Free Markets, Free People

Apologizing for authoritarianism

That’s essentially what Sarah Conely does in a NY Times op-ed. Oh, she cloaks it benignly enough -“it’s just soda” – as he supports the Bloomberg ban on large volume soda sales.  But in essence what she claims is “government knows best” and “giving up a little liberty isn’t so bad if it benefits the majority”.

You see, liberty, in her world, is much less important that security or safety.  And we, as knuckle dragging neanderthals, don’t always know what is best for us or how to accomplish our goals without the hand of government to guide us (how we ever managed to make it to the 21st century without that guiding hand is still a mystery in Conely’s circle).  Sure some can do it, but most can’t and so laws should be designed to protect and guide (coercively of course) those who can’t (or are believed to be unable).

A lot of times we have a good idea of where we want to go, but a really terrible idea of how to get there. It’s well established by now that we often don’t think very clearly when it comes to choosing the best means to attain our ends. We make errors. This has been the object of an enormous amount of study over the past few decades, and what has been discovered is that we are all prone to identifiable and predictable miscalculations.

Research by psychologists and behavioral economists, including the Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman and his research partner Amos Tversky, identified a number of areas in which we fairly dependably fail. They call such a tendency a “cognitive bias,” and there are many of them — a lot of ways in which our own minds trip us up.

For example, we suffer from an optimism bias, that is we tend to think that however likely a bad thing is to happen to most people in our situation, it’s less likely to happen to us — not for any particular reason, but because we’re irrationally optimistic. Because of our “present bias,” when we need to take a small, easy step to bring about some future good, we fail to do it, not because we’ve decided it’s a bad idea, but because we procrastinate.

We also suffer from a status quo bias, which makes us value what we’ve already got over the alternatives, just because we’ve already got it — which might, of course, make us react badly to new laws, even when they are really an improvement over what we’ve got. And there are more.

The crucial point is that in some situations it’s just difficult for us to take in the relevant information and choose accordingly. It’s not quite the simple ignorance [John Stuart] Mill was talking about, but it turns out that our minds are more complicated than Mill imagined. Like the guy about to step through the hole in the bridge, we need help.

So, now that we have these Nobel Prize winning psychologists and behavioral economists on the record saying we’re basically inept shouldn’t it be clear to you, as Conely concludes, that “we need help”?

That sort of “help” used to come from family, friends and community.  We somehow managed, for around 200 years, to grow and succeed splendidly without government intruding and trying to control our lives.

The basic premise of her piece is much the same as Bloomberg’s more direct assault:

The freedom to buy a really large soda, all in one cup, is something we stand to lose here. For most people, given their desire for health, that results in a net gain. For some people, yes, it’s an absolute loss. It’s just not much of a loss.

Or to quote a more succinct Bloomy: “I do think there are certain times we should infringe on your freedom.”

Notice the arbitrariness of the “I do think”.  His choice, not yours.  Bloomberg picked sodas.  What else could he or those like  him arbitrarily pick next time?  Think government health care for example and your mind explodes with where they could go.

And notice Conely’s dismissal of the loss of freedom as “not much” of a loss.  Incrementalism at its finest.  Pure rationalization of the use the coercive power of the state to do what they think is best for you, because, as her academic colleagues have stressed, “we need help.”  And our betters are always there to “help” us, aren’t they?

Funny too how the solution is always the same, isn’t it?

And their desire to intrude? Well its wrapped up in their concept of government’s role in our lives:

In the old days we used to blame people for acting imprudently, and say that since their bad choices were their own fault, they deserved to suffer the consequences. Now we see that these errors aren’t a function of bad character, but of our shared cognitive inheritance. The proper reaction is not blame, but an impulse to help one another.

That’s what the government is supposed to do, help us get where we want to go.

No. It’s not. That isn’t at all the function of government as laid out in the Constitution. Not even close. It has always been our job to “get where we want to go”. Government’s job was to provide certain functions to ensure an equality of opportunity (like a fair legal system, stable monetary system, etc), but on the whole we were free to pursue our lives without its interference as long as we stayed within the legal framework and did no harm to others or attempted to defraud them.

Conely’s last sentence is the mask that fronts and justifies/rationalizes every authoritarian regime that has ever existed.  If you don’t believe that, I invite you to look at the title of her last book.  “Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism.”

Kind of says it all, doesn’t it?

~McQ

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42 Responses to Apologizing for authoritarianism

  • “A lot of times we have a good idea of where we want to go, but a really terrible idea of how to get there. It’s well established by now that we often don’t think very clearly when it comes to choosing the best means to attain our ends. We make errors. This has been the object of an enormous amount of study over the past few decades, and what has been discovered is that we are all prone to identifiable and predictable miscalculations.
     
    Wow.
    So then Sarah, if it was discovered that you really ought NOT to be a writer, and instead, would have proven via testing to be more capable as a….sanitation engineer, or perhaps a street sweeper, ditch digger, etc, then if the ‘wise’ government had so ordained it, you’d be okay with them correcting your ‘error’ in wanting to be a writer, and you’d go quietly off to your job every day because your betters had discovered your identifiable and predictable miscalculation, right?
     
    No, I’ll bet not.   I’ll bet Sarah is an exception to her rule.
     
    And people wonder how otherwise good people could allow something like the Holocaust (yes, I just invoked the NAZIs) – look no further than Sarah, who is willing to accept that ‘experts’ and authority figures know what’s best and always do what’s best for the benefit of the majority.
     
    Ah, mais oui garcon, the wolves have voted, we’re having mutton for lunch….

    • The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.  Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite. — Military-Industrial Complex Speech, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

      This also includes the “social sciences”

    • But I know what’s best for the experts and that’s to leave me alone. All humans are imperfect and if a mistake-ridden human being has to control my life, I’d rather it be me.

  • “giving up a little liberty isn’t so bad if it benefits the majority”
    >>>> Unless that majority is the Republicans….

    • Yes, try telling her the majority has voted to intrude on her birth control choices and see how quickly this view on government wisdom changes.

  • “I do think there are certain times we should infringe on your freedom.”

    >>>> Note his use of WE and YOUR.   Isn’t it nice to know that you won’t actually have to live with any of the annoyances or hardships you put on the little people?  Of course, I reserve the right to infringe on Bloombergs’ freedoms also. Hope he enjoys it.

    Oh, and you may as well add in Hillary’s “We’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good” to this litany.

  • Several interesting constants with these people…
    1. they see themselves as benevolent…Mussolini’s “totalitarian” impulse was designed to include everyone, nobody left out in the cold.
    2. while they see all kinds of flaws in the ability of others to make sound decisions (all that “bias” crap), they somehow are not so fallible.  They also discount the ability to learn from mistakes in decision-making.
    3. they have no faith in education and persuasion.  They default to compulsion.
    4. they impute (sometimes rightly) “market imperfections”, while never seeing much more dangerous “government imperfections”.

  • If we are all prone to these sorts of mistakes, so too is the government which, after all is made up of people.  The difference is that if we screw up something, the suffering (if there is any) is fairly well-confined.  We also have the possibility of learning from our mistake.  When government screws up, lots of people suffer.  But a bigger difference is that the government has an institutional bias against admitting it was wrong (who knows, maybe they’ll get voted out).  We can count on the fact that more will suffer for a lot longer – at a minimum.  Unfortunately, since many of the “government’s” decision are based on it’s ideologies, we can expect the suffering to continue for a long time.

  • What we need is Plato’s “philosopher kings”.

  • ” Now we see that these errors aren’t a function of bad character, but of our shared cognitive inheritance. The proper reaction is not blame, but an impulse to help one another…”.
     
    Wrong. Those errors are a function of immaturity, and the proper reaction is to tell them to grow up and act like an adult. The blame goes to the parents who did not bother to teach them how to act responsibly.
     
     

  • Today’s arguments deal with Prop. 8, which Jerry Brown refused to defend in court. Tomorrow’s arguments deal with DOMA, which Barack Obama and Eric Holder refused to defend in court. Indeed, Obama is sending in his Solicitor General to argue for DOMA to be struck down — and his argument, carried to its logical conclusion, would lead to gay marriage being legalized in all 50 states.
    The immediate issue is whether lawyers not representing the State of California (for Prop. 8) or the United States (for DOMA) have standing to defend legislation when the executive has decided they will not. If the Supreme Court ultimately holds that the groups now defending DOMA or Prop. 8 have no standing in court to defend the measures, it would essentially confer a backdoor executive veto on any legislation that an executive doesn’t like. You disagree with a law? Don’t bother engaging in the political process and trying to get it overturned. Just wait until your guy sits in the governor’s office or the Oval Office, and have someone bring a lawsuit. Your guy will refuse to defend the legislation, and BOOM! you’re done. The lawsuit wins, the legislation gets invalidated, and there’s nobody around with any right to complain about it. Easy as pie!
    —-Patterico

    I agree with this, and note that there are several really important issues balled up in this case, besides the issue of “gay marriage”.
    The concept of “nullification” has a lot of costs/benefits, and I’m not sure how they would weigh out in the end. But what Brown and Obama have done sets a very dangerous precedent for “executive nullification”. I don’t see any natural limit to how far down the governmental ladder that goes.
    Nor do I see how you have a “law of the land” concept operative under it, since executives in each jurisdiction could readily decide differently which laws they would enforce (i.e., sheriffs).
    There are lots of ways to thwart the will of the people, and to destroy checks and balances.  They are always inventing new ones, too.

    • The 9th Circuit ruling was based on the fact that since SSM was a right conferred for a period of time, it may not be rescinded via Prop 8.
      The call this the principle of “no-change” to rights.
      I can see this working in so many other areas … say taxes.

      I used to take home even more until the legislature raised taxes.  I have a right to my earnings.  Restore my right.

      If the 9th Circuit ruling stands.   Expect to see a whole lot of mischief.

      • As I noted elsewhere the other day…
        I used to have the right to purchase a Thompson submachine gun through the mail.
        So that “reasoning” doesn’t really work too well.

  • In the old days we used to blame people for acting imprudently, and say that since their bad choices were their own fault, they deserved to suffer the consequences

    We used to called children born out of wed-lock “bastards” too.
    If we draw the line on not calling a “bastard” a bastard, why are we still worried about the size of your soda ?
    Closing the barn door on “oversized” sodas aren’t going to get the ensemble of barn animals back inside.

  • Went to her academic website and found this tidbit:
    “In One (her next book), I argue that opposition to population regulation is based on a number of mistakes:  that the right to have a family doesn’t entail the right to have as many children as you may want; that the right to control one’s body is conditional on how much harm you are doing to others; and that nothing in population regulation entails that those who break the law can be forced to have abortions, or subject to any sort of punishment that is horrific.  If population growth is sufficiently dangerous, it is fair for us to impose restrictions on how many children we can give birth to.”
    Don’t even need to make a “slippery slope argument” or take a “leap of logic” to show how foolish and totalitarian such logic really is. She very clearly states where her line of thinking and reasoning leads.

    • “She obviously hates the freedoms we have so what keeps her here?”
      Philosophy professor (assistant professor….)
      Be fairly sure she’s not restricting her freedom, but would like to help restrict yours in the name of something or other, and she can’t do that from abroad.
      You know how this goes, the proles need to be led, and if she doesn’t lead directly, she’ll be happy to provide the leaders with advice.
       
      Perhaps we should restrict her right to go kayaking, it could be dangerous and unhealthy for her.
      One of her students notes she owns a Porsche….  Bad for the environment, not utilitarian, might inspire one to drive in excess of the posted speed limit or corner recklessly.
      Shouldn’t someone correct her potential mistake before she harms herself?
       

      • “Be fairly sure she’s not restricting her freedom”
         
        And that’s the KEY to it all right there. She will support such authoritarianism if she gets to be a “decider”. Switch the roles and suddenly she will be a Liberty crusader!
         
        I seriously hate these f&*king people.

  • You think Bloomberg is dangerous?  He’s got nothing on the way this person thinks. 

    • No he doesn’t, you’re right.  What he has is the power, albeit limited, to act on those ideas.

      • I understand why Bloomberg lives in this country – he’s made his billions and has the power of what many consider the second hardest political job in the country. But why the hell does this Conely live here? She obvioulsy hates the freedoms we have so what keeps her here?

  • Ultimately the politicians are voted into office and held accountable.  If the American people think the role of government is to restrict freedom in areas where people “need help” that’s the government we’ll get.  If they don’t, then we’ll get a government that makes fewer laws.  Our government is a reflection of our culture.

    • I suppose then that you would be OK with a majority who chose to continue to ban gay marriage, or make abortion illegal. or mandate that every school have armed parents on patrol, or that corporations should be exempt from all taxes or….
       
      You are such a dishonest weasel, you are even dishonest with yourself.

      • He’s okay with government dictating to you, which means he’s effectively okay with the fact we kept people as farm machinery and livestock for the first 80 odd years of the nation.
        After all, it’s what the people voted for and was a reflection of our culture.   He’s pragmatic you see, which translates to mentally helpless and willing to let whatever happens happen without a fight.
         
         

    • Fool, we’re getting the government that buys us with our own money.
       
      You’re fine with it because you’re essentially a helpless twit in a minor position of state sanctioned authority like this other idiot, also from a Maine university.

    • And show me instances where they’ve been held accountable for bad legislation.  Hell, in some cases they’ve committed crimes that would land the rest of us in Federal penitentiaries, and they STILL have not, and will not be held accountable.
       
      The only time they’re held accountable is when some other more powerful politician decides to make an example of them or their action was so egregious it couldn’t be ignored or kept quiet.
       
       

    • What a transcendentally STUPID lil’ piece of Civics 101 twaddle.
      Who…name them…has been accountable for Benghazi?  For the Holder Racial Justice Dept.?  For the Crazy Lisa EPA outlawry?  ET-flucking-CETERA

      • Ah man, I’m SURE that all those things you mentioned were just things important to bitter racist clingers who don’t acknowledge the genius of our Pragmatic Presidential Messiah God King.

    • How depressing. Erp writes a comment where he actually sounds like the sane, reasonable, and uncontroversial one and the rest of you sound like semi-literate knee-jerk wingnuts with the attention span of a mayfly. I really expected better, particularly from those who have previously written pretty much the same thing, but with more concision.

  • I dunno folks, I’m kind of impressed with Sarah…

    I mean, it must take a lot of talent to simultaneously fellate The State while typing…

    • “it must take a lot of talent to simultaneously fellate The State while typing…”
      +1

    • I had to read that twice.  I thought you were referring to Erp.

    • I was thinking she’d managed to type that pretty quickly with one hand down her pants.  Let’s face it, that was the royal ‘we’ she was using.  She sees this as the government doing her oh-so-enlightened bidding, and forcing all the lumpenproles to do the same.

  • “The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants.”
    -Camus