Non-moral arguments for humane goals

History professor Eric Rauchway pointed out how progressives advocate humane policies based on strictly economic criteria.

Back in the early 1900s, Charles Beard noted that merely to tell Americans that their factories were injuring workers more wantonly than those of any other country would fail to move a nation so fixated on profit.

You had, he said and I’m paraphrasing, because I’m not able to look it up at the moment, to tell the American people that it was inefficient to keep killing workers – that it was a waste of human capital, an unproductive use of resources.

This rhetorical tactic aims at moral ends by appealing to a venal calculus.  Like the commuter who rescued his fellow-citizen from a train track because he didn’t want to be late to work, maybe we will rescue our public goods from disruption – not because it’s the right thing to do, but because we won’t profit if we don’t.

via Crooked Timber.

I hear this kind of rhetoric  liberals today.  They concede the moral high ground to their opponents and then argue that their policies would be a better way of achieving non-liberal goals – for example, that health care reform would be a good way to help balance the federal budget.

One problem is that this type of argument is not always valid.   The larger problem is that when it is, it is not convincing to people committed to the view that the harshest policies are always the most realistic

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2 Responses to “Non-moral arguments for humane goals”

  1. Atticus C. Says:

    I think that sometimes people have to be reminded that we are humans. That we have to do the right thing because we are living beings, not products. I work in the consulting industry and I see people lose track of these realities a lot.

    Sometime we get so caught up in our schedule, our performance metrics, the bottom line, and compounding growth year-over-year that we somehow become ignorant to the fact we are dealing with our own and other people’s lives.

    You just have to re-humanize the person from time to time.


  2. thetinfoilhatsociety Says:

    This is an argument that may well come back to bite environmentalists in the butt as well i.e., the idea of presenting
    “protecting our ecosystem” makes financial sense — that it can all be financialized down to the last stone and clump of dirt. We’ve already seen what happens when you financialize spirituality — you get megachurches that are engaged in NOTHING Christ would have recognized as his teachings. I’ve read dystopic novels in which the premise is that all of nature is financialized including each human. They’re not pretty stories with happy endings.


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