills that would allow them to earn a decent wage. Frequently, they do not have the resources to move to a better neighborhood or reliable transportation to expand the geographical area in which to bargain for cheaper goods or higher wages.

Regardless of who is to blame for this situation, telling these people that they should be content with their lot is, at worst, deeply insulting. At best, it reinforces the fatalism which is at least partly responsible for their predicament in the first place.

Of course, the lot of the poor wasn't much differnt in Paley's day. The hunger, dangerous working conditions, lack of basic sanitation, or any social safety net other than the workhouse made actual poverty much different than his idealized version.

Note, none of the above necessarily demands a government, rather than private solution. Still, it is best to start the discussion with realistic picture of the lives of the poor.

Posted by: catfish | May 20, 2005 11:55:12 AM

Posted by: Larry

I don't want to be a pedant about this, but I'd like to just note, again, the common but misleading tendency to speak of generalized groups such as the Poor or the Rich as though they were Platonic ideals, when in fact these terms represent huge swaths of actual wealth levels, wide ranges of individual situations and circumstances, etc. Perhaps we need, Margaret Thatcher-like, to simply deny the existence of the Poor or the Rich.

Posted by: Larry | May 20, 2005 12:23:09 PM

Posted by: Tad Brennan


Happy birthday!

Posted by: Tad Brennan | May 20, 2005 12:58:27 PM

Posted by: CTW


the illogic of your post is breathtaking.

"Poverty ... is best defined, not by a lack of luxury items ..."

of course not! as was pointed out on an earlier thread, the problem with poverty today is a surfeit of luxury items, ie, the poor are suffering the very disincentives paley described re the rich. wants are sated, initiative is stifled, ambition becomes unnecessary, etc. fortunately, current admin proposals are addressing this by eliminating much of the deplorable excess that degrades a once noble life of poverty.

"Frequently, they do not have the resources to move to a better neighborhood"

white flight was bad enough - now you're advocating poor flight. if this terrible policy were actually implemented urban areas would soon be overrun by yuppies. then you'd see real moral decay - inner cities would be unlivable for anyone with decent values.

"Many impoverished people also live in areas that are physically dangerous due to high crime rates."

you obviously don't know a syllogism when you see one. high crime rates occur in poor areas; high crime rates imply the presence of large numbers of criminals. ergo, most poor people are criminals. if the poor would simply stop committing crimes, the crime rate would go down. sheesh!

"fatalism which is at least partly responsible for their predicament in the first place."

you're clearly an atheist, ie, a liberal. again, the reasoning is so simple even an engineer can see it. urban poor are typically black, most blacks are religious, therefore they accept that their fate is in the hands of god. so what you're saying is they should abandon their fate and reject god. why don't you take your hedonistic commie views and move to cuba. or any blue state.

and please work on your reasoning skills before posting further in this forum.

Posted by: CTW | May 20, 2005 12:59:50 PM

Posted by: catfish



Posted by: catfish | May 20, 2005 1:06:30 PM

Posted by: mikey

Who argues for equality of outcomes anymore?

Posted by: mikey | May 20, 2005 1:27:15 PM

Posted by: Stagnolio

Interesting post. As to the first two block quotes, they are certainly still a major part of public debate. But the third block quote, when stripped to its core, contains a sentiment to which no politician would own up. Not since ancient Sparta has a politician made a serious case against material prosperity. Aside from some fringe anarchoprimitivists, that idea has no place in political life. Somewhat strangely, however, it has a strong place in private reflection - there is a long strand of cultural thought, movies, and novels, that espouse the idea that "Money doesn't make you happy" or even "Money corrupts you and makes you unhappy." This public/private divide can be reconciled as follows: few non-rich people actually believe that wealth will make them unhappy, or at the very least, they'd like the opportunity to find out for themselves.

Posted by: Stagnolio | May 20, 2005 2:11:22 PM

Posted by: Achillea

One: how much of what Paley says is right?
Paley's basic contention appears to be 'Poor people should be content being poor and not attempt, or even think about attempting, to improve their lot.' In support of this, he makes the following claims:
A) Worrying their little heads about matters best left to their betters will only confuse and upset them.
B) Any realization of what they don't have will bring on soul-destroying paroxysms of envy.
C) The laws that maintain the elevated status of the rich also serve to keep the poor from sinking any lower -- in fact, they provide protection that, being comparatively powerless, the poor would otherwise lack.
D) There is no difference between what the rich produce/consume than what the poor produce/consume, so why fuss.
E) It's the natural way of things.
F) Work is virtuous and keeps one from becoming bored.
G) Rich people sometimes receive no acknowledgment/thanks for what they do.
H) Scrimping and saving provides a sense of accomplishment and teaches children good habits.
I) It's always been that way.
J) Poor people get to choose who they work for.
K) Luxury isn't as much fun if you have it all the time.
L) Rich people have the same pastimes, so they're people too.
M) Sudden windfalls never work out well.
N) God wants it this way, and those who question it are bound to burn in hell.

Other than C, and to some extent H, K, and M, these are either irrelevant to the question or utter tosh.

Two: how much of what Paley says still circulates in public debate?
Very little that I've seen, unless the discussion is about "Brave New World" or some leftist is claiming that's how conservatives and/or the Christian right really think.

Three: how much overlap is there between one and two?
Not sure I understand this question. You're asking if how much truth there is (or isn't) to the points in the treatise affects how often they're raised in the modern day?

Posted by: Achillea | May 20, 2005 2:30:22 PM

Posted by: Tad Brennan

page 1, 7 lines from bottom--
"fending it forth to wander" is presumably a mis-transcription from "sending it forth"--the same problem of flowery script 's's that gave Stan Freeberg jokes about the "purfuit of happineff".

Posted by: Tad Brennan | May 20, 2005 2:37:15 PM

Posted by: Don Herzog

Achillea, a more direct rendition of what I meant to ask in three is: identify what in Paley's pamphlet is both (1) true and (2) still floating around in debate. To come at it the other way, think about what in the pamphlet is bilge or worse but still circulates, what in the pamphlet is true but has dropped out of circulation, and what in the pamphlet is false and has dropped out. But thanks, yours made me laugh aloud.

No one has yet picked up on a thought of Paley's that is politically very powerful -- and I think wrongheaded. When Paley writes,

you have only one side of the alternative or the other.

He means there is no real possibility of maintaining private property but doing some redistribution. Either you leave the system the way it is, or civilization goes down the tubes. The thought that there are no choices, no room for maneuver, has historically been deeply characteristic of some (must I emphasize "not all"?) right-wing views. (And it has its left-wing versions, like the grade-B Marxist who assures us that the revolution is inexorably on its way.) I guess Paley would think the legal regime of today's UK, or the US, is not possible. Compare Hayek's snazzier argument that the social-welfare state isn't stable but will tip over into totalitarianism. It's been a long time tipping, now hasn't it?

Tad, thanks for catching the typo. If I can figure out how to bend typepad to my puny will, I'll fix it.

Posted by: Don Herzog | May 20, 2005 2:49:26 PM

Posted by: Terrier

Mtnmarty, maybe you should teach your kids "Earthly desires are enlightenment." The simple reason these old doctrines about love and community are hollow now is because many people just don't feel a connection or an obligation to anyone else. Dog-minded people believe that the entire country sprung into being the moment they were born and all the advancements that took place to make being poor and downtrodden (or rich and indolent) a pleasure in this society are the result of the magic of people working against each other's best interests. If you read the letters that Sumerian fathers wrote to their sons you would discover that this is not a new problem - it is at least as old as cities. When the struggle for existence went from the satisfaction of physical needs to the hustle of abstract examinations we discovered that humanity could be a burden that we should "never to allow our attention to dwell upon." When you read Paley think about infant mortality, glasses of wine, the coming Potato Famine, and Rotten Boroughs and see if you can remember that "Religion smooths all inequalities, because it unfolds a prospect which makes all earthly distinctions nothing." Surely we have it much better today than even citizens after Paley did, but do we have enough compassion not to sanction the defects that he ignored?

Posted by: Terrier | May 20, 2005 2:52:31 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Compare Hayek's snazzier argument that the social-welfare state isn't stable but will tip over into totalitarianism. It's been a long time tipping, now hasn't it?

By historical standards? No, not really.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | May 20, 2005 3:00:13 PM

Posted by: Don Herzog

Well, we could make Hayek's argument unfalsifiable by indefinitely extending the time horizon. Do you think he thought we'd have as many decades of social-welfare-state as we have in fact had without tipping?

Posted by: Don Herzog | May 20, 2005 3:02:03 PM

Posted by: mtnmarty

Tad: Thanks!

Don: A couple of points. I think Paley is also saying something about security in addition to redistribution. I think the very existence of the term "The age of anxiety" is some evidence that despite our much greater level of economic development, the number of possbilities produces a certain anxiety.

The second point is that I think we can have our cake and eat it too, if we focus on absolute rather than relative prosperity. Famine, infectious disease, and slavery are not the same as some poeple making 20,000 aand others 2 million.

I am more willing to feed all starving children than to provide everyone higher education.

Terrier: Thanks for your comments. The research( or agitprop) on happiness shows that social contact and community bonds make for more happiness, so why the trend you point out towards more people that feel no connection?

Posted by: mtnmarty | May 20, 2005 4:01:22 PM

Posted by: Bret

Don Herzog wrote: "Do you think he [Hayek] thought we'd have as many decades of social-welfare-state as we have in fact had without tipping?"

I don't think Hayek thought that if there were even a single dollar of redistribution that it would inevitably lead to totalitarianism. I thought it was more that if the magnitude of the social-welfare-state ever passed a certain threshold that it would then likely lead to totalitarianism. I never saw in any of his writing that he expected the U.S. to tip into totalitarianism (due to its welfare statedness) or that he considered it a social-welfare-state, including his last works in the 1980s. Which writings are you referring to? The Road to Serfdom? Or something later?

Posted by: Bret | May 20, 2005 4:30:02 PM

Posted by: Don Herzog

I was thinking of The Road to Serfdom, but I haven't read it in many years, and it wouldn't be the first book I might be misremembering. I went just now to grab it from my shelf and discovered it's gone missing: no doubt I lent it to some anonymous student and will never see it again. Sigh.

Mr. Ridgely has an evil twin in this discussion, too: the Marxist who firmly holds out hope for the inevitable collapse of capitalism. Eventually....

Posted by: Don Herzog | May 20, 2005 4:33:18 PM

Posted by: john t

"The century of socialism in this sense{totalitarianism] is nearly dead in the western world". " It seems unlikely that,even when another Labor government should come to power in Great Britain,it would resume the experiments in large scale nationalization and planning". F A Hayek,1952. Did Hayek say the welfare state must tip over into totalitarianism or it could,if so when. And if it hasn,t or couldn't would we owe more to Hayek or J K Galbraith? Maybe the total state hasn't arrived in part because of Hayek.

Posted by: john t | May 20, 2005 5:26:43 PM

Posted by: john t

Don H I saved you the trouble of searching for your lost copy,my quote is from the Road to Serfdom.

Posted by: john t | May 20, 2005 5:31:00 PM

Posted by: Bret

I don't have my copy of The Road to Serfdom handy either, but consider the following excerpt from this interview with Hayek in 1977:

Reason: Is Britain irrevocably on the road to serfdom?

Hayek: No, not irrevocably. That's one of the misunderstandings. The Road to Selfdom was meant to be a warning: "Unless you mend your ways, you ll go to the devil." And you can always mend your ways.

So from this I interpret what he would say is that we are on the road to totalitarianism, but it isn't necessarily true that you can't park along it for extended periods of time or that you can't drive the other direction for a while. It's a road, not a one-way street, and not a waterfall where you're inevitably swept away in it.

Posted by: Bret | May 20, 2005 5:34:11 PM

Posted by: john t

This is the second Blast etc,each based on English conservative writings and referring to the French Revolution. So when do we get representative samples from across the channel during the same time period. Marat,Saint-Just,Danton,Robespierre,heck we could throw in Tom Paine,a big fan of the new order,until he barely escaped with his life. There must be some reason why these old English reactionaries wrote what they did in the 18th century. All of which was more meaningful and valid then the emissions from France,which sadly have had a long and influential history of their own.

Posted by: john t | May 20, 2005 5:46:08 PM

Posted by: Bret

One more Hayek quote (from The Road to Serfdom):

It is important not to confuse opposition against this kind of planning with a dogmatic laissez-faire attitude. The liberal argument is in favor of making the best possible use of the forces of competition as a means of coordinating human efforts, not an argument for leaving things just as they are. It is based on the conviction that, where effective competition can be created, it is a better way of guiding individual efforts than any other. It does not deny, but even emphasizes, that, in order that competition should work beneficially, a carefully thought-out legal framework is required and that neither the existing nor the past legal rules are free from grave defects. Nor does it deny that, where it is impossible to create the conditions necessary to make competition effective, we must resort to other methods of guiding economic activity ...

Posted by: Bret | May 20, 2005 5:48:08 PM

Posted by: Don Herzog

Well this is entirely hilarious: courtesy of GM and Look, we bring you The Road to Serfdom in cartoon format. No cracks, please, about what kind of books lend themselves to cartoon presentation.

Posted by: Don Herzog | May 20, 2005 5:48:31 PM

Posted by: Terrier

"Maybe you join the party yourself to aid national unity.", "-all tell you the same lies!", "What used to be an error has now become a crime against the state." Damn, maybe I need to read this guy?! It all sounds so familiar, now. How come I never noticed any of these kinds of things during the Great Society? Did LBJ just miss his chance? Had the "least educated" not formed a party then?

Posted by: Terrier | May 20, 2005 6:46:01 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Not even Mr. Ridgely's evil twin believes in historical determinism. I don't really remember Hayek's argument, nor much care. My point was only that it's way to early to call the modern social welfare state, as the left likes to say, sustainable. Even ignoring the demographic crisis of aging facing both the U.S. and Europe, it is questionable (in my mind, at least) whether these economies can grow at sufficient rates to keep pace with demand for more and more expensive government services. For that matter, I think 9/11 only accelerated the tendency of our government to assume more and more power and control more and more of what was only recently considered off limits to the state. These two trends go hand in hand. The state giveth and the state taketh away. That’s a fair recipe for slouching toward totalitarianism, if you ask me.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | May 20, 2005 8:56:02 PM

Posted by: john t

Don H just to be clear,you're saying,The Road to Serfdom lends itself to a cartoonish interpretation,yes,no?

Posted by: john t | May 20, 2005 8:59:04 PM

Posted by: Don Herzog

Well, john t, that would depend on how fiendishly clever the cartoonist was, as well as how one-dimensional the text was. Less facetiously, there is genuinely fabulous work by Hayek, completely indispensable. But I think little of The Road to Serfdom as theory, though as a historical period piece or ideology it is indispensable.

I do wonder why mises.org chose to post the cartoon. It seems an odd choice for them.

Posted by: Don Herzog | May 20, 2005 10:42:54 PM

Posted by: Bret

Don Herzog wrote: "But I think little of The Road to Serfdom as theory..."

Why's that? Perhaps if you could explain why you think little of the theories in The Road to Serfdom it would be an excellent starting point for discussion between Left and Right since a significant number of those on the Right consider Hayek's works, including The Road to Serfdom, to be gospel.

Posted by: Bret | May 20, 2005 10:57:42 PM

Posted by: Don Herzog

Maybe I'll dig up a copy and say something about what's wrong with it. Or maybe on rereading it all these years later I'll realize it's a lot deeper, more subtle, than I thought it was when I was a youngster, sometime in the Mesozoic era.

Posted by: Don Herzog | May 20, 2005 11:02:18 PM

Posted by: le sequoit

and please work on your reasoning skills before posting further in this forum.


I was going to get involved here, but now I'm not so sure. Is there some sort of test? I looked up forum and all it said was,

a public meeting or assembly for open discussion

So now I'm not sure if I should ask this, but what does "open" mean to someone of such advanced reasoning powers as yourself? I'm just trying to get the ground rules straight here.

le sequoit

Posted by: le sequoit | May 20, 2005 11:59:03 PM

Posted by: Bret

Don Herzog,
I coincidentally have two copies of The Road to Serfdom. Would you like me to send you one? I could send it out Monday by regular mail.

Posted by: Bret | May 21, 2005 1:29:00 AM

Posted by: le sequoit

But seriously, back to the assignment:

Fixed rules of property are established, for one as well as another, without knowing, before hand, whom they may affect.

This statement is too preposterous to be innocent; one (at least this one) is immediately on guard having considered the servicing nature of such an utterance.

I visit rich people's homes to sell things to them. I envy some; I don't envy many. This variance persists when observing poorer customers or median class slobs like myself.

Some will be happy and some won't, and it's a far more complex process than any discussion of Political Science or any science, religion or philosophy can ever divine.

As to inevitibility:

The greedy can never know when enough is enough.

When the time comes, we will be there to remind them.

Posted by: le sequoit | May 21, 2005 1:35:32 AM

Posted by: Mtnmarty

le sequoit:

Is your envy/do not envy reaction as inexplicable as the happy/not happy property of your potential customers? If not, I would love to hear what type of people you envy and do not envy.

I'm a little worried that my house might be on that Madam LaFarge sweater you're knitting but I'm shameless and naive enough to ask for your insights anyway.

Posted by: Mtnmarty | May 21, 2005 2:26:59 AM

Posted by: detached observer

"how much of what Paley says still circulates in public debate?"

David Frum's book Dead Right contains some arguments on the same theme (i.e., widespread economic misery is good because....), though the specific arguments differ: Frum argues that economic misery is good because its scary as hell and the fear motivates people to do good things. John Holbo has examined this at length here.

Posted by: detached observer | May 21, 2005 2:52:35 AM

Posted by: DBCooper

Thanks Mr. Herzog for posting Paley’s work. I thoroughly enjoyed the pamphlet…and only Two Pence! What a bargain. I believe much of what he wrote is correct, and furthermore, timeless.

For some reason the first page of the essay reminded me of a line in Thomas Mann’s work, Transposed Heads, which goes something like, “In life a man’s desires are infinite; The fulfillment of them, however, is sharply limited.” When I reread the Pamphlet, it became obvious why I was reminded of that line. Both are alluding to the very core precept of Buddhism. Paley writes “So long as a man is intent upon the duties and concerns of his own condition, he never thinks of comparing it with any other.” In short, limiting your desires is a necessary requirement of contentedness.

I also believe quite a bit of what he wrote is still germane today in public debate. I am reminded of a show on PBS titled Affluenza, which chronicled the failure of rampant materialism and consumerism to make people happier. In fact, the show contended that striving to “keep up with the Joneses” has made people even less satisfied.

Paley’s line, “The very utmost that can be done by laws and government, is
to enable every man, who hath health, to procure a healthy subsistence for himself and a family,” is always going to be an ongoing debate between left and right. Beyond his reference to Christianity, this might be the most controversial thing he mentions in the pamphlet.

Finally when Paley writes, “Again; some of the necessities which poverty imposes are not hardships but pleasures,” people might disregard such statements as brazen absurdities. But six years in the Navy showed me that both poverty and adversity were key components in building some of the best friendships and most memorable experiences of my life.

Posted by: DBCooper | May 21, 2005 2:59:20 AM

Posted by: freelunch

I am not essentially an envious man. Sure, I occasionally feel a twinge of envy, but it disappears and I cannot think of a time during which my envy has controlled a decision I made, so I have an easy time being in complete agreement with Paley, Jesus and the Buddha that being content is an important part of living a satisfying life.

What I cannot abide, is the idea that we, as a society, should allow such moral virtues to be exploited by the avaricious. Whether it is Paley, closet predestinationist and defender of the status quo in every nook and cranny of the Empire, or modern defenders of unearned private wealth, both confuse private morality with public policy. That fact that it is good for people to be emotionally able to live with whatever has happened to them does not excuse our country from offering a very basic safety net in food, clothing, shelter and health care to all.

Modern social democrats have learned from Hayek, though possibly not what Hayek wanted to teach. They have learned to exploit the surplus income of a growing economy for the good of all rather than try to control the means of production. They have learned to exploit the fact that greedy people will complain about taxes, but will not stop trying to get rich, even if there are such taxes levied for the benefit of all. For the most part, this has worked, both in Europe and in the US. The failures arise within the countries that allows the greedy not to pay for the opportunity to become very wealthy and refuse to provide basic security to all.

Posted by: freelunch | May 21, 2005 10:30:26 AM

Posted by: Larry

Don Herzog: And while I am deeply committed to equality of opportunity, and think that that requires equality of starting points, I flatly reject equality of outcomes.

Mikey: Who argues for equality of outcomes anymore?

Well then, let's take on that other shibboleth, "equality of opportunity". Even Don Herzog seems to recognize the hopelessness, indeed the malevolence, of trying to shrink or stretch every child to the same size, intelligence, looks, character, etc., all of which represent various forms of advantage/disadvantage at the starting point. (He is willing to use state coercion against some kinds of discrimination based upon involuntary characteristics -- e.g., race -- but presumably not others -- e.g., height, weight, appearance -- but let that pass.) No, for your latter-day liberal, the provision of "equality of opportunity" has apparently been reduced to meaning simply "setting some decent minimum or floor below which no one may fall". Which, however laudable an objective, has very little to do with any actual equalizing of "opportunity", but rather with ensuring a minimal "outcome". Never mind, again, since EoO is supposed to be one of those "invaluable ideals" and "it's hard to know how even to challenge it", says Don.

Shucks, I think all you'd have to do is blow on it. So let's: EoO is one of those faux "ideals" that's always hauled out around election time to whip up the faithful around virtually any issue, so that no matter what or how much the state is doing about it (i.e., spending on it) at that particular time and place -- "it's not enough". Beyond this function as a red flag, though, it's almost completely without substance. "What could be more fair," the liberal thinks to himself, "than trying to Level the Playing Field?" But the metaphor both misleads and reveals: it's not just that life is not really a sport, nor the world a playing field -- it's the pretence that politicians and bureaucrats can and should actually be the referees in the life-games of everyone, outside the game itself and so judging its fairness as a whole. What it reveals, in other words, is an insidious arrogance that lurks at the heart of the contemporary liberal belief system.

Dumping EoO would put an irreparable crack in that belief system, I think. But it wouldn't necessarily affect the idea of a basic floor or minimum, which isn't motivated by the fundamentally envious idea of substantive equality (whether of "opportunity" or outcome) but rather by the decent idea of simply wanting to help those less fortunate. It certainly wouldn't affect the idea of status or formal equality, which has nothing to do with envy, everything to do with recognition of the dignity of the individual regardless of circumstances. And it wouldn't even have much effect on debates surrounding schools and property taxes. Maybe, in the interests of a "reality-based" politics, we should finally just stop paying even lip service to EoO anymore, whadaya think?

Posted by: Larry | May 21, 2005 10:33:09 AM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

I can assert with both confidence and personal experience that no one who has ever been genuinely, involuntarily poor prefers poverty to affluence. But as has been noted on this thread and as I have argued in other threads, poverty is a very, almost uselessly vague term. Comparing the poor in contemporary America to the poor of Paley’s time or to the billions who subsist throughout the world on less than $2 a day is a mug’s game. Extract the children of the poor in this country from the picture (no easy feat, I admit), and there is very little reason to lose much sleep over the plight of most of the remaining adults who count as poor in the U.S, with or without their cable television and air conditioning.

I take Mr. Herzog to be questioning, in both senses of that term, the extent to which state mandated redistributive schemes (necessarily?) constitute slippery slopes leading to despotism of one sort or another. Paley and Hayek aside, I think the correct answer is that the threat is real, ever present and significant, though of course not inevitable. Once we become accustomed to stealing from one another even for the most worthy of objectives, whatever proper reticence we once would have felt for stealing just a little bit more (and then more and more) for less and less worthy goals tends to disappear. The more we entrust the state to provide for our needs, the more readily we declare mere wants to be needs as well. Those who seek to govern long ago learned that providing bread and circuses to the masses is an effective method of gaining and retaining power.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | May 21, 2005 10:52:52 AM

Posted by: CTW

le sequoit:

oh my, how to explain humor, in particular, bad humor. my post was an example of "tongue-in-cheek", which according to webster means "with insincerity, irony, or whimsical exaggeration". ie, to get the true meaning of my comment, take the opposite of everything stated therein. in short, it was my way of conveying to catfish that I agreed in principle with what he said and complimenting him on his comment. I assumed that he would understand this and his reply confirmed this assumption.

as to requirements to participate, the fact that one of my limited knowledge and reasoning is allowed to do so is irrefutable evidence that there are no admission "tests" whatsoever. best to view this "forum" as pals sitting around debating soccer teams - heated arguments, a little poking fun at one another, but at base a healthy measure of comraderie and mutual respect.

in short, welcome to the "club".

Posted by: CTW | May 21, 2005 10:54:44 AM

Posted by: Jussi Suikkanen

This is going to be somewhat stretched but as I am a student taking part in a quiz I hope I am excused.

What's striking in Don's first quote is that, at least for me, it brings to mind good old John Rawls. And, what is more interesting is that it's *not* so much the idea that the principles of how the society is to be arranged are most advantageous for the worst-off and thus these principles would be chosen from behind the veil of ignorance ('Fixed rules of property are established, for one as well as another, without knowing, before hand, whom they may affect.'!!). Of course, Rawls and Paley would disagree about the content of these principles. But, they would agree that the way the principles would be selected justifies the outcome.

Rather what reminds me here of Rawls is how the fortunes are to be given for the ‘great man’ *'accidentally'*. The idea is not that man's greatness creates a legitimate moral claim for him to receive fortunes. There is nothing said about deserving what is due to the person because of the way he or she is. Rawls of course argued that the features making one great (and what is greatness anyway as such?) were accidentally allocated in the lottery of nature, and thus cannot serve as a basis for distribution. The distribution just is required for some other reasons, and this is why some people with whatever features happen to get more. Others have since then argued that this is not true - the virtues of a man belong to him in a more robust way. This is necessary for there being moral grounds for the great man's claim for his bigger share. I take it that this is an issue that still continues to divide the left and the right in the current debates (answer to 2). Was Paley right with Rawls about this? That's too tricky for me.

Do I still pass?

Posted by: Jussi Suikkanen | May 21, 2005 11:26:11 AM

Posted by: Don Herzog

Bret, thanks for your sweet offer of your extra copy of The Road to Serfdom, but I'd much rather you gave it to a student who hadn't read it and wanted to. I can always use the library if I can't track down my dogeared copy.

Larry invites us to recognize that equality of opportunity is phony, and that the starting-points conception is better thought of as a decent minimum. Perhaps because "Even Don Herzog" doesn't quite grasp the "insidious arrogance" of his liberalism, I'd decline the invitation. Decent minimum appeals to charity -- and would elicit responses like the one Ayn Rand famously endorsed (if memory serves, in The Virtue of Selfishness) to those worried about the poor in the kind of society she championed: "If you want to help them, you will not be stopped." Equality of opportunity is a demand of justice, so can't be shrugged off in quite that way.

I think it perfectly plausible to describe the starting-points conception as equality of opportunity -- for historical reasons. The early struggles on equality of opportunity are against state-imposed limits, rules like, "if you want to be a lawyer you have to accept the Catholic sacraments." Those battles largely won, liberals turned their attention to other ways in which the race of life was unfair, and focused on starting points. It was a sensible extension of the initial campaign against state-imposed limits, and it had nothing to do with trying to make everyone or everything the same.

As to Jussi's question, with some mix of Lewis Carroll's "prizes for all!" and Lake Wobegon, everyone passes with flying colors.

Posted by: Don Herzog | May 21, 2005 12:10:19 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Mr. Herzog draws attention to the distinction between charity and entitlement. The latter, I take it, is some moral demand any individual may make of society in terms of a claim to that society’s collective wealth. The implication here is that just as society, acting through the state, once erected illegitimate and unjust barriers to entry in the legal profession on religious grounds, so too the state erects illegitimate and unjust barriers to the rightful enjoyment of the wealth of society through laws of private property that do not adequately permit redistribution of privately held wealth to meet those rightful claims.

Well, maybe. But even so, at some point we would be required to decide what a, well, decent minimum in terms of that rightful enjoyment might be. Or would we? We might agree, for example, that no one should starve or be forced to live on the streets or sleep under bridges, that this entitlement included access to some level of education in order to function as a relatively independent and productive person, that some level of health care should be made available to all, etc.

But we would then need to address an almost endless list of “special” cases – organ transplant recipients, people with various learning disabilities, the mentally ill, people who choose addiction or refuse to be educated or to work, etc. These are hard and collectively very expensive choices, all of them. (For who, behind the veil, knows whether he might be a crack addict or in need of a kidney?)

Moreover, since none of us is, in fact, behind the veil, we will tend to vote for those rightful enjoyments we fear we or those we care about are most likely to be unable to provide for ourselves. But that will be a different list from person to person, and so we will form alliances – I give you free college, so you give me free health care and eventually we manage to form majorities to give everything to each other because, after all, it’s just a few dollars here, a few dollars there. Better throw cable television and air conditioning into the entitlement mix, too. Wouldn’t want to miss an episode of “The Sopranos” or sweat in August, now would we?

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | May 21, 2005 1:13:44 PM

Posted by: Larry

Don Herzog, Dec 9/04: the best interpretation of equality of starting points is setting some decent minimum or floor below which no one may fall.

Don Herzog, most recently: Larry invites us to recognize that ... the starting-points conception is better thought of as a decent minimum. Perhaps because "Even Don Herzog" doesn't quite grasp the "insidious arrogance" of his liberalism, I'd decline the invitation. Decent minimum appeals to charity .... Equality of opportunity is a demand of justice, so can't be shrugged off in quite that way."

Ah, well. Inconsistency, I've noticed, is rarely a problem for liberals in their own minds (perhaps because they like to think of themselves as "large", containing "multitudes", untroubled by the "hobgoglin of little minds").

(An important correction: "Larry", in referring to the "decent minimum", was simply quoting Don Herzog; he's pretty sure that the "starting points conception" is fundamentally incoherent at best, a cover for "insidious arrogance" at worst.)

Posted by: Larry | May 21, 2005 3:15:26 PM

Posted by: Don Herzog

I cheerfully plead guilty on the verbal count. I dimly recall using the "decent minimum" language in December with some trepidation. But as long as we agree there is an issue of justice here, and it focuses on starting points, I don't much care how we label it.

As to the leap to the claim that liberals don't mind inconsistency, I sadly protest. This liberal might be confused, for sure, in ways large and small. But confusion and inconsistency seem to me pretty well distributed across the political spectrum. (And as to Larry's quotefests, I have to say, boy have I always hated Emerson.)

Posted by: Don Herzog | May 21, 2005 3:45:01 PM

Posted by: le sequoit


My sincerest apologies, it was very good "tongue in cheek" indeed, and I should have known better and milled about the periphery with the newly initiated long enough to distinguish it from the sadly too real thing.

le sequoit

Posted by: le sequoit | May 21, 2005 4:14:06 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

No doubt we are agreed that there is an issue of justice involved, if only in the sense that some of us are claiming that a decent minimum, equality of opportunity or what have you is a claim of justice. It doesn't follow, of course, that the claim is a valid one.

Rand's reply is not, after all, unreasonable. On a number of previous threads I've commented that no one is stopping the (so I'm told) many millions of persons who favor this, that or the other redistributive program to redistribute their own wealth to their hearts' content. Surely that number must include sufficient critical economic mass to do all sorts of good deeds. Why, then, the insistence on coercing those of us who disagree with such programs into joining in on all that beneficence?

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | May 21, 2005 4:58:45 PM

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