Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Question of Leverage

A basic underlying disagreement between the right and the left is the concept of taxes.  Specifically, the right resents the idea that the wealthy should be taxed at a higher rate.  So too, do they resent the idea that a portion of those taxes ought to pay for government services for the less-well off.  This ultimately goes back to fundamental questions of human agency and social capital. Just as financial capital is leveraged for profit, so too is social capital.  The left sees this reality and uses it as a frame for understanding how to not only measure, but create more fairness in society.

We live in a society filled with opportunities, many of which go unexploited. Why is this? The basic premise of science is that there are causes to most everything. This is the premise of social science. We look at society and see causes. We look at billionaires and poor people and we see causes.

Yet this basic premise is denied. Why? While opportunities exist to be exploited, why do we we assume that everyone can exploit them? If one does not know how to exploit them, how can he? And if another knows how to exploit them, why would he be expected to have done otherwise? Social capital is a causal factor.
But so if you correct for social capital, and luck, what do you have left? From where does human initiative come? This seems to me the final question. The billionaire and the pauper in Mc Donalds are two completely different people, who’ve had different life experiences, and – specifically – had different levels of access to social capital. If the two could be said to have possessed the same social leverage in their lives, one single price, or one single tax rate would be fair. But they clearly had not. The billionaire cannot claim to have earned his wealth apart from the leveraging of opportunities beyond his control. Likewise the pauper.

Marx had the insight that the leveraging of inequities in financial capital creates inequities in society. So too inequities in social capital, whether by birth or by family learning and culture, are leveraged by degree. Society is an organism that cannot be separated and reduced to the pseudo-scientific conception of actions that are free from temporal or spatial causality. We are society, warts and all. To deny this basic reality is not only a scientific error, but one that serves to prop up and excuse the most egregious forms of inequity, those that are inevitably exploitative and corrosive to the conception of the human right to freedom and self-realization.

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