Saturday, February 18, 2012

Morality versus Reality

There is an annoying tendency - amongst the left pretty much everywhere and amongst the right in the USA - to try to conflate their morality with some vision of reality. Morality is the way you thinks things should work, reality is the way they actually do.

So attempts to describe the way thinks do work - our vain attempts as humans to peer into the darkness of reality - are essentially amoral (whether they are correct or incorrect.) What's more, they say nothing about the moral views of the person concerned. As an engineer with an obscure speciality, often dealing with the law, and an amateur physicist and economic critic, I come across this confusion quite often.
If a client came to me and said that one of their staff had been arrested for the possession (on company equipment) of "extreme pornography" contrary to section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, it is bugger all use to the client me whittering on about this being an appallingly illiberal piece of legislation brought in by an authoritarian government driven, as ever, by their PR strategy, as a result of a single issue campaigner.

Instead, and obviously, I'd advise them to find a lawyer and point them both at the possession defences in ss 64, 65 & 66, and to the limitations of vicarious liability.

Currently, chez Timmy, there is much discussion about the Laffer curve. There is a rabid insistance from the left that there is no such thing as a maximimally raising tax level. Yet, mathematically, this is trite. If you raise no tax at 0% tax (anything time 0 is 0), governments raise tax (yup, yes, and I had a loud argument with HMRC's "helpline" auto-responder yesterday) and that if people were taxed at 100% they wouldn't bother earning (this is possibly the one area of doubt), then basic maths (and differential calculus - thanks to Dave Gillies) mean that there are one or more maxima. And, on or more of these will be an absolute maximum. That's reality, not morality.

Now, the maths doesn't tell you much. It doesn't tell you where the maxima may be found or the shape of the curve. Nor does it enter in to political discussions about whether we should indeed be trying to raise as much tax as possible or just enough to pay for government. Or how much government that should be. Or the relative efficiencies and consequences of different tax types - production, consumption, income, flat or progressive. Just that if you keep raising any tax (or the overall tax burden) eventually you will get to a point where your revenue declines.

Moralities differ - and that difference should be permitted in a liberal society. I like a drink, Muslims believe alcohol to be haram. No problem - I'm not going to force them to have a drink and, provided all I get is a disapproving glance and am banned from drinking when I enter (the profoundly illiberal) Saudi, its something that I can live with. Ditto pork, homosexuality, drugs, the poor - we all have different opinions on what the correct moral actions should be. However, none of that valuable difference entitles us to different realities.

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