Tue, 25 March 2014
It is the central argument of traditional economic conservatism. It has been for centuries. The ability of individuals to form voluntary associations for their mutual benefit without outside interference remains the core.
It tells us a bit about the future of economic policy as envisioned by Republicans, should they return to governmental power in Washington.
The idea is a simple one. Establishing a moral balance in public life is a slippery principle. Conservative economist N. Gregory Mankiw of Harvard illustrates that, in an article he was invited to write by the New York Times. He defines the interference by government in the market as "utilitarianism":
He provides a couple of classical hypothetical case studies, thought experiments, to illustrate the problem of deciding benefits based on the greatest good for the greatest number. One involves killing a healthy individual in order to harvest organs to save multiple patients.
Other philosophers have contrived more stark, metaphysical examples. In the late 1800s, Fyodo Dostoyevsky suggested a fictional community blessed with universal health, prosperity, and happiness purchased by torturing to death a small infant.
That makes N. Gregory Mankiw a bit of a philosophical piker, don't you think? Perhaps the next step might be to imagine a world in which adult women become wards of the state in order to protect the possible existence suspected microscopic fertilized eggs.
Conflating liberalism with utilitarianism provides any number of false examples. Everyone is a utilitarian in some circumstance. No one is a utilitarian in others.
Conservatives could come up with better arguments, with some effort. Pretty much anyone could.
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