Sunday, July 31, 2005

Just thought I'd ask people's opinions on some libertarian topics that proved friction-prone at the seminar.

1) natural monopoly (the kind that exists because that's what a competitive market produces)

2) children (do they have rights? what kind? do those rights scale toward adulthood over time? what implications does a limited rights class have for libertarian ideology?)

3) addiction (people usually don't choose to become addicted - it is forced on them by other choices - thoughts?)

4) this one falls outside the friction-prone, but do people have any incentive to do the morally virtuous thing, rather than just the morally required thing? To see yourself as a good human being, do you have to do virtuous acts - or are obliged acts sufficient?

I'd love to see thoughts.


Blogger doinkicarus said...

Re: #4

When you speak of "virtuous acts," I'm assuming you mean virtuous by the traditional altruistic meaning of the word. Obliged acts, I take to mean, those which are forced upon you under the guise of virtue (ie, paying taxes to provide housing for the poor.)

I imagine that you'll find fewer "virtuous" acts as the number of obliged acts increases. Put simply, as the quantity of any person's disposable income is lessened by obliged virtue, it leaves him less and less with which he can perform a voluntary virtuous act.

Unless we can objectively measure the voluntary virtue we have to treat them as equals. In the presence of obliged virtue, we cannot. Who is to say that the amount of virtue obliged by any one person exceeds what he is otherwise willing or able to perform?

7:33 AM  
Blogger See Jay run said...

On addiction: It has come to seem to me that the best way to prevent addictive behavior is to encourage personal conviction against it, supported by family and community. How is that done? By prohibiting the government from imposing its power down upon the people, which when done, necessarily crowds out the only truly effecive means of control: the individual.

Although this is a story many have heard, I still find it illuminating. Of any drug available to myself and to other highschool students, alcohol was the hardest to get, and that was true of both Tennessee and Utah. And since the choice of use or abuse of any drug was considered to difficult for us make, and thus transferred to someone or something else, many of simply didn't make the choice. This lead to a kind of 'all or nothing' mentality, and many around me over-consumed everything that was placed before them.

A matter of rebellion, yes. A matter of youthful indiscretion, yes. And an effect of a major disconnect between the purported values of a nation, i.e. liberty, and its practices, i.e. arbitrary restrictions, yes. Remove the impetus behind all of these conditions, i.e. oppressive (immoral) power, and watch as society cures its own ills.

9:12 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

(1)Natural monopolies exist in theory at least. For example, I can draw you up a model that would lead to a natural monopoly (endlessly and steeply declining marginal costs being one example). Whether or not they exist in the real world is more or less an empirical question and one that I know almost nothing about. Although, Steve Horwitz, a far brighter mind then mine, told us that he didn’t think they existed in the real world at L&S.

(2)Tough question.

(3)Addiction is a choice. Alcoholism is not a disease. Diabetes is a disease. Someone can choose to stop drinking – they can’t choose to stop having diabetes. It may be a tough choice (because of withdrawal symptoms or what have you) but it is a choice nonetheless. I believe that is an important distinction. See “Addiction is a Choice” by Jeffrey Schaler for a good argument in this line.

(4)“to do the morally virtuous thing,” “morally required,” “good human being,” and “virtuous acts” all sounds like shit on stilts to me. Whenever this kind of argument comes up I can’t help but think that we have no idea what any of that stuff actually means. I sure don’t, but that could just be a personal shortcoming. I’d love to hear what “virtues” and “good human beings” are like.

With that said, I’d love to see more posts/discussions about this kind of stuff. Especially if someone has a good argument to make about (2). That is something I will (probably) never get my head around.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Joseph Schultz said...

Yeah. What constitutes a virtuous act is a tough one. I do think we can at least say there are virtous act though. Take the baby flipping example from the seminar. You certainly are not required to flip a drowning baby over, but I think we can all agree it's a good thing to do so. That idea of helping others when able in accomplishing their projects is generally what I consider to be a virtuous act.

You're right to say that there is more potential to help others by having control over more resources. Interestingly enough, people with more resources generally give more both in absolute and relative terms. Maybe there is a general human need to see one's self as a 'virtuous person.' In this case, is it really a virtuous act in the first place? It's a tough question to be sure. At worst, people feeling better about helping others can't be all bad.

Addiction is a choice in the way you're speaking about it. I guess my question to you would be is there a price high enough to consider addiction no longer a 'choice.' For instance, I have the choice to drop out of school and flip hamburgers all day. The cost would be the sum of my education up to this point as well as the future earning from my degree. Is that really a choice? Technically yes - practically? Besting addiction can entail death - is that really a choice?

My personal view on kids is that they have all the inherent rights of an adult. For practical purposes, those rights are transferred to a guardian by the state with the understanding that certain thresholds of care will be provided. Indeed, we see the state take those rights away in instances of neglect and grant children full adult status should the child appear in court and make a convincing case for their rights.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Tony said...


I’ll try not to be nitpicky but I have a few problems with what you’ve said:

First, I think you need to rethink your definition of a virtuous act. “That idea of helping others when able in accomplishing their projects is generally what I consider to be a virtuous act.” Certainly most people would not consider helping a murderer accomplish “his project” (murder), or helping Hitler (sorry for using the Nazi example) accomplish his goals “virtuous.” But I think you bring up a good point with the baby example and I think maybe we can come up with a definition of “virtue” from there. Here’s my tentative proposal: An act is “virtuous” if it maximizes the sum well-being (utility) of everyone. This definition would at least encompass the flipping-baby example while excluding the murderer example.

Notice that this definition would exclude intention from the equation entirely. I think this is a good thing and it brings up something else you raised which is if an act can be “virtuous” if it is done for selfish ends. I say absolutely yes. In fact, so many totally un-“virtuous” things have been done in the name of good intentions (I’m thinking of Mao’s China here) that it would be best if we ignored intentions altogether and simply focused on consequences. [anyone wondering if I’m a utilitarian/consequentialist?]

Now I will get nitpicky for a moment:

When you talk about the costs of choosing to work at a hamburger joint you say, “the cost would be the sum of my education up to this point as well as the future earning from my degree.” Actually, the cost would only be the latter of those two (and presumably some other things as well) but certainly not your education up to that point. In economics this is known as a “sunk cost.” We don’t consider “sunk costs” as relevant costs because you’ve already paid for them and there’s nothing you can do about it. Here’s an example: let say you’re buying ice-cream from a vendor and as soon as he hands it to you, you drop it on the ground. The ice-cream you’ve already bought is a sunk cost. What should you do? (assuming your preferences haven’t changed and your financial situation hasn’t changed dramatically) you should buy another ice-cream. Presumably, if you wanted the ice-cream before and you’re preferences and financial situation haven’t changed, you should want it now. (I just realized that’s a horrible example but I don’ t feel like coming up with a better one.)

Regarding the addiction thing: In light of the freakish length of this comment [it’s good having an office job where people don’t check up on you too often], I’ll just reemphasize that your examples are of freakishly costly choices (i.e. dropping out of college to flip burgers or stopping crack use and getting a job) but are choices nonetheless. I’ll also say that the difficulty and harm of coming off drugs is often exaggerated and that most people stop using drugs without long-term effects and without going through therapy. (Check out the Schaler book for good data on this regarding alcoholism.)

I hope this wasn’t too long. If you’ve read this far, I sincerely apologize. It’s been fun! More discussion is welcome.

1:25 PM  
Blogger Joseph Schultz said...

All good points - I probably should have picked up on them, but I've been working about 12 hours a day lately and am a bit on the tired side. As long as we're being nit-picky though, your icecream example is missing a key economic element - income effects. If you buy the ice cream and then lose it, you may or may not want to buy (or be able to buy) another one. Just thought I'd throw that in.

I'm not sold on the utility argument for 'virtuous acts.' It seems to me that there's probably some system of moral laws out there - its just that we don't know what they are yet (or might never fully know what they are). Either way - I like your 'virtuous acts' definition, particularly if it were recast with a moral values scheme.

Something I mentioned in a different thread on addiction is the preference changing nature of drugs. Not sure how to handle that one. I think it's a bad thing and should be opposed - but time issues like that are tricky.

9:19 PM  

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