This book gives both friends and critics of the classical liberal tradition much to think about. Its thoughtful, closely reasoned account of liberalism from Locke to the present is written not in heroic or comic but in tragic mode; its title subject is presented as a worthy but thus far failed enterprise impeded by unresolved albeit identifiable problems. The volume contains both a general story about the nature and fate of the liberal tradition and a series of fine-grained insights that reframe old questions in new ways. Concerning the latter, a chief use of the book will be to provide a…
Subjects are not necessarily interesting in proportion to their importance and the dullest of matters may be the most crucial. That is why disputes about health economics are both heated and boring, a most unfortunate combination of qualities. One approaches the subject only with a sinking heart and the hope that one will not have to think about it for long.
There was a paper recently (26 December 2013) in the New England Journal of Medicine that, it seemed to me, raised important economic questions, or rather, to use an old-fashioned term that in this case is more appropriate, of political economy. I do not pretend to be either economist or political philosopher enough to answer them, and I ask them in a genuine spirit of inquiry.
In my last post, I offered some responses to James Bruce's critique of my consequentialist libertarianism. Now, I complete my response. 4. Consequentialism and Constitutional Rules: Next consider political institutions and constitutional rules. At the political level, this approach suggests that we should employ rules that are designed to produce good results. That will, of course, mean laws and institutions that protect and promote liberty, but it may have certain limited departures such as the possibility of welfare for the poor. But while the laws and institutions should ultimately be justified based on human welfare, that does not mean, as I…
Last week, James Bruce wrote a critique of several of my posts that argue for a consequentialist approach to Bleeding Heart Libertarianism. In my view, welfare consequentialism – a more refined version of utilitarianism – provides the best case for the moderate libertarianism I embrace and justifies a special focus on the interests of the poor (based on the diminishing marginal utility of money). In this and a second post, I will respond to Bruce’s main criticisms. 1. Consequentialism and the Argument against Statism: Bruce argues that a consequentialist justification for my libertarian/antistatist position does not work because it does not…
In my last post on Bleeding Heart Libertarianism, I described how I have always been a Bleeding Heart type of Libertarian. Today, I want to describe where I am now on this issue.
Somewhere along the line – I think it was in the early 1980s – I became convinced of a type of utilitarianism, namely welfare consequentialism. I had been a Nozickian libertarian but became persuaded of consequentialism. Much of the responsibility, I believe, must be assigned to Richard Epstein and Friedrich Hayek (even though Hayek claimed not to be a utilitarian). It was easy, as a libertarian, to become a welfare consequentialist. If libertarian institutions have the good effects that libertarians believe they do, then welfare consequentialism provides a strong basis for libertarianism.
Moreover, the weakness of the deontological cases for libertarianism – that they rely on intuitions about the primacy of certain rights that most people do not share – can now be avoided. Libertarianism can now be justified on the basis of its consequences for the welfare of people. These claims are largely factual claims (albeit difficult factual claims to establish). Further, the counterarguments made about utilitarianism – that it requires people to do unjust things, like hanging an innocent man – also can be avoided. Under the two level theory of utilitarianism developed by R. M. Hare, these counterarguments turn out to be mistaken, because such actions will not, in the real world, be welfare enhancing.
I recognize that most libertarians eschew a (strictly) consequentialist approach to normative matters. But I suppose that is just another way that I differ from the dominant libertarian approach.
So how, then, does welfare consequentialism address the issues central to Bleeding Heart Libertarianism? In particular, how should government institutions address the special needs of the poor under welfare consequentialism?
This is a complicated matter, but some points can be made. The diminishing marginal utility of money provides a strong reason why the needs of the poor should be given strong consideration. The benefits from spending on the poor are likely, other things being equal, to be greater than the benefits from spending on other people.