[star]The American Mind[star]

January 25, 2005

Guess I'm not "Normal"

Matthew Yglesias writes about paternalism. His position in a nutshell: he's not opposed to it. Paternalism to him is a pragmatic solution to a problem.

He does try to mix up different kinds of paternalism and shove them all under the same umbrella. He does this with both government social programs and voluntary charity ventures.

He also defines paternalism on the individual level as "trying to dissuade people from making bad choices about their lives." The key word is "dussuade." Paternalism is about taking control of another person's actions so they do what's "best" for them. The thinking being that individual isn't making good decisions so the paternalist must take over. Paternalism is beyond persuasion, it's about coercion. I can try to get someone to act in a way I feel is best. That isn't paternalism, that's attempted persuation. If I somehow force that person to do what I think is best, that's paternalism.

What set me off to writing this post was this Yglesias passage (my emphasis):

If, like a normal person, you think it's legitimate -- and, indeed, obligatory -- to use the coercive power of the state in order to help people, then you should also find it obligatory to deploy the coercive power of the state for paternalistic purposes when pragmatically appropriate.

Yglesias' "normal" people don't include libertarians, classical liberals, many conservatives, and probably a good number of the electorate. Also realize that Yglesias' sphere of legitimate uses of state power is so broad as to no way call it "limited"--the word is no where in his post. With the pragamtism he brings to the table state power would be unlimited in Yglesias' ideal America as long as it helped people.

I feel it's safe to say that Yglesias is a Parfitian--he praises one of his books. It's also safe to say he isn't a Hayekian like I am. Thus Yglesias' analysis doesn't take into account the "use of knowlege in society" (a title of Hayek's most important work). Understanding of this and any social problem would benefit from examining the depth and breath of knowledge available to individuals involved. We would better realize that wanting to do good and having enough resources at hand isn't enough to solve social problems. What is important is to understand that individuals use scattered bits of knowledge and limited views of the world to make their decisions.


Posted by Sean Hackbarth in Politics at 04:10 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (1)
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