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Thursday, May 03, 2007

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Dirk Nachbar

Interesting term, but for me libertarian paternalism stems from the Lucas critique that behavioural paramters can change, so we better study the change in detail.

Lafayette
BE: because various cognitive errors cause us to make decisions that are at odds with our "true" preferences, companies, and perhaps the government, should set operational parameters on our lives that nudge us towards realising those true preferences.

Who decides what is "cognitive error" and what is not? Big Brother somewhere? The thought is frightening.

In the pursuit of a behavioural theory, the state should institute legal norms that influence/guide our propensities? This is hogwash from academics who have nothing better to theorize.

Human manipulation is not yet a science. There is plenty of marketing theory, particularly in media marketing tactics, that indicate how/when people can be manipulated in their consumer decisions. But, it is dangerous if taken to a high degree - as private television has done in the US, and is doing in Europe.

For instance: If people want to become obese because they do not KNOW how to eat well or are indifferent to the long term consequence (often death), then make them pay higher health care premiums. But, it is NOT the business of the state to tweak human behaviour in terms of food preferences. Health care can try to teach the obese how their choices affect their health. Typically, in the human being, access to sufficiently cogent information tends to influence their decisions.

That is, beyond "normal" economic macro-economic instruments such as taxation or interest-rate manipulations, let's leave adults alone to figure out what is best for themselves. (Children are another matter, since parental responsibility is at play.)

Arthur Eckart

There seems to be many elitist contradictions. One example: "Our brain systems seem obviously programmed with hordes of desires that fight against a bourgeois economic, moral and social system that values thrift and moderation in all things." Our natural self fits into the natural economic system. So, the statement must be about the unatural "moral" economy (also, "seem obviously" seems to be an oxymoron). Does the existing economic system really value thrift and moderation? Another example: "The "true" self--the one that has duration in time, as well as space--would like to be thin, well excercised, happily married, and loaded up with retirement savings. But unfortunately, it delegates responsibility to the temporary self, whose brain chemistry has been programmed by evolution with overwhelming signals to indulge now!" So, the true self is the one that doesn't exist and the temporary self is the natural self? I can imagine the social arguments, e.g. motorcycles are too dangerous and yet subcompact cars are good for the environment.

Arthur Eckart

It's unclear whether the "bourgeois economic, moral and social system" is one system or more than one system (e.g. the moral system of Adam Smith and the social system of Karl Marx). However, using "bourgeois" (rather than capitalist) is interesting. Anyway, there seems to be greater morality in the natural economic system than in any (unnatural) social economic system, at least so far.

Lafayette
We show that within each of these systems the determination of the morality of an act depends on the “particular circumstances of time and place.” Our principal argument that the State cannot make people moral is derived from the plausible assumption that the State has inferior access to knowledge of the personal and local circumstances of the actor than the actor himself. Therefore, State does not possess a necessary instrument for the compulsion of morality. It does not have adequate concrete knowledge to know what is good.

I give up, and yet my English is pretty good. I cannot imagine what Rizzo is getting at, except perhaps that the State is not the all-knowing altruistic paternal authority that we should like it to be.

We’ve all known that for quite some time in Europe … perhaps it’s new news in America? Statism is "old hat" in Europe. Perhaps it is new to America? (In the context of this present administration, such is not a far-fetched notion ...)

The part in between quotations above seems to refer to a phenomenon of present morality, meaning, it is “contextual”. This is an intellectual cop out meaning: Well, I would behave one way in one context and quite another in a different context, but still be consistent. Which is a non-sequitur.

Between the moral absolutes of the religious fundamentalists (both Muslim and Christian) there must be a moral yardstick somewhere that does not change length as it approaches the speed of light, methinks. We are, after all, considering behaviour that obeys to the rule of it being either right or wrong. Now, some are saying, “Well, hold it. it could be both right and wrong – but still consistent. It depends upon the circumstance”. Bollocks. Morality does not morph according to context.

Then, there is this bit: “the State cannot make people moral is derived from the plausible assumption that the State has inferior access to knowledge of the personal and local circumstances of the actor than the actor himself.” What/who is this “State”, if not people identical to the supposed “actor”?

As regards morality and the judging or our conduct within a circumstance (towards understanding whether that conduct was criminal, or not), we set up a judicial system a great long time ago that placed the “actor” before his/her “peers”. The “actor” then explained his/her actions within the supposed context. His/her peers then judged the actions within the context according to there own referential comprehension. What would they have done in that context? That is the reference that forms their judgment.

My point: a referential system of judgment must always be related to a “common norm”, that is, the prevailing norm of my peers. Would they have done as I, in that circumstance?

Of course, employing this referential norm whilst in a den a thieves, one could easily justify thievery, fraud, murder, whatever. However, given society as a whole, the referential system is not specific but general.

We always come back to the normative behaviour of society in general. That is the sole and unique point of reference, as regards morality, for people who live in any society. Are these norms contextual? No, I don’t think so. They may evolve slowly over time, but I doubt that they change from circumstance to circumstance.

And, if we don’t like that, then we can go live by ourselves on an island.

Arthur Eckart

Lafayette, I tend to agree with Rizzo than the behaviour economists. The State has often promoted immorality (e.g. through shifting personal responsibility), because of biased views or poor knowledge. I doubt Muslims or Christians possess a better understanding of morality than non-Muslims or non-Christians. Also, I may add, more people will choose an 80% chance of winning than a 20% chance of losing, although they're identical. However, there are other explanations than a lack of information, e.g. people tend to be risk adverse and optimistic.

Lafayette
AE: The State has often promoted immorality (e.g. through shifting personal responsibility), because of biased views or poor knowledge.

"Immorality" is referential. What is immoral for me is perhaps not for you. But, neither my value nor yours matters. It is the common norm that matters.

The challenge is determining, given the circumstance, what is "immoral" - and only a common norm can prevail in that determination. So, it must be that of the society in which the circumstance arises.

I recall a ruling by the American Supreme Court in the matter of pornography, where the decision was based upon "prevailing local acceptance/customs". My point: referential values are embedded in jurisprudence as well.

Consider abortion. Why is the matter not decided in the US? Because the legislature and the Supreme Court are both reluctant to definitively decide the question. In fact, a referendum is necessary to establish the "common norm" and that should perhaps be on a state-by-state basis. (Which only means, that local norms will be observed and women, where necessary, will go to wherever they can to obtain an abortion.)

Whether "abortion is immoral" or not depends upon local predilections in the matter. The State has no right imposing a common rule that is not ratified by a clear vote in the matter. The states, in my view, must refer to the opinion of the electorate in the matter. But not federally, since the cleavage in opinion in the matter is so diverse.

If this is what Rizzo is saying (as regards the lack of unambiguous knowledge as a base from which to legislate), then I agree. I was unable to understand, in fact, what he meant.

Arthur Eckart

Lafayette, there's a difference between a moral and social choice. Morality is absolute and timeless. One definition of morality may be when the (total) benefits of a choice exceed the (total) consequences.

oro

"Trying to correct for consumer or investor myopia, information asymmetries, well-established cognitive failings[....]"

On it's face this sounds like utter nonsense. So thought police should run around rooting out "well established cognitive failings" eh? I see, must get rid of investor hysteria and progressive taxation. Right. All I can say is the totalitarian systems of the last century have nothing on this.

bellumregio

Isaiah Berlin wrote quite a number of essays explaining this type of benevolent coercion. He credited it to Jean Jacque Rousseau’s romantic notion of liberty and found it rooted in Calvinism. In Berlin’s mind it is the source of all modern totalitarianism. Although you may be unaware of what you truly want, I, having greater insight because of my understanding of Nature or the Divine, know exactly what you want and I am prepared to assist you in your “self-realization”- by violence if necessary. He concludes by quoting Dostoyevsky: "Starting from unlimited freedom I arrive at unlimited despotism".

A natural economic system did not come into being in 1820, or whenever. Manchester capitalism or Adam Smith’s political economy is no more derived from Nature than the economic order of ancient Egypt. These arguments are just repackaged Herbert Spencer and the Manchester capitalists- I can hardly believe someone is peddling them as novel. The bit about the State not being all-knowing is right out of the beginning of Spencer’s anti-utilitarian tract Social Statics (1851). Instead of morality he talks about the elusive nature of happiness.


Arthur Eckart

Bellumregio, Egypt's ancient social order was not a natural system. Basically, Adam Smith identified and tied together prior economic ideas. The "invisible hand" is derived from nature. The natural economic system is a discovery rather than an invention, similar to mathematics. Morality is also revealed rather than invented.

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A natural economic system did not come into being in 1820, or whenever. Manchester capitalism or Adam Smith’s political economy is no more derived from Nature than the economic order of ancient Egypt. These arguments are just repackaged Herbert Spencer and the Manchester capitalists- I can hardly believe someone is peddling them as novel. The bit about the State not being all-knowing is right out of the beginning of Spencer’s anti-utilitarian tract Social Statics (1851). Instead of morality he talks about the elusive nature of happiness.
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