Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Rappaport on Mill and Utilitarians

I have loads of respect for Mike Rappaport; however, I am highly skeptical of utilitarianism as a basis for policy. Let's take an issue such as the market economy. The market economy is not superior to the planned systems (socialism, fascism, corporatism) simply because the invisible hand of "price," as determined by supply and demand, tends to deliver goods and services in the most efficient manner. Rather, notwithstanding its efficiencies, the market economy is superior because it is consistent with our human nature as free individuals. The end. No need to break down the effects of wide open markets on the Google boys, Malawian maize farmers, or Walmart shoppers. Such stats are, indeed, encouraging and make us feel like altruist do-gooders; but, alas, such is not the basis for support. Rather, a free market enables its participants to pursue their individual self-interests free from external coercive pressures and, for that reason alone, it is superior to all other competing systems. There is no need to walk the utilitarian rope. In fact, by injecting some relativistic, ends-justifies-the-means, analysis of fact only works to diminish the moral superiority of the system (or any other philosophy). Perhaps I'm demented, but I say that there is nothing wrong with freedom for the sake of freedom. To be sure, it seems that utilitarian arguments can be, and often are, used to combat the goals of freedom rather than assist in its proliferation (see my discussion of American prisons and the Drug War below).