Friday, August 13, 2004

Who Decides Who's Deserving?

I explained why we deserve what we have after being inspired to do so by Will Wilkinson's Tech Central Station essay "Meritocracy: The Appalling Ideal?". Now, Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber takes Wilkinson to task over a technical issue, which is whether the idea that we don't deserve what we have can be attributed to John Rawls. Who cares? Stick to the point.

Bertram actually concedes the point that we deserve what we have when he says:
There does seem to be a psychological need for those who have profited from the system to be comforted by the idea that they deserve what they have. (Maybe some of them even do deserve what they have!)
Bertram gives away the game in the parenthetical comment. If "some of them" deserve what they have, which ones do and which ones don't? If Bertram pretends to know the answer he is either delusional (thinks he's God) or arrogant (thinks he knows who's deserving and who isn't). Or perhaps he has a formula for deciding who's deserving and who isn't: If you make more than, say, $200,000 a year you're not deserving, but if you make a penny less, you're deserving. long as we're being arbitrary, which Bertram is apparently willing to be, let's try this definition of "deserving": If you believe that all people aren't deserving of what they have, then obviously you aren't deserving of what you have. Your income will therefore be taxed at 100 percent, for redistribution to the deserving masses. Well, that's how much sense he makes.

To quote my earlier post, here's my take on the matter:
There are many, many, many people whose IQs are lower than mine but who have earned far more than me and who live far more lavishly than me. Do I begrudge them their earnings and lavish living? Not a bit. Not even dumb-as-doorknob Hollywood liberals whose idea of an intellectual conversation is to tell each other that Bush is a Nazi.
Unlike Chris Bertram, I don't presume to judge whether people are deserving of what they have. That's the difference between socialists like Bertram (well, he talks like one) and libertarians like me. And it's an important difference, because once you let the state (who else?) decide who's deserving and who's not deserving, you have ceded omnipotence (if not omniscience) to the state. That's okay as long as the state is doing things the way you'd like them to be done, but what happens when the state turns on you? Won't you be sorry that you vested great power in the state?

Lefties like Bertram rail about things like the war on drugs, the Patriot Act, and corporate welfare, to name a few. How do they think such things came about? They didn't happen overnight. They're the result of a long accretion of power by the state, which began in earnest in the 1930s, thanks to the Chris Bertrams of that era.

It cuts both ways, laddie. When you loose the beast of the state, you are at its mercy, like the rest of us.