Friday, 3 October 2014

"Generous" Government Transfers?

Oftentimes one finds implied value judgements in common speech. One such instance is when people talk about "generous" payments received from the government. To me, "generous" means primarily that one is unselfish with respect to that with which one is generous; that one could legitimately keep more for oneself but chooses not to. I cannot see how a word defined in this manner can be applied to the government. Consider:
  1. If the government give me a currency unit, it must either have printed it or taxed it from someone (who may or may not be me).
  2. In the first case, the government's generosity requires that the money holdings of others be diluted of real value;
  3. In the second case, it requires that someone else be made to lose money. In any event, "generosity" requires the violation of the natural rights of others (in the event that there are no natural rights, talking about government generosity implies that value judgement).
What is also required, as per the definition above, is that the government could legitimately have retained the currency unit for its own use. This means that the currency unit, obtained either by use of the printing press or by taxation, is the government's legitimate property. It does not necessarily follow that the government are really the owner of anything and anyone wealth-producing - because it could be that the word "generosity" is applied only when taxation does not exceed a certain point or only when the government do not hoard resources to a sufficient degree - but the way the term "generosity" is applied to government expenditure certainly seems to me to come close.

What would value-neutral language look like? There are a number of rather obvious candidates, such as "large" or "big", optionally qualified with the word "relatively", and a bunch of variations on adjectives such as these. Not that I think language must necessarily be value neutral (I really do not). Still, there are value-loaded terms one could apply to the selfsame transfer labelled "generous", but which take a different view on good value. "Excessive", comes to mind, although it is not the ideal candidate since it has the connotation that the recipient is less deserving than other potential recipients (and they may all be equally undeserving of others' resources).

So what would be the optimal word replacing "generous" with an adjective coated in natural rights rather than statism? Profligate? Wanton? Dissolute? What I am looking for is a word which describes wastefulness with ill-gotten resources though I am not sure I get any closer than these. Suggestions are welcome.

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