Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Scarcity and Benevolence

I'm reading Democracy and Decision: The Pure Theory of Electoral Preference. Brennan and Lomasky have a very pithy reply to those who make prescriptive claims based on ethical standards:
...in deriving claims about what states of the world are feasible, one must take account of the scarcity not merely of the standard resources - time, ingenuity, and so on - but also of human benevolence and individual ethical sensibility. As Dennis Robertson remarks, one of the chief roles of the economist is to offer a warning bark whenever someone proposes a policy arrangement that demands much in the way of the scarce human resource "love." On this view, an ethical theory of social phenomena that fails to take adequate account of how people actually behave is at best irrelevant to real-world decision making and at worst deeply misleading. (5)
In other words, policy analysis (and related ethical claims) should deal with the world as it is, not as we would wish it to be. Nearly any human problem could be attributed to a lack of love for other people, but simply exhorting others to be more "loving" is not likely to fix those problems.

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