Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on March 7, 2012

in Economics, Scientism, Seen and Unseen

… is from page 381 of one of my favorites of Richard Posner’s many books: his 1995 Overcoming Law:

If one-sidedness is the other side of literature’s emphatic concreteness, emphatic awareness of strangers’ pains and pleasures is the unexpected other side of economists Gradgrindian detachment.  Consider rent control.  The beneficiaries are plain to see: they are the tenants when the rent-control law is adopted.  The victims are invisible: they are the future would-be tenants, who will face a restricted supply of rental housing because landowners will have a diminished incentive to build rental housing and owners of existing apartment buildings will prefer to sell rather than rent the apartments in them.  Economics brings these victims before the analyst’s eye….  A jurisprudence of empathy can foster short-sighted substantive justice because the power to enter imaginatively into another person’s outlook, emotions, and experiences diminishes with physical, social, and temporal distance.

(And, I might add, “the power to enter imaginatively into another person’s outlook, emotions, and experiences” doesn’t even exist when the other-person’s situation is not realized – not seen - by the ‘imaginer’ to be affected by whatever policies the ‘imaginer’ supports on behalf of those persons who he or she can and does see.)

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