Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bonus Post

I'm normally disconnected from Your Intertubes on Saturdays, doing my big construction project in deepest Connecticut, but I'm snowed in (or out) today, so here's an extra two cents.

In answer to Kathy's question regarding my previous post, I was mostly thinking about economic nationalism -- the sort of Lou Dobbs populism that infects some quarters of liberalism and promotes policies that aim to protect American workers and farmers at the expense of much poorer people elsewhere. I believe that our working class and our rural communities can prosper without harming people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, but we need to be fully committed to both ends of that equation.

However, I am also thinking about the cultural divisions within the United States. I see this most directly when city slickers move out to the country and start complaining about deer hunters and the stink of manure and the noise of chain saws and stump grinders, and guys who run small engine repair businesses from their homes and have a lot of junky looking machinery in their yards. Hey, they were there first, and they are trying to create a sustainable rural economy.

But I extend the zone of respect more broadly, even to issues where I am convinced some particular liberty claim ultimately fails. Examples include motorcycle helmet laws, a considerable scope of regulation of firearms, and even the claims about the moral status of embryos and people in irreversible comas.

I may find that guys who want to take their own chances when it comes to smashing their brains on the pavement are not entitled to take a big risk that can be substantially reduced for a trivial amount of money, and make the rest of us pay to scrape them off the pavement, and then for their their trauma care, long-term rehabilitation and the support of their dependent children. Society has a right to insist on a certain degree of individual responsibility, on behalf of the liberty interest of all of us.

Nevertheless, when there is a substantial segment of the population that feels seriously oppressed and offended by an imposition, we do have to weigh their feeling fully in the balance, and seriously look for solutions that honor their claim. For example -- and this might be unenforceable, it's just a thought experiment -- people who want to ride motorcycles without helmets could be allowed to do so if they purchase insurance policies that indemnify all the possible social costs of their actions, including not only their own medical and long-term custodial care but support of their dependents. That would probably not be affordable, but it would at least take the mystery out of the underlying case and be difficult to argue against.

As for the "Right to Life" jive, I have been at great lengths here to deride it as nonsensical and morally idiotic. In fact, it's not about life at all, in my view, it's about sex, for which the right to lifers have both a neurotic aversion and a deeply unhealthy obsession. Nevertheless, it probably doesn't help to negotiate with them on that basis. Given the intensity of their feelings, there is a case to be made for offering them as much respect as does not greatly compromise the liberty interest of others. I don't hold out much prospect for common ground, but we have to work toward it somehow or we'll be bollixed up over this issue forever.

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