I hope that I didn’t give the impression in my last post that Mankiw actually likes philosophy. If anything, he sounds rather negative. Economists drawing on philosophy when making policy advice is apparently a “dirty little secret”. The point seems to be that making a case for a policy will involve value judgements, often on disputed value judgements about distribution.
Hey, I get it. Just about any substantive policy would help some people but harm others. So how does Mankiw propose to avoid the need to call in some philosophy? His proposed principle is, …. hang on, I had it a minute ago … “[f]irst do no harm”. Eh? Didn’t he just say that government policies pretty much always harm someone?
I guess I must be getting the wrong end of the stick. Perhaps I am failing to distinguish tasty and sweet-smelling type 1 harms from those nasty type 2 harms. Or something. He does give us a couple of hints about what it is all supposed to mean. But I really think we could ask for some more clarity about the normative foundations of his perspective. You know, like doing a bit of philosophy.