Sunday, 30 July 2017

The importance of Leisure-time

A recent psychology paper has shown that people gain more happiness if they used a windfall to purchase time-saving services (increasing their leisure time) rather than material goods, as reported in a BBC article.

This shows us that many people probably spend too long working to buy things when their leisure is more valuable. It also reminds us that the most important inventions and infrastructure are those which save us time: from permanent homes (rather than temporary camps) to electricity, from indoor plumbing to washing machines and from central heating to the automobile.

If the research finding is generalizable, it implies is that a society with substantial division of labour in which we all work for each other in ways that increase our leisure might be happier.

However, it also highlights the importance of the distribution of leisure in society. Some economically fortunate people may use their good fortune to effectively purchase more leisure time for themselves. Our regressive tax system which taxes work and consumption more than windfall income fails to mitigate this unfairness.

Political philosophers are starting to recognise the importance of the distribution of leisure, for example Julie Rose’s recent book Free Time. However, my own tax proposals also fit well with this issue.

Taking account of the number of hours people work would when calculating tax through my CLIPH-Rate Tax system would greatly improve the distribution of leisure-time in society without thereby discouraging people from working (as would other radical economic proposals).

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Should carers receive assistance and even compensation?

Should carers receive assistance and even compensation?

Most political philosophers would agree that carers should receive support and even compensation for their caring activities. However, there are many potential justifications for this. These may be competing or complementary, but they provide different answers to the above questions.

Compensation for bad luck

Perhaps the most straightforward justification for supporting carers is a luck egalitarian position. This is that it is a matter of bad luck that someone’s loved one needs care. If we accept that people should not be worse off due to brute bad luck then carers are owed compensation by their society to compensate them for their ill fortune.

This is an attractive position, but while it readily justifies support for carers for the disabled it is not as straightforward regarding children. Parents could be considered to be responsible for the creation of their children and that they do not therefore suffer from bad luck – they brought the children on themselves.

Another argument from compensating bad luck would be to focus on the bad luck of the cared-for person.[1] If someone is dependent upon a poorly supported carer then this could have a significant detriment upon their own well-being. This could justify compensation for carers where it will assist the cared-for, but it might not justify support in cases where the cared-for person will have a reasonable standard of living without government support. Essentially, this justifies support for less fortunate carers but not necessarily for better off carers.

Benefit to carer/society

An alternative basis for supporting carers is to focus on the advantage that the care provides either to the carer or society, which is attractive because it would readily include children. The advantage to the carer could be that care is an important part of the good life and caring should be encouraged, supported and socially recognised.[2] However, this view is not acceptable to anti-perfectionist political philosophers such as myself who do not believe that the state should endorse any view of the good life.[3]

The advantage to society approach is therefore more promising, particularly regarding care for children who represent a future generation of citizens and workers. The argument here is that children are a vitally important public good and those who provide this good should receive support.[4] This view runs into some problem for those who are sceptical that a) providing public goods entitles someone to support or b) that all children would qualify as a public good. Furthermore, this may not justify support for carers for those who no longer provide much obvious benefit to society (for example because they are in a permanent vegetative state).

An alternative?

These positions can justify comprehensive support for parent carers. This can be done by combining some of the positions together, or by supplementing one position with some further empirical or normative premises to justify universal provision[5]. However, I wonder if it is possible to present a more attractive position.

I am interested in the idea that carers should be compensated on the basis that they are providing a service for the needy that the state would otherwise have to provide. Essentially, this combines elements of the benefit to society and benefit to cared-for positions but which would avoid some of the gaps or controversies that accompany those positions.

Does anyone know of any arguments in the literature that run along these lines? (Or a reason why it isn't worth pursuing such a line of thought!)

Dworkin, Ronald. Sovereign Virtue. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2000.
Engster, Daniel. The Heart of Justice Care Ethics and Political Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Olsaretti, Serena. "Children as Public Goods?". Philosophy & Public Affairs 41, no. 3 (2013): 226-58.
Quong, Jonathan. Liberalism without Perfection Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Rawls, John. Political Liberalism New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

[1] For example in Ronald Dworkin, Sovereign Virtue (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2000).
[2] For example in Daniel Engster, The Heart of Justice Care Ethics and Political Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
[3] John Rawls, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996); Jonathan Quong, Liberalism without Perfection (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
[4] Serena Olsaretti, "Children as Public Goods?," Philosophy & Public Affairs 41, no. 3 (2013).
[5] Such as that administrative savings from universal provision would make it cheaper than means-testing or that it is wrong to discriminate between carers based on their wealth or income when they are performing the same task.