Switching Hosts

I’m in the process of switching web hosts. Hopfully this won’t cause much of a disruption.

There’s a “temporary” problem publishing from Blogger, so I’m putting files up here manually.

Hopefully, this will get resolved shortly.

Junk Mail Morality

I recently received an envelope in the mail with no return address information on the outside. It did have large letters reading:


Intrigued, I opened the envelope and found a solicitation to contribute to this organization for the provision of arts and crafts kits to hospitalized american veterans.

Along with the solicitation was a check made out to me (or “the bearer”) for $2.50.

The letter begins with:

I’ve enclosed a $2.50 check for you.

But, I assure you we can’t afford to be giving money away.

And the letter ends with:

Of course you can cash the $2.50 check that I’ve enclosed. But my hope and prayer is that you will return it along with a generous donation of $5, $10, $15, $25 or even $50.

The check appears to be valid, and has no indication that cashing it would obligate me to anything.

I’m currently not interested in donating to this charity (for reasons that I don’t think are relevant to this post).

My question is: Should I cash the check?

Would it be wrong to cash the check? I don’t bear any ill-feelings for this organization, so I wouldn’t be cashing it to punish them for wasting my (or others’) time. I think the check (if it’s good) is a clever way to get people’s attention. I think the $2.50 amount was chosen because it’s large enough to be interesting (you can buy a couple of McDonald’s double cheeseburgers with it), but small enough to be easy to dismiss as not worth bothering to cash, or easy to feel cheap or dishonorable about causing this charity to incur this cost.

But, on the other hand, I did give the letter my attention. And, I had no agreement with this organization about what I would or should do with the check. It was an unsolicited offering. What’s wrong with cashing this check that was freely given to me?

Should I be Kantian and consider whether I’d wish for everybody who was uninterested in contributing to cash his check? Or, should I just consider whether I think my life would be better if I cashed mine vs. not cashing mine? Should my answer change if the check was for $250? Or, should I adopt a single policy and implement it a hundred times if I get the opportunity?

Right now, my inclination is to cash the check, but I’m open to arguments to why I shouldn’t.


I think that a large part of the gulf between leftists and libertarians is about our different conceptions of the nature of equality (and inequality) and what policies follow from these conceptions.

Today, there’s a great Cato Unbound article on the subject: When Inequality Matters by David Schmidtz.

I think that this is an issue that everybody who’s interested in political philosophy should think seriously about. I like to believe that if that were to happen, many more people would come to accept a more libertarian framework. Perhaps there are fundamental differences among people’s psychologies that prevent this…but everything Schmidtz wrote makes sense to me.

I’m also eager to read the replies that should be coming in the next few days.

HT: Will Wilkinson

Update: Tom G. Palmer has written a very good reaction essay in which he continues where Schmidtz left off and considers the prior moral question of which inequalities are ours to arrange, and some of the common errors that people make when justifying state action to redistribute wealth.

Speaking of Palmer, don’t miss Jonathan Rauch’s article about the heroic work Palmer is leading to expose classical liberal works to the Arab world (Iraq in particular).

Ann Althouse Supports the Torture of Children

Ok, not  exactly.

But she is supportive of a teacher who was disciplined (10-day pay loss), for denying a student’s request to use the bathroom. The student suggested he’d use a wastebasket in a closet, then. She said “Go ahead” (not thinking he’d really go through with it).


He did. 🙂

Listen, I’m sympathetic to the difficulty teachers can have maintaining the attention of a roomful of involuntary captives. I say: “Too bad!” It’s not an excuse to treat them worse than prisoners of war.

If you don’t like the job, get a better one.

Althouse says the teacher just made a “judgement call” that the kid didn’t really need to go. She is, as all teachers are, completely incompetent to make such judgements for other people. I think it’s a horrible abuse of power.

Perhaps, it was a common abuse of power when many of us were students.

But, it’s abusive all the same.