Daddy’s Gonna Make You Do It

Nick Gillespie’s piece at Reason here: ‘3 Cheers for Coercive Paternalism – Or, Why Rich, Elected Officials Really are Better than You’

Where did Mayor Bloomberg get his ideas?

A few ticks left of ‘Libertarian Paternalism,’ Gillespie links to Sarah Conly’s piece at the NY Times: ‘Three Cheers For the Nanny State‘ expanding upon her book ‘Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism.’

‘Coercive Paternalism’ has a nice ring to it.

Cass Sunstein, one of the original libertarian paternalists, reviewed Conly’s book here:

‘Notwithstanding these objections, Conly convincingly argues that behavioral findings raise significant questions about Mill’s harm principle. When people are imposing serious risks on themselves, it is not enough to celebrate freedom of choice and ignore the consequences.”

More on J.S. Mill’s harm principle here, which provides a standard defense of individual liberty.  It’s probably worth revisiting:

“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm from others.”

Conly might want to amend that last part to read: “…to prevent harm to himself, and thus future harm to others.”

This is one of the primary arguments in favor of Obamacare’s federal intrusion into our lives:  Our personal decisions can lead to poor health outcomes, overburdening the system and leading to continually rising costs.  A subset of very unhealthy people lead to a high percentage of health-care consumption.

It can also justify banning Big Gulps.


‘Of course, what people fear is that this is just the beginning: today it’s soda, tomorrow it’s the guy standing behind you making you eat your broccoli, floss your teeth, and watch “PBS NewsHour” every day. What this ignores is that successful paternalistic laws are done on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis: if it’s too painful, it’s not a good law.  Making these analyses is something the government has the resources to do, just as now it sets automobile construction standards while considering both the need for affordability and the desire for safety.’

You’re in good, totalitarian hands, or at least a rational and economic framework  which will use the power of the state wisely.

Sunstein is more likely to maintain a libertarian position in that:

‘Libertarian paternalists insist on preserving freedom of contract. They also want to think about whether some default rules are better than others, by reference to the interests of contracting parties themselves. Libertarian paternalists emphasize that government officials are also subject to bounded rationality, and hence they are especially skeptical of approaches that ban freedom of choice or impose high costs on those who do what officials don’t like.’

At least Bloomberg, or whomever is in charge, is subject to the same rules on Sunstein’s view.  The government is just a bunch of people making decisions in much the same way as the individuals they’re trying to ‘Nudge‘.  He also leaves more defenses around the individual’s freedom to choose through contract law.

Conly, not so much.

In contrast, the Chicago School economist and foundation for much modern libertarian thinking, Milton Friedman, had a series call ‘Free To Choose‘, and partially rested his economic framework upon rational choice theory:

‘Although models used in rational choice theory are diverse, all assume individuals choose the best action according to unchanging and stable preference functions and constraints facing them.’

It’s arguable that economics will ever make laws which have the universality of scientific laws, but at least rational choice theory didn’t ‘go there,’ which is to say into people’s minds in order to explain by some rational method why we make irrational choices. Your brain as well as mine as well as Bloomberg’s would presumably be governed by these same rules according to Sunstein.

Libertarian paternalism is all about attaching the power the state already has to this rationalism.  According to Sunstein, these new fields offer knowledge enough to be useful guides for making laws, policies, and using the power of the State to influence outcomes in individual’s lives.  These laws’ universality are good enough for government work.

Conly just takes it a few steps further.

The hubris and overreach of Bloomberg and the new taxing/regulatory power in Obamacare are just a few examples of where certain parts of our society could be headed, which is to say, way beyond J.S. Mill.

Send him packing, New Yorkers.  Beat him in the court of public opinion.

Related On This Site:  Kant is a major influence on libertarians, from Ayn Rand’s Objectivism to Robert Nozick’s ‘night-watchman’ state:  A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”…Link To An Ayn Rand Paper: The Objectivist Attack On KantRepost-Youtube Via Libertarianism.Org-David Friedman: ‘The Machinery Of Freedom’…Anarcho-capitalism:  Pro-market, anti-state, anti-war…paleo-libertarian: Link To Lew Rockwell Via A Reader

Anarcho-syndicalist, libertarian socialist and sometime blind supporter of lefty causes:  Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

New liberty away from Hobbes…toward Hayek…but can you see Locke from there?: Repost-From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’

Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and trendy leftist solidarity to liberalism:  Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Catholic libertarianism: Youtube Via Reason TV-Judge Napolitano ‘Why Taxation is Theft, Abortion is Murder, & Government is Dangerous’

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”… From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.New liberty away from Hobbes?: From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’…Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and leftist solidarity to liberalism, but wasn’t exactly classically liberal:  Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Sheldon Richman At Reason: ‘Classical Liberalism Vs. Modern Liberalism’

Leo Strauss argued there is great danger in this approach, i.e. the problems of Europe.  Political science, the social sciences, economics and the explanatory power of these products of reason and rationalism could increasingly form the epistemological foundation for explaining the world, people’s interior lives, how we ought to live and what we ought to do.  This includes where our rights come from and who should be in charge:  Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?

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