Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on November 4, 2014

in Seen and Unseen, Work

… is from page 290 of the late Robert Nozick’s splendid 1989 volume, Examined Life (original emphasis):

I think someone who conscientiously objects on moral grounds to the goals of public policy should be allowed by the society to opt out of that policy insofar as this is possible, even though the rest would wish to include that person in their joint symbolic affirmation.

I agree.  One difficulty, though, is determining what the actual goals of public policy are.  Any policy implemented by a collective is unlikely to have one identifiable goal, as different members of the collective – even those who approve of the policy – have different goals for that policy.  Often these goals are mutually inconsistent.  Such is the case, for example, with minimum-wage legislation.  Many proponents of that legislation sincerely believe it to be a means of improving the well-being of low-skilled workers; other proponents of that legislation support it because they understand that it will, by pricing many low-skilled workers out of the job market, artificially increase demand for whatever it is that these proponents sell, whether it be higher-skilled labor, goods made with higher-skilled labor, or machines that substitute for low-skilled labor.  (I believe that the ethics of the latter group of proponents are worse than those of the former group, but that the economic understanding of the latter group is far better than that of the former.)

So, if I were a low-skilled worker or an employer of low-skilled workers, I would sincerely plead that I disagree with the policy goal of pricing low-skilled workers out of jobs and, therefore, that I should be exempt from having to participate in such an unethical practice.


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