On Wednesday a student in my ethics class asked me whether or not sterilizing the poor would end poverty. Interestingly, I was not asked whether this would be morally acceptable. I gave a fairly concise answer in class, but thought I would expand on it a bit here.
On the face of it, it does make some sense that preventing the poor from reproducing would reduce poverty. After all, poverty is often an inherited condition and having no (or far fewer) children born to poor people would reduce the number of people inheriting poverty. It could also provide people with yet another incentive to avoid being poor (although it might be wondered whether people need more incentives beyond the existing ones). Also, children are expensive and if the sterilization rules took this into account, people who would become poor because of the cost of raising kids would be prevented from doing so, thus they would not become poor. None of this, obviously, directly addresses the ethics of the matter.
In the course of the discussion, the subject of whether or not poverty has a genetic link was brought up. On the one hand, it was argued that the traits that could incline people to poverty could be linked to various genes and sterilizing the poor would presumably reduced the number of people carrying these genes. To use an analogy, not allowing blonde haired people to reproduce would certainly reduce the number of blonde haired people in the world. On the other hand, it was also argued that there seems to be little basis for assuming a genetic cause to poverty. If so, sterilization of the poor would not have the effect of a genetic culling of the population that would reduce poverty.
One point that is well worth considering is that poverty is not created by the specific people that happen to be poor (except insofar as they serve in the role of being the poor). Rather, poverty is created by factors (mainly people) in the social system and these factors would be in effect regardless of whether the current poor were sterilized or not. On this view, sterilizing the current poor would merely have the effect of changing, to a degree, the makeup of the next generation of the poor. To use an analogy, sterilizing politicians would not eliminate this social role. Rather, it would just mean that the people who became politicians would be the children of non-politicians. Given the way the current system works, the children the poor would have had would be replaced in the ranks of the poor by other people-either those citizens who would become poor by the way the economic system works or those who enter the country to do the poverty level work that helps sustain this system.
My considered view is that sterilizing the poor would not eliminate poverty because it fails to address the main causes of poverty, namely the aspects of the economic system that creates and relies on poverty. I do, of course, admit that sterilizing the poor would reduce the number of poor people but this reduction would be at the cost of what certainly appears to be a morally wrong method. It would seem morally preferable to address the other causes of poverty rather than engaging in this sort of economic eugenics (“ecogenics”, perhaps?).
I recently heard a news blurb in which is was reported that university admissions officers admitted that they were looking for students who could pay full tuition. This is hardly a shock. After all, education budgets are being cut as is financial aid and some way has to be found to support the ever increasing number of well paid university administrators. Naturally, the other expenses (such as faculty salaries) have to be paid as well.
While this is a sensible approach to a financial problem, it does raise some serious concerns. First, admission is supposed to be based primarily on merit rather than the ability to hand over cash. Second, preference given to people who can pay full price will mean that better qualified but less affluent students can be excluded in their favor. This has the potential to damage one of the primary means of upward mobility in America: the ability of people from the lower classes to rise up via education. In addition to being bad for the students in question, it would also seem to be bad for the country in general. After all, much of our social stability and success as a country has come from the fact that upward mobility based on merit is possible. Diminishing this could have rather unfortunate consequences as is shown quite clearly by the history of countries who either lacked such mobility or saw it reduced.
Naturally, it could be argued that true merit rests in the market forces. Universities that pick students based on ability rather than their available wealth are not following the proper business model. After all, products are not given out or discounted based on merit or need in the world of business. Rather, it is a matter of who can pay. Switching universities to a profit based model in which students are assessed based on their ability to pay and are treated primarily as paying customers rather than in the traditional ways surely is the best way for education to go. What has ever gone wrong with excluding talented lower class people from the system? What could possibly go wrong with an education system that is focused on profits? After all, it is worked so great in business that it surely cannot fail in the context of education. Also, once universities operate just like other corporations, they can expect support from the Republicans.
When I first started teaching, the expectation was that my salary would gradually increase at a rate that at least matched the cost of living increase. After all, if everything costs more, then my services would seem to fall under that. Also, if my salary were not increased to match this, then my salary would be less, although the number would remain the same.
I did get a few increases here and there, mainly from promotions. However, cost of living increases have been non-existent. There have been some bonuses, but these are taxed at 35%, so they amount to very little and have been one shot deals. Not surprisingly, my insurance costs have increased, thus lowering my take home pay. Recently, the “Tea Party” “war” on state employees and education resulted in a 3% cut in my take home pay and a loss of my summer class. As such, I actually will make significantly less this year than last year. In fact, I can expect that my effective salary will be reduced with every passing year.
At the same time, enrollment has increased at my university. Since new hiring is out of the question, the remaining faculty are expected to handle this. For example, my Introduction to Philosophy class used to cap at 35. Last year it capped at 60 and this year I have over 70 students at last count. My other classes have 36, 36 and 46 students. I have no minions-so all teaching and grading falls on me. Despite having so many students, my classes only count as 80% of my workload-so I also have additional duties including being the unit facilitator, chairing a search committee, advising, publishing, serving on a major university committee, and so on. Naturally, last Spring I was forced to defend the productivity of myself and my unit (whose classes are always overloaded) to avoid being cut in order to save money. We are, as you might guess, supposed to be grateful to be employed. After all, faculty and staff have been fired and it seems likely that more people will be on the chopping block in the next rounds of cuts. Education is a favorite target.
However, it is not the pay that keeps me working in education. As foolish as it might sound, I am a believer in the value of education and believe that members of a good society should make sacrifices for the general good. I could, obviously, make far more money in private industry. However, I get a more important return on my efforts than mere money, namely being able to help people improve. Obviously, I should have my values and my head examined.
As you might imagine, when I hear people argue that we need to cut the budget so we can lower the taxes on the job creators, because people will not be motivated if they are over taxed, I think about people in situations similar to mine. After all, if the job creators will be broken in spirit by a minor tax increase, one can only imagine what the salary situation is doing to educators. Of course, we are presumed to be valueless parasites on the system who only serve to educate the very people who will be creating and occupying jobs. Obviously, the research that we do is also without significant value, and the prestige of the American university system that draws students from around the world has no value whatsoever. Needless to say, bright and talented people should be encouraged to not go into teaching-rather they should focus on what clearly truly matters-racking up more money than one could possibly spend in a meaningful way. What could possibly go wrong with 1) creating intense dissatisfaction among current educators and 2) discouraging people from becoming educators in the future? After all, what matters is ensuring that the job creators hold on to every possible cent.
Somehow I ended up on the Amato for Liberty list (I infer that one of my friends did this as a joke). The most recent email featured an article about Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio (a fellow famous for making inmates wear pink underwear). While I thought the birth certificate matter was over, apparently it is not. Unless, of course, I am getting hoax emails purporting to be from Amato. Here is the text:
“I got over three hundred complaints about Obama’s birth certificate from the people of Maricopa County. When I get allegations brought to me by the citizens I don’t just dump it into the wastebasket. I look into the allegations just like I am doing here,” he told me.
“So that’s why I’ve assigned five members of what I call my cold-case posse to look into it. I don’t know what they’re going to find. But what’s the big deal here? I don’t get it? It isn’t costing the tax payers anything. It’s all volunteer work and what does it hurt to look into it?”
Naturally, people have a right to do this sort of thing on their own time, just as they have the right to look into UFOs, Big Foot and the secret Bush plot behind 9/11. However, it is a bit worrisome that people are apparently filing complaints about Obama to an Arizona sheriff. I do suspect that most of these folks are aware that Obama is legitimate, but that they are doing this as a sort of expression of extremely dislike. What is more worrisome is that the sheriff is apparently taking the matter seriously, despite the fact that Obama’s legitimacy has been established beyond all reasonable doubt. I wonder if he would assign investigators if enough people made allegations of witchcraft or demonic possession.
Fortunately, he is not wasting much in the way of state resources to conduct this investigation. However, it would seem more sensible for him to simply inform such complainers that the matter is settled and that there is, in fact, nothing to investigate.
In terms of what it hurts, it serves to lend unnecessary credence to a claim that has been shown to be false beyond all reasonable doubt. Encouraging this sort of thing encourages irrational belief formation and undermines critical thinking. People should not, from both a moral and critical thinking standpoint, be encouraged to believe things that are obviously not true and certainly should be known by those doing the encouragement to be false.
Also, from a practical standpoint, it risks making Arizona look bad-something the state certainly does not need.
While Florida is the sunshine state, it rains here fairly often. It seems to rain most often when I have outside chores I need to do. For example, I needed to do a bit more painting because of my new siding and awoke to the sound of rain. Fortunately, some of what I had to paint is completely protected by the overhang in the back. So, I got on my painting clothes and got it done. I had some non-painting tasks to do (repairing a gutter drain, replacing some mulch, weeding and so on), so I went and did those as well.
I do this sort of thing fairly often, as long as the temperature is such that I won’t get hypothermia and as long as the lightning is not dropping in for a visit. Naturally, I do get some odd looks and some commentary from folks driving by. After all, sensible people stay inside when it rains.
Some folks will ask me how I can be comfortable in wet clothes. This is a fair question and I, like most people, do not enjoy sitting around in wet clothes. However, years of running have conditioned me to simply ignore wet clothing as long as I am active-it does not bother me at all. In fact, being soaking wet is actually nice in the Florida heat-I’m cooler and I’m not losing as much water due to perspiration. I even find the rain pleasant, especially the sound. There is even a certain beauty to a rainy day-one that seems lost on many people. I do, of course, have to carefully clean, dry and oil any metal tools I use in the rain. But, this is only a minor inconvenience.
One person did ask me, some time ago, if I did it as sort of a “man over nature” thing. I suppose that might be a factor. After all, I do like to overcome difficulties-even something as minor as dealing with rain. Then again, I also like it because being in the rain makes me feel more a part of the natural world. In fact, I don’t quite get why some people are so rain averse. We are, after all, a fairly waterproof species (other than any wicked witches among us, of course).
Although I pay for faculty parking, I almost always end up parking at the football stadium in the general parking. This is mainly because I would rather walk to my office than drive around and around trying to find an open spot. I could pay a lot more for gated parking, but I’d rather just walk. If I was an administrator, I could get my own assigned parking spot, right near my office. However, I am a mere faculty member and hence unworthy of such perks.
When I first started parking in the stadium, I went to do a right turn into a space and almost got rammed as a student tried to shoot past me by driving through the parking spaces to my right (which are right against the sidewalk). Fortunately, I saw the oncoming car and was able to stop in time. The next time I went to park, I slowed down and put on my turn signal, hoping that would indicate I was, in fact, trying to park. I almost got hit again as another driver tried to go past me-once again on my right side and once again by driving through the parking spaces. In both cases, there was plenty of room on my left and no oncoming cars. As such, I was not sure why the drivers decided to do what they did-unless they wanted me to hit them or they wanted to hit me. Or maybe they had…parking madness.
In the face of this madness, I adopted a strategy of just coming to a stop after turning on my signal when there is a vehicle shooting up behind me (people always seem to be in a huge hurry in the lot and pissed that anyone ahead of them might be slowing down to park). Half the time, they whip around to my left. Half the time they whip around to my right and go through the parking spaces. I do wonder if they would just ram a car if anything was parked there. So far I have managed to avoid getting slammed into, but I suspect it is just a matter of time before someone rear ends my truck while under the influence of parking madness.
Everyone agrees that the deficit is a serious problem. The basic solution is obvious enough: as a country, we need to spend less than we take in. This can be done by decreasing spending, increasing revenue or both. Naturally enough, the Republicans are largely devoted to decreasing spending and the Democrats are willing to increase revenue.
One current proposal is for the wealthiest of Americans to pay marginally more in taxes. Naturally, the Republicans and the fine folks at Fox are extremely critical of this proposal. The main Republican solution has been to leave taxes as they are (or reduce them) and address the deficit by cutting what can general be classified as social spending: education, Medicare, infrastructure, and various social programs. Attempts to address the deficit by increasing revenue by having the wealthy pay more are greeted with the nifty rhetorical phrase “class warfare.”
On the face of it, such a charge is absurd and pure hyperbole. While the proposal is for the wealthiest class to pay marginally more in taxes, this hardly seems to count as class warfare. After all, warfare would seem to indicate a serious and significant attack, presumably with an element of violence. If the Navy started sinking the super yachts of the mega wealthy and the Army started seizing mansions, then Fox would be warranted in using that term. Until then, they are just engaged in their usual empty hyperbole.
The Republicans seem to be the ones that are engaging in what could be considered class warfare. After all, their main plan seems to be to cut deeply into social services and this will do real harm to people who depend on such services, such as students, the elderly, the disabled and other folks. In contrast, the wealthy would merely be paying marginally more in taxes, thus still leaving them quite wealthy.
One defense of the wealthy being offered by the Republicans is the “job creator defense.” The idea is that the wealthy cannot be expected to pay more because this would prevent them from creating jobs. This argument, as has been argued before, has almost no merit. Lower taxes Taxes are lower now than in the Clinton era, yet unemployment is considerably higher. If lower taxes created jobs, then unemployment should be lower now.
One defense that has some merit is that it would seem unfair to tax the wealthy more so as to be able to keep various social services that provide “free stuff” to people who have not earned it.
My first reply is that the taxes on the wealthy do not simply go to provide “free stuff.” After all, the wealthy generally benefit a great deal from the state. The state provides protection for their property, wages war on their behalf, intervenes in foreign countries to their benefit, provides the infrastructure they utilize in their business, and so on. The wealthy get a great deal from the state and, as such, it is something of a smoke screen to raise the specter of the freeloaders.
My second reply is that the folks who get “free stuff” have, in some cases, actually paid for that “free” stuff by their own taxes and efforts. For example, do we want to call people who are retired or veterans who were disabled fighting in our wars free loaders who are sponging off the rich? I would not be inclined to do so.
My third reply is that some of the folks who get “free stuff” will later repay it. The obvious example here are the students of today who will become the workers (and sometimes the wealthy) of tomorrow. This can be seen as investing in the future rather than supporting free loaders.
My fourth reply is that some of the folks who get “free stuff” are people who cannot fend for themselves. The most obvious example is children. Should we abandon them so that millionaires and billionaires can avoid paying just a bit more? That would seem to be an act of callous wickedness, especially from a party that screeches about the sanctity of life (except in war and capital punishment, of course).
My fifth reply is that some of the folks who get “free stuff” need that stuff because of the grotesque inequality in wealth in this country. While I will admit that there are some people who are parasites, there are plenty of people who are working poor. They often work very hard, sometimes holding multiple jobs. However, the economic system is such that they simply cannot earn enough to live without the support of the state. If the tiny fraction of people who hold the vast majority of the wealth are asked to let a few crumbs fall from their banquet, that hardly seems like too much to ask.
My sixth reply is that providing such “free stuff” is actually a good idea for the wealthy. After all, when a society becomes extremely unbalanced, social upheaval tends to follow. Even a cursory review of history will show the consequences of having highly concentrated wealth and a large lower class. The “free stuff” provided to people can often be what keeps them from taking to the streets in revolution and engaging in real class warfare (not the bulls@t that Fox talks about) in which the wealthy are put against the wall. Paying a little extra to maintain the social order that supports, protects and enables their incredible wealth seems like a rather miniscule price to pay. Even some of the wealthy realize this and support this sort of proposal. Those who serve the wealthy as their loyal minions should also realize this and act in the best interest of their masters by supporting this proposal. Yes, I am talking to you, Republican “Tea Party” politicians and Fox “News”.
The rather odd policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has finally come to an end. Since I have been consistently opposed to this policy, I am glad that homosexuals have been given the chance to openly serve their country.
One interesting impact of this change is that there will be empirical confirmation or dis-comfirmation of all the dire consequences and harms predicted by the opponents of this change. If their predictions turn out to be in error, I wonder if they will acknowledge this mistake or if they will simply remain silent and move on to another issue (such as getting the policy put back in place). In my own case, I state now that if the evidence shows I am in error, then I will admit that was mistaken about this matter. Naturally, if people intentionally try to “cause trouble” in response to this change, this does not repudiate my view. After all, the source of the trouble would not be the change in the policy but people intentionally electing to cause said problems.
Another interesting point is that if it turns out that the policy change does not have a negative impact on the American military, will opponents of same-sex marriage take this as evidence against their claims about the threat of homosexuality? After all, if having gays serve openly does not damage the military, then it would seem to indicate that allowing same sex marriage would not damage marriage (which is, I think, already terribly beaten down). Naturally, there are differences between the two situations and these dissimilarities could be enough to break an analogy drawn between them. However, if the end of Don’t Ask turns out to be a military destroying disaster, then it would seem that such a disaster would serve as evidence for the claim that same-sex marriage should not be allowed.