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Humanism and Progressive Taxation
Posted: 25 September 2006 05:41 PM   [ Ignore ]
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[b:bb280a6096]Paul Kurtz’s essay, "The Principal of Fairness: Progressive Taxation," is a good effort to thwart Right-Libertarian, Conservative (Neo or otherwise), or Neo-Liberal efforts to hijack humanism as their own, but I am afraid Kurtz’s idea falls short of the sort of humanism we ought to be advocating.  In our Neo-liberal, capitalistic, growth/market economy, which is inherently unjust and counter to true democracy, tax reform would act as merely a Band-Aid, covering-up a symptom rather then addressing the disease.  I don’t often agree with Right-Libertarians, but they are correct that in the end, government and the state are the problem.  Where Right-Libertarians and I differ, of course, is that I also see capitalism and markets as much a problem as statism.

    Humanists ought to instead be arguing for both an "inclusive democracy" - to replace our statist, representative "democracy" - and a wholly new participatory economics. Neither Neo-liberal capitalism, statist socialism or the welfare-state models of FDR or the Social-Democrats will bring us actual democracy, but will continue instead to allow the immoral hierarchal democracy we now live with to flourish.  If it is fairness Kurtz is seeking, he will never find it in a society such as ours currently is.  No tax plan will cure the sociopolitical/economic disease(s) born from capitalism or the so-called Free Market any more than from statist socialism, communism or statist democracy.

    To learn more about inclusive democracy or participatory economics, read the works of Takis Fotopoulos and Michael Albert. Capitalism and hierarchal democracy have failed any and all tests of humanistic morality, as philosopher Ted Honderich has noted in his book, "Right and Wrong," just as miserably as has statist socialism or communism; reforming what is broken will not work. [/b:bb280a6096]

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Barry F. Seidman
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Posted: 26 September 2006 10:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Kinda agree and kind don’t.  Capitalism works best at making a society, just not good at perfecting societies.

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Fighting the evil belief that there is a god(s).

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Posted: 28 November 2006 06:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Captialism does what?

Capitalism works best at making a society, just not good at perfecting societies.

If by society you mean material goods and technology.. perhaps capitalism has achieved this to a degree.  But at what cost?  Were there not other ways to achive such without a system inherently unfair, severely competitive, and highly hierarchal?  I do not see any good in the society capitalism has built.  What real good we DO see, is born rather from moving toward democracy and a sense of (humanistic) ethics.

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Posted: 30 November 2006 02:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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First, progressive taxation isn’t a complete solution, but it tends to shrink the financial difference between the most and least affluent.

Unfortunately, like our adversarial court procedures, capitalism is a terrible economic system, but it’s better than any of the others.  As long as self-interest is a major part of our psyches it would be exceedingly difficult to get anyone to put forth any effort if they didn’t profit from it. 

However, as I pointed out elsewhere, if one’s drive is to make a profit in the face of competition, having ethics is a major disability.  That’s why we must substitute laws regulating corporate behavior for ethics.

Sorry but I shudder to imagine a “true” democracy.  Look at what a “majority” of the voters did in 2000 and 2004.  And they had a fair chance to listen to the candidates and study their backgrounds.  What would happen when they were presented with a myriad of arcane laws?  Only special interests would vote and it would be even worse than now.

Much better to stick with what we have now but clean up the process by doing such things as:  Eliminating gerrymandering, not allowing large donations to political campaigns, attaching much larger penalties for lobbyist bribes, getting rid of the Electoral College system.  Another possibility would be to make our legislative branch of federal government unicameral.

Occam

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Posted: 30 November 2006 04:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Occam’s razor needs sharpening wink

That was just a tease (subject line), I could not resist the play on words.

Unfortunately, like our adversarial court procedures, capitalism is a terrible economic system, but it’s better than any of the others. As long as self-interest is a major part of our psyches it would be exceedingly difficult to get anyone to put forth any effort if they didn’t profit from it.

Two assumptions here. 

1) Capitalism is better than any other economic system.
2) Self-Interest is a major part of our (NATURAL) psyches.

There have been better ecomomic systems proposed, but all dismissed because the rich would not have it.  And, Capitalism is one of the main reasons for much of our self-interested behaviour.. not the other way around.

However, as I pointed out elsewhere, if one’s drive is to make a profit in the face of competition, having ethics is a major disability. That’s why we must substitute laws regulating corporate behavior for ethics.

Laws over tyrrany is a band-aid over a gushing wound to the heart.

Sorry but I shudder to imagine a “true” democracy. Look at what a “majority” of the voters did in 2000 and 2004.

A true democracy would not be about electing presidents at all.  The fact that the “majority” you speak of (which might not have been so because it seems the 2000 and 2004 “elections” were stolen) were a majority of less than 45% of the American people is a sign that Americans know Rep. Democracy is not democracy and serves mainly the powerful and rich.

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Posted: 30 November 2006 05:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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And, Capitalism is one of the main reasons for much of our self-interested behaviour.. not the other way around.

This doesn’t sound right, Barry. Capitalism hasn’t been around long enough to have any such behaviour effect on us.

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Posted: 30 November 2006 05:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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around long enough…

This doesn’t sound right, Barry. Capitalism hasn’t been around long enough to have any such behaviour effect on us.

This arguement only makes sense for a biological determinist (a la Dawkins, Pinker, etc.)  But actually, since humans do have the dispositions though our biological heritage to be either self-interested (and self-centered), or to have an extended self-interest (which shows itself as empathy and cooperation), our culture and environment plays the key role then of acting on our biology… allowing the expression or supression of such genes.

Capitalism in its uber-competitiveness, greed, emphasis on profit above people, free-market dog-eat-dog cut-throat attidudes and, in the end, its major inequality which leaves the top 10% of the world in political and economic power, and the botton 10% in utter dispair…. Well, it does not take much imagination to see what becomes of human behavior under such a system.  Our negative tendencies (which are fewer than our positive) become greatly increased… And while our emotional pain and desensitization increases, born as it is of capitalism, our positive tendencies become less and less able to be expressed.

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Posted: 01 December 2006 02:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Re: around long enough…

[quote author=“Barry”]This arguement only makes sense for a biological determinist (a la Dawkins, Pinker, etc.)

Dawkins and Pinker are not biological determinists, FYI.


[quote author=“Barry”]But actually, since humans do have the dispositions though our biological heritage to be either self-interested (and self-centered), or to have an extended self-interest (which shows itself as empathy and cooperation), our culture and environment plays the key role then of acting on our biology… allowing the expression or supression of such genes.

Dawkins and Pinker would both agree with this.

[quote author=“Barry”]Capitalism in its uber-competitiveness, greed, emphasis on profit above people, free-market dog-eat-dog cut-throat attidudes and, in the end, its major inequality which leaves the top 10% of the world in political and economic power, and the botton 10% in utter dispair…. Well, it does not take much imagination to see what becomes of human behavior under such a system.  Our negative tendencies (which are fewer than our positive) become greatly increased… And while our emotional pain and desensitization increases, born as it is of capitalism, our positive tendencies become less and less able to be expressed.

There are different cultural forms of capitalism; for example, European capitalism tends to be somewhat less competitive than the US variety, this is reflected in their stronger notion of a safety net, as well as mandatory month-long vacations, etc.

Capitalism, however, and competition generally, are natural states of affairs for humans. They spring up unbidden. Where they are forcibly suppressed this only results in the creation of a “black market”, which is capitalistic in itself and more cutthroat in being illegal and as a result unregulated.

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Posted: 01 December 2006 03:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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culture and environment plays the key role then of acting on our biology

Sure. But I still believe that it is our “selfishness” that created Capitalism, not the other way around. I remember, as a kid in Czechoslovakia, people being equally greedy. With one deference: instead of taking (stealing?) from each other, they stole from the state.

And I still believe (to follow in Pinker’s and Dawkins’s footsteps) we are selfish due to biological reasons, not political. When you get a throat infection, you take antibiotics and kill the bacteria. Why? Because only one of you can win. I know you might object to this and say that you can’t reason with the bacteria and come to any agreement, but you wouldn’t even if you could. You would try to reason with the bacteria (if you could) only if you had to! The same can be said about any political system: as long as the stronger ones have the power (which they will as long as they are the stronger ones) the bottom 10% will live in utter despair. Andromeda will kill the Milky Way not because it can (as Clinton might say), but because it must. I’ll kill the bacteria within me, because I must. And Bill Gates will make millions of dollars because he must.

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Posted: 01 December 2006 03:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Actually, one of the prime roles of the law is to protect the weak from the strong. I know that we can all come up with plenty of counterexamples, but just consider this: in a lawless environment, the strong would take what they wanted by force. Hence in the breach, what protects the powerless from those with power is law.

That’s what we mean when we say that this must be a nation of laws, not of people. Nobody is above the law. (This is also a prime enlightenment value: there is no ‘divine right of kings’ to be above the law).

And the mechanisms of the state are necessary for an effective rule of law. (Imperfect though this practice will always be!) E.g., police, courts, legislatures, etc.

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Posted: 01 December 2006 04:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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in a lawless environment, the strong would take what they wanted by force.

According to Chomsky, the force (which is no longer effective) was replaced by advertising. Why would you fight a war? Give them credit cards!

Nobody is above the law.

Do you really believe this? :shock: Actually, you are right. Nobody is above the law. The strong ones make the law according to their needs. They don’t need to be above it. They are IT!

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Posted: 01 December 2006 04:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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[quote author=“George Benedik”]

Nobody is above the law.

Do you really believe this? :shock: Actually, you are right. Nobody is above the law. The strong ones make the law according to their needs. They don’t need to be above it. They are IT!

What I said was that “This is what we mean when we say this is a nation of laws.”

Obviously no nation on earth lives up to this ideal, and I expect none ever will. But it is nonetheless an ideal to strive for.

And “the strong” don’t need laws. They can take what they want by force. For “the strong”, laws are just impediments to their free actions.

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Posted: 01 December 2006 05:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Obviously no nation on earth lives up to this ideal, and I expect none ever will. But it is nonetheless an ideal to strive for.

The objective of a rationally thinking person should be to strive for the truth, not an ideal.

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Posted: 01 December 2006 05:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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[quote author=“George Benedik”]The objective of a rationally thinking person should be to strive for the truth, not an ideal.

But what does it mean in this instance to “strive for the truth”? The truth is that nobody should be above the law.

And I don’t agree that we shouldn’t strive for ideals. It depends on the ideal, of course, and in this case, the equal enforcement of the law is a good ideal.

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Posted: 01 December 2006 05:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”][quote author=“George Benedik”]The objective of a rationally thinking person should be to strive for the truth, not an ideal.

But what does it mean in this instance to “strive for the truth”? The truth is that nobody should be above the law.

And I don’t agree that we shouldn’t strive for ideals. It depends on the ideal, of course, and in this case, the equal enforcement of the law is a good ideal.

The problem is that we see everything as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But that’s obviously relative. When Andromeda and the Milky Way will collide, it would be ideal (good) for us not to get destroyed. And the other way around. But it won’t matter what our ideal or Andromeda’s ideal is. The truth matters. The bigger galaxy will destroy the smaller one. An ideal is an illusion. The truth is not that “nobody should be above the law”. it’s the exact opposite: somebody will ALWAYS be above the law. There really isn’t much difference between Feudalism and Capitalism. The only difference is that in Feudalism we knew who was above the law, and in Capitalism we don’t. The strong ones have learnt their lesson: Do you want to stay in power? Create an “ideal”:!:

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Posted: 01 December 2006 06:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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[quote author=“George Benedik”] An ideal is an illusion. The truth is not that “nobody should be above the law”. it’s the exact opposite: somebody will ALWAYS be above the law.

These are not “exact opposites”, they are perfectly compatible truths. On the one hand, “nobody should be above the law”. On the other hand, (arguably) “someone will (as a matter of fact) always be above the law.” These are both true.

We have to fight the latter. We will never succeed perfectly (nobody ever does) but that doesn’t mean we should stop fighting. Also, it isn’t quite as pernicious if the person above the law changes from time to time, as opposed to his being always the same person, like a king. That’s why people get so interested when folks like Jeff Skilling and Bernie Ebbers go to the slammer. They may have been Kings of the World for a time, but it caught up with them.

(It doesn’t always catch up with everyone, but the chance does remain).

[quote author=“George Benedik”]The only difference is that in Feudalism we knew who was above the law, and in Capitalism we don’t.

Well, that’s something of an advance; often times the people who are in fact above the law can’t be quite sure of it. Why do you think Bush does things like put Alberto Gonzales in as Attorney General? Because he knows Gonzales himself is up to his neck in the torture memos. Why do you think Bush wanted to retain both houses of Congress? Because without them, the Democrats have subpoena power, the sort that can reveal info that can send people to jail. Even powerful people.

[quote author=“George Benedik”] The strong ones have learnt their lesson: Do you want to stay in power? Create an “ideal”:!:

This is a non sequitur. The ideal we were talking about is that “nobody is above the law”. The powerful have precisely no incentive to create or enforce such an ideal. If you look historically, it tended to be the middle classes, merchants, etc., who fought in the Enlightenment against things like the Divine Right of Kings. Thomas Paine was one of these, and he was not someone who argued so strenuously because he “wanted to stay in power”.

If you see the history of documents like the Magna Carta , for example, they came about because of a strain between the king’s unfettered power and the people responsible for paying the relevant taxes. (E.g., to finance royal warfare). As it says in Wikipedia: “Magna Carta required the king to renounce certain rights, respect certain legal procedures and accept that the will of the king could be bound by law.”

Similar strains between royal power and the taxpaying elite precipitated the French Revolution, and were very important in Russian history as well, with the constant infighting between Boyars and Tsar. Our notion of the law as constraining everyone equally comes from these sorts of tense, and at times bloody, interactions.

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