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Sender: Michael Briand
Subject: Re: An Ideological Turing Test featuring arguments against Raddatz's "Cap and Priori
Date: Fri, May 16, 2014
Msg: 100987

Thank you, Michael S., for this careful construction of a rationale. I can imagine someone subscribing to it, but (for myself, at least) I would amend it somewhat.

1. First, I don't believe "it is (a) self-evident to a moral human being that (b) once one's basic needs have been met, (c) most of the rest of one's wealth and income should be devoted to (d) helping those in need." (a) No propositions of any sort are "self-evident," though we often (because of Godel's proof) have to treat them as such in order to get an argument off the ground. That's why ethical argument is so difficult to initiate and sustain--we can't agree on a starting point. (b) People have many basic needs, so the question of the proper threshold beyond which anyone ought to consider the consequences of his or her self-regarding actions is a matter that must be settled through dialogue and deliberation. For example, whether or not Rawls was right about the principles of justice he argued that persons in the Original Position would select, the derivation of those principles was hypothetical, not actual. (See, e.g., Janna Thompson, Discourse and Knowledge.) If you feel you need the gratification that owning a 200-foot yacht provides, I have a duty to engage you in discussion about that need and how you can best go about having it satisfied (and how I might help you do so). (c) "Most" is arbitrary and (probably) excessive. The question of what one owes her society and compatriots should be taken up in the context of a joint consideration of (i) the benefits each of us receives from our way of life, its practices and institutions (including markets), etc.; (ii) the consequences for everyone of allowing them to fall into disrepair; and (iii) the responsibility each of us bears for contributing to their upkeep. (d) Devoting "most" to "those in need" suggests simple redistribution of wealth to reduce inequality of wealth. I don't think it's that simple. Who needs assistance, of what type, for what purpose, when, and in what form are highly relevant considerations that have implications for the nature and extent of anyone's responsibility for contributing to the upkeep of institutions, practices, infrastructure, and the like that benefit everyone, even if only very indirectly.

2. Second, it can certainly be the case that "government is too large" or that "government spends too much." But in relation to what? The problem with the "cap" portion of "cap and prioritize" is not its artificiality but its suggestion either that there is some "absolute" limit that must be respected (in order to avoid what?) or that, contingently, we have reached the point at which it is no longer practical (in virtue of what?) to continue at the current level. Are we talking about spending in relation to GDP? If so, GDP measured how? (It matters.) In relation to total debt? To the annual deficit? In relation to comparable nations (Germany, Japan, France, Britain, Canada, Sweden)? In relation to our own future? What evidence should we consider as we try to establish a causal link between level of spending or "size" of government and consequences anyone reasonably might agree are undesirable?

3. Is "Cap and Prioritize" about "set[ting] ... limits on what Americans can or should do for their fellow citizens, for their country, and for the world"? As I've agreed before, "ought implies can." But what Americans "can" do is pretty far down the line toward literal impossibility. Fighting the Second World War was something we could do and did do. When William James said the modern world needs the "moral equivalent of war," he was talking about a cause that would inspire us to make the kind of sacrifices people made willingly when the world (not just the U.S.) was threatened in the late 30s and 40s, or earlier, in the 1770s. So the basic question is really the normative one of what we should do. It seems to me a non-starter to agree to "cap" what government does or what it spends before we address the question of what we should do (and hence, perhaps, what government should do) if we are able. The question is not whether we are able, but able at what sacrifice by whom? There is an implicit assumption in "capping" that calls for discussion of both what we should do and then, in light of that, what we "can" do.

As for prioritizing, done well this would be enormously helpful, at least periodically. Whether we could go to zero-based budgeting every year or every two years is another question. For me, prioritizing is imperative, even if we had (per impossibile) the fiscal means to do everything. There are always hard choices to be made, and the public currently is not bearing the responsibility for facing up to and making these. But asking the public how many billions it wants to pay for defense versus social assistance won't work. People must be able to relate their contribution to collective expenses to the scale of budgeting with which they're familiar in daily life. (How many Starbuck's grande lattes for my share of an adequate supply of drones?)

Do we want to open this particular can of worms? I'm inclined to say yes. But others might have reservations.

4. I understand the desire to try asking a simple, straightforward question and receiving a simple, clear, straightforward answer. The only way to do that, though, is to unpack every element in a question or statement to the point where your interlocutor feels he or she can give such an answer. Although your hypothetical rationale is a good and welcome step in that direction, for me it doesn't unpack things nearly enough, as I hope my reply indicates.

Thanks again, Michael.

Michael Briand

From: Michael Strong Sent: Friday, May 16, 2014 1:27 PM To: TRANSPARTISAN@LISTS.THATAWAY.ORG Subject: [TRANSPARTISAN] An Ideological Turing Test featuring arguments against Raddatz's "Cap and Prioriitize" proposal

In an earlier thread, I was surprised that after I came out supporting Rick Raddatz's "Cap and Prioritize" proposal, there were many follow-up posts that struck me as completely unrelated to my post. In going through to see how these well-intentioned people had thought they were responding to my post, I realized that if I put myself back into the progressive mindset, their seemingly unrelated comments might make sense.

This sense of temporary disorientation led me to attempt to pass an "Ideological Turing Test" by presenting a progressive's argument against Raddatz's "Cap and Prioritize." I'd love to hear if progressives here have a significantly different set of rationales for not supporting Raddatz's "Cap and Prioritize" proposal, or if this is a roughly decent articulation for a progressive's rationale for not supporting his proposal:

Conservatives and libertarians want to cap government spending and then work with transpartisan progressives to improve the manner in which government funds are spent. While we respect the transpartisan spirit of this proposal, in a world in which inequality is the over-riding issue of our time, in a world facing severe environmental challenges, and in a nation with inadequate public goods, the cap-and-prioritize proposal is unacceptable.

There is abundant evidence that above a certain point, more wealth does not increase happiness. At the some time, there is abundant evidence that poverty and inequality result in severe harms to the health and well-being of the least disadvantaged in our society. There is also abundant evidence that our environment is at risk, including global warming, over-fishing, water scarcity, ecosystem vulnerability, loss of species and habitat, dead zones in our coastal waters due to excessive pesticide and fertilizer usage, etc. Finally our public goods are undersupplied: our infrastructure is crumbling, our schools are broken, our universities are underfunded, we are at risk of falling behind globally due to cuts in research, etc.

We believe that it is self-evident to a moral human being that once one's basic needs have been met, most of the rest of one's wealth and income should be devoted to helping those in need. Thus over some income threshold, most additional income should be taxed to support programs to help those in need. Additional funds should be devoted to preserving our ecosystem and financing public goods.

Therefore because of:

1. The scale of need among the disadvantaged.

2. The urgency of ecosystem preservation.

3. The need to finance our public goods properly.

4. The clear evidence that additional wealth does not increase happiness.

We therefore resist any notion that "government is too large" or that "government spends too much." Indeed, any artificial limit to the financing of public needs is immoral. Instead of setting arbitrary "limits to government," such as are proposed by Rick Raddatz's "cap-and-prioritize," those of us who live comfortable lives should all willingly devote whatever it takes to solving the other important problems faced by our nation. As a consequence, we should wisely implement whatever policies are needed to create a better America, and we should proudly pay whatever level of civic contribution is needed through our taxes in order to do so. "Cap and Prioritize" is therefore a misguided policy proposal insofar as it aspires to set limits on what Americans can or should do for their fellow citizens, for their country, and for the world.

-- Michael Strong CEO and Chief Visionary Officer FLOW, Inc.

For the definitive Conscious Capitalism book, see Be the Solution: How Entrepreneurs and Conscious Capitalists Can Solve All the World's Problems, by Michael Strong with John Mackey, CEO Whole Foods Market, Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Hernando de Soto, Co-Chair of the U.N. Commission on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor, and others, and listen to John Mackey's audio CD Passion and Purpose: The Power of Conscious Capitalism, both available at or

Liberating the Entrepreneurial Spirit for Good

When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.

Leonardo Da Vinci


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