Offering nuanced ideas, Holmes (Political Science/Princeton and New York Univ. Law School) and Sunstein (Law/Univ. of Chicago) defend modern liberalism in the attention-getting guise of arguing for taxation. Liberalism is at heart a system of rights designed to promote and protect individual welfare and self-development. Yet rights are also a "public good." Their well-being is dependent upon the willingness of the community, through government, to protect and enforce them. In turn, the community must also be willing to give a portion of its collective assets in the form of taxes to the government so that government may carry out its enforcement responsibilities. In other words, rights cost money. A truism to be sure, but one, the authors argue, ignored by most everyone. Liberals, for instance, worry that focusing on the cost of rights may lead to further cuts in budgetary allocations for the protection of rights. Conservatives avoid looking at such costs as it may reveal how dependent private wealth is, in the form of myriad protections of private property, on government and taxpayers' contributions. Nevertheless, thinking of rights in terms of cost may reveal much. Arguments over competing rights are often arguments over money; spending more on one right may mean spending less on another. So how public resources are allocated can substantially affect the scope and value of rights. This leads to questions, all examined by the authors, of who decides what resources are spent to protect what rights for the benefit of what groups of individuals. We might want to examine if government spending on rights protection benefits society overall or too often only those groups with strong political influence. Holmes and Sunstein conclude with a call for greater democratic accountability in such spending and more public debate over the priority of rights. Sure to hearten some and irritate others, this work is a valuable contribution to our ongoing debate on rights and justice.
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