Jens 'n' Frens
Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."
  -- Daniel Webster

Tuesday, December 29, 2015 :::

Eugene Volokh wrote a blog entry on accusing people you disagree with of hypocrisy based on their holding positions that seem inconsistent under the framework you attribute to them, encouraging his readers to understand that their political opponents probably have a political framework with some complexity to it. I'm paraphrasing quite heavily - I encourage you to read the beginning and skim the whole thing; the point should be clear to every 13-year-old but probably isn't to most adults, and even the other adults could use an occasional reminder. It evokes from me two related thoughts:

  1. Most of the original (i.e., not just a link to something someone else wrote) political posts that I see on Facebook that seem dumb to me and that I disagree with seem to be this particular kind of dumb: either the writer believes that two things are indistinguishable that seem to me to be obviously different or the writer makes much of a distinction that strikes me as trivial.
  2. There is a similar strain of accusations of hypocrisy, distinct from but similar to what Professor Volokh describes, and equally invalid, when someone declines to play by the rules that they wish had force of law. For example, most people who support tax increases pay only the taxes they are required to, most people who are eligible for subsidies they believe should not exist accept them, especially if they are bundled into a purchase price (e.g., I may not apply for a particular subsidy, but if I think the subway is oversubsidized, and I use the subway, I will make no attempt to "return" the subsidy implicit in my fare), and many (though certainly not all) political candidates who believe campaign finance laws should be tighter accept contributions that they believe should be illegal.

    The distinction that I think a lot of people miss here is that the positions being taken are prudential rather than moral and usually there is some collective action problem such that an individual's operating according to a more restrictive standard by himself would not effect the desired change; if I believe some government spending program should not exist because it is a waste of money, my declining to take the money will not greatly affect the budget. If I believe social security should not exist, or should be optional, I still have to pay in so I can reasonably accept the payments out. An immigrant might reasonably support restrictions on immigration, even restrictions that would have kept him out — on the other hand, it would be dubious of him to suggest that other immigrants should have voluntarily stayed "home." There might be exceptions here — a pro-life politician who had procured an abortion and not acknowledged a change of position since would at least have some explaining to do because one expects a politician who opposes abortion to see each abortion as a moral wrong rather than just a prudential assessment that society would be better off if abortions were restricted. But most of the time I have seen this trope, the suggestion has been either that someone who generally supports smaller taxes and spending should renounce their handouts (while, presumably, paying the taxes required) or that someone who generally supports higher taxes and spending should voluntarily pay higher taxes (without benefiting from more money spent on roads or schools) or that those candidates who believe that campaign contributions corrupt the political system should operate under the rules they propose, even though their opponents would operate under the existing law, and there's really nothing inconsistent about any of those.


::: posted by Steven at 9:00 PM

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Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

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