Utilitarianism again and again

at LAANTA has replied to my reply on his post on the problems with utilitarianism.

In this reply he states two issues that he sees with my view of utilitarianism, namely:

  1. The assumption that utilitarianism doesn’t involve assumptions between what is right and wrong is plainly false,
  2. Justice and efficiency concerns are incomparable because one is non-consequential and the other is consequential.

I plan to reply to the reply of the reply under the flap 😛

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Reply: What’s the Matter with Utilitarianism

Over at the very good blog Long ago and not true anyway,

Utilitarianism leaves no place for justice at a philosophical level … (in utilitarianism) justice is there simply because it helps make us all better off; not because it is right to put wrongs to right

Given that the economic method is fundamentally utilitarian I feel that I have to say a little about this.

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Social devolution or individual freedom?

Here I am going to discuss an issue that is way over my head – but is extremely important for the practical application of economic concepts. I am going to discuss how changes in economic policies can influence social structure.

I decided that I would attempt to write about this after reading this post. In the post the daily dissident laments the collapse of community and the movement in consumerism and its impact on individuals.

The first argument against this view is the idea of individual freedom – individuals have the right to make their own choices, and the frame of communal society alienates that right. However, it is possible to look at the idea of community while providing individuals with rights.

The most basic way to frame this problem initially is as a prisoners dilemma. Read more

‘Right’ by any other name

Many critics of economics accuse it of being an amoral pursuit. Conversely, many economists praise the amoral nature of their discipline. It is easy to think that there must be more to this argument than whether economics is morally ‘good’ or not. After all, that seems like an awfully circular and pointless argument. One might ask what characteristics people value that they feel economics lacks. How do people weigh up the characteristics that they throw in a basket termed ‘morals’? Robin Hanson suggests that perhaps, ironically, economists have many of the tools to help them weigh such factors:

Economic analysis tries to infer what people want, largely from actions, and then tries to suggest policies to get people more of what they want… Critics, however, say economic analysis is untrustworthy because it is incomplete, since wants are only one of many moral considerations. But this complaint seems to me backwards… After all, morality is only one of the many ends we pursue. Yes we want to be moral, but we also want other things, and we each choose as if we often care about those other things more than morality.

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Why economists are always right… or wrong

Oliver Woods has used Matt’s post on the trade off between equity and efficiency to launch an attack on the separation between normative and positive economics. Matt’s busy with real economics today so it falls to me to defend his honour. Oliver claims that

…any ‘rational’ observer would see that economics and politics/society/morality are fundamentally intertwined. They’re really more or less the same thing…

There’s a very good reason why economics and politics are entirely different beasts: economists can be right (or wrong), but politicians can never be right. Read more

The great un-revolution

As much as I hate link farmers, I can’t help reposting this great paragraph from the Positive Economist. It just ties in so well to the recent discussion on this blog about rationality and behavioural economics!

Behavioral economics is possibly the least revolutionary revolution ever to hit an academic discipline, because, as Scheiber is alluding to, the behavioral school is absolutely not changing or abandoning the methodology of economics. As I’ve noted before, the “perfectly rational” economic man can happily do whatever the behavioralists want him to do to be more “realistic”; it’s therefore not necessary to come up with a whole new way of modeling people.

Instead the behavioral school is writing down models of “perfectly rational, utterly self interested maximizers” who act in accordance with the behavioral evidence. That is, writing rationalization of the “irrationality” we observe. Contrast this with the traditional criticism of economic man, which is to throw up ones hands and loudly reject the whole idea of trying to predict what people will do. I prefer the behavioral way.

Yeah, what he said 🙂