The question, which is the better man, is determinable only in the estate of government and policy, though it be mistaken for a question of nature, not only by ignorant men, that think one man's blood better than another's by nature; but also by him, whose opinions are at this day, and in these parts of greater authority than any other human writings (Aristotle). For he putteth so much difference between the powers of men by nature, that he doubteth not to set down, as the ground of all his politics, that some men are by nature worthy to govern, and others by nature ought to serve. Which foundation hath not only weakened the whole frame of his politics, but hath also given men colour and pretences, whereby to disturb and hinder the peace of one another. For though there were such a difference of nature, that master and servant were not by consent of men, but by inherent virtue; yet who hath that eminency of virtue, above others, and who is so stupid as not to govern himself, shall never be agreed upon amongst men; who do every one naturally think himself as able, at the least, to govern another, as another to govern him. And when there was any contention between the finer and the coarser wits, (as there hath been often in times of sedition and civil war) for the most part these latter carried away the victory and as long as men arrogate to themselves more honour than they give to others, it cannot be imagined how they can possibly live in peace: and consequently we are to suppose, that for peace sake, nature hath ordained this law, That every man acknowledge other for his equal. And the breach of this law, is that we call PRIDE.

Hobbes, The Elements of Law Natural and Politic, Chapter XVII.

With a somewhat different modern approach, Timmy wants us to Stop taxing the poor so much.

[Update: in the comments, there are complaints about Hobbes's use of "man" to encompass both genders. My answer is that Hobbes merely used the commonplace words of his time as did (for example) the US Declaration of Independence. But elsewhere he does treat explicitly of the equality of the sexes, for example in Elements, Chapter XXIII "And therefore the man, to whom for the most part the woman yieldeth the government, hath for the most part also the sole right and dominion over the children. And the man is called the HUSBAND, and the woman the WIFE; but because sometimes the government may belong to the wife only, sometimes also the dominion over the children shall be in her only; as in the case of a sovereign queen, there is no reason that her marriage should take from her the dominion over her children". So it is clear: in his theory, the genders are equal; but he does note how things work in the societies he has observed.]


More like this

Eli will take the big croc seriously when he starts advocating taxing the rich more also.

[Hobbes has little to say about taxation. Chapter 30 seems to be the place. There is Equal Justice:

The safety of the people requireth further, from him or them that have the sovereign power, that justice be equally administered to all degrees of people; that is, that as well the rich and mighty, as poor and obscure persons, may be righted of the injuries done them; so as the great may have no greater hope of impunity, when they do violence, dishonour, or any injury to the meaner sort, than when one of these does the like to one of them: for in this consisteth equity; to which, as being a precept of the law of nature, a sovereign is as much subject as any of the meanest of his people. All breaches of the law are offences against the Commonwealth: but there be some that are also against private persons. Those that concern the Commonwealth only may without breach of equity be pardoned; for every man may pardon what is done against himself, according to his own discretion. But an offence against a private man cannot in equity be pardoned without the consent of him that is injured; or reasonable satisfaction.

which is followed by Equal Taxation:

To equal justice appertaineth also the equal imposition of taxes; the equality whereof dependeth not on the equality of riches, but on the equality of the debt that every man oweth to the Commonwealth for his defence. It is not enough for a man to labour for the maintenance of his life; but also to fight, if need be, for the securing of his labour. They must either do as the Jews did after their return from captivity, in re-edifying the Temple, build with one hand and hold the sword in the other, or else they must hire others to fight for them. For the impositions that are laid on the people by the sovereign power are nothing else but the wages due to them that hold the public sword to defend private men in the exercise of several trades and callings.

However, that is a call for a fairly minimal state; not quite for Justice only, because there is

And whereas many men, by accident inevitable, become unable to maintain themselves by their labour, they ought not to be left to the charity of private persons, but to be provided for, as far forth as the necessities of nature require, by the laws of the Commonwealth. For as it is uncharitableness in any man to neglect the impotent; so it is in the sovereign of a Commonwealth, to expose them to the hazard of such uncertain charity.

The strong have to work, though.

By Eli Rabett (not verified) on 10 Jul 2012 #permalink

"The question, which is the better man ... not only by ignorant men, that think one man’s blood better than another’s by nature; but also by him ... For he ... the powers of men by nature ... that he doubteth ... his politics, that some men are by nature worthy to govern ...given men colour and pretences ... that master and servant were not by consent of men ...govern himself ...shall never be agreed upon amongst men ... think himself as able ... as another to govern him. ... as long as men arrogate to themselves more honour than they give to others, it cannot be imagined how they can possibly live in peace ... That every man acknowledge other for his equal.

Equality? I'm not quite sure that title works for me on even the most basic level.

[Ah, you're objecting to the male voice? I'm afraid that is just the way of it. Doubtless you dislike the US declaration of independence, too -W]

I'm afraid that is just the way of it

If you always do what you've always done, then you'll always get what you've always got ;)

[It was new at the time. and doubtless, were it to be written now, issues of gender equality would have been addressed -W]

Man or woman? That reminds me of this.

"Although satire is usually meant to be funny, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon."

Oh, you European Monarchists have such a backwards idea of what government is for. Government isn't for benefits -- equal or otherwise.

Government is for opportunity. Equal opportunity, ideally.

Government is not something we're building in order to fatten and comfort those who make it happen in this generation.

Government is to provide the best opportunity for the _next_ generation, whoever they may be -- all of the children, as there's no way to predict which of them will give the best benefits back to society.

All we know for sure is the children of the currently rich will be no smarter nor more decent than the children of the currently poor and uneducated.

We create government so society gets all the benefits that the next generation can give, not to fatten today's fat further.

Listen to the new guys in the world! (We whose grandparents benefited from their ideas have almost forgotten them now, but there are new governments being created. Y'all, read, this works better than anything else yet tried).

Here's the quotes. Do try to read to the end, slowly, and thoughtfully:

Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils, and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests, & nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.

To George Wythe, from Paris, August 13, 1786
Excerpted here from The Quotable Jefferson, collected and edited by John Kaminski, Princeton University Press, 2006, p. 84
Tom Paine:

“… Whatever wisdom constituently is, it is like a seedless plant; it may be reared when it appears, but it cannot be voluntarily produced. There is always a sufficiency somewhere in the general mass of society for all purposes; but with respect to the parts of society, it is continually changing its place. It rises in one to-day, in another to-morrow, and has most probably visited in rotation every family of the earth, and again withdrawn.

“As this is in the order of nature, the order of government must necessarily follow it, or government will, as we see it does, degenerate into ignorance.

” … by giving to genius a fair and universal chance; … by collecting wisdom from where it can be found.

“… As it is to the advantage of society that the whole of its faculties should be employed, the construction of government ought to be such as to bring forward, by a quiet and regular operation, all that extent of capacity which never fails to appear in revolutions.”
Tom Paine, The Rights of Man

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 11 Jul 2012 #permalink

For the US numbers,

"... the Bush tax cuts, which are scheduled to expire at the end of the year.... What hangs in the balance are tax breaks for wealthier Americans.

So just how much are those worth? About $56.3 billion in fiscal 2013 ... or about $850 billion over 10 years (thanks to the back-loaded nature of some of the tax breaks). That's how much more the federal government could collect if the administration's proposal goes through, as opposed to extending the cuts for everyone."


Seems to me the issue is that people who know much of the money is passing _through_ their hands work hard to make the money work to improve the world around them -- they can't hold onto all of it just for themselves; with thought they can help steer it so society benefits.

But given the opportunity to stop the money in their own account and sit on it -- the monkey trap captures people, even people rich enough you might imagine they're smart.
So what are the numbers from other countries?

We know about the Scandinavians:

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 11 Jul 2012 #permalink

and my rant of a few days ago is in the usual place, I assume.

[Got caught in the spam filter I'm afraid; approved now -W]

Jefferson and Paine on the purpose of government: equality of opportunity for education, because that benefits society.

[I like the Hobbesian view: govt is primarily the Civil Sword; this is a minimal govt approach; though there is plenty of room for argument as to exactly what that covers; it could well cover education. A govt that heeds too many calls to do things "because it would be good" bloats, as we've seen here and over on your side -W]

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 12 Jul 2012 #permalink

There's a good case to be made for the other perspective -- that government's needed to the extent selfishness destroys rather than builds.

Money captures regulators and crafts loopholes; government elaborates the regulations and laws to close the loopholes.
Lather rinse repeat. Each iteration funds more lawyers and lobbyists and complexity.

That's because the 11th Commandment doesn't work in civil lawmaking (that's "You do too know what I mean!")

Reich has been talking about this lately.

Not saying I have any answer to this. Just observing that -- fundamentally -- Jefferson and Paine have it right. Tax for education, educate everyone willing and eager to learn, because genius arises everywhere equally and if not brought into civil society will find a way to overthrow that society.

[I missed the connection. Loopholes, yes, something needs to be done (preferrably, keep laws simple to avoid them). How does that segue into "tax for education"? -W]

It may be the best we can do is delay the collapse, letting the government/business/economy build up higher, wider, and more riddled with loopholes and temporary patches before it has a revolution to redraw the lines.

Is that best? Would we be better off with little feudal local governments and little local revolutions going on all the time?

[Thats the one big thing we haven't tried. Though I don't know why you've put in the word "feudal", which is a system of govt, sort of. I think the US founders may have intended that, but you've fossilised -W]

Dunno. Feudalism's a bad environment to do science.
And what's life for if not to do science? There's no better fun available, for those who want to learn.j

I guess I'm here representing the Tax And Educate Party ....

[But does that mean you're arguing for "tax only up to the minimal level required to fund education"? That would make you a small-govt person - a no social security or govt-funded healthcare person. Or are you saying "give education priority over other expenditure"? If you're just saying "education should be funded; I'm not worried about the rest" that is relatively uncontroversial I think -W]

Peace in my time, isn't that the idea?

The ideal government, we can say from history, is one formed fresh on an almost empty continent, where no more than a few humans have lived for only few thousand years, a continent where both physical and biological resources are easily available, and used to establish a new technology-friendly society, and consume all the free resources. $$PROFIT$$

If we're smart enough to build a few space elevators before the resources run out, then we have more free resources within easy reach indefinitely. Dibs on the Galapagos anchor point.

For values of "we" of course meaning someone's grandchildren, if we want to limit our consumption to enable theirs.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 13 Jul 2012 #permalink