I am frankly puzzled by so many of he responses I have read. I would think the community of skeptics would openly and honestly review and investigate the widest possible range of solutions. In any given society, the moral code should be about encouraging and promoting success for the greatest number of members. Those who have succeeded have a responsibility to help others along the way. It shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. The more of us who are educated, healthy, and self-supporting, the better our society is. I, too, want my taxes to be as low as possible but I want roads that are in good condition, I want my unemployed, underemployed family and friends to have health care, I want young people to have access to higher education without incurring huge student loan debt. I want those who help us - public safety, educators, child-care, health care, etc… to be appropriately compensated for their work and expertise. The more one has benefited from the society, the more one should contribute.
I’ve read the articles about the ‘welfare queen’ who is milking the system or the felon who continues to father babies and never assumes responsibility. But, the vast majority of our citizens who live in poverty or from paycheck to paycheck just want to have a stable life with access to education and health care. Sure it seems unfair to force anyone to share what they have but, isn’t it worse for someone with more than enough to turn their eyes and do nothing? Who is benefiting more - the person who gets $1000 a month in public assistance or the person who pays literally tens of thousands of dollars less in taxes (as a percentage of income) because they know how to ‘take advantage’ of loopholes?
Let’s not forget those uncounted children of welfare queens or prison fathers who did not ask to be born into such situations, but are dealt and hand in which they have no hope of advantage or a break of any kind.
These people have to struggle just to stay alive, due to the luck of their birth, while others are born into advantage just by the luck of their parent’s situation… And the latter will gain power and influence just for being in that situation, while the former will gain nothing but suppression, oppression and mistrust.
When those situations have been handled, then we can safely turn our attention to the welfare queen or the Father of countless children who do not provide a means of support, and deal with them.
Possibly by forcibly removing the option of breeding from them if necessary.
Sam. At first I thought you were just being naive and that you would at least acknowledge as much in the face of the inevitable response from your mostly intelligent and broad minded audience. Alas your reply in “How to lose readers…” seems to have you digging in your heels. Your prose is, as always, eloquent but your reasoning is unusually fuzzy. No! Forced altruism in the form of taxation is not a no-brainer. If the strident, humourless style of Ayn Rand is too much like hard work, may we at least ask that you read some of the milder libertarian works by the likes of von Mises, Hayek, Rothbard or even Milton Friedman.
The details of implementation will always be controversial. Returning to the original principle, though, I agree with Harris.
I think most would agree that beating up your neighbor and taking his belongings is unacceptable behavior.
I was fortunate in life to be born both physically and intellectually above average, and very early on I learned that using my physical domination to gain what others had, steal essentially, is morally wrong.
While I was intrigued by Ayn Rand’s writings as a teenager, I was always bothered by the similarity between intellectual and physical domination. Why should I be allowed to ‘beat up’ my neighbor by virtue of my intellectual domination, any more than by virtue of my physical domination?
But it goes further than that.
If I am allowed to dominate my neighbor financially because I am smarter, is it a linear relationship? Is the value of what I produce intellectually twice as much if the work I do in creating it is somehow twice as hard?
Warren Buffet’s net worth is several orders of magnitude greater than mine, but is the amount of real work he has done comparable? Is the end result of his work several orders of magnitude as valuable? I doubt it.
On a personal note, it has always mildly irked me that I cannot achieve any income like that of an elite hockey player, and yet my job involves saving lives for a living. But then, I don’t think anyone should make a million dollars a year. I don’t really think that what anyone does is worth it.
Just a few comments on previous statements…
“Would you rather wastefully duplicate the process 50 times in each state of dealing with failing infrastructure and the wealth disparity?”
>>Like the central, federal government is not wasteful? Dealing with problems on a smaller, local scale is much more efficient than trying to micro manage 50 individual states with vastly different populations and resources from a central bureaucracy. Stop and think and try not to default to a mystical dogma.
The real moral issue is confiscating property by force for the reason of ‘need.’ The answer can’t be based on a mystical assumption. Sam is skipping a lot of steps that he rarely if ever does on other issues.
“The more one has benefited from the society, the more one should contribute.”
>> What about the ones who have contributed more to society? Do they get a break? Is their only consolation that they get to go to heaven? Look at the riots in the U.K. These freaks believe they are entitled to other individual’s property and that they have the moral right to destroy it if it is not handed over to them. This concept of confiscation based on need DOES NOT WORK in the real, natural world. If you wish to trash the moral argument, show me ONE SINGLE political system that is efficient and honest that efficiently re-distributes wealth and has solved the problem of inequality.
The very politicians who advocate confiscation of property created the loopholes so only the rich (themselves and friends) can benefit.
Fascinating. Looks to me as if Sam has tapped into a deeper belief system than religion even. Really, what is behind the wilfull ignorance of the age?
Out of his field? No, a natural progression from religion to morality to whatever this is, the socioeconomic substrate.
And Sam progresses from antichrist to provocateur of rational examination of, well, the full breadth of ourselves.
Bring on the hysteria! Trot out those demons!
I find it mildly astounding that so many feathers were ruffled by Sam’s article. but I guess I should expect that. one of the interesting features of living in the good ol’ USA, with our so-called “freedom of religion” is that so many different churches, sects and cults can flourish. including secular religions. no, I’m not talking about atheism or science, those are not belief systems, they’re systems of inquiry. I’m referring to ideological religions and especially in this case, the religion of capitalism.
is capitalism a religion? well, it certainly inspires a lot of irrational passion, it is one of the most important characteristics that people use to define themselves, it seems to inspire blind faith in it’s (alleged) moral codes, and it drives people to debate themselves into corners with dogmatic either/or choices. am I wrong? I’ll bet many readers are thinking “jeez, here’s another socialist!” but that’s just the point; I’m not any sort of “ist” and I don’t believe in “isms” so how can I be labeled that way simply for asking questions? isn’t that what it means to be a skeptic?
I’m not an educated person, or a well-off “successful” man, but I think I may have a certain perspective on the world that many educated, successful people can’t easily access. my perspective comes partly from the fact that I’ve been poor in the past (I’m doing better now, thank you) and by “poor” I mean homeless, penniless, hungry… it was back in the 80s, but I still remember walking back & forth in front of a supermarket wondering if I could possibly go in, steal some food, and get out without being caught… and then I wondered if going to jail for shoplifting might be better than what I was doing then! after all, jail provides food & shelter, right? I don’t have the constitution for crime, but the fact that I was in that situation at all is meaningful.
anyway, that experience, and subsequent decades of reading and introspection have led me to a few tentative conclusions. one is that Americans have an incredibly strong work ethic. that includes educated professionals, working class “white trash” (like me) and yes, even desperately poor urban “welfare bums”... Americans love to work, and they work pretty damned hard. we are positively obsessed with work. so when I hear talk about people wanting a “hand-out” or acting like “the world owes them a living” or any of that bullshit… it just boils my blood. because that’s not the America I live in.
another thing I want all you “free market” libertarians to consider is this: capitalism is a theory, not a fact. much like communism, it is a system that seems to work… until it stops working. for the vast majority of people who work hard or are looking for jobs, it does not work, as currently configured anyway. if an economic theory only benefits a tiny minority, most of whom were born rich (or in close proximity to wealth, which matters a lot) and can never relate to the daily struggles of the vast majority, then what good comes from loyal adherence to that theory? it’s just another deeply flawed belief system that exploits the unfortunate and rewards the ruthless. and there can never be a “free market” any more than there can be a communist utopia. the playing field would have to be at least somewhat level for money to flow “freely”... and our field is on a very steep slope. in other words; you can’t get there from here.
lastly, I’m just going to address the claim that always pops up in these discussions; “socialism has failed”. whenever I hear that I answer “wait, what? has Europe been destroyed while I wasn’t looking?” no, of course Europe isn’t pure socialist, but they are much more so than we are. and despite some difficulties lately, they are doing ok. they maintain their infrastructure, they have much more equitable distribution of wealth (which simply means that jobs pay a living wage and unemployed people aren’t thrown to the hyenas) they have universal health care, and the list goes on. did they give up their freedom to have all that? no, virtually all EU and Pacific Rim countries have more personal liberties than we do (not always the same liberties). are they being taxed to death? not really, because their wages are much higher.
also, it appears that most of these other industrialized democracies have less govt/political corruption. why? I think it’s mainly because of their multi-party systems that allow for a whole range of views to be considered in problem-solving situations. in Europe, calling somebody a “Marxist” means something very different that it does here; it usually means he/she really is a Marxist! people over there actually read Marx before they decide what they think about it. the other thing about Europe is that their citizens are engaged in the process, and their leaders fear them! if the govt screws over the people, they take to the streets. bricks smash windows and cop cars get burned. most Americans abhor that sort of thing, but I tend to see it as breaking up the soil before planting new seeds. we have two parties, one pro-corporate conservative, the other extreme rightwing corporate. and they don’t fear us in the least. they don’t even worry about who we vote for, they can always “fix” it.
we should demand much more shared prosperity and less economic manipulation by the ruling class. and they should learn to fear We The People.
Only a theory? Is evolution only a theory? This is the @#$& Sam Harris board. Nothing should be accepted on faith. No agenda accepted as dogma. Everything should be questioned and re-thought from scratch. Yes, even including our sacred income tax and tax code. So much of the support for Sam is expressed in shock that everybody here doesn’t accept the status quo. Guess what, the Bush-Obama agenda sucks and is sinking us. Throwing more money into the cesspool won’t make it any better.
sorry, I don’t understand your reply. what has evolution to do with it? that’s nature. economics are an artificial construct, not a natural law. which status quo are you referring to? regressive taxation? of course dogma should be challenged, that’s one of the points I’m trying to make. I can’t even tell if you’re disagreeing with me. yes, the “Bush-Obama agenda” is totally f’ed up. that’s what I’m saying. did you read my entire post, or just the one phrase in bold type? if you’re being sarcastic, I can’t tell for sure. I would love to see our economic policy “re-thought from scratch” too, but we are laboring under some very strange assumptions about how wealth is “earned” and why millions of people work their fingers to the bone and get exactly jack-shit to show for it.
I totally disagree. Everything must be consistent with natural law. If it isn’t, it doesn’t work. Nothing man made is ‘artificial.’ The main statement I disagree with is that capitalism is a theory just like communism. Oh, really? Let’s look at the facts. Communism has piled up millions and millions of slaves and human sacrifices and the lowest standards of living and technology. Democratic capitalist societies have achieved the highest standard of living and technology in the shortest amount of time in the history of the planet. Democratic societies have never waged wars against each other (they have had civil wars like ours over slavery). The further we retreat from freedom, the worse things seem to get. I don’t have the answers but we will get them unless we re-think it through… from scratch.
economic theories don’t describe how things actually work in the concrete world in every situation, if they did, there would only be one economic theory. that’s why it is artificial. are chimpanzees capitalists? are dogs socialists? are insects commies? observing corporate capitalism in the wild, so to speak, shows that it is an imperfect system. I’m not saying there is a perfect system, only that, in the real world, the nations that are trying to combine the better aspects of “market forces” with the concept of “common good” appear to be getting better results than we are, in this winner-take-all system.
btw - I can’t continue this conversation any further today. I gotta get back to work.
Not to mention that the immense success of Communist China calls into question the issue of Capitalism being the only successful economic ideology (and they are BOTH ideologies).
People will of course exclaim “But look at the lack of freedoms in China!”
Well, according to the Chinese (From Richard McGregor’s book “The Party”) they don’t want these “Western freedoms” that doom our society to wasteful government and indecision, not to mention a lack of long-term planning.
The Chinese planned for their society to be economically booming back in the 1980s, and in the 1990s they were planning on the 20-teens, and right now they are planning for the 2020s and 2030s.
What is the Capitalist USA doing?
Arguing about petty divisive social issues.
Do not take my pointing these facts out as an endorsement of their system.
It is just a recognition of the facts based upon an examination of their system from the point of view of many Academics in the USA and Europe (such as Richard McGregor).
I’m not surprised at all by the negative responses to ‘How Rich Is Too Rich’ given the diversity of atheists and skeptics in general; Sam’s irreligious writings certainly have appeal for politically conservative groups like libertarians and Objectivists. As most scientists and celebrities who have ventured into politics have found, once you step on the toes of their politics, fans will vote with their feet. Nevertheless, if you have the venue why not make a political statement that might impact an election, help untold people or stimulate philanthropy? Even if you disagree with what philosophers like Peter Singer write or causes that celebrities support, you can’t disagree that they have an impact, usually a positive one, on their chosen campaign. Its a benefit of being a celebrity and having a voice.
I was happy to see Sam’s comments on Ayn Rand; I have found her lame logical derivation of the ethics of selfishness sad in the extreme, given how many in today’s Libertatarian and Republican parties buy into it. Few philosophers ever bother to even mention her, not because it is so difficult to refute her, but I suspect they don’t want to deal with the hate mail. If Objectivism is becoming a driving force in our political discourse, it needs to weather public scrutiny, which it has thus far avoided.