« Government Failure | Main | A Voluntary Vasectomy? »

June 28, 2014


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I think that if we call every law and regulation "paternalism," then the word will be stripped of it's purpose, namely frightening people enough that they hop on the libertarian train.

Paul Krugman has written about this phenomenon in the context of "socialism." His basic point was that, if conservatives and libertarians keep referring to programs that a wide swath of the public likes (medicare, public infrastructure, etc) as "socialism," then more and more people will begin to think that socialism isn't so bad.

If every little rule that federal state and local governments implement to keep us from maiming and killing ourselves and our fellows is "paternalistic," then maybe paternalism ain't so bad, either.

Hi Jonas,

Yes, I worried that I was extending paternalism too far, instead of simply saying this was government fulfilling its job of maintaining order and justice.

But the paradox of happy people celebrating and killing themselves is what tipped the line for me to call this paternalism. These were not deaths caused in anger fighting another tribe; these were deaths caused by excessive jubilance. It is like government forcing someone to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle, even it would be more fun without it.

Forcing citizens to celebrate a World Cup victory without alcohol reduces the fun, for your own good. Government is taking on the job of prudence, not trusting the prudence of the citizen himself.

So, I'm sticking with paternalism.... :)

Interesting question. Clearly, we have conflicting goals: (a) letting the people have fun and (b) preventing unnecessary deaths. As a quasi-libertarian, my first instinct is to say, let the people drink and have fun -- and hold them accountable for their behavior. If you kill someone, we charge you with the appropriate crime and throw you in jail, if convicted.

Of course, that approach is much easier to take in a society in which people put brakes on their own behavior. Thus, if the Netherlands or Germany wins (or loses) the World Cup, there is not likely to be an outbreak of mayhem and violence. People govern their own behavior, therefore, there is no need for the state to supervise them. The situation is otherwise in Latin America and some European countries.

Therefore, the answer is context-specific. If a people is "virtuous" and its members capable of regulating their own behavior, no "paternalism" is called for. If a people is prone to excitability and excess, then the state must step in to preserve the public health and welfare.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Accepting the Invisible Hand: Market-Based Approaches to Social-Economic Problems, Mark D. White (ed)

Beyond Social Capital: A Critical Approach, Irene van Stavern and Peter Knorringa (eds)

Economics and the Mind, Barbara Montero and Mark D. White (eds)

Ethics and Economics: New Perspectives, Mark D. White and Irene van Staveren (eds)

Ethics in Economics: An Introduction to Moral Frameworks, Jonathan B. Wight

The Feminist Economics of Trade, Irene van Staveren et al (eds)

Handbook of Economics and Ethics, Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren (eds)

The Illusion of Well-Being: Economic Policymaking Based on Respect and Responsiveness, Mark D. White

Kantian Ethics and Economics: Autonomy, Dignity, and Character, Mark D. White

Law and Social Economics: Essays in Ethical Values for Theory, Practice, and Policy, Mark D. White (ed.)

The Manipulation of Choice: Ethics and Libertarian Paternalism, Mark D. White

Retributivism: Essays on Theory and Policy, Mark D. White (ed.)

Saving Adam Smith: A Tale of Wealth, Transformation, and Virtue, Jonathan B. Wight

Street Porter and the Philosopher: Conversations on Analytical Egalitarianism, Sandra J. Peart and David M. Levy (eds)

Teaching the Ethical Foundations of Economics, Jonathan B. Wight and John S. Morton et al

Theoretical Foundations of Law and Economics, Mark D. White (ed.)

The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination, Chrisoula Andreou and Mark D. White (eds)

The Values of Economics: An Aristotelian Perspective, Irene van Staveren

The Vanity of the Philosopher: From Equality to Hierarchy in Postclassical Economics, Sandra J. Peart and David M. Levy