Social Justice – Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com Free Markets and Social Justice Wed, 15 Nov 2017 17:16:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/cropped-site-icon-BHL-32x32.png Social Justice – Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com 32 32 22756168 Libertarianism for Luck Egalitarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/libertarianism-luck-egalitarians/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/libertarianism-luck-egalitarians/#comments Thu, 28 Sep 2017 15:38:27 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12048 Luck egalitarianism is, roughly, the view that inequalities in life prospects resulting from luck are unjust. (There’s a lot to nit pick about that characterization, but it’s a start.) If...

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Luck egalitarianism is, roughly, the view that inequalities in life prospects resulting from luck are unjust. (There’s a lot to nit pick about that characterization, but it’s a start.) If Amy has better job opportunities than Bob because she happened to have parents who could afford to send her to a fancy private school, that’s unfair.

You might even think it’s unfair that Rob Gronkowski makes so much more money than, say, me simply because he was gifted with 6’6” height and fast-twitch muscle fibers that enable him to run a 4.68 40 yard dash. Even if we both work equally hard at our crafts, Gronk will earn more than me because his natural talents are more marketable than mine. But it’s not like Gronk earned those talents; he just got lucky and won the genetic lottery. So it’s wrong for him to make so much more money than I do.

Suppose, for argument’s sake, this account of distributive justice is correct. What institutional conclusions follow? Luck egalitarians suggest that the income disparities between people like me and Gronk show that free markets are unjust. It’s the job of the state to correct for these kinds of market-generated inequalities via regulation and redistribution.

As I detail in my book, luck egalitarians (and fellow travelers who might not apply the label to themselves) are nearly unanimous in their rejection of free market regimes. Here’s a small sample:

“Laissez-faire capitalism (the system of natural liberty) secures only formal equality and rejects both the fair value of the equal political liberties and fair equality of opportunity.” (John Rawls)

“Market allocations must be corrected in order to bring some people closer to the share of resources they would have had but for these various differences of initial advantage, luck and inherent capacity.” (Ronald Dworkin)

“Desert as a principle of justice, then, rather than justifying the distributional consequences of free market choices, requires precisely the elimination, or at least the minimization, of the differential brute luck that characterizes the free market […]. The adoption of desert as a principle of justice seems to result in a much more demanding requirement, as far as its implications for the regulation of the market are concerned, than a commitment to voluntariness as a legitimating condition for the imposition of obligations, even when this is suitably revised so as to square up with a defensible account of voluntariness and force.” (Serena Olsaretti)

I could go on, but you get the point: the market generates luck-based inequalities and the state reduces them.

One problem with this argument is that you don’t clinch the luck egalitarian case against free markets by simply showing that they create luck-based inequalities. What you need to do is show that the alternative is better. To use an old analogy of mine, showing that Steph Curry misses over half of his three point shot attempts doesn’t justify benching Steph Curry. To justifiably bench Steph Curry, you’d need to show that his replacement would do better. Similarly, luck egalitarians need to show that a highly regulated market with extensive redistribution will have less luck-based inequality than a libertarian regime.

Here’s a reason for doubting that claim: those who benefit from inherited wealth, elite education, and natural talent in the market also benefit from those factors in politics. Put very roughly, political power will concentrate in the hands of the rich—the very people the political power was created to regulate and restrain. Thus, we might naturally expect such power to be used to increase rather than decrease the advantages of the rich.

Interestingly, this is Rawls’s own view. He says that a

“reason for controlling economic and social inequalities is to prevent one part of society from dominating the rest. When those two kinds of inequalities are large, they tend to support political inequality. As Mill said, the bases of political power are (educated) intelligence, property, and the power of combination, by which he meant the power to cooperate in pursuing one’s political interests. This power allows a few, in virtue of their control over the machinery of state, to enact a system of law and property that ensures their dominant position in the economy as a whole.”

By Rawls’s own lights, the rich will use their “(educated) intelligence, property, and the power of combination” to acquire political power and “enact a system of law and property that ensures their dominant position in the economy as a whole.” But now we can see a problem for Rawls’s view. The people that Rawls wants the state to control (those with property, education, and so on) are the same people that Rawls thinks control the state itself. So how can the state control the rich if the rich control the state? Shouldn’t we instead expect state intervention into the economy to favor the rich? Indeed, this is exactly what we see in many cases: subsidies, licensing, trade restrictions, housing regulations, and so on tend to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor.

Of course, we cannot definitively establish a conclusion about the effects of regulation and redistribution on luck-based inequalities by doing a priori institutional analysis. But at a minimum, luck egalitarians shouldn’t rule out libertarianism as a viable institutional option at the level of philosophical theory. Perhaps libertarianism and luck egalitarianism are compatible after all.

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Can you be a libertarian racist or anti-Semite? http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/can-libertarian-racist-anti-semite/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/can-libertarian-racist-anti-semite/#comments Tue, 05 Sep 2017 22:19:38 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12019 No. OK, now we’ve got that out of the way, here’s why: As a political philosophy libertarianism is based on the view that all individual humans are worthy of respect,...

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No.

OK, now we’ve got that out of the way, here’s why:

As a political philosophy libertarianism is based on the view that all individual humans are worthy of respect, and that their actions should not be subject to the coercive interference of another without just cause. Now, what counts as “just cause” is open for debate. But it’s clear that if we truly believe that all individuals are worthy of respect then the mere fact that someone has a particular ancestry wouldn’t justify treating her differently from anyone else. (Nor, incidentally, would the mere fact that someone is a different sex justify her differential treatment.) If you believe that it does then you’re treating persons primarily as tokens of types of people, and not primarily as individuals. And that’s just not an individualist–or libertarian–view.

This doesn’t mean that you or your business are required to deal with types of people you don’t like. You can refuse service to anyone, on any grounds. But, if you do it solely on the grounds that they’re (e.g.) a Jew, or Irish, or a woman, then you’re not committed to treating people as individuals. And it’s that commitment–and not the view that you should not aggress against others–that is the fundamental basis of libertarianism. This is because the commitment not to aggress stems from the recognition that other persons are individuals with their own projects that you should not interfere with without just cause. The respect for individuals comes first; the duty not to aggress comes second. This means that the argument that a desire to refuse service to persons on the basis of their ancestry (or sex) is compatible with being a libertarian as such a refusal is simply the refusal to confer a benefit and not the infliction of a harm cuts no ice. It’s correct that a refusal to truck, barter, or trade is the refusal to confer a benefit and not the initiation of aggression. But if this refusal stems from treating one’s prospective trading partner as a token of a type of people rather than as an individual in her own right then it will be incompatible with libertarianism. Again, this doesn’t mean that it would be disallowed in a libertarian society. But the person so refusing would not herself be a libertarian–no matter how much she might agree with free markets, the non-aggression principle,  or other doctrines associated with libertarianism.

So, no, you can’t be a racist or an anti-Semite and a libertarian. But libertarianism can (reluctantly) allow you to practice your racist or anti-Semitic views, provided that these are limited to withholding benefits and not inflicting harm.

 

 

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Psychological Harm and Free Speech on Campus http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/07/psychological-harm-free-speech-campus/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/07/psychological-harm-free-speech-campus/#comments Thu, 06 Jul 2017 05:09:47 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11915 Psychological Harm and Free Speech on Campus The short piece I wrote about free speech on college campuses is now available to read online (but not downloadable) here.   I...

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Psychological Harm and Free Speech on Campus
The short piece I wrote about free speech on college campuses is now available to read online (but not downloadable) here.   I like this piece alot, but I know many will disagree with various parts.  Even blogmates will find things to disagree with. I know Daniel Shapiro disagrees with what I say about the Skokie case and I predict Jacob Levy will disapprove of a big part of what I say about college campuses.
The basic idea: we should recognize that psychological harm is real and that like physical harm, it may make interference permissible, even with speech, but that this is highly unlikely to occur on college campuses because college essentially requires extensive speech and thus are places where all present should expect to hear views they disagree with and even disapprove of.

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Protectionism as Cronyism http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/05/protectionism-as-cronyism/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/05/protectionism-as-cronyism/#comments Mon, 08 May 2017 18:05:17 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11780 Supporters of protectionism such as President Trump say that they are trying to save jobs in the United States. What’s wrong, they ask, with showing some solicitude and help to our...

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Supporters of protectionism such as President Trump say that they are trying to save jobs in the United States. What’s wrong, they ask, with showing some solicitude and help to our own workers hurt by foreign competition? Surely we cannot be against that.

The standard reply is that these laws help workers but hurt local consumers and foreign producers and their workers. This causes a net deadweight loss, or unrecovered loss of social welfare.

But this reply, correct as it is, does not go far enough: Protectionist laws harm workers in our own country. This is because when a government protects an industry it aborts the creation of jobs in other industries. As the economy is unable to adjust to the efficiencies of production, resources are artificially directed to the less efficient endeavors. Those resources are unavailable to the industries that need them to grow. The government assists workers in inefficient industries by erecting trade barriers, but in doing so it harms persons who are now unemployed because new industries that would have employed them have been aborted by the strangling effect of those laws. Seen in this light, workers who benefit from protection are not deserving of transfers of wealth in their favor, because protection is harming other workers in that society. Just as the firms obtaining protection get rich at the expense of foreign firms, so the workers in protected industries keep their jobs at the expense of the poor, in their own countries.

In truth, labor unions (and their management) agitating for protection are crony capitalists. A crony capitalist economy is one in which success in business depends on close relationships between business people and government officials. Success here is measured, for workers, by keeping their jobs. But success is not only success against foreign competition. Protected workers coercively achieve success at the expense of similarly situated workers who have not enlisted the coercion of the state. The public easily believes that the business owners who obtain protection are crony capitalists. The truth is that their workers are crony capitalists too.

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Beyond Obamacare: The Seven Percent Solution http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/04/beyond-obamacare-seven-percent-solution/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/04/beyond-obamacare-seven-percent-solution/#comments Wed, 19 Apr 2017 13:00:45 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11746 ObamaCare is dead, long live — what?  The House Republican plan achieved the rare feat of displeasing fellow conservatives almost as much as Democrats before dying stillborn.   Does it follow,...

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ObamaCare is dead, long live — what?  The House Republican plan achieved the rare feat of displeasing fellow conservatives almost as much as Democrats before dying stillborn.   Does it follow, as numerous commentators have intoned, that ObamaCare ought to be retained?  No, for it too is multiply flawed and has been rejected by citizens in most polls.  So what is to be done?

This isn’t a wonkish question about design but rather a plea for radical rethinking.  America makes three demands on its healthcare system that, unfortunately, are jointly incompatible.  First, no one should be deprived of healthcare.  ObamaCare made universality a core component, but even before its passage America offered an ungainly mix of private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, other governmental programs, charity clinics and, if all else fails, guaranteed access at the emergency room door.  Second, high quality care must be provided to all regardless of financial means.  As a society we insist that the poor be guaranteed access to minimally adequate necessities such as housing and food.  We are not much troubled by the fact that the wealthy do markedly better.  However, medical treatment for the poor is to be substantially identical to that afforded the affluent.  Once in the clinic or hospital, all patients must get the best. Third, it’s acknowledged that resources are not infinite and that therefore economizing on health care expenditures is necessary, as indicated by the (somewhat fanciful) name “Affordable Care Act”.

Any two of these can be straightforwardly achieved.  Withhold health care services from those unable to pay and costs will be kept down.  Or provide only a minimal standard of care to those who cannot afford better and, again, costs will be contained.  Finally, if we adopt a cost-be-damned attitude, high quality health care can be extended to all, at least until the economic machine starts to break down, as eventually it will.  Despite the asseveration of the singer Meat Loaf that “two out of three ain’t bad,” it’s not likely that the public will accept any of these compromises.  Therefore, we need to ask: how can this roadblock be eliminated?

It can’t.  That’s what ‘inconsistent’ means.  As another spinner of songs announced, “you can’t always get what you want.”  The most that can be done is to sequester one of the conflicting elements.  That is what this proposal offers.

I propose that the federal government establish a national health care budget in the amount of seven percent of GDP (based on the preceding year’s economic statistics), the sum to be expended in accord with the priorities of a governmental agency – let’s call it the National Health Commission (NHC) –  whose sole task is to decide which services will be covered and which excluded.  All individuals lawfully within the country’s borders will be eligible for care on terms of strict equality.  What the NHC may not do is access or direct any funds beyond the seven percent.  Therefore it will have to make hard decisions, some of which no doubt will be excruciating.  The program so designed will satisfy the criteria of universality and economic stringency.  But because it isn’t entirely open-ended it will not always provide state of the art services.

Beyond the realm of the NHC people will be at liberty to make whatever health care arrangements they prefer.  For many the desired amount will be none.  The quantity and quality of health services that a well-functioning NHC can provide will be good enough.  Others will choose to direct some amount of their resources to securing additional health care goods, either via direct purchase of services or some type of insurance.  The role of the government will be restricted to ordinary protection against force or fraud.  It will neither require nor forbid any arrangements beyond those it itself affords.  Specifically, it will not subsidize any non-NHC services either directly or through favored tax treatment such as currently is extended to employer-provided health insurance.  To oversimplify just a bit, the government will bear 100% responsibility for NHC and 0% for the remainder.  The private realm will satisfy the criterion of making available the very highest quality services as defined by available technology, and it will be strongly responsive to economic considerations because providers will need to convince individual consumers that what they have on offer is worth purchasing.  What it will not do, of course, is achieve universality.

Why seven percent?  That amount actually is close to the proportion of GDP devoted to health care by the governments of Canada and the United Kingdom, both devotees of single payer delivery systems offering very high standards of care.  Indeed, the greater wealth of the United States will allow the government to spend on healthcare a greater sum per capita than does either of these countries.

Of course the seven percent stipulation is somewhat arbitrary.  Because I am a libertarian I would prefer a ceiling of five  percent, the remainder to be consigned to private arrangements.  Those of a Bernie Sanders persuasion would be more comfortable with the governmental share set at ten percent.  I believe that to be excessive but nonetheless an improvement over the ObamaCare scenario or, indeed, American healthcare delivery prior to Obama.  More crucial than the precise level of governmental responsibility is setting a budget that forces decision-makers to confront difficult choices, knowing that every service funded comes at the cost of some potentially worthwhile service forgone.  They will have to think hard about how to set priorities and will be incentivized to drive hard bargains with would-be providers.  The slack that is everywhere in current procedures will be driven down to a minimum.

The other minimum is the role of government in the private realm.  It will not subsidize or forbid any particular arrangements, nor will it distort the tax system.  What private insurance covers or does not cover will simply be excluded as a legitimate concern of the state.  Individual mandates will be a thing of the past, as will restrictions on interstate medical commerce.  The upshot is that both consumers and providers will be keenly responsive to questions of quality and cost, precisely the opposite of current practices.

I am under no illusion that this change will be painless or not encounter opposition.  For example, although transitioning from Medicaid will not bruise many vested interests, Medicare will require special handling as the country moves from universality only for the old to universal access for the whole population.

Some will loudly complain that it is wrong to leave everything above the 7 percent threshold to the mercies of the market.  I agree.  Healthcare traditionally has been the beneficiary of extensive contributions from charities and nonprofits.  Under this proposal incentives for giving will actually be enhanced because there will be less crowding-out by governmental programs.  However, we should reject the implication that markets in healthcare are unseemly or unnecessary.  Rather, they are a necessary element in a system that honors universality, high quality and efficiency.  Perhaps after current efforts to reform health care fail, as predictably they will, the seven percent solution will be given its chance.

Loren Lomasky is Cory Professor of Political Philosophy, Policy & Law at the University of Virginia.

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Design, Complexity, and Freedom http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/04/design-complexity-freedom/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/04/design-complexity-freedom/#comments Thu, 13 Apr 2017 17:11:09 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11722 Design, Autonomy, and Complexity I just got back from a grand rounds presentation with Neel Shah, a medical researcher and OB/GYN whose current research concerns overtreatment. One of the most...

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Design, Autonomy, and Complexity

I just got back from a grand rounds presentation with Neel Shah, a medical researcher and OB/GYN whose current research concerns overtreatment. One of the most important things to come out of his talk was the fact that the single biggest risk factor for cesarean section for a pregnant woman is the facility she walks into. It’s not her health status, it’s not her preferences, it’s not her birth plan, it’s not even her doctor. It’s the hospital. And it turns out there are a variety of really important hospital design elements that trigger overtreatment.  These include distance between patient rooms, distance between workspaces and patient rooms, limited ability to information share, and so on (full report is linked to here). The problem, of course, is that most women don’t know this. Medicine is supposed to take patient choice and patient autonomy seriously and most women don’t want c-sections.  Yet the c-section rate varies across hospitals tenfold in the United States, ranging from 7% to 70% and the variation is higher for low-risk women than it is for high risk women. So why do so many (32% of all American women giving birth) end up with a surgery they don’t want? Again, a big part of the answer (but not the only part, because incentives and risk also matter) is how the environment around women pushes their providers toward high-intensity treatment. What we have then is a kind of non-coercive violation of autonomy. Women aren’t (most of the time, at least) being actually forced into c-sections, they’re being led into c-sections by an environment that makes it very difficult to give birth vaginally.

This got me thinking about other ways in which we can get non-coercive violations of autonomy (someone in the comments can help me unpack that phrase, but I’m going with it for now). What are the other ways our built environments or our political, legal, cultural, and policy environments lead people into violations of their autonomous choices? Or put another way, how do our environments lead us into outcomes that are the exact opposite of what we would choose if unconstrained?

Other design concerns

Radley Balko’s work on the situation in Ferguson does a great job of demonstrating this problem in the political sphere. Ferguson’s political environment of hundreds of small competing jurisdictions meant that there were a million different ways to inadvertently break the law. Once involved with the legal system, there were a million different ways in which the environment prevented one from quickly or cheaply resolving the situation, involving long travel times, limited hours at clerk’s offices and courthouses, and obvious conflicts of interest. Some, but not all, of these design features were intentional. Many were just functions of understaffing and low levels of resources common to small towns.

Another important thinker in this area is Jane Jacobs, whose work I just read for a conference. While she’s often discussed in the context of urban design, it’s probably more accurate to call her an “anti-designer”, at least insofar as she believes large-scale design of urban areas is generally a bad idea. Her work emphasizes the way in which design can unintentionally change people’s behaviors and discourage neighborly cooperation and interaction (among other negative effects). Something as simple as a sidewalk encourages spontaneous interactions between neighbors, increases community vigilance, and provides an easy way to move about the neighborhood. Well-intentioned zoning laws, on the other hand, can strangle diversity, cut neighbors off from one another, and create dangerous dead zones at night.  Neighborhood design constrains our activities in potentially harmful ways.

What all these writings have in common is a general theme of how environments restrict people’s freedom. Of course, restricting freedom is not always a bad thing. The entire history of rule of law, for example, deals with the best way to restrict autonomy in some spheres so that people can better pursue their ends in others. But the violations of autonomy we’re talking about above are different from general restraints on bad behavior. These violations are leading people into worse outcomes than they would choose for themselves. They’re also paired with poor social outcomes including high health care costs, high incarceration rates, zombie neighborhoods. Thus, these kinds of violations are worth paying close attention to. It’s also worth noting that many of these environmental design issues are something like what is being referred to when people talk about “institutional racism” or the various “industrial complexes.”  Though in those analyses there’s even more intentionality than I think often exists. Many of the design problems we face are not those of poor motives (though again, those certainly exist), but of poor design, design that pushes people toward outcomes they would not choose themselves and that are bad for everybody.

Autonomy and complexity

Some of the problem of design has to do with complexity and how people react to complex environments. The problem with hospital birth is that too often the environment is too complex for people to make good decisions. When that happens, as Shah points out, people will revert from high-resistance modes of operation (waiting for a woman to give birth vaginally) to a low-resistance mode of operation (surgery). Rarely are the providers aware that they are doing this. They are reacting to complexity and to the situation in which they find themselves and they’re trying to find a simple way to deal with that complexity. Same thing for the Ferguson residents who don’t show up in court to deal with traffic tickets. Faced with a bewildering bureaucracy, logistical difficulties, and the high likelihood of further entanglement with the law, they choose the path of least resistance and skip their court date, inadvertently triggering an arrest warrant. Jacobs finds a similar pattern in urban design. City planners clearing slums inadvertently prevent people from solving their own housing problems and instead force them into public housing or other kinds of living arrangements they would not choose for themselves.

Noncoercive despotism?

All these examples remind me of Tocqueville’s description of democratic despotism at the end of Democracy in America. While he also ascribes too much intentionality to the “sovereign”, he does seem to understand the problem of systems that violate people’s wills not through coercion but through the gradual destruction of the ability to make good decisions. As he describes it, “it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them, and directs them; it rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born…” Design – not only of our institutions, but of our built environments, of our health care facilities, of our communities – matters for freedom.  The next question is: can we design for freedom?  Can we undo poorly designed environments without falling into the overdesign/planning trap?

Are there other examples of design limiting freedom in harmful ways? Other authors who might be worth checking out?

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Some Thoughts on Identity Politics http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/11/thoughts-identity-politics/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/11/thoughts-identity-politics/#comments Sun, 27 Nov 2016 17:22:37 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11437 I have been thinking lately about identity politics. More precisely, why so many people deeply committed to nondiscrimination nevertheless are uncomfortable with identity politics. An initial difficulty is to define...

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I have been thinking lately about identity politics. More precisely, why so many people deeply committed to nondiscrimination nevertheless are uncomfortable with identity politics.

An initial difficulty is to define identity politics. Here’s the definition in the Google dictionary: Identity politics is “a tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background, etc., to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics.” (For expository convenience, I will group these identity criteria under the terms “ethnicity” and “ethnic status”). This definition focuses on political alliances. An obvious criticism of such tendency is to observe that people can pursue worthy goals more effectively by forming broad-based alliances (some have criticized Hillary Clinton’s campaign on that score). Such approach is entirely pragmatic: political goals are more likely to be achieved if more people participate in the movement.

A second definition of identity politics is the idea that ethnic groups are entitled to benefits (usually coercively obtained) by virtue of their ethnic status. At first blush, this does not seem very appealing: to say that I’m entitled to a benefit B by virtue of my ethnic status sounds, well, not nice. But, of course, identity politics understood in this way, to be persuasive, must be linked to some other narrative. One is a history of past injustice. If so, my claim that I am entitled to a benefit B by virtue of my being a Latino is a short-hand for the claim that I am entitled to B as compensation or redress for the wrongs inflicted on Latinos now or in the past. Being Latino, by itself, does not suffice to generate the claim. A common criticism of this position is that these claims are hard to sort out, and often result in benefitting or punishing undeserving people.

A very different narrative is diversity, the current dominant rationale for ethnic preferences. I, a Latino, am entitled to a benefit B because possessing that benefit will promote a public good, diversity in the workplace or the classroom, or diversity among those who will get the benefit B. A common criticism of this position is that, in the real world, it applies only to groups that have political clout. It does not apply to everyone who can contribute to diversity, such as conservatives or libertarians, for example, or even to ethnic groups out of favor. If the claim is amended to embrace all diversity, then it ceases to be identity politics (it still may be open to objections, but those are beyond my concern here).

There is another dimension of identity politics. It is the idea that who states a proposition is relevant to the truth of that proposition. This is mistaken. “As a Latino, I support affirmative action!” is a non-sequitur (or a tautology simply saying that I support affirmative action). The validity of an argument depends on the facts and sound reasoning about those facts. They do not (cannot) depend on who the speaker is. Sure, someone may be prone to identify a new argument because of who she is. As an example, feminists did a great service when they showed why the common law of rape was unjust. But that speaks to what Popper calls the context of discovery of a proposition. It doesn’t speak to the context of justification of that proposition. So, one who says, “as a Latino, I believe X, Y, and Z” is invoking an irrelevant reason in favor of the truth of X,Y, and Z. The correct statement would be: “I believe X, Y, and Z are true for reasons A, B, and C. And I was motivated to think about X, Y, and Z because I am a a Latino.”

These are preliminary thoughts. A more definitive assessment of identity politics requires further research into each of these versions of the concept and the available objections.

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Pay for bone marrow, save lives http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/11/pay-bone-marrow-save-lives/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/11/pay-bone-marrow-save-lives/#comments Sat, 19 Nov 2016 23:09:25 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11418 This past week, I was on a panel for a Senate Hill Briefing entitled “Should compensation for bone marrow donors be legal?” The panel included myself, Robert McNamara (Institute for...

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15036487_10100700323104051_2510168469186508591_nThis past week, I was on a panel for a Senate Hill Briefing entitled “Should compensation for bone marrow donors be legal?” The panel included myself, Robert McNamara (Institute for Justice), Mario Macis (Associate Professor of Economics, Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business), Samuel Hammond (Poverty and Welfare Policy Analyst, Niskanen Center), and Doug Grant (founder and CEO of Hemeos).

The event was co-sponsored by the Niskanen Center and the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics. The Niskanen Center’s Samuel Hammond released a report entitled “Bone Marrow Mismatch” that same day, wherein he argued that the Department of Health and Human Services should not intervene to prohibit compensation for bone marrow donors (which is currently legal).

My comments were about the ethics of compensating people for their bone marrow. Here is what I said (video of my comments is at the end, if you prefer watching to reading):

Recently, Congressperson Nanci Pelosi said the following:

“We have a little time to save lives. What more important thing does any of us have to do than to stay here and pass a law to save lives? Somebody said to you, you could save 90 lives by passing a bill today, wouldn’t you do that? Or why wouldn’t you do that? Why wouldn’t you do that?”

Here we have an opportunity to save much more than 90 lives. We have the opportunity to save hundreds, if not thousands of lives.

All that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has to do is nothing.

The question is, why wouldn’t they do that?

There is one company, Hemeos, that stands ready to help save more than 90 lives. All they require is the continued legal permission to operate.

I. WHY NOT?

So why would HHS not permit companies like this to operate?

I looked at the Department’s arguments in favor of passing a new rule that would prevent companies like Hemeos from saving more than 90 lives.

I also had a look at all of the public submissions to the Department of Health and Human Services when they opened this question for public comment. (Of 527 submissions, only 20 were in favor of the new rule. 507 submissions were opposed.)

II. WRONGFUL EXPLOITATION

The first and most frequent response has to do with wrongful exploitation. The worry is that offering payment for bone marrow donations will unduly incentivize at-risk populations to make a health-related decision that may not be in their own best, long-term health interest.

There is no question that wrongful exploitation is a legitimate worry. If it were true that compensating bone marrow donors were wrongfully exploitative, that would be a significant objection. However, the compensatory model would not be wrongfully exploitative.

Unlike aspiration, apheresis is a non-invasive procedure. While there are risks, the procedure is not dangerous. In most cases, recovery, which is generally minimal or non-debilitating, lasts one week.

In addition, hematopoietic stem cells quickly regenerate. Donors do not permanently “lose” a part of themselves.

Given that the burdens are not significant, they provide no grounds for concern about wrongful exploitation.

There is also no evidence that compensation for bone marrow donations would be low, or that only poor or desperate people would be willing to donate for compensation. For example, Hemeos is offering $2,000 per completed donation. That is a sum that is sufficient to persuade middle- and upper-income individuals to donate, just as they now donate eggs or sperm for compensation.

Finally, donors would not be compensated on the day that they sign up to be placed on the registry. Instead, they are paid only after a match is found, and they complete the donation, which can take a long time, possibly years. Worries about wrongful exploitation are about people making desperate decisions in moments of desperation. A waiting period of months or possibly years gives people an opportunity to reconsider.

III. COMMODIFICATION

The second objection to the compensatory model is that it would promote the view that human beings, their bodies, or subparts thereof, are appropriately viewed as “commodities.”

We should mark a distinction between paying for something, and thinking of that thing as a mere commodity. It is trivially true that anything that is paid for or compensated is a “commodity,” but this is ethically irrelevant. What is ethically relevant is that the compensatory model would promote the view that bone marrow is a “mere commodity,” meriting no more ethical regard than other mere commodities, such as cars or clothing or widgets.

However, there is no evidence that the compensatory model would promote this view.

For example, there is no evidence that compensation for blood or blood plasma donations, nor for sperm and egg donations, has promoted the view that people or their blood, sperm, or eggs are mere commodities.

We also compensate Presidents, Senators, Congresspersons, members of the military, police officers, actors, artists, and so on. Mario and I are compensated as professors, mostly from the tuition our students pay. But there is simply no evidence that a paycheck for our labor promotes the view that we are mere commodities, nor that the services we provide — protection, education, artistic expression, representation, and so on — are regarded as mere commodities.

There is simply no evidence that a compensatory model would promote the view that donors or their bone marrow are mere commodities.

IV. SPACE FOR ALTRUISM

The third, frequently cited, objection to compensating donors for bone marrow donations is that it would take away an opportunity for altruism. Of course altruism is desirable, and we should be careful to preserve and promote altruistic and benevolent motives and actions. But this is an unpersuasive argument.

The compensatory model leaves open the possibility for donors to reject the compensation. It also leaves open the possibility for a parallel non-compensatory model. Some blood drives, for example, are uncompensated, while, in other cases, blood donors are offered compensation. Both operate successfully side by side.

It is also true that compensation and altruism are not mutually exclusive. In many cases, people who are compensated are motivated either simultaneously or primarily by altruistic impulses. This is true of many teachers, of many doctors and nurses, of members of the military, and so on. Blood donors who are compensated are often moved by altruistic motives. There is no reason to think that compensation for bone marrow donations would completely, or even significantly, crowd-out altruism.

V. OPEN LETTER

None of the three most frequently-cited objections to the compensatory model withstand ethical scrutiny.

This is not my view alone.

39 professional ethicists from across the political spectrum signed on to an open letter addressed to the Department of Health and Human Services presenting the arguments I have offered. They include well-known and well-regarded ethicists like Peter Singer, Gerald Dworkin, and David Schmidtz. The letter is hosted on donationethics.com.

In that letter, we also argued that given the ethical importance of avoiding preventable death, the proposed Rule by the Department of Health and Human Services is itself unethical.

When people stand ready, willing, and able to save lives, we need very good reasons to prevent them. In this case, we do not have sufficient reason to prevent them. Hemeos, and companies like Hemeos, would like to save lives. Because we do not have sufficient reason to prevent them, the proposed new rule is not merely “a bad idea,” it is morally wrong.

Passing this new rule is unethical. What is being proposed is morally wrong. We have the opportunity to save more than 90 lives. Why wouldn’t we do that?

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A Theory of Justice, Post-Trump Edition http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/11/theory-justice-post-trump-edition/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/11/theory-justice-post-trump-edition/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2016 20:46:40 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11398 John Rawls famously argues that we should think about principles of justice from behind a “veil of ignorance.” How robust would you like the protection of religious freedom to be...

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John Rawls famously argues that we should think about principles of justice from behind a “veil of ignorance.” How robust would you like the protection of religious freedom to be if you had no idea whether you turn out to be a Christian, Muslim, atheist, etc.? How would you like income to be distributed if you had no idea whether you’ll be rich or poor?

If there’s a chance that you’ll be part of an unpopular religious minority, you’ll want to make sure religious liberty is taken seriously. If there’s a chance you’ll be among society’s poorest, you’ll want the economic institutions that do the best job of alleviating poverty.

In a Rawlsian spirit, I suggest that when we theorize about the institutions we’d like for our society, we ask ourselves the following:

  • How expansive would we like executive powers to be if they might be wielded by Donald Trump?
  • What do we want the Department of the Interior to do knowing that it might be run by Sarah Palin?
  • How powerful should the Department of Education be in light of the possibility it could be headed by Ben Carson?

(These questions aren’t pulled out of thin air.) If there’s a chance that the Department of Education will be run by someone who thinks the Big Bang is a “fairy tale,” you might want to scale back its power, just to be safe.

This is an old thought. Hayek says it goes back to Adam Smith. On Hayek’s view, Smith’s concern

was not so much with what man might occasionally achieve when he was at his best but that he should have as little opportunity as possible to do harm when he was at his worst. It would scarcely be too much to claim that the main merit of the individualism which he and his contemporaries advocated is that it is a system under which bad men can do least harm. It is a social system which does not depend for its functioning on our finding good men for running it, or on all men becoming better than they now are, but which makes use of men in all their given variety and complexity, sometimes good and sometimes bad, sometimes intelligent and more often stupid (“Individualism and Economic Order,” page 12).

Classical liberals like Smith and Hayek have a point. Now would be a good time for us to revisit it.

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Halloween Is for Irish People Only; For Anyone Else, It’s Racist Cultural Appropriation http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/10/halloween-irish-people-anyone-else-racist-cultural-appropriation/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/10/halloween-irish-people-anyone-else-racist-cultural-appropriation/#comments Sat, 29 Oct 2016 13:48:05 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11286 A year ago, lecturer Erika Christakis wrote an email criticizing Yale’s attempt to control students’ Halloween costumes. Christakis suggested that students, as adults, are capable of policing themselves, that the...

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A year ago, lecturer Erika Christakis wrote an email criticizing Yale’s attempt to control students’ Halloween costumes. Christakis suggested that students, as adults, are capable of policing themselves, that the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable costumes is contestable, and that Halloween is holiday meant to allow people to indulge in certain transgressions. Students harassed her until she left her job. You can watch here as a mob of students at Yale University surrounded her husband, Nicholas Christakis, to browbeat him into submission after he stood up for Erika.

What’s ironic about all of this is that almost all of these Yale students, though desperate to prevent racist and insensitive cultural appropriation, would later go on to engage in insensitive, racist cultural appropriation themselves, as they have done year after year since early childhood.

Let’s be clear: Halloween is for Irish people and for Irish people only. Or, more precisely, it’s for people who are of sufficiently robust Gaelic descent. If you are not Irish, but you celebrate Halloween, then you are engaging in racist cultural appropriation.

If you know anything about Irish history (I assume the Yale students in question do not), you know that the Gaelic people have been systematically oppressed, murdered, raped, enslaved, starved, and abused. Even the word “Halloween” stems from cultural imperialism and genocide, as the Christian conquerors replaced the authentic holiday of Samhain with their Christianized holidays of All Hallows’ Day and All Hallows’ Eve (i.e., Halloween).

Samhain is a rich holiday with a noble and storied tradition. It’s a holiday that belongs to a formerly (and to some degree, currently) oppressed ethnic group. Yet most people in the US and Canada, and many in Europe, Mexico, South America, and elsewhere, feel free to appropriate this sacred festival for their own purposes. They mock it by wearing inauthentic costumes, drinking too much (itself a racist mockery of the drunken Irish stereotype), and exchanging inauthentic store-bought candies instead of the traditional treat.

Again, for non-Irish person to participate in Halloween at all is equivalent to a white person donning a traditional Native American headdress or wearing blackface. The American Halloween tradition, which encourages everyone to mock and insult the sacred Irish festival of Samhain, is at least as insulting as Chief Wahoo, the “Redskins” name, or the Blackhawks’ logo.

I sure hope the woman with her fist raised in the picture below did not trick or treat at any point in her life. If she did, she’s a racist, and she owes Irish people an apology. If she has celebrated Halloween, I hereby give her the middle finger, and I expect a written apology immediately.

As we all know, the norm at American universities is that anyone who is slighted is thereby entitled to make demands. On behalf of people of Irish descent everyone, I demand Yale University take the following actions:

1. Yale University’s President Peter Salovey must immediately issue a memorandum explaining the festival of Samhain to students and urging students not to participate in Halloween celebrations unless they are of at least 50% Irish descent.

2. Yale University must create an Irish studies program to bring to light the long history of rape, slavery, murder, conquest, and theft the Irish have suffered at the hands of the English and others. The Irish studies classes should also highlight the mistreatment of Irish immigrants to the United States. All Yale students must take at least one such class in order to graduate.

3. Professor Christakis should be fired immediately, without tenure review, for his part in perpetuating and legitimizing the racist appropriation of Samhain.

4. Any student of non-Irish descent who participates in any form of a Halloween celebration should immediately be placed on suspension, and should be required to attend 2 weeks of cultural sensitivity classes.

5. Yale University should make a commitment to hiring at least 10 faculty of Irish descent within the next 2 years.

6. Yale University must have a day of remembrance on campus in which speakers are invited to discuss the atrocities and attempted genocide the Irish faced at the hands of the English.

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