July 20, 2012

#GnuAtheist fail — civics

Ron Lindsay
In a previous blog post, I chided Center for Inquiry CEO Ron Lindsay for insinuating that many non-rich people's reaction toward wealth, and wealth based on growing income disparity in America, was "irrational."

Along with that, I critiqued him for seeming to hold the idea that we could narrowly address the issue of campaign finance money and the rich, and not address income inequality and larger social issues. So far, after my last comment on his blog post, he has yet to address it, and he's indicated he doesn't plan to speak further in general on the issue.

Well, Lindsay as a lawyer knows that when you present a case for something you marshal evidence for it. He knows as a philosopher thta when you make quasi-propositional extended statements, that could be construed as an argument in the philosophical sense, you offer warrants for it/them.

So, what is "irrational" about many Americans' attitude toward not just the wealthy in general, but more specifically, growing income inequality? (Lindsay, by the way, also never tackles the issue of income inequality.) Anyway, can you present specific examples of such "irrational" beliefs? I can surely present rational counterexamples. And, we can offer them to the "jury" of the broad skeptical community.

Also, how can you appear to believe that money's influence on political campaigns can be disaggregated from larger social issues? And now we're going to get to the "civics" behind this post's title.

If one looks at the Gini coefficient, a common measure for income inequality (the U.S. is as bad as Mexico, by the way), and compares it to a list of countries based on how free they are (the Wikipedia one, based on Freedom House, is good but not great), the two track fairly closely. Now, there's no way to prove causal correlation, there's enough tracking closeness, with enough "subjects," of individual countries, involved to make a reasonable, a rational, Mr. Lindsay, assumption that there is causal correlation.

And, it's probably both ways. Less free governments tend to enrich their own members and close cronies (the old USSR a prime example). Richer countries tend to have the wealthy work to bend economic, tax and other policies to their ends. The power they gain can intimidate the press into not risking losing ads, or now, trying to control Net content, or work with the government to send it private information, and much more.

For Lindsay not to take into account any of that is an eyebrow raiser. Because, if wealth isn't an issue for humanism, if even the unmentioned issue of income inequality isn't an issue for his brand of humanism, isn't broader issues of freedom and equality before the de jure law as well as the de facto one?

And, in a note to libertarians in general, whether Gnu Atheists or not, that's another reason for progressive taxation and worrying about the influence of concentrated wealth.

Update, July 20:  This blog post of mine, about Bastille Day, reminds me of something else related to Lindsay's stance. I say there that the U.S. has often tended to emphasize liberty to the point of downplaying equality and fraternity. And, greater income inequality certainly undercuts ideas of fraternity, and makes claims of equality before the law ring hollow. I think also of FDR's Four Freedoms.

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