More about me slowly coming to (always temporary) conclusions in :

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For a long time, I failed to define a clear line between fair, necessary, humane benefits on the one hand, and greedy, opportunistic, unjustified rent-seeking on the other.

More recently I settled on a heuristic that I find just, and that is fairly simple to apply:

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First of all, I establish

  • a universal, absolute threshold for human well-being (enough food, reasonable shelter, basic medical treatment, physical safety), and
  • the moral obligation of society as a whole to help those who find themselves below that threshold, for whatever reason,
  • for as many people as necessary, for as long as necessary, and regardless of the cost in taxes.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a long-time beneficiary of social benefits already, a former billionaire who recklessly burned all their cash, a chronic tax-evader, or an unrepentant serial killer: if you are starving, have no roof, or suffer from illness or violence — and you do not have the resources to remedy your situation — and you have not unequivocally rejected the assistance of society — then it is not only moral but mandatory that our taxes be directed towards lifting you out of that dire state and back into human dignity.

That’s the unconditioned baseline for welfare benefits.

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@tripu I think your argument fails at the premise: can you objectively demonstrate the "universal threshold for human well-being"? If not, it's subjective and you will have to impose your will upon others that don't agree with your arbitrary threshold, by force.



One more point where I think you’re wrong:

You are right in that forcing an action upon others is in principle morally wrong (eg, nobody should force you, in principle, to donate money to the poor). But forcing an inaction is equally wrong in principle. This is how I think your reasoning actually imposes inaction upon others:

Imagine three people:

  • A is the most privileged person imaginable (say, Jeff Bezos),
  • Z is the most miserable and helpless human being, and
  • Y is someone who is slightly above Z, but still basically destitute and resourceless.

The three people stumble upon each other. A sees without a doubt that Z is in agony and on the brink of a horrific death, but A is utterly selfish and decides to give Z nothing, not even a glass of water from his Olympic pool. Y contemplates the scene, and feels the moral obligation to steal a dollar, or a banana, or a paper clip (since Y doesn’t even have that to spare) from A (exerting no violence upon him) and to give it to Z to somehow remedy their plight, or even save their life, at least temporarily.

I bet you that the vast majority of human beings (including the sub-groups of ethicist and political philosophers) would agree with Y and defend his “altruistic theft”.

Your absolutist , on the other hand, would impose inaction on Y and condemn/prosecute/ban that behaviour.

@tripu I think this "altruistic theft" you speak of is a slippery slope to justify socialism. It's a short step from stealing just a dollar to feed the poor to the massive taxes we have today. It's all for the "common good". Well I don't think it is for the common good.


You are joking, right?

In my thought experiment I painted what is literally the most justifiable case for compulsory — one where the decrease in wealth and well-being for a person being “taxed” is indistinguishable from zero, while the benefit to an utterly helpless recipient is enormous (the difference between life and death, no less). Even you “believe in that moral obligation to a point”.

…and yet you worry that admitting so much, and defending a system where that absolute minimum of redistribution is somehow “imposed” on people, could easily lead to what is (again, literally) the most extreme case the world has ever seen of forced redistribution (ie, , ).

“It’s a short step from stealing just a dollar to feed the poor to the massive taxes we have today.”

No, it’s not. It’s a huge leap.

@tripu A slippery slope is not always a fallacy. You present an extreme case which cannot happen, and if granted then what would be the next step?

Previously you established:

> a universal, absolute threshold for human well-being [...] and the moral obligation of society as a whole to help those who find themselves below that threshold

This makes me believe your argument would lead to enough compulsory taxation and redistribution to fund that level of welfare. That is the slippery slope.

@tripu That being said, I'm also pragmatic. We cannot switch from our >50% GDP states to 0% overnight, not even in decades. So we would need to plan a transition. If we agree that the end goal would be ~0% public welfare, because everybody is wealthy enough to have their necessities covered, then I believe we could agree on a concrete plan on how to achieve it, based on reducing the size of the state and increasing wealth for everybody.


I don’t think that expecting everybody to be “wealthy enough to have their necessities covered” is “pragmatic”.

I believe in progress, too. But precisely because I’m pragmatic I assume fallible individuals, misfortune, illness, disasters, etc.

Even in a very wealthy and egalitarian society there’ll be people who find themselves destitute, maimed, threatened… People who give birth to a sextuplet, who are born predisposed to sabotage their own lives (addiction, self-harm), who lose all their family members at a very young age, etc.

My thought experiment appeared farcical — that’s why it’s a thought experiment. But even in a much more prosperous society, there’ll always be an A and a Z, by definition. Those two may never stumbled upon each other by chance as depicted, but they are still fellow citizens and coetaneous. As I see it, the challenge stands.

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