The Personalist Project

What do these three scenarios have in common?

Case 1

The Supreme Court recently refused to halt, or even address, the forcible violation of the seal of the confessional.

The particular case in question is complicated, but for the purposes of this post, that's irrelevant. (For a more complete picture, wee my sister Simcha's post on it here and Jen Fitz's here) In broad strokes, here’s what happened: a penitent claimed she had revealed in Confession that she had been abused by a fellow parishioner. The legal system needed facts. It seemed that obtaining those facts by violating the seal would help children and curb abuse. Therefore, it demanded that the seal be broken.

Case 2

France recently experimented with a 75% tax rate for millionaires

The particulars of taxation policy are even more complicated than the particulars of the Confession case, but they're irrelevant for the purpose of this post. In broad strokes, the state needed money. It seemed that obtaining that money from those who could most easily afford it would help the country weather its economic crisis and promote an equitable distribution of wealth. Therefore, it instituted a 75% rate of taxation.

Case 3

A new boss has just realized there’s nothing to prevent his withholding a promised raise from a subordinate and taking credit for his work.

The details are unimportant. The boss needs to enhance his reputation and maximize his profits—let’s say for a good cause, like supporting his children or paying medical bills. It seems that saving the money and getting credit for the work would achieve these ends, and the underling has no power to prevent it. Therefore, he withholds the raise and takes the credit.

    *     *     *     *     *

The three cases may seem ethically troublesome, and of course they are. But that's not all they have in common. They each illustrate a blatant (but not unusual) disregard  of something fundamental: human persons change, both in external behavior and in deeper ways, according to how you treat them. Somehow people have overlooked consequences that become painfully obvious the minute you examine the cases. Their conduct is killing the goose that was laying their golden eggs.

In Case 1, breaking the seal will yield the information the judge wants. But why in the world would anyone assume that once the seal becomes meaningless people will continue to go to confession and reveal crimes (or information about anything at all that might look suspicious or prove embarrassing)?

In Case 2, the tax rate will yield the income the state wants. But how could anyone imagine that people who know they’re working under the Tax Man regime

will continue to exert themselves to make money destined to be handed over to the state? (In fact, the millionaires tended to get out of town to avoid being burned even once, never mind waiting around to be twice shy, and the policy was sheepishly retired without fanfare.)

In Case 3, withholding the subordinate's promised raise and taking credit for his work will yield the desired results.  But why imagine that it will also leave untouched the subordinate's trust, loyalty, and willingness to cooperate?

 If the person were a tool, or a pawn, or a widget, these kinds of approaches would make perfect sense. Tools and pawns and widgets have no interior life or dynamism of their own. 

But as it is, such tactics are just illogical.

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