Scott Sumner, writing over at EconLog, highlights yet another injustice of the war on
drugs flesh-and-blood people who choose to ingest what political elites – or substantial numbers of other, officious people – deem is unfit for them to ingest. Note also how laughable it is to consider Barack Obama (or almost any other successful politician you care to name) “courageous” or to be “a leader.” Politicians want office, power, and applause – period. And most sell their souls, without the slightest hesitation, in order to increase their prospects of receiving such tacky and ego-bloating ‘rewards.’ So politicians are neither courageous nor leaders. Instead, they are cowards who pander to crowds and then pretend that their typically idiotic orations to the crowds are evidence of their genius, humanity, and courage. All in all, politicians are a loathsome and disgusting lot.
A related question is one about which nearly all non-economists, and many economists—including even some critics of the environmentalist movement—seem to know nothing. Except when we refer to very small groups or to organizations created for a specific purpose, and except when we rhetorically bring into the discourse people who share our approach—the “we” in this very sentence does so—how can we say “we”? This is what economists (and political scientists) call the problem of preference aggregation: Can we aggregate, “add up” in some sense, the preferences of equal individuals in order to obtain “social preferences” on the basis of which “we” can make genuine choices?
The answer is no, as demonstrated by a long tradition of social-choice and welfare-economics analysis. A social choice is either dictatorial—that is, imposed on some—or inconsistent (A is preferred to B, B to C, but C to A).
This sort of question completely eluded Paul Ehrlich and his cohorts, as much as they liked to boast of their scientific knowledge. Physicist Gerald Barney, an advisor to Presidents Nixon and Carter, wanted to replace “personal interests and individualism” by the “interests of the whole society.” He was of course a spokesman for “the whole society.”