Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Political Discourses

There are many political discourses. One is the expanding equality discourse: it is good if it increases equality in some sense. Another is the economic discourse: it is good if it improves economic welfare. Both of these, so described, are quite vague. They may well have originated in a less hasty form of discourse wherein the particular modes of equality, reasons for their being good, and interactions with other kinds of equality were fleshed out and well understood. Nowadays, however, at least with soundbites, the appeal to "increasing equality" or "being good for the economy" are flat and vague.

What is it for two people to be equal? Certainly, it would not be good if equality applied across all dimensions of personhood (there is another discourse, which ties into this one, of increasing diversity). What is it for something to be good for the economy? Such a complicated thing as an economy has many variables whose increase or decrease might be counted good, and which might not be mutually improvable.

There are at least two ways of thinking about equality. One is equality of state, the other is equality of potential. Equality of state means that people have equal socioeconomic positions. Equal with respect to sum function of the individuals' presently met needs, their current states. Equality of potential means that people have equal opportunities to reach various states.

As equality of state increases, the fungibility of persons increases with it. If we are all alike, we are all, in principle, interchangeable. If we are all interchangeable, then our work, in principle, has no reference to our person. What I make is essentially simply made, not relevantly made by me.

Increasing equality of potential is likewise problematic. For one thing, it is almost certainly biologically impossible. Another issue is determining how it could be made practicable--how does one distribute the resources which make certain kinds of actualization possible? Some potentials are in principle limited to certain people.

Both kinds of equality may be good to aim for with respect to particular goods. It depends on the good, however, and some goods may belong outside the realm of political dealings.

Economic welfare is equally complicated, but we encounter it more often: wages, employment, GDP, the value of stocks, etc., are all interrelated in complicated ways. What are we trying to increase? Average wage? The lowest wage of an employed person? Number of employed people? Number of people making more than $n? Or are we trying to reduce the gap in income between the richest and the poorest? Or... what is it to be doing well financially?

To get at what should actually motivate political decisions requires asking what politics and government are about.

One may argue that the job of government is to provide justice for its citizens. What is justice, though? And isn't part of the problem that we disagree about what is just, particularly for the government? There are things it might be just for the parents of a 3-year-old to do which the government would be unjust to do.

Again, the job of the government may be to protect its citizens (from aggressors, terrorists, etc.). This would make governance essentially about creating an effective war machine. Any act by government would then be for the sake of having an effective military and intelligence network. Taxes would be to fund it, but it is hard to see what role civic institutions might have.

Some kind of wellbeing of the people is to be aimed at be government, but this wellbeing is vague and complicated. My wellbeing may be best served by the government not doing something but some other institution doing it instead, so the doing of x being good does not entail that it is the government that should do it. How do we get at these sorts of complications? What is the scope of governmental authority?

To examine scope of authority of governments, given my context, demands distinguishing national and state and city levels of governance. Perhaps in another post. For now: there probably is no one size fits all account of how wide and deep the scope of governance is. It is probably a function of something like the scale of the domain it is over (states can probably be pickier than nations, and smaller states and nations can probably be pickier than larger ones).

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