Last week, a quote from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) appearance on 60 Minutes went viral. During the interview, Anderson Cooper mentioned the criticism she’s received for misstating statistics and “fuzzy math,” to which she replied, “I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.”
In her defense, context makes the quote slightly defensible. She did appear to be criticizing those that are “missing the forest for the trees” by nitpicking minor details but ignoring her central points, which is a valid criticism. But even if we dismiss that portion of her critics, there are still plenty of valid cases pointing out the dangers of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The importance of this viral quote is not the quote itself, but the greater debate of the relationship and importance of morals and facts.
Few would disagree with the idea that an accurate moral compass is important. Morality provides us with a structured set of principles to determine right from wrong. A system of morals gives direction to be virtuous while opposing immorality.
The problem is, far too many people act under the misconception that a belief of moral superiority is all that is necessary to justify action, as well as the misconception that anyone opposed to what they view as moral must have evil intent.
Most people within every ideological group believe they are fighting for what is right. Just as libertarians argue for their moral code of property rights and individual liberty, communists, Islamists and others advocate for what they believe to be moral and just.
Does this mean that moral relativism is the correct viewpoint, and that every ideology is equally moral? Of course not. What this means is that a belief of moral righteousness is not enough to justify actions.
The minimum wage debate offers a clear example of the clash between two opposing moral systems. Libertarians will argue that mandating a minimum wage is immoral, because it is government applying force to abolish agreements between two consenting parties if this agreement involves compensating labor for less than the minimum wage. On the opposite side, progressives will argue that it is immoral not to raise the minimum wage, because nobody deserves to earn less than a living wage, and it is one’s moral duty to help those earning less by increasing the minimum wage.
So if two people both claim to have the moral high ground, and both assert that their opponent is moral, how can this be resolved?
Morality is far more complicated than simply asserting beliefs based entirely on personal opinion. It needs to be viewed in a much more scientific way, bound by logic and its effect on reality.
The moral differences that divide the minimum wage debate can be solved by taking a logical approach to the different moral systems, and a fact-based analysis of the results of each moral system.
On the libertarian side, the case against the minimum wage is based on a moral system arguing against the use of force, which is derived from the accepted moral concept of self-ownership. The idea of self-ownership is something that’s also been derived logically, not just from thin-air, and is strengthened by Hoppe’s “Argumentation Ethics,” a concept that makes arguing against self-ownership a contradictory action.
The moral case for raising the minimum wage tends to be argued from three viewpoints. One is backed by nothing other than an assertion of belief along the lines of “I just believe that people deserve better.” Another is an argument from equality, arguing that anything that reduces inequality is a moral good and that raising the minimum wage will lift people out of poverty. The third is an argument of pragmatism. Since everyone values prosperity and better living standards, raising the minimum wage to a level that does the most good is a good idea.
This is where the facts are necessary. If the minimum wage doesn’t actually help who its advocates claim it will help, that eliminates the pragmatic argument.
If one moral system leads to overall increasing prosperity, it is better than a moral system that leads to poverty and suffering (assuming both are logically consistent). If one moral system emphasizes equality of outcome as a moral good, we can look at the facts and compare the result of that system with the result of one that emphasizes property rights as a moral good.
This is why the atrocities of the Soviet Union matter. If an individual follows a moral code that leads to the USSR, it doesn’t matter if they personally believed they held the moral high ground. The facts are clear that what they advocated for didn’t turn out as planned.
Thanks to libertarians like Walter Block, the consistency and conclusions of libertarian ethics are continuously being determined and evaluated. It’s not enough to hold an opinion, declare it a moral good, and then base your life on it.
To be morally right, one must also be factually correct.