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Reply to Clarke
When Conor Clarke said:
I have a strong moral intuition — even though I know it’s one I can’t justify — that height is something I deserve. But proving that my moral intuitions are an inconsistent smorgasbord doesn’t mean I’m going to give them up!
To me, Yglesias and Clarke seem here to exemplify unprincipled courtiers, who talk sagely of important considerations, and can find sage reasons for any opinion, and so need never allow analysis to move them from the dictates of inertia or fashion.
Today Clarke responded:
The disagreement, if there is one, is in [Hanson’s] statement that reflective equilibrium “will require [us] to reject some raw intuitions, and embrace some unfashionable conclusions.” My sense is that you can move toward reflective equilibrium and remain fashionable. … I would tinker with the principle of fair equality of opportunity until it included a ban on taxing biology in the name of fairness…. I’m not sure Hanson should be so quick to reject the impulse to cling to a deeply held moral intuition in the face of radical social planning. … This is a fundamentally conservative impulse — standing athwart history yelling stop and all that.
My problem is that I find it hard to believe this intuition really is “deeply held.” As I said when I first blogged on this:
I could sympathize if the [height tax] seemed to violate a fundamental moral principle, defended by ethicists for generations. But we are not talking about endorsing rape, slavery, murder, or baby eating here. We are talking about adding height as one more factor considered by a complex system of taxation and subsidizes that already considers hundreds of details, including age, marriage, children, job, hours worked, ethnicity, nation, city, housing type, kinds of products purchased, types of investment made, and roads used. How the #@$! is it a sacred moral principle that a tax system weighing all these details shall not also consider height?
To elaborate with one example:
The [U.S.] sugar program … inflates domestic sugar to twice the world price. … In the domestic market, the Agriculture Department decides what total sugar production ought to be and allots 54% of production to beet sugar and 46% to cane sugar.
Clarke, does your moral intuition say it is just fine for tax/subsidy policy to prefer folks who prefer to eat or make beet sugar over cane sugar, or folks who like corn syrup over sugar? More generally, what fraction of the factors already considered in our tax/subsidy system offend you more than height? If most of them do, well then you are really just objecting to our whole system; height is a side issue. But if height really is an especially offensive factor to you, well then I am truly puzzled. My best guess was and is:
[Elites] … display a huge status-quo bias. All policies outside a certain range of familiar possibilities seem “silly” to ordinary people. So no matter how strong the supporting arguments, [elites] feel they must reject such proposals, so as not to seem silly themselves.