Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Yet another smack down of libertarianism

Brad DeLong presents a quotation from Daniel Kahneman which evokes one of the deep problems with the idea of liberty. I want to dig even a little deeper. Go ahead and read the whole thing, it's just three paragraphs, but here is a snippet:

For behavioral economists, however, freedom has a cost, which is borne by individuals who make bad choices, and by a society that feels obligated to help them.
With respect to this observation, I have previously remarked on motorcycle helmet laws. If you suffer a traumatic brain injury in celebration of your individual liberty and personal responsibility, we the taxpayers are going to pay for your life-long institutional care. You have therefore deprived us of a bit of our liberty. If you have children, it's even worse. This, in a nutshell, is why we sometimes need the nanny state to make us more free, not less.

But it goes deeper than that. We obviously can make choices that we later regret. We want to save the biker from himself because, as Kahnemann points out, we will be obliged to take care of him if we do not. His personal misfortune is still left as his own problem.

But consider. A tobacco addict would be freer today had he never chosen to smoke that first cigarette. Many people with diabetes would have more liberty had there not been a soda machine in their high school, even though it gave them the liberty to drink soda at the time. (Let us presume they can pay for their own health care.) One can endlessly invent such examples. We often appreciate somebody saving us from ourselves, so why not the state?

The simple fact is it is always a tradeoff. There is no such thing as liberty. The universe always limits our possibilities. Granting me one liberty inevitably deprives me, and other people, of others. Whatever freedom I am granted to choose unwisely may cost me less freedom tomorrow.

You see? Moral philosophy is hard. That is why some people never seem to outgrow Ayn Rand.

No comments: