Episode 67

#67 - Libertarianism III: Social Issues (w/ Bruce Nielson)


May 9th, 2024

1 hr 45 mins 32 secs

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About this Episode

Have you ever wanted to be more rich? Have you considered just working a bit harder? Welcome to part III of our libertarian series, where we discuss Part B: Social Issues of Scott Alexander's Anti-Libertarian FAQ, which critiques the libertarian view that if you're rich, you deserve it, and if you're poor, well, you deserve that too. As always, the estimable Bruce Nielson (@bnielson) helps guide is through the thorny wicket of libertarian thought.

We discuss

  • Do the poor deserve to be poor? Waddabout the rich?
  • Is dogmatism ever a good thing?
  • Is social mobility determined in part by parental wealth?
  • Is this due to genetics, culture, upbringing or something else?
  • The chances of escaping the lower class
  • Does government regulation increase social mobility?
  • Why progressive taxation makes sense



The Argument:

Those who work hardest (and smartest) should get the most money. Not only should we not begrudge them that money, but we should thank them for the good they must have done for the world in order to satisfy so many consumers.

People who do not work hard should not get as much money. If they want more money, they should work harder. Getting more money without working harder or smarter is unfair, and indicative of a false sense of entitlement.

Unfortunately, modern liberal society has internalized the opposite principle: that those who work hardest are greedy people who must have stolen from those who work less hard, and that we should distrust them at until they give most of their ill-gotten gains away to others. The “progressive” taxation system as it currently exists serves this purpose.

This way of thinking is not only morally wrong-headed, but economically catastrophic. Leaving wealth in the hands of the rich would “make the pie bigger”, allowing the extra wealth to “trickle down” to the poor naturally.

The Counterargument:

Hard work and intelligence are contributory factors to success, but depending on the way you phrase the question, you find you need other factors to explain between one-half and nine-tenths of the difference in success within the United States; within the world at large the numbers are much higher.

If a poor person can’t keep a job solely because she was lead-poisoned from birth until age 16, is it still fair to blame her for her failure? And is it still so unthinkable to take a little bit of money from everyone who was lucky enough to grow up in an area without lead poisoning, and use it to help her and detoxify her neighborhood?


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