April 01, 2006

I reclaim, here, the concept of Entitlement.

I acknowledge that rights are not entitlements, entitlements are not laws, and laws are not a reflection of reality. (Quite the opposite in fact, for the existence of the law illustrates what the legislators think ought to be so, and therefore how it is not.)

But I also hold forth the claim that we define ourselves as a society based upon which rights and entitlements we hold to be universally essential to life and quality of life, as well as (perhaps even more importantly) our degree of willingness to carve those rights and entitlements out of the chaos where they do not exist, and uphold them where they do. For in a world where society and mutual respect has meaning and where life is claimed to be of primary importance: a rational social structure must also acknowledge that an abstract right to life, in isolation, is effectively meaningless -- lip service, nothing more.

Therefore I claim that, in a society which holds that the right to life is one of the great truths of our world, we absolutely should feel entitled to a few other things in conjunction with Life. Here, then, is my

Decree of Entitlement

I understand my obligation, in so being entitled, is to undertake my own part in helping to create and maintain a healthy environment for myself and for those around me; nor does my responsibility in this respect abrogate that of any other person or group of persons. I understand that accepting these entitlements also places upon me a parallel obligation to make use of these entitlements in the spirit in which they are intended.

So I pledge myself.

Entitled -- at whose expense?
Invert the question: who stands to gain by denying this ... which, after all, is nothing less nor more than a desire simply to be able to earn one's bare survival?

(For, if you choose to reject these few things as a basic entitlement, take out the right to life also.)
"I am entitled to earn, through my own efforts, a job which, in working the standard non-overtime number of hours, is adequate to pay for a roof over my head"

"Invert the question: who stands to gain by denying this"

-- your boss does.
Consider the person(s) who hired you, who sets your duties, who signs your paycheque, and to whom you are directly responsible (which used to be the traditional meaning of "boss"). Do these person(s) make that much more than you do? For that matter, are they usually themselves the boss/owner anymore?
Well, that's fairly standard Marxism. Which is fine, but, yawn.
That makes twice. *laugh* You have read Das Kapital, right? Do you want to explain how Marx writes almost the exact opposite of what I write here?
First, I don't know anyone who's read all three-and-a-half volumes of Das Kapital (what a monumental waste of time that would be); I've read only the first, so feel free to enlighten me. But by inverting my original question, you make exactly the same move Marx does, which is to romanticize-away the scarcity of resources. The idea of a right to "standard, non-overtime hours" that will allow you a certain level of comfort ignores the laws of economics (in some places). In America or Western Europe or Canada, most of your requests are reasonable -- in Bangladesh you may be asking for more than the market can bear.

Reading Marx isn't the point. I don't mean to start a fight, but what about "real" economics? Have you read Carl Menger? Ludwig Von Mises? Hayek? Schumpeter? Keynes? Galbraith?

Your language is nicely ambiguous: what, after all, is "reasonably safe" or "bare living income?" But the first rule of economics is that cost is determined by supply and demand, not abstractly decreed "rights."

The "standard non-overtime" hours that you talk about didn't exist as they do now until the 1960s, and as I'm sure you know, in the 19th century people frequently worked 70 hours a week or more. Before that, as feudal serfs, people essentially worked while they were awake. Retirement? No such thing. Anyone who would have made your argument in the 15th century would have been laughed out of court, and that proves that your demands, while perhaps reasonable in certain places in the early 21st century, are clearly not "universal rights."

Do we say that the blacksmith from London in the 16th century was denied his rights because he had to work more than 40 hours per week?
No fight here, just discussion. That is a good thing, right? :) Although -- perhaps from the number of people who have told me, over the years, that my time was more valuable than [fill in the blank] -- I may well have a different sense than most of just what constitutes wasted time.

(Incidental statistic from the past month: the average number of hours spent per week in the United States on pursuits relationship-oriented -- including having sex -- was ~3; with the most common given reason being not having enough time. However, the number of hours spent surfing the Internet per week averaged ~12 and rising, and the number of hours spent watching television was quite a bit higher. Damned if I know where I read that, though: although it may explain part of the declining birth rates -- only part, though.)

Reading Marx may perhaps be a part of the point when one is persistently (and inaccurately) labelled a Marxist: but it is not a point I would obsess over. Will you accept, here at least -- for the purpose of brevity -- that I don't see Marx as having romanticised away scarcity of resources? rather, that he shifted focus to who ought to benefit from any rise in value due to scarcity? To adapt a grammatical analogy: Marx chose primarily to examine the indirect object (who gains), not direct object (how much) and not predicate (interrelation of supply/demand). I am willing to discuss this and the other economists you reference further if you wish, although a comments section seems not to be the most user-friendly structure for doing so. If you want to start a thread on the linked boards, or, alternately, I can begin the thread there on Monday, using this blog entry as a starting post: I am willing to discuss this further there. (Don't worry about being ganged up on. I have no friends who are not willing to disagree with me :))

In fact, Marx has far more in common with all descendents of Adam Smith than, I think, with where I am heading with this: which ties in directly with your point about the western world v. (for example) Bangladesh. Absolutely, you are right that the market has no room for empathy for another human being -- and that does not change, no matter where in the economic spectrum you happen to fall. There is nothing inherent in Marxism that would force anyone to care in the slightest about other human beings, any more than there is in any of the several versions of capitalism: and so we try to approximate caring by legislating what we feel should be the outcome of a reasoned empathy. The basis of my claim is not what does and will inevitably happen in any purely economics-driven system. Economic theory has no place for empathy and social responsibility.

Rather, I remind that while market forces drive economies, human beings can still choose the moral values by which they define themselves. Market structures are a human creation and work within their own set of rules. Those rules will continue to function whether or not we choose to adopt their singular focus on profit as our singular focus. However, if we do end up choosing profit as our only morality, free market rules alone will suit us just fine.

However, we do have this niggling decreed "right" that keeps cropping up again and again in our revered writings and our legislation, which seems to suggest that we want to think that we value life as well. So let's be consistent: accept overtly the market economy as our only morality, accept that any idea that everyone productively involved in the market economy should be able to earn a wage sufficient to survive on will be more than the market can bear: and trash the right to life.

Btw, whenever I make sweeping statements such as the one which started this dialogue, I deliberately keep my language general. I regularly work fourteen-hour days: and still I am falling behind in the task I have set myself. Others feel the eight-hour workday is already too much. Minimum wage in a western society is a fortune in other parts of the world. Different societies will have different parameters of what constitutes bare living wage, reasonable living conditions, standard working hours, applicable health care, etc. And thus I choose to sketch out my own parameters as mirror image of the only economic value that matters to the vast majority of people in the world: the value of their continued, productive survival.

I aver one thing only: where a society claims to value life, even to the point of entrenching it as a right, it has the moral obligation to ensure, along with that right to life, the right to the ability to make a living. If we choose to hoist our petard on the mast of a free market and are at the same time willing to allow a market which cannot bear a Bengladeshi's continued ability to earn their own productive survival: then we might as well throw out the abstract concept of a right to life as well.
I would disagree with the following:

I am entitled to preventative and curative health care for any treatable health condition that immediately impacts on not only my survival, but also on my ability to earn such a living: immediate enough that any wait time does not itself cause the basic health issue to worsen. (Consider it an investment in the value of this particular human resource / member of society.)

Should such health care require an extended course of treatment, I am entitled to such treatment without any delays that would cause the base condition to worsen.

I am entitled to any resources deemed necessary by the medical profession in the course of said health care."

I think you are entitled to seek these things, but if someone else must provide such services, then they must be paid. Otherwise it is slavery - involuntary servitude - and can be called nothing else.

Personal responsibility is paramount to maintaining freedom, indeed to gain Liberty and the freedom to live your life as you see fit. When you encroach on anyone else's freedom - such as demanding an entitlement to a service, etc. that another must provide - you have become a tyrant. Or a Commie.

; )
In a society which measures all value in monetary terms, then yes: service translates into money, and any individual capable of being trained to provide the service can choose -- or not -- to be trained to provide such services at what the individual society deems an appropriate recompense. The individual's is always the choice to provide the service or not, at the price set by the market or the state (depending on the society's style of government). However, one could also make an argument that, in having accepted the training, a trained individual has also accepted a concurrent personal responsibility to ply their trade. If I am able and do not work, I cannot expect to eat -- but the same goes for everyone. Just as nothing denies medical personnel the same basic entitlements claimed here for all, nothing absolves them from their personal responsibility to earn a living within their society: and nothing denies them the freedom to seek to earn a living by other means.

Whatever the value a society ends up setting upon medical services, I claim that if a society truly values a right to life, then it ought to ensure that medical treatment should remain affordable to all, using whatever economic structure the society sees fit. (Most common is taxation toward some system of public health care.) Where is the individual freedom of the willing employee who is rendered unable to work because of illness or injury -- and unable to pay for medical treatment because of the same? A society which defines itself as valuing life cannot allow this.

Curious question you raise though (and, as so very often, it come from inverting your own words). Traditionally slaves were allotted a roof over their head, food sufficient for reasonably healthy survival, medical care sufficient to allow them to work, such training as was necessary for them to accomplish such work: not so very different than what I claim as entitlement.

... yet you question this as the minimum proceeds of working for a living? How, then, is what I claim different from de facto slavery? Before you answer, note that I do allow for the individual freedom of the worker to seek more, always -- but your statement allows only for the freedom of the employer to pay less than the base value of a slave.
"If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have paradise in a few years." - Bertrand Russell.
Post a Comment

<< Home