… is from page five of a book that is among the most insightful and significant that I have ever read: Geoffrey Brennan’s and Loren Lomasky’s 1993 volume, Democracy & Decision: The Pure Theory of Electoral Preference (original emphasis):
Economists have always insisted that social ethics should be informed by a proper sense of scarcity. Extrapolating from their account of individual choice behavior, they see ethics as a matter of choosing among alternative feasible states of the world.
DBx: Of course, in reality no one chooses states of the world. Each of us chooses almost always (and incessantly) only our own next steps and usually only in small matters – peas or beans; white or red; sleep another 30 minutes or not; buy the new Camry or the used Cadillac; say yes or no to Jack’s offer of dinner; watch the game or read a book; lend or not-lend money to brother-in-law Phil; major in economics or in biology; cast the ballot for Smith or for Jones or for no one – the consequences of which mix, in indescribably complex and unpredictable ways, with those of the choices of millions of other individuals to produce states of the world that (as Hayek was rightly fond of noting) are the results of human action but not of human design.
But Brennan’s and Lomasky’s important point here deserves emphasis: no system of ethics can possibly be ethical if its adherents ignore the unavoidable trade-offs of human existence. We can have more butter. Or we can have more guns. But despite how very sublime the outcome would be, we cannot simultaneously have more of both.
Yet it is astonishing – appalling, actually – how much of politics is devoted to ignoring this inescapable reality. It is a reality ignored no less by the self-proclaimed ‘scientific’ and ‘reality-based’ modern “Progressives” than by any other political group with credible aspirations for political success. Donald Trump, as absurd as he indisputably is, is no more out of touch with reality as are Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and ‘moderate’ Democrats such as Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg.