Friday, June 19, 2009


This post was intended to provoke thought about how easily we slip into a cost-benefit paradigm versus having a moral absolute against certain actions. Alas, the document is saved to another computer . . . my article will have to wait. But, the essence is that rather than say an action is wrong on the basis that it violates codes of behavior we weigh the wrongness of the action against the benefit that emerges. So, actions like torture which slice away chunks of dignity and humanity from another person is not refused on the basis of a moral absolute; instead, the costs of degrading another person's humanity is said to be worth it if the benefit of the torture was important information that saved lives. Perhaps this happens to an economist more than others since we so frequently use the cost-benefit framework, but, I wonder if others engage in similar thought processes everyday. As you will see in the longer post I do not have a good response to these larger questions, so if that is unsatisfactory perhaps you shouldn't read the next post . . . they are questions I am struggling to answer myself.

For this post though I found a John Stossel video that is approximately eight minutes long about "free-loaders", or the homeless you see with signs on the side of the road. This video emphasized the notion of assymmetric obligation that was the subject of my blog post two weeks earlier. Does conditioning charity on work deepen the dignity and respect of the relationship between the recipient and giver? Or, do requirements of work negate the gift as a gift at all? I would be interested in your comments. While many homeless go to shelters that do not obligate their efforts towards chores, some (in the Stossel video) discovered that the obligation to work instilled a sense of purpose and in fact deepen the relationship between the giver.

Even though my number of observations is small I know someone that was homeless in Tallahassee told me he didn't want to go to the Haven of Rest because they required him to wake up and look for work. It is absolutely true that some are not able to work, but, I do not believe the Stossel is video is a complete distortion (which is why I put up a link). Some able bodied men and women simply do not want to be obligated to anyone.

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