Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Think Tank for Everyday Democracy

Aside from all the pessimism in Prospect this month there is also a really interesting article on what Jim Holt, it’s author calls ‘soft paternalism’.

Remember how Ulysses ordered his men to tie him to the mast of his ship so that he could hear the song of the Sirens without being lured to his destruction? That’s soft paternalism. You know it’s the right thing to do – you just need a bit of help. Ban yourself from a casino. Tell the barman not to serve you when you’re drunk. Get your flatmate to hide your cigarettes.

All sounds quite sensible, but is it something for government? It may sound practical (and helpful) but what about the ethics of it? Why privelege the decision i make not to go get served at the bar later ahead of the decision i make to get served at the bar later? Which one carries more worth if they are both conscious and deliberate decisons? Are we in danger of government picking the bits of our personalities that it likes ahead of the bits that it doesn’t?

Difficult stuff but very interesting. If you’re not registered with Prospect read the original article in the New York Times here.really dislike this idea:

1) I’m struggling to think of a situation other than personal addictions when this soft paternalism would be implementable.

2) The term ‘soft’ paternalism seems a misnomer; being put on probation for carrying out a legal activity doesn’t strike me as soft at all.

3) Why should the state bear the cost of an individual’s inability to self-discipline? The state should spend its resources and focus on protecting people from forces outside of their control, not from themselves.

4) Surely changing one’s mind is an inherent right – what happens if an individual decides that he doesn’t care about the consequences any longer and decides he does now want to gamble his life into oblivion? Should the state be able to bind you from pursuing a legal activity? (Though in contradiction to my earlier point however, maybe the costs of the state preventing a person from doing this may be cheaper than the costs of rehabilitating them after. Malcolm Gladwell has something interesting to say along these lines.)

5) Self discipline is a crucial factor in individual success: the state should, if anything, be teaching people how to self discipline maybe, not doing it for them, as David Brooks writes.

Monday, March 12, 2007