My readers would really enjoy the site Bleeding Heart Libertarianism. I’m not sure that is a proper characterization of me, but the discussion there is top notch and raises and addresses many of the questions that are simmering beneath some of the content of this site and the work I do. They recently had a discussion about what obligations members of a free society have to strangers – using Peter Singer’s classic questions on whether we have an obligation to rescue drowning children. Click through this link and the ones it links to for a discussion.
Suppose we accede that free peoples have a duty to rescue “drowning children” and that it is legitimate for a third party to coerce us into doing it. I suspect that supporters of the state find this position very favorable. But if we push the idea through to its logical consistency – that governments have a moral obligation to coerce all of us to provide for “the easy cases” then I have a simple question. The argument here would seem to be that we cannot ignore drowning children, even if we cannot see them — and we cannot escape our obligations from having to help them merely by observing that others are in a better position to provide assistance. Our obligation remains. And I think I agree. But then my dear readers, can we ask the state-lovers among us to follow this through consistently with all of their policy preferences? Because as I see it, such an obligation of free-people does not appear to always point to more government action and more government coercion as a matter of logic. Take for example the FDA and its gatekeeping of new drugs. It has famously been very conservative in the allowance of new drugs onto the market – ostensibly to protect the lives of people who may take otherwise risky drugs (yes, there is also an efficacy argument). But when the FDA keeps risky drugs off the market it is knowingly walking past a drowning child. Drug lag and drug loss cost many thousands of lives each year. If, as the philosophers of the left like to argue, that free-people still have an obligation to alleviate suffering, then would it not follow that we are also obligated to allow more drugs to come to market?
If not, then under what moral code are we operating? It would seem to be an ugly and unclear version of expediency, but I am certainly open to other interpretations. And this is but one example — quick reflection on the question will surely yield additional inconsistencies. I’ll buy a cup of coffee for my favorite illustrations by readers.