Posted by: captainfalcon | June 7, 2010

Eliot Spitzer is an asshole

Helen directed me to this tawdry piece of boilerplate. Three points.

1. Have you ever seen a more egregious misuse of jargon?

Americans have become masters of “sacrifice avoidance.” Every problem is turned into a positive-sum game—spending more, rather than making hard choices; shifting burdens to future generations whose voices can’t be heard; pushing the obligations off to another day or on to another group.The problems—from energy to educational achievement to financial reform to environmental degradation—that could be resolved with just a modicum of shared sacrifice are remarkable. Surely, as we enter a period of negative-sum decision-making, not positive-sum giveaways, we must understand—as President Lincoln beseeched us—that shared sacrifice, the shared shouldering of burdens, is the key to resolving our critical problems (emphasis mine).

What is a positive-sum giveaway? Is it really legitimate to speak of us even playing a game? (Are the outcomes well enough defined? The preferences?) Is it true that the “pie [if we all, fortuitously, agree on what the pie is] is shrinking,” as it must if we are (even possibly) in a negative-sum game? This is a blatant appeal to the readership of Slate’s vanity; they get to be members of an erudite club that doesn’t even need an introduction to an arcane, socio-mathematical framework!

2. “Just think about it. After reading the Gettysburg Address, does it seem onerous to ask for slightly higher marginal tax rates for the top 5 percent, those who benefited so remarkably from the excesses of the boom years, in order to fund the necessary investment in social infrastructure?”

I’d say that right after reading the Gettysburg Address that seems like the wrong kind of question to ask. If you have a humane sensibility (and you find the Gettysburg Address at all inspiring – the latter does not follow from the former), you will be too preoccupied reflecting on the horrors that result from structures of subjugation to worry about superficial remedies for (putative) distributive injustice. Those concerns will be for later, after you have appreciated the Gettysburg Address.

Raymond Geuss makes an analogous point about John Rawls, who says the horrors of WWII motivated him to write Theory of Justice: “What…would one have to believe about the world to think that “What is the correct conception of justice?” is the appropriate question to ask in the face of concentration camps, secret police, and the firebombing of cities? Are reflections about the correct distribution of goods and services in a ‘well-ordered society’ the right kind of intellectual response to slavery, torture, and mass murder?”

3. I have nothing to say about Spitzer’s laundry list of policy prescriptions. My only point – other than the obvious one that he does not give any evidence in favor of the policies he prefers – is that his presentation is so tone-deaf and opportunistic that it calls his character into question in a way that his sleeping with a whore did not.

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