23 March 2012
This puzzle, which bedeviled Aristotle, Augustine, Machiavelli, Hegel, and Rawls, has a beguilingly simple answer--at least if contemporary American political advertisements are to be believed. It turns out that all policies, initiatives, actions, and elections can be judged according to one criterion:
A good policy is one that creates jobs. A bad policy is one that destroys jobs.
So simple! Were you worried about a policy's coarsening effect on the moral sensibilities of the country? Immaterial, as long as it creates jobs. The moral justification for launching a war of choice? Irrelevant, since the war creates jobs! The demise of public-spiritedness as our economy becomes a series of tournament-style rewards? It's only bad if it destroys jobs!
So, World War II: Very good. It created a lot of jobs. The American Revolution was probably bad, since it destroyed many jobs. The Civil War was good on a technicality: It created jobs, although in doing so it ruined many Southerners' asset portfolios, which otherwise would have been a bad thing. The Civil Rights movement? Neither good nor bad, since it had a net zero impact on jobs.
Some people have suggested that we might divide jobs into "good" or "bad" jobs, but this distinction--once prevalent--has long since disappeared. So we can no longer worry about whether good jobs are destroyed in favor of bad jobs. Because the only thing that matters is jobs.