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Wee Problem

Here’s a letter to the Economist.com:

Your correspondent M.S. writes “When people ask ‘what should we do about obesity?’, libertarians tend to respond: ‘what do you mean ‘we”?  Which is sad.  Libertarians don’t have much of a vocabulary for discussing this sort of collective decision-making, and often believe that it should not take place at all….  [O]ne tends to find that libertarian habits of thought make it very difficult to talk about taking decisions collectively, which is not only the entire substance of politics, but is also among the more fundamental aspects of the experience of being a human being” (“In defence of baby authoritarianism,” June 13).

Overlooking the question of who, exactly, are the appropriate “we” for making collective decisions (Is it everyone in a city?  Everyone in a county?  Everyone in a nation?  Why not everyone on the globe, so that, say, tribesmen in Pakistan can help to collectively decide what is sexually permissible for women in London?) – and overlooking also the questionable claim that collective decision-making is “fundamental” to being human – one must point out that M.S. seems to be unfamiliar with the works of Kenneth Arrow, James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, and other scholars who’ve carefully studied the properties of collective decision-making.

These works reveal that decisions made collectively – and especially ones made politically – are perverted with far more arbitrariness, bias, and error than ever affect decisions made individually.  What is truly sad is M.S.’s apparent ignorance of this scholarship.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030


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