Friday, April 23, 2010

Mutual self interest

On race relations, Brad DeLong calls himself an arrogant conservative:
But estates that are inherited come not only with assets, they also come encumbered with debts. If we are to be Americans--if we are to take up the wonderul unmerited gift, accept the marvelous entailed inheritance that is offered to us--we must take up not just the benefits and advantages, but also the debts that America owes from its past actions as well. To do otherwise--to ignore the debts while grabbing the goodies with both hands--is to show that we are not the true heirs of Benjamin Franklin and company. And chief among the debts that America owes from its past actions is the obligation to erase the marks left by slavery and Jim Crow.
This is not a bad position, of course, and the Burkean gift of our institutions is not a bad way of looking at our social obligations (not to mention a great way to hoist conservatives on their own petard). But the "liberal" point of view is equally valid and I think even more forceful.

It either is or is not in our mutual self-interest to see that every individual* in society maximally flourishes. The choice is very stark: If it is in our mutual self-interest, we ourselves will benefit if we accept the obligation to help others flourish, regardless of why they are not flourishing. If it is not in our mutual self-interest to do so, then it is in our individual self-interest to enslave (either literal chattel slavery or de facto slavery) anyone and everyone weak enough to be enslaved. Everything in between is either delusion or bullshit propaganda.

*Every individual, that is, who sincerely agrees that it is in our mutual self-interest etc.