IN SOME WAYS, YOUR BOOK READS AS A JEREMIAD AGAINST ACADEMIC ELITISM. IN FACT, YOU GO SO FAR AS TO SAY THAT PHILOSOPHERS SHOULD LISTEN TO PUBLIC OPINION. YOU WRITE: "I BELIEVE THAT IT IS TIME (PAST TIME) FOR POLITICAL PHILOSOPHERS TO VENTURE DOWN FROM THEIR HIGH LIBERAL TOWER . . .
[T]HEY SHOULD COME DOWN SIMPLY TO LISTEN AND LEARN SO THAT WHEN THEY GO BACK UP THEY MIGHT BE IN A POSITION TO RETHINK." WHAT CAN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHERS LEARN FROM PEOPLE LIKE JOE THE PLUMBER? Political philosophers don't like to talk about it much, but our arguments always rely on certain moral intuitions. But the technical training philosophers receive cannot do much to ensure that the moral intuitions of philosophers will be more reliable than the moral intuitions of the ordinary, working-class good citizen. Indeed, in some areas of life, the moral intuitions of the professional philosophers may be worse. I believe that, regarding the moral importance of private economic activity — workaday problems about working, saving, and spending — the intuition-set of the academic class has gone off track over the past hundred years or so. For many ordinary working-class people, the decisions they personally make about working and spending are among the most profound and character-forming decisions of their lives. People don't just want to have goods and services (say, wealth or health care). It's also important that that people see themselves as central causes of their having those services and goods. This is a moral fact that, regrettably, many academics and activists find difficult to grasp.
YOU CLAIM THAT STRONGER "ECONOMIC LIBERTIES" ARE ESSENTIAL TO THE MORAL DEVELOPMENT OF PEOPLE AS GOOD CITIZENS AND "AUTHORS OF THEIR OWN LIVES." WHAT KIND OF A SOCIETY DO WE RISK BECOMING IF WE RESTRICT THOSE LIBERTIES? I have been deeply influenced by feminist thinking here. In the 19th century, some brave women argued that their being provided with all the gilded material means in the world meant nothing to them if their economic liberties were not respected. The feminist pioneers saw vividly that a life with services but without personal economic responsibility was not a fit life for a free and equal moral being. In Free Market Fairness, I take that feminist insight and apply it against the European social democracies. Freedom requires that we craft our social institutions to respect our fellow [citizens] as responsible authors of their own lives. Market democracies, I suggest, do a better job at this than social democracies.
BUT DOES ALLOWING PEOPLE TO KEEP MORE OF THEIR MONEY ONLY TO HAVE THEM BLOW IT ON FRIVOLOUS THINGS — IN-HOME THEATERS, FAMILY FLEETS OF TANK-SIZED SUVs, BOTOX SHOTS — REALLY MAKE THEM BETTER PEOPLE? Free people do lots of things that other people will find silly, frivolous and even harmful to themselves. Indeed, some of the things that free people do will actually be silly, frivolous and self-harming! But in a free society we respect our fellow citizens by allowing them to make fundamental decisions about their lives for themselves. When people seek to use the state power to force other people how to think, or what to eat, or how many hours to work and at what wage, they by that very fact fail to respect them as authors of their own lives. Uncomfortable as this may sometimes make us, I am convinced that we owe each other this form of respect, especially in the economic domain.
: This Just In
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