Tag Archives: News from the Agora

News from the Agora

Maybe one of those babies?

Democracy in Latin America

Participatory democracy is good for babies (original source can be found at this site).  More specifically, municipalities that have implemented participatory budgeting practices show a marked reduction in infant mortality rates.  The reason for this seems to be that, when the people actually get their hands on their own treasury, they devote considerable resources to public health and sanitation.  Porto Alegre, the birthplace of participatory budgeting, is the most obvious case.  As an apparent result of the participatory budgeting experience, the city has near-universal clean water and sanitation services.  Water quality, sanitation, and other public health measures are the elements most closely related to reductions in infant mortality.

From “Power to the People: the Effects of Participatory Budgeting on Municipal Expenditures and Infant Mortality in Brazil,” from Sónia Gonҫalves, at the London School of Economics.

Democracy in England

The Trades Union Congress in England has been building towards a General Strike against Parliament’s cuts to public services.  The public’s wealth has been gutted as the Conservative-Liberal coalition government (like the Labor governments before them) have been slashing funds and selling off public assets for decades.  Now, England’s beloved National Health Service may be the next to go.  The rally at Hyde Park has brought out 100,000 people, with additional tens of thousands on the march elsewhere.

Democracy in France

The National Assembly of France passed 75% tax on annual incomes over €1 million, or $1.3 million, promised by Socialist president Francois Hollande.  Unfortunately, it will last only two years.  Of course, defenders of the wealthy (in this case the 1500 people to whom the tax applies) claim that it’s a punitive taking of the deserved rewards of hard work.  They say that like they believe it!  The conservative parties will be requesting a review of the tax law by France’s Constitutional Council.

Hollande’s tax is still not as radical as the proposal for the 100% tax on annual income over €1 million advocated by Left Party presidential candidate, Jean-Luc Melénchon.  Both such taxes should discourage rent-seeking corporate executives and investors from turning revenues into personal consumption rather than useful investment.

Democracy in America?

Andrew Levine reminds us of how far the concept of democracy has fallen in his latest on Counterpunch.  Western democracy has gone from visions of Rousseauean deliberations on the public good to today’s ridiculous presidential debates and elections with their love of Big Bird and binders full of women.  As Levine writes, “the fate of the world hinges on body language, “attitude” (combative or passive), and gaffes.  Could the absurdity be greater?  And could there be a more bizarre way to select the Commander-in-Chief of an overblown military empire in decline?”

News from the Agora: Libertarian Edition

Time to round up some news from around the Internet!

First up, libertarian philosophy comes in for some slapping.  First, public philosopher Andrew Levine weighs in on Locke, libertarianism, and its connection to modern politics at Counterpunch.  Levine claims that respectable Lockean philosophy has resulted in a modern degenerative reaction to redistributive policies.  This anti-redistributive reaction has resulted in increasing inequality and injustice.

Matt Bruenig, on the other hand, not only takes down the basis for libertarianism (the theory of original acquisition), but also argues that there is no such thing as redistribution.  First, he knocks down the libertarian claim that original acquisition, or “homesteading” as they sometimes call it, is “non-aggressive”.  But this can’t be the case, as claiming an object as one’s own involves forcibly excluding others from that object.  Next, in these three parts, Bruenig makes the novel claim that there is no such thing as redistribution at all.  I understand him as saying that there is no indisputably normatively prior distribution from which benefits and burdens are redistributed.  That is, there is no distribution that is morally fundamental without some reference to some non-obvious moral or social theory.  Transfer payments (i.e. welfare) are only redistributive if you consider market distributions to be morally fundamentally justified.  A pretty interesting conclusion, and I’ll have my own thoughts about that in the future.