Moral Naturalists

Where does our sense of right and wrong come from? Most people think it is a gift from God, who revealed His laws and elevates us with His love. A smaller number think that we figure the rules out for ourselves, using our capacity to reason and choosing a philosophical system to live by.

Moral naturalists, on the other hand, believe that we have moral sentiments that have emerged from a long history of relationships. To learn about morality, you don’t rely upon revelation or metaphysics; you observe people as they live.

All emphasis mine. Via Op-Ed Columnist – The Moral Naturalists – NYTimes.com.

I have to say I am highly sympathetic to that view. So was Adam Smith, as noted by the guys as Cafe Hayek:

It’s worth noting that Adam Smith arrived at the same conclusion 251 years ago. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), this brilliant scholar – who, in 1776, published an even more influential book – wrote that “Our continual observations upon the conduct of others insensibly lead us to form to ourselves certain general rules concerning what is fit and proper either to be done or to be avoided.”

Just as workable economic arrangements are not, and cannot be, designed and imposed by a higher power, so too, Smith explained, workable morality itself is the product not of any grand design but of the everyday actions, reactions, observations, and practical assessments of ordinary people going about their daily business.

Via The Origins of Moral Sentiments.

Three Waves of Increased Taxes

Three waves of new taxes are coming. And what the hell is the “Economic Substance Doctrine”?

Resurrection of the death tax, however, isn’t the only tax problem that will be ushered in Jan. 1. Many other cuts from the Bush administration are set to disappear and a new set of taxes will materialize. And it’s not just the rich who will pay.

The lowest bracket for the personal income tax, for instance, moves up 50% — to 15% from 10%. The next lowest bracket — 25% — will rise to 28%, and the old 28% bracket will be 31%. At the higher end, the 33% bracket is pushed to 36% and the 35% bracket becomes 39.6%.

But even more tax headaches lie ahead. This "second wave" of hikes, as Americans for Tax Reform puts it, are designed to pay for ObamaCare and include:

– The Medicine Cabinet Tax. Americans, says ATR, "will no longer be able to use health savings account, flexible spending account, or health reimbursement pretax dollars to purchase nonprescription, over-the-counter medicines (except insulin)."

– Brand Name Drug Tax. Makers and importers of brand-name drugs will be liable for a tax of $2.5 billion in 2011. The tax goes to $3 billion a year from 2012 to 2016, then $3.5 billion in 2017 and $4.2 billion in 2018. Beginning in 2019 it falls to $2.8 billion and stays there. And who pays the new drug tax? Patients, in the form of higher prices.

– Economic Substance Doctrine. ATR reports that "The IRS is now empowered to disallow perfectly legal tax deductions and maneuvers merely because it judges that the deduction or action lacks ‘economic substance.’"

– A third and final (for now) wave, says ATR, consists of the alternative minimum tax’s widening net, tax hikes on employers and the loss of deductions for tuition:

– The Tax Policy Center, no right-wing group, says that the failure to index the AMT will subject 28.5 million families to the tax when they file next year, up from 4 million this year.

– The deduction for tuition and fees will no longer be available and there will be limits placed on education tax credits. Teachers won’t be able to deduct their classroom expenses and employer-provided educational aid will be restricted. Thousands of families will no longer be allowed to deduct student loan interest.

– Then there’s the tax on Americans who decline to buy health care insurance (the tax the administration initially said wasn’t a tax but now argues in court that it is) plus a 3.8% Medicare tax beginning in 2013 on profits made in real estate transactions by wealthier Americans.

All emphasis mine. Via The Tax Tsunami On The Horizon – Investors.com.

Non-Compliance Topples Arizona Traffic-Cam Program

Through the highway camera system, it was hoped that an additional burst of revenue would roll in. Instead, it became a massive drain on the state's budget. Not only did it not bring in the hoped-for revenue, it didn't even make enough money to pay for expense of installing and maintaining the cameras.

The citizens simply ignored the tickets that arrived in the mail. The state of Arizona doesn't have the money nor the resources to follow up on the unpaid tickets. To top that all off, a group of activists went around vandalizing the traffic cams '" icing on the cake.

Another quote from Lt. King was, "If everyone was to drive the speed limit, the cameras would never flash." As if the flashing light was the real problem, and strangers with guns watching the through cameras is of no concern.

Sorry, Lt. King, but our American culture was built on the idea that we can '" and should '" tell the political class to piss off. The Founders refused to comply with political thuggery, and they revolted against the insolence of an elitist political class.

via Non-Compliance Topples Arizona Traffic-Cam Program – Associated Content – associatedcontent.com.

Economists vs. Economics

Let’s go back to our humble friend, the pencil. They’re cheap. They’re everywhere. But nobody knows how to make one. It is mentally and physically impossible. Think that through for a minute.

You would have to chop and cut the wood yourself. If you use an axe, you’d have to mine, smelt, and process the iron ore in the blade. And make the tools to do so. You’d have to find rubber trees to make the eraser — hopefully you happen to live in a tropical climate. You’d have to extract and process the rubber yourself, and make all the tools for that yourself.

Then you’d need to mine and mold the aluminum for the little bit that holds the eraser to the shaft. And you’d need to know how to make yellow paint, and have access to all the ingredients. And how to make the paintbrush you need to apply it. Then there’s the matter of finding graphite for the pencil lead…

You get the point — even the everyday is way beyond the capacities of any individual. It takes thousands of specialists coming together from all around the world just to make a simple, cheap little thing you can buy at any convenience store for less than a dollar.

Insights like that are why I became an economist.

via The American Spectator : Economists vs. Economics.

Secret Gold Coin Tax Embedded in Health Bill

So every time a member of the public sells more than $600 worth of gold to a dealer, Piret said, the transaction will have to be reported to the government by the buyer.

Pat Heller, who owns Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Mich., deals with around 1,000 customers every week. Many are individuals looking to protect wealth in an uncertain economy, he said, while others are dealers like him.

With spot market prices for gold at nearly $1,200 an ounce, Heller estimates that he'll be filling out between 10,000 and 20,000 tax forms per year after the new law takes effect.

"I'll have to hire two full-time people just to track all this stuff, which cuts into my profitability," he said.

An issue that combines gold coins, the Obama health care law and the IRS is bound to stir passions. Indeed, trading in gold coins and bars has surged since the financial crisis unfolded and Obama took office, metal dealers said.

The buying of actual gold, as opposed to futures or options tied to the price of gold, has been a particularly popular trend among Tea Party supporters and others who are fearful of Obama's economic policies, gold industry members such as Heller and Piret said. Conservative/libertarian commentators, such as Fox News Channel's Glenn Beck, routinely tout precious metal on the air as being a safe, shrewd investment in an environment in which the financial system — and paper money backed by the rest of the world's faith in the U.S. government's credit — is viewed as increasingly fragile.

via Secret Gold Coin Tax Embedded in Health Bill.

America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution

This piece by Angelo Codevilla, America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution, is worth reading in its entirety. Codevilla’s thesis is that the class divide in America is not left/right, not Democrat/Republican, but ruling and the ruled (what he calls the “country class”). This is reminiscent of Virginia Postrel’s “The Future and Its Enemies”, where she defines the divide as stasist/dynamist.

I detect a level of pro-creationist/anti-evolution bias, in that he uses terms like “Darwinism” instead of “evolution” or “evolutionary theory”. I also detect a level of anti-science bias in general, but with things like Climategate undermining the seriousness of scientific endeavor, I can’t blame him. Aside from those points, I thought the work was excellent.

I would like to quote relevant sections, but every paragraph has at least one quotable sentence, which make my task difficult. All emphasis is added.

… Republican and Democratic office holders and their retinues show a similar presumption to dominate and fewer differences in tastes, habits, opinions, and sources of income among one another than between both and the rest of the country. They think, look, and act as a class.

Never has there been so little diversity within America’s upper crust. Always, in America as elsewhere, some people have been wealthier and more powerful than others. But until our own time America’s upper crust was a mixture of people who had gained prominence in a variety of ways, who drew their money and status from different sources and were not predictably of one mind on any given matter.

Today’s ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints.

What really distinguishes these privileged people demographically is that, whether in government power directly or as officers in companies, their careers and fortunes depend on government.

If, for example, you are Laurence Tribe in 1984, Harvard professor of law, leftist pillar of the establishment, you can “write” your magnum opus by using the products of your student assistant, Ron Klain. A decade later, after Klain admits to having written some parts of the book, and the other parts are found to be verbatim or paraphrases of a book published in 1974, you can claim (perhaps correctly) that your plagiarism was “inadvertent,” and you can count on the Law School’s dean, Elena Kagan, to appoint a committee including former and future Harvard president Derek Bok that issues a secret report that “closes” the incident. Incidentally, Kagan ends up a justice of the Supreme Court. Not one of these people did their jobs: the professor did not write the book himself, the assistant plagiarized instead of researching, the dean and the committee did not hold the professor accountable, and all ended up rewarded. By contrast, for example, learned papers and distinguished careers in climatology at MIT (Richard Lindzen) or UVA (S. Fred Singer) are not enough for their questions about “global warming” to be taken seriously. For our ruling class, identity always trumps.

No, our ruling class recruits and renews itself not through meritocracy but rather by taking into itself people whose most prominent feature is their commitment to fit in. The most successful neither write books and papers that stand up to criticism nor release their academic records. Thus does our ruling class stunt itself through negative selection. But the more it has dumbed itself down, the more it has defined itself by the presumption of intellectual superiority.

Hence more power for the ruling class has been our ruling class’s solution not just for economic downturns and social ills but also for hurricanes and tornadoes, global cooling and global warming. A priori, one might wonder whether enriching and empowering individuals of a certain kind can make Americans kinder and gentler, much less control the weather. But there can be no doubt that such power and money makes Americans ever more dependent on those who wield it.

Laws and regulations nowadays are longer than ever because length is needed to specify how people will be treated unequally. For example, the health care bill of 2010 takes more than 2,700 pages to make sure not just that some states will be treated differently from others because their senators offered key political support, but more importantly to codify bargains between the government and various parts of the health care industry, state governments, and large employers about who would receive what benefits (e.g., public employee unions and auto workers) and who would pass what indirect taxes onto the general public.

Nowadays, the members of our ruling class admit that they do not read the laws. They don’t have to. Because modern laws are primarily grants of discretion, all anybody has to know about them is whom they empower.

That’s only halfway through the article. There’s a lot more. Read the whole thing.

Followup links: The Neo-Reactionaries by Arnold Kling, http://dailypundit.com/?p=38847, and http://newledger.com/2010/07/class-warfare-in-america/

UPDATE (2010-07-22): Instapundit has notes on what to do in response.

Dude in 17-vehicle motorcade tells fed workers to drive less

Sigh. Eat healthier, say the Obamas — as the president scarfs pastry and cheeseburgers. Vacation in the Gulf States, they say as they head off to Maine. Drive less and reduce pollution, they say as the 17-car motorcade travels four blocks to a speech.

via Dude in 17-vehicle motorcade tells fed workers to drive less | Washington Examiner.

US Government Shuts Down 73000 Blogs?

Yesterday, an event took place here in the United States that got little comment – cue the crickets… WordPress host Blogetery and 73,000 WordPress blogs were shut down, marking the beginning of a modern day 1984 society in the US. A chill rippled through the blogging world and the internet sparking 1st Amendment fears and a Constitutional outcry from those paying attention.

via » First They Came for the Bloggers… NoisyRoom.net: The Progressive Hunter.

Seven Steamy Nights with the Gals from Victoria’s Secret

The White House is claiming that the so-called stimulus created between 2.5 million and 3.6 million jobs even though total employment has dropped by more than 2.3 million since Obama took office. The Administration justifies this legerdemain by asserting that the economy actually would have lost about 5 million jobs without the new government spending.

I’ve decided to adopt this clever strategy to spice up my social life. Next time I see my buddies, I’m going to claim that I enjoyed a week of debauchery with the Victoria’s Secret models. And if any of them are rude enough to point out that I’m lying, I’ll simply explain that I started with an assumption of spending -7 nights with the supermodels. And since I actually spent zero nights with them, that means a net of +7.

(Emphasis added.) Via Obamanomics and my Seven Steamy Nights with the Gals from Victoria’s Secret | Cato @ Liberty.

Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us

Journalist David Freedman walks us through an impressive list of false and conflicting claims made by experts in a variety of fields that really drives home the dubiousness of much — if not most — of what passes for expert wisdom. The book is worth this carefully assembled and annotated collection of dueling truth claims alone.

There’s plenty of blame for our expert misinformation to go around, says Freedman. From respected scientists to financial wizards to self-appointed relationship gurus, people whom we credit with specialized knowledge conduct sloppy research, suppress disconfirming data, and leap to unwarranted conclusions. Journalists oversimplify and misrepresent study findings. Bad advice thrives in part because the public demands easy fixes that are “resonant, provocative and colorful.”

via Skeptic » eSkeptic » Wednesday, July 14th, 2010.