Josh Barro wrote at Business Insiderback in October; likewise, Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum more recently wondered: “Why do Republicans tell such obvious lies?”
A common, though apparently ineffective, response to this frustration is to double down by discussing more facts.
.. When arguing about politics, it is often helpful to construct the best possible version of your opponent’s reasoning
- .. Much normative (or value-based) reasoning by liberals (and mainstream economists) is about the consequences of political actions for the welfare of individuals. Statements about the desirability of policies are based on trading off the consequences for different individuals.
- .. Meanwhile, much conservative normative reasoning is about procedures rather than consequences. For example, as long as property rights and free exchange are guaranteed, the outcome is deemed just by definition, regardless of the consequences.
- .. People are “deserving” of whatever the market provides them with.
.. As an example of how these value differences might matter more than facts, consider the example of bequest taxes, labeled “estate taxes” by liberals and “death taxes” by conservatives.
.. Our conservative likely believes that everyone has the right to keep the fruits of her labor, and free contracts of exchange between any two parties are nobody else’s business. She will consider someone who has worked hard their whole life, has been frugal and saved their income rather than indulging in consumption
.. Exasperated, the liberal empiricist then bemoans the post-factual state of contemporary political discourse.
- .. A first option is to accept the conservative value framework, but focus on children instead of parents. Consider a child born to rich parents who has never worked hard but indulged in gratuitous consumption in the expectation of receiving a rich inheritance. Such a person is not “deserving” in terms of the ethics of rewarding work; to not reward such immoral behavior, we need to tax bequests.
- .. A second option is to explicitly argue for a liberal value framework.
- .. A third option is to challenge the conservative value framework. In a modern society based on a complex division of labor, nobody can be said to consume only the products of their own labor. We rely on social institutions including markets and governments to provide us with all the goods we consume, and absent a theory of just prices (which present day conservatives don’t have) there is no sense in which we are entitled to specific terms of exchange.