Friday, April 9, 2010

What are you morally entitled to?

This is NOT a blog on what one is legally entitled to.

If you ask the question, "what am I entitled to?" and you want to be able to answer it correctly, you need to rephrase the question as such: "What do I deserve and why?"

If you get hired to do a job for $22.00/hr and you do the job, do you deserve to be paid what was agreed upon? In my view, the obvious question is yes. The follow up question is equally easily answerable: why? Because that was what was agreed upon and because you did the work.

Now, what if you agreed to do a job for $22.00/hr. and you do the job but it was particularly gruelling, do you deserve to be paid more for that job than $22.00/hr? In my view, the answer is no, you don't deserve it. You may want it because it was harder than you originally thought. However, the agreement was for $22.00/hr.

What if it had been easier that you thought. What if your employer felt the job was actually easier than he originally anticiapated and you felt it was harder? Should you be paid more than the original amount? Should your employer pay you less? Who is right?

And what does this have to do with moral entitlement? The simple answer is, everything. You are morally entitled to receive wages for work you perform at the rate upon which you and your employer agreed. Simple as that. If you don't like it, don't "re-up" as the Army used to say. Find a different job. But you agreed to it. And why do you deserve the wage you receive? Because YOU did the work. Not Bill, not Nancy. You. Additionally, you are responsible for the work meeting the expectations of your employer. Not Bill, not Nancy. You.

In my mind, a morally straight person would never succumb to feelings of entitlement for that which they had no hand in.

Should you be morally entitled to anything that you weren't directly involved with? Should your neighbor? Say you grow apples and your neighbor has a cherry orchard. Say there is a late frost and the cherry blossoms freeze and don't produce. Is your neighbor entitled to part of your harvest at the end of the summer? No. He may need it. You may want to give it. This is not a blog on compassion. He is not entitled to it because he did no work for it. In fact, as I think about it, compassion presupposes the lack of moral entitlement. A compassionate person thinks, "Even though they aren't entitled to it, I'm going to give it to them."

Continuing along this line of reasoning, even though it's not related to entitlement per se, can a person or persons forcibly take from living person one and give to another and call themselves compassionate? That would make compassion situational and defined by to the person or persons who performed the act. To answer the question, no. They may have shown compassion for one, but at the expense of another. Not only at the expense of another, but they took by force. Taking anything by force and giving it to another is theft. There is no way around it. If a person or persons wanted to truly be compassionate, they could only accomplish this by giving of themselves, not by taking from others and giving that which they've taken.

But to return to the original question, do you deserve part of what Tom worked for? What about Bob? Joe? Nancy? No, only what you worked for and that is because you agreed upon it and worked for it.

What if Bob was a rich uncle and had just died? Does that change anything? No, you didn't work for it. Moral entitlement is as unsituational as moral compassion. They don't change because the circumstances change.

Back to compassion because it's late and I'm bouncing all around in this blog. Am I showing compassion if I force Bob to give some of his earnings, of which he is morally entitled to, to Fred? What if John, Mike and I get together and decide that the three of us are going to give some of our earnings to Fred and since we are, we're forcing Bob to do the same. No. What if Fred really really needs it. So? If the money came from Bob and went to Fred, how could John, Mike and I be considered compassionate?

Put simply, moral compassion, moral entitlements and any good and beneficial principle are, in my mind, never situational. They are positive and negative (using charges associated with magnetism as I'd hate to be called racist for saying they were black and white).

Note: I'm sure I'll write more on compassion. It's not my intention to indicate that there is no place for compassion, quite the opposite. But no person or persons cannot force an individual to give his means, thus diminishing his well being, to another and call it compassion.

Additional note: I trust I've made my point on moral entitlement, but if not it is this: you get what you work for and you work for what you get. No one should feel entitled to more than that.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Taxes and redistribution of wealth

Here in the United States of America, since its inception, there has been a strong culture of self-reliance, of "work hard and be rewarded" and "I'll make my own way, thank you very much." This is manifest in how taxes have been applied to the citizenry. Until recent years (in the last 40 or so), taxes have generally been attributed to the direct benefit people derive from them.

For example, everyone benefits from a national defense, so everyone should have to pay for it. Some benefited more than others, having more property or means that are protected, and it seems fair they should pay more.

There is a usage tax on gasoline that makes since, provided the tax goes towards transportation infrastructure maintenance and improvement.

There was even a law passed recently that greatly increased the tax on cartons of cigarettes. The claim lawmakers made at the time was that the money received from this tax would be set aside for two purposes: 1) Help cover the increasing costs of healthcare cigarette users would require later in their lives, and 2) Cover the expenses of an anti-smoking campaign. Whether or not lawmakers have lived up their claims is debatable.

But the point is, it is generally understood that the revenue generated from taxing a citizenry should result in an immediate and direct benefit to the citizenry.

Taxing for the purpose of redistribution of wealth has always happened in the the United States. Historically, its impact generally only visible as a tax on the inheritance of an individual. Remember, we wanted, as a culture, to increase or continue feelings of self-reliance, "work hard and be rewarded for it," etc. So it makes since, from that standpoint to strongly limit how much money children inherit from the labors of their parents, since the more they inherit, the less inclined they are to work hard and be independently successful.

So, without any mitigating circumstances, it seems reasonable to me that a heavy estate tax should be acceptable. Should the government take it all? Certainly not. Should they take most of it? I don't want to get into details of how much the government should tax an estate. But remember, in a self-reliant culture, no one should feel entitled to money they did not earn themselves, regardless of their affiliation to the estate in question.

However, there has been a shift over the last 50 years or so, and a strong shift in recent years, to tax individuals in an attempt to redistribute their wealth before they die. Everyone should have a problem with this. If one works hard, one should enjoy the fruits of their labors. Others should not feel entitled to fruits for which they did not labor. To redistribute wealth prior to death removes the desire for excellence, self improvement, and hard work.

To forcibly take from the one living person and give to another living persion without the original receiving any benefit is theft, plain and simple. To take from an estate is not. They no longer live, no one should feel entitled to their estate. Taxing the estate encourages children to follow in the footsteps of successful parents by also working hard, exercising self-determination, and developing self-reliance. That estate money can then be provided, to those who seek to better themselves but are truly so far from resources at their disposal that they have no other choice but to turn to the government for assistance.