On Material Welfare I
It's a common misconception - specially among libertarians - to think that there is such a thing as a morally-neutral standard for good public policy.
The reasoning goes something like "It doesn't matter what you believe in, policy X is objectively good because it brings about prosperity for everyone". Prosperity itself - as well as peace, health or any other seemingly unquestionable good - is a very controversial goal. In fact, I would argue that those are not real values to the vast majority of people.
Take Judeo-Christian-Islamic morality for example. The ultimate goal of someone who believes in an eternal afterlife is not to have a prosperous, peaceful, healthy life, but to be saved and go to heaven. Temporary suffering versus eternal happiness is a very easy choice. If prosperity brings about the rise of "sinful" beliefs - as it often does - it is a worse alternative to righteous poverty. If peace enables heretics to thrive or hold some sacred piece of land - as it often does - it is a worse alternative to holy war. If health is brought about by the rejection of a religious dogma (such as dietary restrictions or the physical mutilation of children) it is not a value.
Those who argue that this a trope of religion, need only look at Fascist-Socialist-Progressivist morality. Revolutionary war is better than a peace that preserves bourgeois institutions. Poverty and struggle are better then prosperity, if that prosperity weakens the national spirit. Medical standards, both physical and mental, are not a bigger value than preserving a sick person's feelings (think about the contemporary movements that attempt to normalize obesity or gender dysmorphia).
There is no such thing as a "universally good society", independent on specific moral ideas. There are only societies based on moral ideas that are objectively good or bad - with Man's life as a rational being as the standard.
- January 15th, 2020
On Material Welfare II
Yesterday I talked about how there isn't an amoral standard for good policies, such as peace or economic progress. Today I'll finish that thought by addressing why material welfare is not a proper standard for measuring happiness, whether in a social in an individual context.
Man is an animal. Because of that, he has certain physical needs, that must be met to ensure his survival, as well as his happiness. Man is a particular kind of animal - a rational one. Because of that, in addition to his physical needs, he also has spiritual needs - he needs to develop values, and give those values a concrete form through his actions. A man with food in his belly is not necessarily happy - a happy man must be well fed, but also proud of himself for what he has achieved.
Economic prosperity - whether measured in terms of money, purchasing power, marginal productivity or any other means - simply relates to the amount of things a person possesses. To shun material goods is evil, and usually the hallmark of a madman, but it is also wrong to consider a good without its full context. How was that good produced? How did you acquire it? How can you use it? What is the ultimate goal you seek to achieve by its use?
A thief cannot be happy with the goods he has acquired by force - he has not earned them, will not know how to enjoy them, and is unable to integrate their use in a coherent purpose. An heir who gets more money than he deserves, and is able to live up to, is bound to live a miserable life - the sheer maintenance of his wealth will be an overwhelming burden, and all he will be able strive for are the more decadent types of short-term, self-destructive pleasures.
The same is true for societies. Life in countries like Japan and Sweden, where one has easy access to material goods, yet both laws and social rules are so overbearing that one cannot bring his own private values into being; is absolutely horrible - and their incredibly high suicide rates attest to that.
- January 16th, 2020