Every society sorts human behavior into right and wrong. The problem with this model is that people don't always agree on what is wrong. To solve the occasional ambiguity over right and wrong, suppose society organized around the idea that all laws and ethical standards should be designed to maximize cumulative human freedom. Would the world end up in a better place by focusing on freedom instead of what is "right"?

Our definition of freedom would have to account for the fact that a healthy person with money has more freedom than someone who is sick and poor. A legitimate pursuit of freedom would include attention to the economy, education, healthcare, and the things we value most.  And we'd still maintain most laws so citizens could enjoy the freedom of living without fear. Given all the things that would be the same, where would a focus on freedom make a difference?

Consider the case of David Petraeus and his admitted affair with his biographer. Under the standard model of right-and-wrong, his actions were clearly wrong and he had no choice but to resign his job as head of the CIA. But what if we apply the freedom metric instead? As a citizen, I don't want to lose the option of having Petraeus as the head of the CIA. Freedom-wise, the citizens of the United States came out behind when Petraeus resigned. We lost an option.

In the Petraeus situation, there are some practical issues to consider. You don't want the head of the CIA to be susceptible to blackmail. But keep in mind that a leader is only susceptible to that sort of blackmail when society limits his freedom to have sex with willing partners. A focus on freedom would get you closer to a French situation in which a leader's alleged affair would be met with shrugs.

The freedom metric would create a libertarian-looking world where no one cares about victimless crimes. That part is obvious. What is less obvious is how we'd treat tax policy under a freedom-focused world. Wouldn't a freedom-focused world always soak the rich on taxes?

An extra dollar to a billionaire will have no impact on his freedom. But an extra dollar to a poor person gives him the option of eating. If freedom is the goal, you want to transfer wealth away from the rich until you reach the point where transferring one more dollar would decrease the world's total supply of freedom. It could look a lot like communism if you do it wrong, and we know that wouldn't work out.

The hard part of maximizing freedom is preserving capitalist incentives. If people get all the freedom they need without working, why would they ever work? The system would fall apart. To increase the world's freedom, we need a system in which the rich transfer wealth to the poor without ruining the motivation of the people on the receiving end. Luckily for you, I have just the idea for that.

Suppose the rich are taxed not on income but on the risk class of their assets? In other words, a billionaire would be taxed extra for keeping money sitting around in treasury bills, or third homes, or cash-like investments. Only the assets that are actively devoted to business enterprises would be tax-free.

With that sort of system, billionaires would invest their boring assets in riskier ways that would stimulate the economy and create jobs. If the risky investments don't work out, the billionaire's lifestyle barely changes, but in the meantime it creates a lot of jobs. The net outcome of such a system is more freedom while preserving capitalist incentives. The billionaire gives up the freedom to keep boring assets sidelined and untaxed, but there's no real impact on the billionaire's day-to-day freedom. The world comes out ahead, freedom-wise.

Abortion would be a tricky issue if you remove right and wrong from the equation and focus on freedom instead. Society would need to compare the freedom that a woman would sacrifice by having an unwanted child, and the impact that would have on others as well, versus the potential freedom of the fetus.  That sidesteps the question of when life begins. The starting point of life only matters if you are talking about the rights of the living. If you're talking about potential for freedom, a fetus of any age has it. Personally, I'm pro-choice, for purely practical reasons. If freedom were my top priority, would my opinion on abortion rights change?

A focus on freedom will skewer the sacred cows on both sides of the aisle. Conservatives might have to live with higher taxes on the rich, and liberals might lose their strongest argument for abortion rights.

How committed are we to this freedom thing?

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-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 17, 2012
"If freedom were my top priority, would my opinion on abortion rights change?"

I know mine wouldn't a person who is living always triumphs a groups of parasitic cells.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 15, 2012
"maximize cumulative human freedom": Too loose. You want to reach a compromise between equal freedom for everybody and maximize /that/ freedom.

"a billionaire would be taxed extra for keeping money sitting around in treasury bills": Billionaires very rarely have T-Bills. They have lots of investmens that paid off. The only big T-Bill holdes are foreign national banks. Good luck with taxing the chinese government.

Nov 15, 2012
I like some of your ideas, but bringing potential freedom into play is tricky; would you force people to have children to maximize the potential freedom of their egg/sperm cells? I don't think your "maximal freedom" strategy does as good a job of eliminating the question of when life begins as you seem to.

I do think that's a neat tax idea though.
Nov 14, 2012

Self-revelation (or if you want "reduction in personal privacy") only increases freedom if the info you revealed is forced upon others: an edict.

Simply telling the world your favorite color reduces your total power. If revealing your favorite color means they have to paint statues of you in that color, then you could say info flowing from you increases your power.

Generally, info proceeding from a person reduces their options. Which is why peasants in this country are spied on and data collected by big brother, and big brother hides his own info, pretending like we (and Issa) are invasive trolls when asking about "Fast and Furious".

You start with premise that privacy will be reduced in uniform manner across ppl and organizations, and it isnt, nor will it be.

Ending privacy is a massive power grab by whoever happens to be in power. Its only acceptable if you disregard reality and impose your own morality onto its projected application. You aren't in charge. Engineers arent in charge. Not even point-haired bosses are in charge. Those in charge think differently than all these.

This undermines the whole reason for the 2nd amendment. The right of the people to overthrow their govt. Ppl cant do that without guns or privacy. This kind of thing destroys the failsafe.

Apparently the true failsafe is "fiscal solvency".
Nov 14, 2012
[ It was just yesterday, you were arguing that we should surrender all privacy in the interest of larger efficiency. Now you say, we should reorganize to maximize freedom. Which one is it, Scott - because Freedom and efficiency don't go together. ]

Surrendering privacy isn't antithetical to more freedom. In fact I would say it adds to it. Privacy is just a fancy way of saying "we have a lack of information about you". But as I said before, that knife cuts both ways. Having sufficient information is the most powerful tool in the world for guaranteeing your freedom; the people who would take it away are afraid of it.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2012
More to the point: I question the whole concept of maximizing freedom. Most people don't need a maximum of freedom, they function very bad when they can do whatever they want. It is very comfortable to not be free all the time and to not have to make decisions.

Do you think you live in a free country? I don't. When you are responsible for your children because you're a parent, that limits your freedom extremely. Having to work for money limits your freedom extremely. Having to live amongst other people in a society limits the freedom to act however you want extremely. Why do you need 15-20 years to learn how to behave in the society? To prevent you from doing things that are not appropriate.

The difference in freedom between a citizen in the U.S. or in Europe and a citizen in a dictatorship is not as big as you think, if you take all thes things into account. (I'll make an exception for women living under traditional Muslim government, they are much more restricted.) This difference is basically limited to the freedom of speech and the right to vote.
Nov 14, 2012
On the rights of a fetus... It is free to do whatever it likes, but not demand that someone sustain it. If it can survive on its own, it has the rights and freedoms of all Americans.
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2012
Ignoring the usual impracticality of your ideas (when is an investment risky, is a risky investment really better for the economy, how exactly is freedom defined and who defines it, etc..) where is your disclaimer when you need it?! You're arguing along the way that having an affair is o.k. for a man. I mean, you don't say it literally, but we all know that people will read it that way.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2012
@Phantom II

"When you have a position of extreme authority, one of the things you need to constantly demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt is good judgment. The fact that General Petraeus put his libido and ego ahead of his country's best interests removed any doubt that the General had ceased to honor his oath and had demonstrated extremely poor judgment."

I could not disagree more. I take this issue very personally because I have a son who will graduate in a couple of years as an Army officer and deploy shortly thereafter into some conflict area or another.

Hyperbolic political ravings aside, we don't feel particularly threatened at home. While that is a very good thing in general - for our military the unfortunate result is that we tend to tolerate a good deal of incompetence in our leaders.

Now here we are throwing away an excellent leader who has demonstrated rare, significant and much-needed competence because of a personal scandal that never posed a threat to national security and in fact was uncovered by highly intrusive digging into personal e-mail accounts. I find the whole situation, to say the least, deeply disturbing.

This is why I think we need someway to force more Americans to pay attention to the military - through a military tax or some other scheme. I readily admit that I probably would not pay much attention if I did not have a son who could potentially suffer the consequences of this sort of lunacy.

In the event of a real threat - we will all pay a price.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2012
WOW. I can't believe there is even debate on abortion these days. Surely it's self evident that a woman has an absolute right to abort an unwanted pregnancy provided it's done at an early enough stage in the pregnancy?

What kind of nit wit would try to force someone to continue through a pregnancy for a baby they don't want?
Nov 14, 2012
Yeah, this idea of politicians "on both sides of the aisle" over issues as diverse as taxation and abortion is a very American problem, caused by the polarized thinking brought about by a two-party system. Why can't someone be pro-life and also favor a more socialized approach to taxes?
Nov 13, 2012
And now General John Allen is being investigated. How do we know Iran isn't parachuting in hotties wearing hi-tech pheromones? The entire top structure of the Armed Forces could be gone in a week, leaving a huge power vacuum.

Nov 13, 2012
One quick thing concerning General Petraeus: this is an area where Scott has a paucity of expertise in the area he's attempting to address. In effect, Scott is saying that the General's only problem is a puritanical reaction to his affair by the rest of us, and thus if we'd just be a little more tolerant of a guy betraying his wife, family and country, this would be a non-issue.

While I disagree with Scott on that level, that isn't the reason that the General had to resign, nor is it the reason his resignation had to be accepted. Here's the reason why:

When you have a position of extreme authority, one of the things you need to constantly demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt is good judgment. The fact that General Petraeus put his libido and ego ahead of his country's best interests removed any doubt that the General had ceased to honor his oath and had demonstrated extremely poor judgment.

We have every right to hold our leaders and those in positions of extreme importance to our country to understand that taking on the responsibility means acting appropriately, no matter how hot your biographer is.

And Scott, we're not France. If you doubt this, please do some historical research. Compare the American Revolution with the French Revolution. Our country expects more, and this hopefully serves as a reminder to others in whom we put our trust.
Nov 13, 2012

Been tried. Its called 'printing money', aka, 'causing high inflation'. Doesn't work too well.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 13, 2012
I like the motivational taxing on the super rich - what about reverse-interest currency? An even easier to universally enforce way of making sure they can't just sit on it and chuckle at us as it gets bigger.
Nov 13, 2012
This is a comment on the specific proposal Scott made regarding a freedom-promoting tax policy. Inflation does that already.

But what would be an improvement is an elimination of corporate income tax, coupled with an increase in personal income tax (including ending the preferential treatment of dividend income). There would also have to be a crackdown on fraudulent corporate spending (personal income disguised as corporate expense).

The invisible hand provides enough incentive for capitalists to employ their wealth productively in a way that promotes freedom. You don't need tax policy for that. But you do need a willingness to punish people for using wealth to oppress or supress.
Nov 13, 2012
What do CIA director Patraeus, Lockheed CEO-elect Kubasik, Best Buy CEO Dunn, HP CEO Hurd and Tribune Co. CEO Michaels have in common? They all lack the freedom to have an extramarital affair.

Meanwhile, the stud in the mailroom can bang any broad in the tri-state area and his reputation just gets better. Now that's freedom.

Nov 13, 2012
@Will Von Wizzlepig

Are you suggesting we should treat a 5 month pregnancy AS IF it was a 4 month premature birth?

Those things are different.

I think its silly to suggest a woman cant be bothered to carry a baby to full term (less than 9 months of difficulty), but a man, once he has sex, is on the hook for 18 years of child support.

The reproductive debate is riddled with these kinds of bizarre indefensible blind spots.
Nov 13, 2012
the black and hispanic post was a parody of the lefts race-baiting. I was entirely joking.

I find the justification for abortion to be weak at best. Its morally reprehensible. In my book, anyone who argues against it's immorality has no soul. But like Scott im not excited to get rid of it due to practical concerns. Ppl who voluntarily participate in killing their unborn would make terrible parents. im not excited about them raising these little bastages.

imagine if every feminist wh ore had 5 kids, venting her "righteous indignation" upon them on a daily basis. They will grow up believing that Obama is a moderate and anyone who isnt a liberal is a "Harry Potter" dementor. I dont want that America. Personally I dont think the social fabric could take that kind of abuse. Obama gets 480 electoral votes in that America.

Women who revel in the culture of "Sex and the City" should get spayed at the age of 15, or as soon as their culture manifests. Not as a matter of govt policy of course, but for their own personal happiness; and ours. Self-centered adult females who's !$%*!$%*!$ are based on their sex appeal and professional income are prime targets for abortion.
Nov 13, 2012
Scott, you haven't though this all the way through with respect to abortion. This is what you need to factor in: take the existing premature birth survival possibility statistics, and apply them to potential freedom. If there is zero percent chance of survival (say, for five months early and beyond), then your potential freedom should equal zero.

If a woman opts to have an abortion when the numbers are zero, the court has no business in the matter.
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