Part of the push for these “universal” social good programs is that they are unconditional. Andrew Yang is advocating for a universal basic income, $1,000 a month with no strings attached. The idea is that we just do not want our citizens to die, but also that they can use it to buy things they need and maybe want to make their life more enjoyable. Bernie and Warren have been advocating for universal healthcare, that no matter what you can get the treatment you need to survive. The idea behind this is that being poor should not be a death penalty if you so happen to get sick. This defers from other social programs where you need to prove that you are “useful” to society in some way to survive.
The middle class has been bearing the burden of healthcare after Obamacare and even before it. Obamacare was a success for some, but not for all. There have been numerous studies that show parts of the middle class and particularly rural middle class Americans did not benefit much if at all from this policy. Even anecdotally, I can tell you my parents have paid more for about the same coverage. Even if it is not directly Obamacare’s fault, it could be purely big hospital and big pharma, the fact of the matter is that a lot of people are upset with it. This is also barring the individual mandate that many constitutional scholars have argued as unconstitutional. It was a step in the right direction, but because something is not perfect does not mean you should nuke the entire thing. Some of the things like pre-existing conditions and that hospitals should be more transparent about pricing.
I am not here to argue whether or not its infeasible to implement universal healthcare. The arguments against it in this sense are pretty bad, even the facts they use to support are handpicked. The mechanism that is doing the work of “convincing” people are the ones who are already against universal healthcare since it is “communist”. There is plenty of examples of it working, theres are economists and studies that show it is feasible. Some economics like Paul Krugman say we should not even pay for it with a wealth tax, since Americans not being shackled by debt, dying, and sick would pay itself over. Not directly paying for stuff is something the government has done in the past since the way the government works with debt and money is not the same as how you or I take out a loan. The cost of past useless wars, that Bernie has been against, are more than feeding, housing, and healing our nation many times over.
If you think of the way that capitalism is an efficient method of allocation of market goods, it is possible that it is not perfect. Additionally, it may be the right of a state, the public right in Kant’s case, to have unconditional poverty relief. There may be things that capitalism is the solution for, but as time has shown there are areas where the market is not efficient for. If the postal service was run by companies, it would not be in the interest of the bottom line of any company to go out to some rural Montana town to deliver mail. The cost per delivery for them versus someone in NYC is a massive difference. This is why my family has shit tier internet. The cost of building, maintaining, and support for high speed internet for rural residents is nowhere near as worth as just focusing on suburbs and cities. A great example of what I am talking about that capitalism is not the perfect allocation of market goods, philosophytube made a video about an area that is primarily run by capitalism so you cannot blame the government for its problems. So if you are on board with some of this history, the facts above may not be entirely correct or misleading, but they find truth in the sentiments of many people at the least.
Any good political philosophy needs to be fairly comprehensive to get some mileage out of it. Central to any theory should be an account of the state of nature, what freedom is, equality, and what human nature is. The purpose of a state of nature is to understand what is different between having a state and not having a state. For example, Locke thinks that a state is not necessary for humans, it is only prudential (in the interests of) humans to enter into a state. Hobbes and similarly, but not for the same reasons Kant, think that you can be coerced into a state and you cannot voluntarily stay in the state of nature. Human nature is used to figure out why us as humans should be thinking about a state, what we care about, what limitations we have as humans, and to understand what kind of laws are good or bad for humans.
We, as people, see ourselves and others as the ones who are responsible for our actions. Due to this, we see judge ourselves and others as people who are capable of freedom in regards to our external actions. The fact that we see ourselves as responsible puts us on the hook for normative thoughts, deciding what is good or bad and what we should or should not do, which gets us to talking about freedom.
This is the first post in this series, so it will be longer than others to get some core theory down, latter posts may reference parts of this.
Figuring out what right is is important. You might ask a lawyer or a judge and they might give you some reasons for why laws serve a purpose. You may ask why these laws in particular? Is it just because they were the ones that followed from the consitution and its simply a matter of doing some proofs using them as axioms? But what if the law as it is is not as it should be? What makes a law good or bad ? Why do we even have them? Why is something like ethics or religious ethics not sufficient for a body of laws? Right is ultimately a normative area of thought, where we look at how things should be and not what they are. This means we need to think using reason and not looking at any empirical details.
First, Right is about the external and practical relations between people. Right differs from ethics in that the ethics is inherently subjective, but not pure subjectiveness. There can be objective laws of morality such as do no kill anyone, but the incentive for being ethical and following these moral laws is subjective. Without going into detail about Kant’s ethics, just think about the contradiction of even trying to concieve of being forced to be a vegetarian. We would not say that someone being forced to be a vegetarian is a vegetarian, since that is something that comes from within. The movie A Clockwork Orange is a perfect example of this.
Right is therefore the sum of the conditions under which the choice of one can be united with the choice of another in accordance with a universal law of freedom.
To quote Kant again
Any action is right if it can coexist with with everyone’s freedom in accordance with a universal law.
If your action cannot coexist with everyone’s freedom, than it is wrong. From this concept of right and wrong, we can understand what just uses of coercion are. If someone’s use of choice is a hindrance to someone else’s freedom, it is right to use coercion to stop that hindrance.
There is only one innate right, that is
Freedom (independence from being constrained by another’s choice), insofar as it can coexist with the freedom of every other in accordance with a universal law, is the only original right belonging to every man by virtue of his humanity.
From this innate right, we can infer the equality of humans. No person’s independence is bound by another more than they are bound by each other reciprocally. A person also is his own master and is beyond reproach, meaning that they have not done anything wrong to anyone so they cannot be at fault. This seems obvious, but there are places all over where children are punished for things that their ancestors did (sometimes did not do as well). We also get the idea of free speech from this. Speech in itself does not coerce anyone, merely telling or promising something, communicating your thoughts, does not hinder anyone’s independence from being constrained by another’s choice. The reason is that you can simply ignore or not believe what someone is saying (this is not all Kant says about free speech though).
The state of nature is the absense of any sense of government. You can think of it as The Lord of the Flies type of scenario. Actually, this scenario is used all the time except it is just a “rational adult human” most of the time, not children. However, any kids on island may as well be forced to grow up quick so maybe they are the same. If you have not read The Lord of the Flies, there is Netflix’s take on the state of nature in the series called The Society. You can think of this is an exercise in outlining why we should or should not have a government, what conditions should people enter into one, and do we have a right to get rid of the government. Furthermore, it helps us outline what a government can solve that was unsolvable without one.
Since we live on a sphere (flat earthers stop reading now), we a bound to run into other humans. When you cannot help but interact with other humans, you should leave the state of nature (the state without rightful relations) to enter in a condition of rightful relations and justice. To stay in the state of nature is what Kant calls a formal wrong, meaning, that you do wrong in the highest degree. To stay in the state of nature is to will a world without Right. However, staying in the state of nature with other people in the state of nature is not a material wrong since you are not harming each other who are willing the same thing. Kant argues for many reasons why it is wrong to stay in the state of nature and that you can be forced by other’s to enter into rightful relations (no, this does not include colonizing Natives which Kant argues against).
One reason to leave the state of nature is that their is no assurance against violence by others. We do not learn that humans are violent by experience, you could say we are reminded of this. Given the nature of humans, without right, might is the ruler. The anarchist might say it is possible to live without a state and be free of unjust uses of coercion. It is possible, but still highly unlikely. Even if you have a bunch of Mr. Rogers type people in your state of nature, you can still determine that a state is necessary given the definition of freedom. In the state of nature, each person has a right of their own to determine “what seems right and good” to them and “to not be dependent upon another’s opinion about this”.
Say you are trying to determine what the border of your property should be with your neighbor. The land has trees and fertile land and water all through it. There is no a priori (through reason alone) way to determine what the proper divying up of the land would be. You say one thing, your neighbor says another. If you hire someone to make the call, it is still just their choice, their arbitrary and unitlateral opinion. To be consistent with our innate right to freedom, we need omnilateral and universal laws to solve this which can only be done when the people form a government to represent the universal laws.
Another way to motivate this is with property rights. Kant says that in the state of nature there can only be provisional property rights. If you control something, say some land by fencing it in and defending it, it is yours. But property rights are about the claims you have on everyone else and everyone agrees that that is your property, and you agree that other’s own their property. This universal and reciprocal law can only be laid down and realized with a state.
The state itself, when formed, consists of three “authorities”. There is the soveriegn, the executive, and the judicial. The sovereign is important since that represents the people who are self-legislating, who give themselves universal laws to unite all people’s freedom. The executive is the ruler who uses coercion in conformity with the law. The judicial is the judge that is to “award to each what is his in accordance with the law”.
Private property is important to discuss since it is one of the main areas of private right that has been historically argued as incompatible with a welfare state. If you are to be externally free, you must be able to use some of the external objects as yours and other people should be able to use theirs to set their own ends. If there is no such thing as private property, then no one would be able to own anything or rightfully use anything which would inhibit our ability to set external ends. To have a theory of private property right, we need to figure out how it is consistent with people’s innate right to freedom. Specifically, we need to figure out just principles of private property so that everyone can use their own private property without violating anyone else’s innate right to freedom.
Without a government, just private property relations are impossible. Private property rights is not about if you own an object or not. You have to have a theory that can distinguish between mere empirical possesion (me holding an object) versus intelligent possession, which would explain that an object I own is mine even when I am away from it. Intelligent possession is a normative relation, one in which the relation is not between you and some object, but between you and other people.
So how do we go about achieving normative, intelligible possession of something? Well, the first step is to take control over it with force. In the state of nature, you can own what you can control. Since you cannot control the sea for example, you can only control as far as “your cannon reaches”, which is why you might be able to control the shore. However, this is only provisional justice, since it is still someone’s arbitrary choice. The state solves this since it is omnilateral, it represents the will of the many. Without a state, there would be no universal law that constrains everyone’s external freedom reciprocally. This way, private property laws can be established that puts everyone under a universal law. One way we assume this in our daily lives is that if we follow the law and gain property without breaking it, it is ours.
Property rights are not claims on property itself, but claims on others. To have universal and reciprocal claims, it is necessary to have a state that represents the universal and self-legislating will of the people. Kant gives an assurane argument to motivate this line of reasoning as well
I am therefore not under obligation to leave external objects belonging to others untouched unless everyone else provides me assurance that he will behave in accordance with the same principle with regard to what is mine. … So only in a civil condition can something externally be mine or yours.
The state represents the people in a republic. The republic is the form of government in which the people give laws to themselves, they self-legislate, and this represents the act of a people giving themselves universal laws. The republic form of a state is the only one which is consistent with the innate right to freedom. A despot is one in which a leader is the one who legislates and enforces laws, so the people are left to the arbitrary choice of their ruler. The Kantian just state must also establish a monopoly on coercion. This coercion is used to uphold the law. The only just use of coercion is to stop other coercion that would violate the innate right to freedom. This is so that no one in the state can coerce another into doing their bidding, so the state can use coercion to protect its citizens.
The public officials therefore should act in a public way, they represent everyone yet no one in particular. However, when you create a public authority, you get the area of right that regulates it and that is what we call public right. It is why public officials are held to higher standards and different standards than a private citizen. We should know the finances of our public officials so that we know the decisions they are making are for everyone and no one in particular, not rich people or small interest groups. We should know that they are not using the power of the public office for their own private gains.
The public ruler has three additional rights that would not exist for a private person. The only reason that property rights exist is due to this public entity, and the state has a right to tax property. It is still done in a way that the people are self-legislating, so it is done in accordance of Right. Second, the ruler has the “right to administer the state’s economy, finances, and police”. This can be thought of as maintaining the “security, convenience, and decency” of the state. The third right is that of preservation, a right to improve the public well-being of the people. This is an indirect right of the state to tax its citizens to support organizations for the poor.
The general will of the people has united itself into a society that is to maintain itself perpetually; and for this end it has submitted itself to the internal authority of the state in order to maintain those members of the society who are unable to maintain themselves. For reasons of state the government is therefore authorized to constrain the wealthy to provide the means of sustenance to those who are unable to provide for even their most necessary natural needs. The wealthy have acquired an obligation to the commonwealth, since they owe their existence to an act of submitting to its protection and care, which they need in order to live; on this obligation the state now bases its right to contribute what is theirs to maintaining their fellow citizens.
Kant specifically outlines that the necessary survival of the poor cannot depend on voluntary contributions. Begging, charity, and pious institutions are not consistent with the Right of a state. These three “options” of poverty relief violate the innate right to freedom of people. Their means of survival are left up to the decisions of arbitrary wealthy people who can afford to give money away. Since the state has a monopoly on coercion, the poor people get means of survival by force or stealing like they would in the state of nature. A state has the right to provide the means of survival for the poor by taxing its people.
It cannot be the case that having diabetes, by chance, is a death sentence. It cannot be the case that you get fired (everyone gets fired here and there) and you cannot have healthcare anymore. If the state cannot secure legal access to means for its citizens, to secure a monopoly on coercion, and allow its citizens to live, it is not a well functioning state. The people who are dying are the poorer Americans. If the poorer Americans are dying, the middle class Americans are being stretched thin by prices. A few drug companies that want to rule over our healthcare system do not get to be the ones who determine if you live or die.
When framed this way, universal healthcare is simply what we should have been doing all along, which people have been telling us that it was radical. If we want to be subject to only universal laws that we give ourselves, we must also be able to escape poverty. Poverty is not just having little money, it is a situation in which your life is threatened since you do not have the necessary means to survive. Just 50 years ago it seemed to be something that both sides were on board with.
Note, this differs greatly from any Lockean account, but has to do with accepting the innate right to freedom which I think is the better definition of freedom. The notion of some libertarians and conservatives is that it violates their freedom. However, the Lockean / conservative / libertarian version of freedom is not consistent with any taxation and it has lots of other conceptual impossibilities caused by how freedom and property rights are defined and argued to be. However, this series is not discussing this version, but am glad to discuss in private and send readings as to why I think the Lockean / conservative / libertarian account of freedom and property rights is wrong and worse than Kant.
There are other cases to be made for things besides healthcare. Universal food, universal housing, etc. Free public education does not have to do with poverty relief necessarily, but it will be discussed later on and using some of the rights of the state to provide for public education for the well-being of its people. Food is more agreed upon and less controversial than healthcare it seems today, since the logical leap of not eating to dying is small. However, there is a housing crisis that can be shown using the disparity between how much housing costs have risen vs how little wages have risen in comparison. Having a home does more for a human that just survival, but in places of the country that are subject to cold winters and hot summers, it is a death sentence sometimes to be merely homeless.