If we don’t raise taxes that’s a “tax cut”
May 3, 2014 § 54 Comments
Folks are always trying to pretend that “opportunity costs” are real. Opportunity costs aren’t real. Opportunity costs are by definition an imaginary exercise in what might (or might not) have happened if we had chosen a different course of action from the one we actually did choose.
At the fork in the road before we make an actual choice, our imagination can be helpful. We can tell stories about what might happen in the future under various scenarios, and try to make better choices after reflecting on those imaginary stories about possible futures.
But the temptation to treat these imaginary stories – and associated “opportunity costs” – as if they are actually real is very strong, and as a subtle kind of lie this temptation frequently leads unwary moderns like us astray.
Once you’ve seen this kind of rationalization in one place you’ll start to notice it everywhere.
Murdering civilians in wartime, it is thought, must not be judged apart from “opportunity cost”: the quantitative consequences of incinerating two cities filled with civilians using atomic bombs has to be compared to the “opportunity cost” of an imaginary land invasion and all of the imaginary consequences that flow, in the fictional story, from the fictional invasion. Divorcing her husband was necessary because of the imaginary life of misery for herself (and her husband and children, because if Momma ain’t happy nobody’s happy) in the fictional story of the imaginary future in which she had actually kept her vows. Charging profitable interest on a full-recourse loan (usury) was justified because in an imaginary alternate reality the lender could have invested in something profitable. In the Jerry Bruckheimer film I imagine in my mind, failing to torture terrorist captives led to mass murder and destruction in Los Angeles. Joining Team Litterbug was justified because heck, in the story I told in my head I actually won the lottery and lived happily ever after.
Our imaginations are powerful things, and when they are made unequivocally subservient to the moral law they can be a very good thing. But we must never be fooled into thinking that something imaginary out of a fictional story we tell about something that didn’t happen – something like “opportunity cost” – can justify choosing concretely evil actions.
So don’t play the part of the modernist chump who can’t distinguish between fiction and reality. Always do what is upright and morally good, and let imagined realities that might come to pass if we choose evil stay in the realm of fiction, where they belong. The future isn’t in our hands anyway; it is in the hands of Providence.