Elaina Plott declared last week that conservatism’s “most defining feature” is a substantive morality that liberalism, by contrast, is said to lack (“A conservative manifesto,” Sept. 16). For example, “conservatives believe that moral decisions, such as charitable giving, are best made by private citizens. Consider: if your chunk of tax dollars goes to fund governmental housing in inner-city projects, are you being morally charitable, or are you simply following the law?”
What Plott fails to understand is that liberal morality as such is not and has never been about making one feel moral. What matters is that we, as a society, guarantee the right to a certain standard of living to all of our fellow citizens. Nobody cares if you’ve managed to exercise your moral capacity by giving freely rather than simply “following the law,” just so that morality is truly “meaningful” for you. (Plott here simply ignores the possibility that you might recognize your moral duty to society and give your “chunk of tax dollars” unbegrudgingly in service of the common need.) And even if they grumble as they write their check, liberals never forget that what really matters is that the needy receive the housing, food and health care necessary to meet a minimal standard of living. This is why, as a free, democratic society we might require that everybody pay taxes according to their ability.
The goal is not fairness of giving. The goal is fairness of living. Liberals are not being irrational in their dismissal of libertarian economic principles concerned with the deadweight losses of taxation; their rejection is, in fact, a moral one.
The writer is a senior in Davenport College.