You’re gonna get what’s coming


You’re gonna get what’s coming.

Well, you would if it were up to me.

I have always believed that the ideal society is a meritocracy.

A meritocracy is a society in which each individual gets what he or she deserves. Anything less than this is unjust.

But that’s not saying very much. In fact, it’s not saying anything at all, unless accompanied by an account of what it is that each individual deserves. Preferably such an account will be a full-fledged moral theory, but let’s go pre-theoretical, and assume, just for the sake of my argument here, that each and every member of society deserves at least a roof over their head, a bed to sleep on, clean running water and enough to eat. Even our worst criminals are guaranteed this. (Oh, and ultra-fast broadband, of course, that most fundamental of all human rights.)

There are two main types of moral theory, viz., deontological and consequentialist. (Or three main types, if you count virtue ethics.)

Deontology (or Deontological Ethics) is an approach to Ethics that focuses on the rightness or wrongness of actions themselves, as opposed to the rightness or wrongness of the consequences of those actions (Consequentialism) or to the character and habits of the actor (Virtue Ethics).

(It’s all much more complicated, of course. Consequentialism is almost synonymous with utilitarianism, and as we all know utilitarianism is wrong, wrong, WRONG! Because Ayn Rand said so! And so did the man whom she described as “the most evil man who ever lived”! And so say I! Woe to him who creeps through the serpent-windings of utilitarianism. But, again just for the sake of my argument here, let’s not damn utilitarianism. Notwithstanding that it’s damnable.)

There are two main types of political ideology, viz., capitalism (by which I mean free trade without government intervention) and socialism (by which I mean free trade plus progressive taxation).

Now oversimplifying (somewhat more than) somewhat, capitalism is a deontological political ideology (whereby you get to keep everything you earn) and socialism is a utilitarian political ideology (whereby you get to keep a proportion of what you earn, the rest is redistributed by the state, ostensibly on the basis of need).

Capitalism basically says that you deserve to keep the fruits of your own labour, and to hell with the consequences. So capitalism is deontological in theory. And it can be considered as a species of voluntaryism. So it is virtuous in that sense. But it makes no explicit provision for caring for the poor and leads to ever-growing wealth inequality so is vicious from the point of view of utilitarianism.

Socialism, however, isn’t any better in practice. In fact, it is worse because its attempts at wealth redistribution (to achieve a more just distribution of wealth as per whatever measure of desert is used) only serve to achieve a different unjust distribution of wealth, usually by overtaxing the middle classes. (Let’s face it, the ultra-rich do indeed have more wealth than they can possibly need so are not actually any worse off if they pay a higher tax rate, and I am who to say.) So the middle classes get doubly screwed by a mixed economic system, first by unfettered capitalism and then by capitalism’s fetters.

So capitalism wins the day but it is still a badly flawed system.

Which is why I am neither a socialist nor a capitalist. I am an anarchist looking for a flavour of anarchism that has both the virtues of capitalism (it must be an entirely voluntaryist system) but yet serves to more or less guarantee that there is at least an adequate (albeit perhaps very basic) standard of living for all.

Footnote. Non-utilitarian versions of consequentialism are less vile. What if the moral basis of property rights is rule-consequentialism? Food for thought would be a great way to make a living.

This entry was posted in Capitalism, Christian Anarchism, Justice, Meta-ethics, Property, Socialism. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to You’re gonna get what’s coming

  1. AndrewH says:

    But it makes no explicit provision for caring for the poor and leads to ever-growing wealth inequality so is vicious from the point of view of utilitarianism.

    I don’t see why this is a problem. You need the right tool for the right job. Capitalism is an economic system. You use it to solve economic problems. Poverty (despite superficially being economic) is really a moral problem – it’s a problem of people needing what they cannot earn.

    You can’t solve a moral problem with an economic, political, or legalistic system (as socialism, communism and Old Testament temple worship ultimately demonstrate); you need a moral system. Call it grace, or generosity, or noblesse oblige – it’s a moral obligation (without a corresponding legal one) to provide for those with less than you.

    Economics is the business of the state; morality is the business of the church (or benevolent society, if that’s your bent). There’s a reason Americans divided the two, and for either to take over the function of the other leads to disaster.

    (Also, “ever-growing wealth inequality” is a complete null, unless it is also paired with a decreasing quality-of-life problem – if your Dad had a Datsun, and you have an Audi, why do you care if your neighbour has a Maserati?)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *