“Philosophy is Dead” (Progressive Politics Edition)
September 17, 2010

Lost in the continuing scuffle between Dylan Matthews and various other parties over Mark Greif’s “gut-level legislation“ is that you can believe that unalloyed political theory holds some value and also that Greif’s proposal fails on that level as well. Here’s the passage that justifiably rankled Dylan:

§ Legislative Initiative No.1: Add a tax bracket of 100 percent to cut off individual income at a fixed ceiling, allowing any individual to bring home a maximum of $100,000 a year from all sources and no more.

Dylan responds here that this would “effectively set that as a maximum wage,” which I think—as Matt Yglesias argues—was sort of the point and that Greif was finding an indirect way to suggest that not having a maximum wage—thereby allowing people to compete for sums far beyond what they could ever possibly require for their own comfort, creating a yet greater chasm between the richest and poorest members of our society—is morally depraved.

But if that was his aim, then why argue for an effective maximum wage? Why not just say we should have a legal maximum wage? Unless Greif wants to argue that this proposal fulfills some moral need which a straightforward maximum wage would not. That’s a pretty strong claim, and I wish him the best of luck with it.

The problem with Greif’s proposal is not that it takes a philosophical, rather than empirical, approach to politics—it pretty much fails on both levels. With that in mind, it’s a shame that Dylan had to make his rebuttal all about his remarkably restrictive view of which disciplines have something valuable to contribute to contemporary political discourse and which do not.

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