That's the title of a book I'm rereading. Here's a key conversation, excerpted:
"Fine, now what about the beggars in Spain?"
"You walk down the street in a poor country like Spain and you see a beggar. Do you give him a dollar?"
"Why? He's trading nothing with you. He has nothing to trade."
"I know. Out of kindness. Compassion."
"You see six beggars. Do you give them all a dollar?"
"You would. You see a hundred beggars, and you haven't got your kind of money. Do you give them each a dollar?"
"Too draining on my own resources. My life has first claim on the resources I earn."
"What if you walk down the street in Spain and a hundred beggars each want a dollar and if you say no and they have nothing to trade you but they're so rotten with anger about what you have that they knock you down and grab it and then beat you out of sheer envy and anger. Are you going to say it's not a human scenario? That it never happens?"
"It happens, but not all that often."
"Bullshit. Read more history. Read more newspapers. But the point is: what do you owe the beggars then? What does a good [libertarian]* who believes in mutually beneficial contracts do with people who have nothing to give and can only take?"
"What? In the most objective terms you can manage, what do we owe the grasping and nonproductive needy?"
"What I said originally. Kindness. Compassion."
"Even if they don't trade it back? Why?"
"Why? Why do law-aviding and productive human beings owe anything to those who neither produce very much nor abide by just laws? What philosophical or economic or spiritual justification is there for owing them anything?" [emphasis mine]
Go ahead and respond. But if all you've got to say is that this is unpleasant, don't bother. We already know that. If you've got a well-reasoned argument for why "law abiding and productive" citizens owe anything to those who "neither produce very much nor abide by just laws" then I'd like to hear it. And a simple "The Bible says we do" is not sufficient. You've got to be able to tell me where and how. Give it a shot.
*This term is my own, as the one in the book refers to an invented economic philosophy that doesn't make sense out of context. "Libertarian" is about as close as actual political-philosophies come to approximating the fictional one, though "liberal" - in the classic, Thomas Jefferson sense of the word, in the way that I am liberal - isn't drastically off the mark.Posted by ryan at October 2, 2005 7:39 AM