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[Editor's Note: This is an update of the original post]

Today starts a new series: we're exploring what policies a reasonable person in a pluralistic society would advocate.  This is coming from the perspective of a Hayekian fan of spontaneous order who tolerates and understands the Rawlsian desire for transfers to attempt to smooth, within reason, the unavoidable network effects that emerge from differing stations of birth and hard luck inequality more generally.

What is the motivating theory behind the idea of "Reasonable People" and what is the thought process implied? Throughout the series I'm inevitably mixing the practical and the ideal…so in deference to Public Choice Theory, this series is less a question of "What's your Platonic/Rawlsian ideal" and more of "What policies would a reasonable person recommend if American politics were operated by trustworthy Swedes/Danes/Germans".   

Rawls asked “What does a reasonable citizen in a pluralistic democracy advocate behind the Veil of Ignorance?” I am asking instead “What does a reasonable citizen in a pluralistic but realistically functioning high-trust democracy advocate?” The reasonable citizen in my question doesn’t have to be operating on a fairness intuition behind the Veil in my question, though like Smith’s impartial observer it’s a possible thought device. The realistically reasonable citizen might also be reasoning from a social welfare function. Most likely it’s an ethical pluralism of the sort necessary to navigate any appreciable political cooperation, i.e. seeking welfare maximization bounded by fairness intuitions in some emergent mix. 

I want to join and further a debate whose content links to a body of knowledge for a reader endeavoring to escape partisan thinking and the rationally irrational madness that Bryan Caplan aptly cataloged in "The Myth of the Rational Voter". Here is a relevant quote from Tyler Cowen's review of the book:

"3. Voters are less irrational in many northern European countries.  I don’t agree with their socialistic view of the world, but in epistemically procedural terms they are making a much greater effort to get at the truth and put that truth into their vote. What accounts for such a difference?"

Exactly! I want to know if public choice problems 'doom' us to miniarchy/the nightwatchman state. And if public choice problems doom collective action, why isn't Sweden literally burning to the ground? This is the question underpinning the whole debate. If the answer is just "trust", then how does trustworthiness emerge as a stable equilibrium and why wouldn't it be possible in the US? Hobbes asked that we take "men as they are and laws as they might be"; I'm asking what the laws might be for men slightly-but-realistically more rational in politics than they currently are.  The goal here is to catalog reasonable policy positions constituting distant, achievable goalposts for those endeavoring for…tiny strides in the direction of a significantly improved state of affairs.

How can voters like my family members even attempt to resist voter-baiting on China, broken window fallacies, anti-immigrant sentiment and so on if they don't know what a reasonable policy sketch looks like? That's what this series is about. 

Stay tuned!

One Response to “Reasonable People: A New Series…”

  1. […] logical first topic to connect the new Reasonable People series to my earlier postsĀ on carbon taxes: what might a reasonable person […]

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