The Appeal to “Undecidability” as Last Gasp

Ross Douthat:>The Case For Small Government: I think the argument suffers from a problem that’s common to both sides in the debates over the desirability of European-style social democracy – namely, the hope that what’s ultimately a philosophical and moral controversy can have a tidy empirical resolution…. [T]he philosophical case for limited government – that human existence in the shadow of a nanny state doesn’t conduce to “Aristotelian happiness”… because it strips human beings of the deeper sorts of agency and responsibility that ought to be involved in a life well lived – he’s on firm (if obviously arguable) ground. But when he segues into the possibility that the emerging science of human nature will “prove” the limits of welfare-statism, and force liberals to give ground… there’s an unwarranted hope that the right facts and figures can settle a debate that ultimately depends on the philosophical assumptions that you bring to it…Matthew Yglesias calls bullshit:>Matthew Yglesias: Crippling Poverty is Not Service to Family: Left out of here is what the right always loves to leave out of discussions of economic policy choices: interest. If you’re poor in the United States and you live in a neighborhood where poor people can afford to live, you will almost certainly be living in a neighborhood that’s much more dangerous than the neighborhoods in which poor Dutch people live. You’ll also find yourself living in a country that’s much less friendly to the interests of people who can’t afford a car than is the Netherlands. Conversely, if a European executive meets an American executive and feels a twinge of jealousy, it’s not for the American’s greater level of “entrepreneurship” it’s for the fact that the U.S. social model leaves top executives much richer than European executives…. [I]ncome level is fairly predictive of voting behavior and this is neither a coincidence nor the reflection of an abstract disagreement about the value of “voluntarism.” It reflects the fact that politics is, among other things, a concrete contest over concrete economic interests…. I don’t think, for example, that America’s high child poverty rate reflects American preference for “service to one’s family” over “ease of life”…As [Milton Friedman put it back in 1953](…,M1):>The basic objectives, shared, I am sure, by most economics, are political freedom, economic efficiency, and substantial equality of economic power. Thes objectives are not, of course, entirely consistent…. I believe–and at this stage agreement will be far less widespread–that all three objectives can best be realized by relying, as far as possible, on a market mechanism within a “competitive order” to organize the utilization of economic resources…Friedman’s argument against social democracy was that it would not do the job–that you would lose a lot of economic efficiency and some political liberty and in return get no equalization of economic power because the government would redistribute income and wealth the wrong way, and the beneficiaries would be the strong political claimants to governmental largess who would not be those with strong claims to more opportunity.By the time you have resorted to arguing that “human existence in the shadow of a nanny state doesn’t conduce to ‘Aristotelian happiness’… because it strips human beings of the deeper sorts of agency and responsibility that ought to be involved in a life well lived…” you have lost the argument completely. And I have not even raised the point that Aristotle thought that Aristotelian happiness was possible only if you yourself owned lots of slaves:>[Aristotle](…,M1): There is in some cases a marked distinction between the two classes, rendering it expedient and right for the one to be slaves and the others to be masters…. The master is not called a master because he has science, but because he is of a certain character…. [T]here may be a science for the master and science for the slave. The science of the slave would be such as the man of Syracuse taught who made money by instructing slaves in their ordinary duties…. But all such branches of knowledge are servile. There is likewise a science of the master… not anything great or wonderful; for the master need only know how to order that which the slave must know how to execute. Hence those who are in a position which places them above toil have stewars who attend to their households while they occupy themselves with philosophy or with politics…


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