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The Ethics of Benefiting From Policies that You Oppose:

David's post on Robert Bork's effort to take advantage of aspects of the tort system that he has condemned in the past, raises a more general issue: when, if ever, is it ethical to take advantage of the benefits of policies you oppose? Public figures on both the left and the right are constantly accused of hypocrisy whenever they benefit from policies that they criticize. Consider the attacks on Al Gore's extravagant energy use (indulging in practices that he claims should be curtailed to fight global warming) or the ongoing criticism of Clarence Thomas for opposing affirmative action even though he himself probably benefited from it. Going back in history, many of the Founding Fathers (including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and George Mason) owned slaves, even though they recognized that slavery was an evil.

Even we bloggers are not immune to the problem. For example, I oppose the deductibility of state income taxes from federal income taxes; high-tax states should not be subsidized by the rest of the country. Yet, every year, I deduct my state income taxes on my Form 1040, and save several hundred dollars as a result.

Which of these cases are defensible and which are not? There is no easy answer, but let me suggest a helpful way of thinking about the problem.

Some policies are wrong in an absolute sense: every individual instance of the practice they promote is an evil. Even if no one else owned slaves, Thomas Jefferson's owning some was a grave evil. In cases of this kind, it is indeed wrong to take advantage of practices that you oppose. Even if Jefferson lacked the political leverage necessary to get slavery abolished throughout the country, his failure to free his own slaves was a serious injustice in and of itself.

Some actions, however, are only wrong because of their aggregate effects. An individual instance of deducting state income taxes or burning oil does little if any harm. It is only the aggregate impact of these practices that does damage. Thus, no good would be achieved by my deciding to forego my income tax deduction. Only an across-the-board policy change would do any real good. The same goes for Al Gore and his contributions to the greenhouse effect. OK, maybe this is my way to get myself off the moral hook (even at the cost of doing the same for Al Gore). But I think that the argument is sound, even if self-serving.

What about Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas? These are intermediate cases, it seems to me. Some critics of affirmative action primarily decry what they see as its harmful aggregate effects (admitting lower-qualified students; increasing racial conflict; contributing to negative stereotypes of minorities as underqualified). Others argue that each individual instance of affirmative action is itself an injustice because of the "reverse discrimination" it inflicts on white and Asian students or job applicants. Critics of affirmative action who emphasize systemic harm are not being inconsistent if they take advantage of affirmative action policies where they exist. On the other hand, those who accept the benefits of AA even though they oppose it on absolutist grounds, are indeed complicit in what they consider to be injustice. One can make a similar distinction between aggregate and absolute criticisms of the tort system.

The bottom line: Not all people who benefit from policies they oppose are inconsistent or hypocritical. It depends on the policy in question, and on the reasons for their opposition to it.

NOTE: I am not going to regulate the comments. However, I think it will be more productive if people focus on the general issue of benefiting from policies that one opposes rather than on arguments about the merits of the specific policies that I used as examples.

UPDATE: Ted Frank of Overlawyered made a related point about hypocrisy and the state income tax deduction in this November post.

Mark Buehner (mail):
Isnt this kinda like the old paradox that goes- since my vote doesnt actually decide an election, and since the electorate is made up of individual voters, there is no real point in anyone voting and its in fact an irrational act?

I think the 'im only one person' argument is a seductive but empty one. Me cheating on my taxes wouldnt realistically affect anyone on the planet (but me) but if we all thought like that there would be a problem, and it certainly isnt morally justifiable. A big part of our contract of living in a society is to do things that are meaningless as individuals but powerful as a group. There will always be free riders, but necessarilly few enough to keep the policy moving.

I feel that this applies to policies you are trying to get implimented but havent been agreed to yet, perhaps especially. What confidence should i have that if Al Gore is successful he will abide by the rules he wishes to place on us?
6.8.2007 8:18pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I think the answer is simple: if one opposes a policy because one thinks it's bad policy, then one is not obligated (to avoid charges of hypocrisy) to pretend that the policy is different than it is. But if one opposes a policy because one thinks it immoral/unethical, then one is.

You're not arguing (I presume) that taking legal deductions is immoral; you're arguing that the government allowing a particular deduction is dumb.

In either case, I don't think the Clarence Thomas-Affirmative Action argument is an application of either of these. First, we don't know what his views were wrt AA at the time he applied to law school. Perhaps he favored it at the time and now thinks it's a bad idea. It's not hypocrisy to change one's mind. Second, Thomas didn't have a choice. He couldn't say, "No, Yale Law, I only want to be admitted if you would have done so if I were white."
6.8.2007 8:22pm
Cornellian (mail):
Perhaps taking full advantage of a bad policy helps to demonstrate how bad it is, and thus to hasten its demise. There would be no hypocrisy (or at least less of it) since you're saying "look how easily this policy is exploited - we need to get rid of it immediately."
6.8.2007 8:23pm
xxxxxx (mail):
If it is legal I see no problem. I may disagree with a certain subsidy or government hand out but if the government is offering why wouldn't I take it. I have to pay taxes to support things the government does even if I don't want to.
6.8.2007 8:25pm
frankcross (mail):
I think your aggregate distinction is a very good point. Another comparable example would be Reagan's stated desire to abolish nuclear weapons but not acting on this because he couldn't be sure that the USSR would do likewise.

But I'm not enormously troubled by the hypocrisy. Posner criticizes the law review process but publishes in them. I suspect that people often compromise their truest principles when, say, necessary to keep a job.
6.8.2007 8:25pm
frankcross (mail):
David, he opposed affirmative action at the time of his Supreme Court appointment and, he's an intelligent man, he had to have known that was a key factor in the appointment.

As for law schools, I know of blacks who have declined to designate their race because they didn't want to benefit from affirmative action.
6.8.2007 8:27pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
You mean like hardcore libertarians making their livings working for the government (e.g., teaching at public universities)?

It just amazes me that one of the premier universities for libertarian economic policy in the country is a public university. Don't you find that the least bit ironic. Of course you wouldn't, considering you also teach there, and most of the other so-called libertarians on this site (including its namesake) also teach at public universities. And let's not forget Glenn Reynolds either.
6.8.2007 8:29pm
Ilya Somin:
You mean like hardcore libertarians making their livings working for the government (e.g., teaching at public universities)?

In an ideal world, all universities would be private (or close to it). We do not live in that ideal world. Therefore, the only choices that libertarian academics have are 1) take jobs in public universities if that is their best available offer, or 2) leave all the public university jobs to advocates of statist ideologies. The latter is hardly likely to advance the cause of libertarianism (indeed it would retard it).
6.8.2007 8:33pm
Constantin:
The cousin of the Clarence Thomas-ish example must be that of the white male college administrator who practices affirmative action in admissions, promotions, etc., but retains his job rather than resigning to allow a minority or woman to take his spot. The only real defense I can see is the claim that in sticking around he can continue to advocate and advance policies that aid these groups, in which case the guy is guilty of paternalism, at best, on top of everything else.
6.8.2007 8:33pm
Gabriel (www):
I think another aspect of it is whether one is willingly or unwillingly complicit in something one objects to. So by this standard Justice Thomas is not at all a hypocrite for having accepted admission at Yale law, particularly if there was some ambiguity about whether he would have been admitted under the counterfactual policy he favors. However you could fairly call him a hypocrite if he had applied for a race-specific internship or scholarship.

The Bork thing clearly fails this standard as he went out of his way to include frivolous claims in a lawsuit. To a lesser extent you could say the same thing about Gore's energy consumption (assuming you don't buy into the indulgences theory of carbon credits) or Somin's tax filings.
6.8.2007 8:38pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Frank,

I would agree that nowadays, people who oppose race preferences (please note that the term "affirmative action," although regularly used synonymously with race preferences, originally meant something else) should omit their race from their college applications -- but it's not clear to me that in 1970, this was seen as an option.

As for Thomas's appointment to the court, I don't think that this is normally what we think of as AA.
6.8.2007 8:38pm
K:
I pretty much endorse what Iiya wrote.

It would be simpler if word meanings didn't morph so readily. This is about holding others to standards you will not apply to yourself.

If you own oil stock but say, or quietly believe, big oil is ruining the environment that is not hypocritical.

If you announce CO2 is causing GW so private jets should be banned, except for yours, you are behaving differently.

The grandfather clause is a fellow traveler through me.v.thee land. "Well, my private jet is OK because it is already built. Just don't allow any new ones."
6.8.2007 8:40pm
kdonovan:
Under EV's rationale benefiting afirmative action may be more justifiable than state income taxes deductions or burning oil because if one declines to benefit from affirmative action it is almost certain that someone else will. (If Thomas declines the slot will go to another black under affirmative action not to the next most qualified person.) However if you do not take the deduction it is not like someone else is now allowed it. (Burning oil is perhaps an intermediate case as your reduction in demand will cause the price to decline somewhat allowing someone with marginally less demand to burn some of the oil you declined to burn.)

Kevin
6.8.2007 8:40pm
Al (mail):
You mean like hardcore libertarians making their livings working for the government (e.g., teaching at public universities)?

Or hardcore socialists who take advantage of the free market for their own gain and/or shield their own income and assets from the taxation necessary to support the social programs that they support?
6.8.2007 8:41pm
kdonovan:
My mistake, "Under EV's rationale" should read "Under Ilya's s rationale"
6.8.2007 8:42pm
seadrive:
One might oppose policy A on the grounds that policy B would be better. If A is operative and B is not, then you act according to A.
6.8.2007 8:57pm
Esquire:
I concur with those who make a distinction 1) between "morality-based" vs. prudence-based (like opposing a certain tax deduction) objections, and 2) whether you're powerless to *avoid* accepting the benefit without making yourself net-WORSE off (like the Thomas-Yale example, or rejecting Social Security after already having been forced to pay into the system).

[Sorry to invoke certain examples, but it can help to flesh out abstract principles (which are my main focus).]

If one believes that taxpayer-funded universities are *immoral* (as some libertarians indeed believe many coercive subsidies to be a form of public "theft"), then there's probably no wiggle-room to rationalize partaking in the practice. However, if it's just a pragmatic free-markets-work-better type argument, then you're clearly free to work "within the current system." I know some folks who've struggled with this dilemma (especially when working under *federal* grants).

But I do wonder how possible it would even be to follow these principles utterly. Could somebody *really* totally avoid supporting all companies/industries they might oppose? What about exports from certain countries? Or members of the public who automatically enjoy increased safety thanks to various national security measures (or even local law enforcement, for that matter) which they might politically oppose?
6.8.2007 8:57pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
IMHO as a trial lawyer who has tried several hundred cases to verdict since 1966 in state and federal courts nationwide on behalf of plaintiffs and defendants in roughly equal proportions:

1. Allowing a lawsuit for damages for personal injury on your behalf is no problem, even if you are Robert Bork.

2. If you are a lawyer, allowing your lawyer to include claims not recognized in the state in which they are filed is not defensible if you know your lawyer has done that. If you are a lawyer or a former judge, you should make it your place to know that your lawyer has done that and require your lawyer to take out the b**s*** claims. If you are Robert Bork, that principle goes double (maybe triple) for you.

3. The fact that I admire some of Judge Bork's work (not all of it, to be sure) has nothing to do with these opinions.
6.8.2007 9:03pm
jimbino (mail):
Y'all need some training in philosophy. Hypocrisy is "the pot calling the kettle black," and NOT the exploitation of a government rule you condemn, whether it be an income-tax deduction for breeding or affirmative action.

I condemn, for example, Social Security, but I would have nothing but praise for the person who games Social Security--a guy, for example, who marries a series of indolent gorgeous foreign women for ten years each, so that each will qualify for part of his SS benefits.

Indeed, as a guerrilla libertarian, I consider it my moral obligation to promote and engage in gaming the socialist programs in the USSA, the purpose being to bring about their quick demise.
6.8.2007 9:15pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
Rereading this post, I probably should put my comment in Dave's post. Sorry for not answering this question specifically.

I agree with Ilya's formulation of the solution to the problem.
6.8.2007 9:16pm
Dan Weber:
Bill Clinton benefited from being a white male in Arkansas, yet decried the injustice of that same system.

I don't think he's hypocritical at all for doing both of the above.
6.8.2007 9:30pm
Dave Gudeman (mail) (www):
Frankly, I don't see the connection between ones opinion about a policy and ones use of the policy. If you are playing poker and you argue that there should be no wild card, but you lose the argument and end up playing a game with wild cards, are you somehow morally obligated to not make use of any wild chards that end up in your hand?

However, this defense doesn't apply to Al Gore and others who go around telling people that they should voluntarily drive less. If Al Gore tells people that they are morally obligated to do something but doesn't act as if he feels the same moral obligation, then he is a genuine hypocrite. That's practically a case study of what the word means.
6.8.2007 9:48pm
Joe McDermott (mail):
More proof that the entire conservative judges enterprise is a fraud.
6.8.2007 9:48pm
scote (mail):

In an ideal world, all universities would be private (or close to it). We do not live in that ideal world. Therefore, the only choices that libertarian academics have are 1) take jobs in public universities if that is their best available offer, or 2) leave all the public university jobs to advocates of statist ideologies. The latter is hardly likely to advance the cause of libertarianism (indeed it would retard it).


Well, I would have left this one alone, but since Ilya Somin has chosen to weigh in on this issue it seems reasonable to comment.

Your reply is a false dichotomy. The options are not 1) be an inconsistent libertarian by working at a public university, or 2) let the big government supporters take over the university. You have a number of options to maintain a consistent position including not teaching or renouncing the idea that government shouldn't provide education. However, teaching at a public university for pay is not an option for maintaining a consistent position even if it is an understandable and pragmatic one.

If a religion, for example, chooses to have a core ideology that stresses not proselytizing and not procreating then that religion has a chance at dying out. It would be inconsistent of them to pragmatically choose to proselytize and procreate to alleviate this problem and still maintain that they are following their core values.

If it is the case that public universities are a great way to educate people and if the best way to teach students about Libertarian ideas is through such education, then perhaps the Libertarian ideas about government supported education are wrong.
6.8.2007 11:14pm
Alex R:
As the commenter who made a similar point in a comment on DB's post, I am in nearly complete agreement. I would especially endorse the "rules of the game" argument Dave Gudeman gave: you can endorse changes in the rules, and yet still play the game as well as you can according to the rules in place.

But because I think it can be helpful to give concrete examples, here's another interesting one: People who oppose school voucher programs and yet send their children to a private school. Conservative supporters of school vouchers often accuse such people of hypocrisy, but personally, I find it hard to see how opposing a subsidy for one's own behavior is considered hypocritical. The principle seems to be that opponents of vouchers generally do so on the grounds that they want to support public schools, but nonetheless they are putting their own children in a private school -- a school which less well-off people could also attend if there was a voucher program in place. I can see the point of the voucher supporters, and yet as I say above, this is still hard to construe as being hypocritical.
6.8.2007 11:26pm
scote (mail):

Hypocrisy is "the pot calling the kettle black," and NOT the exploitation of a government rule you condemn, whether it be an income-tax deduction for breeding or affirmative action.


I really don't get your distinction. Bork called the kettle black, now he's the pot. That is hypocrisy. The question is not whether it is hypocritical, but are his actions moral and/or ethical given that they are hypocritical.

I think you can make a case to justify such a position and one against. I don't support the common practice of including hemming in the price of un-hemmed men's dress pants but not including the price of hemming with the price of women's dress pants. But that doesn't mean I offer to pay extra when I buy pants.

On the other hand, if I'm arguing to change the law about a public policy and I argue that it is completely un-reasonable for anyone to win PI judgments beyond actual costs, then it is completely unethical for me to file a suit asking for the kinds of damages I argue that nobody deserves.

What Bork is doing is no more different than someone who argues for Prohibition and then goes out drinking.
6.8.2007 11:29pm
Waldensian (mail):

but I would have nothing but praise for the person who games Social Security--a guy, for example, who marries a series of indolent gorgeous foreign women for ten years each, so that each will qualify for part of his SS benefits.

At last I have figured out what to do with my life.
6.8.2007 11:31pm
scote (mail):

But because I think it can be helpful to give concrete examples, here's another interesting one: People who oppose school voucher programs and yet send their children to a private school

Well, I have to agree that isn't hypocritical. Sending your kids to private schools and supporting voucher's for private schools are to separate and distinct issues. You can support either or both without being inconsistent. That being the case, there isn't any analog with that type of situation and with a legendary anti-tort crusader deciding to file a tort when he's the one in the hot seat. It is easy to be against tort cases when you don't think you'll ever need to file one--sort of like rich people who are against funding public defenders...
6.8.2007 11:35pm
scote (mail):
PS, I apologize for the cross posts--getting my windows mixed up.
6.8.2007 11:39pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
high-tax states should not be subsidized by the rest of the country.
.
An aside, but man I could go on and on about how wrong this statement is -- right in principle maybe but wrong in reality. High tax states, like New York and California, happen to subsidize the rest of the country in a myriad of ways. This is mainly by operation of the equal representation in the Senate which causes a hugely disproportionate amount of $$ to go to smaller (population wise) states. Look it up --- big states get very, very, very screwed under our system (most as a result of the Senate, but also the Electoral College causes this and even the House has over-representation of small states). So, while your comment is great theory, it's crazy in reality (but that's fairly typical of libertarians, and communists for that matter).
6.8.2007 11:52pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
By the way, I just don't see the big deal here, maybe Bork has been a critic of the tort system in general but has he actually advocated abolishing the right to sue based on negligence? If so, he is a bigger nut than I imagine.

A million bucks may be high but doesn't sound outlandish in light of the injuries I read about -- that guy gets a lot of money on the speech circuit from conservative welfare groups think-tanks, and he also probably suffered some serious pain and suffering, including permanent injury.

As to the claim for punitives, it's called notice pleading and broad discovery -- you are allowed to make such claims. Has Bork advocated for abandonment of these tools? If so, then maybe hypocritical, but really he has to operate within the confines of the system in place not the system he would want in an ideal world.

The prejudgment interest thing, although maybe erroneous, does not strike me as that big of a deal.
6.9.2007 12:00am
Carl (mail):
The NRA (of which I'm a life member) loves to call out proponents of gun control who have guns themselves or use armed security. This is great fun but not really fair. An anti-gunner could rightly say, "I long for a world without guns, but until that great day comes, I'm packing." Realistic? No, but not hypocritical.
6.9.2007 12:20am
scote (mail):

he NRA (of which I'm a life member) loves to call out proponents of gun control who have guns themselves or use armed security. This is great fun but not really fair. An anti-gunner could rightly say, "I long for a world without guns, but until that great day comes, I'm packing." Realistic? No, but not hypocritical.

Actually it is potentially very hypocritical if the anti-gunner proposes laws that would prevent people from legally owning guns in a gun filled country.

It would really depend on what specific stance the anti-gunner holds to say whether or not his stance was hypocritical. If he supported only gun registration, then merely a gun would not be hypocritical. If he supported gun confiscation, then clearly he would be hypocritical since his stance would have to be that nobody needs guns, for defense or any other purpose. If his contention were true then he would have no need to own a gun, laws or no laws, and to own a gun would belie the truth of his assertion . Bork is in much the same position. He has argued that it is unreasonable to be able to sue for high amounts and that people don't deserve or need large settlements. Given truth of that position, he should have no need to sue even if he legally has that option. He needs to do the moral thing and show that suing for large damage awards is wrong, even if he legally has that option. This is especially true since his position was supposedly one of principle.
6.9.2007 12:50am
athEIst:
Thanks, Crazy Train. I was going to post on that very subject(high-tax states subsidize low-tax states despite deductibility of state income taxes)but you said it all very well.
6.9.2007 1:46am
athEIst:
If he's too decrepit to climb a dais that apparently no one else had trouble with and too stupid or stubborn to ask for help, maybe he should stay home. (Yes, that would mean giving up the speaker's fee).
6.9.2007 1:56am
Roy Haddad (mail):
Political beliefs answer a question about what the government should do. By themselves, they do not apply to any personal decision. But when the political belief clearly derives from a philosophical belief (abortion is wrong, taxation is theft, etc.), it appears to obligate a personal decision.
6.9.2007 2:11am
Ken Arromdee:
You have a number of options to maintain a consistent position including not teaching or renouncing the idea that government shouldn't provide education. However, teaching at a public university for pay is not an option for maintaining a consistent position even if it is an understandable and pragmatic one.

One possibility is that you might think the government-provided education system is bad because the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

If so, then when faced with the option to forego both the disadvantages and the advantages, you should choose that option to avoid hypocrisy.

But if you fail to use the government system, you lose the advantages and still are affected by the disadvantages (one of which is that the government displaces a possible private system). It is not possible to forego the whole thing. If the advantages can be chosen and the disadvantages can't, it is not hypocritical to choose the advantages while still believing the disadvantages are greater.
6.9.2007 2:16am
scote (mail):

But if you fail to use the government system, you lose the advantages


Yes, but if your philosophy is that nobody should be able to enjoy the advantages of a state subsidized education or of teaching at a state subsidized education then it is inconsistent to allow yourself the advantage of doing so. Either get a job at a private university or don't teach, if you want to be consistent. That's the private system. There aren't necessarily enough teaching positions for everyone who may want to be an academic at a private school. There wouldn't necessarily be more private colleges if there was no government supported education...(probably, but not necessarily...)

You certainly do risk loosing the "advantage" of the current government system in maintaining a consistent position but such is the price of having high principles. If you want to demonstrate how superior your philosophy is you may have to work at a "disadvantage" and lead by example.

BTW, I'm not necessarily saying that Libertarians shouldn't teach at public universities, but I do question the philosophical consistency of doing so.
6.9.2007 2:32am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Well, I have to agree that isn't hypocritical. Sending your kids to private schools and supporting voucher's for private schools are to separate and distinct issues. You can support either or both without being inconsistent.
I disagree. The problem is that it takes money to school your kids in private schools instead of the public ones. You either spend it yourself (as I do), or if you can't afford it, use vouchers in the very few instances where they are available.

So, those who send their own kids to private school while singing the virtues of the public education system for others, and voting against vouchers, are engaging in rank hypocracy. They are saying that public schools are good enough for the kids of the masses, but not for their own.

The problem is that public schools for the masses are failing, and in particular failing for those who can least afford private school alternatives. Many of those who send their kids to private schools live in areas that have decent to really good public schools. While you may find subpar schools in rich districts, the opposite is almost never true.

I also believe that those who support gun control but are either armed or use private security guards who are armed, are also engaging in hypocracy. Either the police are adequate for protection, in which case, no one should need to be armed or use armed security, or it isn't, and all should be able to avail themselves of protecting themselves.

The alternative is to essentially take the position that the lives of the rich and powerful are more valuable than the lives of the masses. Almost always, when there is fairly strict gun control, it only really applies to the masses. The rich and powerful get exemptions of one type or another. Most often, many of those who do get armed protection in such an environment are less in need of it than many living in less affluent parts of town.
6.9.2007 5:35am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Clarifying my last post, I am not calling those who support gun control and aren't armed and don't have armed security guards hypocrites. They are living their beliefs, even though many of them have an easier time living such if they live in a rich neighborhood with excellent police protection.
6.9.2007 5:40am
Brian K (mail):
Scote,


If he supported gun confiscation, then clearly he would be hypocritical since his stance would have to be that nobody needs guns, for defense or any other purpose.

This is not necessarily true. It wouldn't be hypocritical if he is making the assumption that in a world without guns no one needs guns for protection, however in a world with guns one does need a gun for protection. The stance only becomes hypocritical if he refuses to give up his gun when it comes time to hand it over because he still needs it for protection.
6.9.2007 6:03am
Brian G (mail) (www):
I am the only one that see the irony in your note that you are going to regulate the comments despite your respect for free speech. (I know, private conduct, therefore Amend I does not apply, but still).
6.9.2007 6:08am
Brian K (mail):
Ilya,


In an ideal world, all universities would be private (or close to it). We do not live in that ideal world. Therefore, the only choices that libertarian academics have are 1) take jobs in public universities if that is their best available offer, or 2) leave all the public university jobs to advocates of statist ideologies. The latter is hardly likely to advance the cause of libertarianism (indeed it would retard it).

I agree with scote's comments concerning this post and would like to add one more point. There is a third option that you didn't list: accept a lesser position at a private university. If you aren't willing to make sacrifices for your beliefs (but expect others to make sacrifices for your believes) then you don't really hold that belief.
6.9.2007 6:10am
Philistine (mail):

I am the only one that see the irony in your note that you are going to regulate the comments despite your respect for free speech.


Probably. Because Illya said "I am not going to regulate the comments." (My emphasis)
6.9.2007 8:47am
PersonFromPorlock:
Long experience inclines me to think that when somebody hands you free money, you put it in your pocket and say "thank you."
6.9.2007 8:56am
Fury:

"...I think it will be more productive if people focus on the general issue of benefiting from policies that one opposes rather than on arguments about the merits of the specific policies that I used as examples..."


I admit I did this several years ago. USDA was offering a program for which you could receive cash assistance in the form of a certain dollar amount per animal (we raise sheep/goats) due to drought conditions. Additionally, USDA has had had programs in which they would pay you cash assistance to retain female lambs in the flock. I've historically not approved of such programs. But I opted to apply for the assistance about five years ago.

We filled out the paperwork, got the money - and felt awful about it. I did not need that money, it was not critical to the business. The horse (or more correctly sheep) was out of the barn.

We ended up paying it back to the Bureau of the Public Debt. At least for myself, I could look myself in the mirror in the morning.

Since then, more of these programs have come along and we've not signed up for them - and will not. Why? We believe that for our business, if we are dependant on that financial assistance to make a profit, we probably should change our business model - or get out the business.
6.9.2007 9:46am
corneille1640 (mail):
What about the efficacy of calling someone a hypocrite in the first place? The mere fact that Gore or Bork or Thomas or Professor Somim or I may be hypocrites does not, by itself, necessarily mean their arguments are wrong. Maybe it means their unworkable are unworkable. Maybe. Maybe it also serves to lower my opinion of them. Charges of hypocrisy are useful for pointing out flaws in a person's character, but they have a much more limited usefulness in actually discrediting a person's argument.
6.9.2007 10:43am
corneille1640 (mail):
Correction...."Maybe it means their unworkable are unworkable" should be "Maybe it means their ideas are unworkable."

Shame on me!
6.9.2007 10:45am
byomtov (mail):
If one believes that taxpayer-funded universities are *immoral* (as some libertarians indeed believe many coercive subsidies to be a form of public "theft"), then there's probably no wiggle-room to rationalize partaking in the practice. However, if it's just a pragmatic free-markets-work-better type argument, then you're clearly free to work "within the current system."

I think this is correct. If you think it is morally wrong to take money from some taxpayers to educate others, then you shouldn't do it. If you just think a completely private system would work better - whatever that means - then it's OK.

The "aggregate" argument doesn't really work. It says actions are moral if you benefit and the effect on others is small. So defrauding Microsoft out of $10,000 is OK, because, gee, that's not even a rounding error for them.
6.9.2007 11:09am
byomtov (mail):
If one believes that taxpayer-funded universities are *immoral* (as some libertarians indeed believe many coercive subsidies to be a form of public "theft"), then there's probably no wiggle-room to rationalize partaking in the practice. However, if it's just a pragmatic free-markets-work-better type argument, then you're clearly free to work "within the current system."

I think this is correct. If you think it is morally wrong to take money from some taxpayers to educate others, then you shouldn't do it. If you just think a completely private system would work better - whatever that means - then it's OK.

The "aggregate" argument doesn't really work. It says actions are moral if you benefit and the effect on others is small. So defrauding Microsoft out of $10,000 is OK, because, gee, that's not even a rounding error for them.
6.9.2007 11:09am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Libertarians pay taxes, just like the rest of us. But, unlike the rest of us, they feel called upon to publicly protest.
However, they pay the taxes. Might as well get something back. The state forces you to pay the taxes and you can force the state to allow you the use of (some) facilities for which you are forced to pay.
Go for it.
6.9.2007 11:39am
luispedro (mail) (www):
Is a critic of AA even aware whether she would have gotten into college if she was white?
6.9.2007 1:03pm
wahoofive (mail):
Regarding school vouchers:

Do you support a government program which subsidizes every American's ability to eat out at the restaurant of their choice once a week? We'll call it "restaurant vouchers" and it would be worth $10/person (you'd have to make up the difference if you ate at a more expensive restaurant). What, you say you wouldn't support restaurant vouchers? Does that make you a hypocrite if you eat at restaurants yourself?

Your choice to spend your own money doesn't obligate you to advocate government policies which subsidize the same spending options for everyone.
6.9.2007 1:48pm
Ilya Somin:
An aside, but man I could go on and on about how wrong this statement is -- right in principle maybe but wrong in reality. High tax states, like New York and California, happen to subsidize the rest of the country in a myriad of ways.

Big, high tax states do indeed get screwed by the Senate (as do big low tax states, such as Texas). But small high tax states do not. The fact taht there are other harmful cross-subsidies in the system doesn't justify the one that I pointed out in my post. All should be eliminated.
6.9.2007 2:26pm
scote (mail):

So, those who send their own kids to private school while singing the virtues of the public education system for others, and voting against vouchers, are engaging in rank hypocracy. They are saying that public schools are good enough for the kids of the masses, but not for their own.

This is not the same circumstance I mentioned. However, sending your kids to private school and voting against vouchers is not hypocritical. Just because you send your kids to private school doesn't mean you have to support state funding for private schools. You are confusing the issue by conflating sending your kids to private school with "saying that public schools are good enough for the kids of the masses." THere are other ways to support schools, both private and public, other than vouchers.
6.9.2007 4:12pm
scote (mail):

Libertarians pay taxes, just like the rest of us. But, unlike the rest of us, they feel called upon to publicly protest.
However, they pay the taxes. Might as well get something back. The state forces you to pay the taxes and you can force the state to allow you the use of (some) facilities for which you are forced to pay.
Go for it.

Except that isn't the complete picture. Libertarians are for minimal government. Lower taxes are the side effect of this principle not the main point. So, the question is can you support the concept of minimal government by teaching at a state supported school? Obviously you can, since people do. The question is whether this is philosophically consistent.

Teaching as a State university isn't like working undercover, where you pretend to support the group you've infiltrated in order to gather intel. While I can see the practical reasons for working for the state, I don't see it as philosophically consistent.
6.9.2007 4:21pm
SFBurke (mail):
I find it offensive that people always say that Clarence Thomas is a hypocrite because he took advantage of affirmative action and now opposes it. How do we know that he took advantage of affirmative action? I have never seen any evidence (much less proof of that). Of course, "we all know" that he took advantage of affirmative action becuase he is, after all, a "black". Which just illustrates the corrosive effects of AA. No matter how successful a minority is (and I would rate being on the SC as being rather successful), it is assumed that that success is due to AA not effort or ability.
6.9.2007 6:19pm
David Sucher (mail) (www):
I don't see that this issue is a complex one at all.

It seems to me that the difference between malum in se and malum prohibitum is a related concept which distinguishes between things illegal because they are immoral and things which are illegal becausewe say so.

I might think that zoning bonuses for plazas is an foolish, even "bad" urban planning idea (in fact, I do) but I wouldn't think it wrong for a developer (who though the same way) to take advantage of such a bonus should a city be foolish enough to offer it.

Attacks on Gore and Thomas are equally foolish. Both men live in the real world and it would only be hypocritical if either man had said that anyone using a lot of energy/taking advantage of AA was immoral -- and then turned around and did so themselves.
6.9.2007 7:47pm
David Matthews (mail):
Personally, I oppose deductions for charitable contributions, as well as deductions for state taxes. What I give to a church or Greenpeace should be between me and my God or my orca. My solution: I don't itemize. I just take the standard deduction, and take my lumps.

This carries one nice side benefit: I've never lost a night's sleep worrying about an audit. and it comes at a surprisingly small cost; my actual difference in taxes in the most extreme year was less than $1000 (as best I've figured, using very rough ballpark estimates -- some tax whiz could probably show me where I'd lost far more than that, but ignorance is bliss.) When you figure in the time I save, and the money I save not hiring a preparer, it's even less, and I get that wonderful warm feeling of moral superiority.
6.9.2007 8:52pm
TokyoTom (mail):
Ilya, the criticism of Gore is misplaced - it is not as if he is personally responsive for the fact that energy prices (and other economic activity) do not reflect any climate changes costs, even as he points to the undenial market failure/tragedy of the commons that is underway. Rather, he should be commended for incurring additional costs to make his energy use/plane nflights carbon neutral. How many of us can make the same claim, instead of just enjoying the subsidy to current consumption that the law of a property or regulatory management regime produces?

As part of the demand chain for bluefina tuna and other fish stocks that are crashing, cheap products produced in China at the cost of gross air and water pollution, soybeans that are converting the Amazon and wood and biofuels demand that are destroying Asian forests, we are all as guilty as Al Gore. The ironies are that only those who appreciate this feel any pain - and that those who are ignorant or point to our shared responsibility claim the moral high ground over those who point to undeniable problems.
6.10.2007 5:40am
David M. Nieporent (www):
David Sucher: I believe Gore has implicitly, if not explicitly, said that using a lot of energy is immoral. (If one really believes -- as Gore claims to -- that the effects of global warming are going to be disastrous for humanity, it would certainly be immoral to contribute to that, no?)


Tokyo: (1) Gore's energy use is not "carbon neutral." (2) Even if it were, this would not excuse Gore, because his position is that carbon emissions need to be reduced, not that they need to be maintained at current levels.
The ironies are that only those who appreciate this feel any pain - and that those who are ignorant or point to our shared responsibility claim the moral high ground over those who point to undeniable problems.
Yes. A person who says, "I don't care about problem X" is not a hypocrite for not trying to solve it, while a person who does care may be a hypocrite for the same behavior. This simply points to the limited utility of the hypocrisy charge.
6.10.2007 7:27am
TomFromMD (mail):
David: "(1) Gore's energy use is not "carbon neutral." (2) Even if it were, this would not excuse Gore, because his position is that carbon emissions need to be reduced, not that they need to be maintained at current levels. "

2) doesn't make sense. If we assume Gore is being carbon neutral, he has reduced his emissions to zero. Presumably, the ethical baseline for what is considered to be "reduced emmissions" is that of a typical person's emmissions, not zero.

Now I doubt that the companies claiming to make you carbon neutral are as effective as they claim, and I think the "ethical capital" tends to be double counted (e.g. if I convince you to buy an energy efficient refrigerator, and you buy it, we both think that we've saved that energy). But if he really is offsetting his CO2, we have nothing to complain about.
6.10.2007 2:38pm
SFBurke (mail):
I think D. Nierporent bring up an interesting point. Too much of political discourse these days is focused on trying to prove someone is a hypocrite. The advantage of this tactic is twofold: First, you show that the advocate of the position is morally flawed and, second, you taint the position that is being advocated without having to argue on the merits. This tactic is particularly annoying when a person is painted as hypocritical for advocating particular positions on two different issues, (e.g. you are pro-life but also pro-death penalty; ergo, you are a hypocrite because you don't really want to protect human life), when there is, in fact, a consistent way to square the two positions. IMHO, too much time is spent in political discourse accusing others of being hypocrites rather than just debating the issues.
6.10.2007 9:53pm
John Herbison (mail):

I find it offensive that people always say that Clarence Thomas is a hypocrite because he took advantage of affirmative action and now opposes it. How do we know that he took advantage of affirmative action? I have never seen any evidence (much less proof of that). Of course, "we all know" that he took advantage of affirmative action becuase he is, after all, a "black". Which just illustrates the corrosive effects of AA. No matter how successful a minority is (and I would rate being on the SC as being rather successful), it is assumed that that success is due to AA not effort or ability.


The late Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1997. Since then, eighteen persons have been nominated to fill fourteen vacancies on the Court (counting Rehnquist's appointment as Chief Justice as a vacancy in addition to his initial appointment to the Court, but counting Rehnquist as only one person). Sixteen of those eighteen were nominated by Republican presidents; four were nominated by presidents named Bush.

For the thirteen post-1967 vacancies not created by the retirement of Justice Marshall, exactly zero blacks have been nominated. Neither Clarence Uncle Thomas nor any other black person has apparently received any serious, "short list" consideration for any vacancy created by death, retirement or resignation of any white member of the Court, and no caucasian person appears to have been seriously considered when Justice Marshall retired. One may fairly infer a de facto quota system from these facts.

At the time of his nomination, Judge Thomas's credentials were marginal at best. His earlier career consisted of toadying to, and benefiting from the patronage of, first Senator John Danforth and then to the President who had kicked off his campaign in Philadelphia, Missisippi with a rhetorical paean to "states' rights". When his confirmation appeared to be in doubt, Judge Thomas played the hell out of the race card--cynically deriding the proceedings as "a high-tech lynching".

To contend that the first President Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court for any reason other than "affirmative action" is to substitute gullibility and extreme credulousness for reality.
6.11.2007 8:17am
John Herbison (mail):
Excuse me. The date of Thurgood Marshall's appointment was 1967.
6.11.2007 8:19am
John Herbison (mail):
Another correction. Five persons were nominated to four Supreme Court vacancies by presidents named Bush. I counted Harriet Miers among the eighteen, but mistakenly failed to counter her among the Bush nominees.
6.11.2007 10:04am
Houston Lawyer:
I oppose state sponsored lotteries. I believe that they are primarily played by poor people who should use their money for something else. However, I regularly pay the stupid tax whenever the jackpot is high. I don't feel the least bit guilty about it and would certainly keep the money if I won.
6.11.2007 12:51pm