Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Mid week review

I have been busily marking exams and have just finished the last paper. Most teachers whether at schools or universities will tell you that the most uninteresting part of their work is grading assignments and exams. There are bright spots but, for the most part, it is an effort to keep your concentration and focus.

Hopefully I can now return to some serious blogging.

There have been a couple of recent posts on other blogs that interested me but which I didn't have time to pursue. One by Jason Soon at Catallaxy looked at the value of freedom - amongst other things it discussed the role of risk and the ability of people in a free society to make mistakes. A post by John Quiggin similarly asked whether he could be a libertarian social democrat. On this blog there have been heated exchanges over the right of the state to attempt to manipulate people's eating, gambling and drug-taking behaviours.

The extent to which you want the state to intervene in people's lives is, of course, a major issue distinguishing different camps of political philosophy. The debate is confused since no-one outside of North Korea or Cuba favours state socialism any longer - there is universal agreement on the value of a market economy - and, similarly, few endorse unbridled libertarianism. My own (not entirely consistent position) is that I am support free markets but have an ambivalent attitude towards the state. I support state intervention to address market failures, income and opportunity inequalities and to pursue active interventionist policies to stabilise the macroeconomy. In this respect my views are just consistent with those of most economists. But in fact I would go a fair bit further than this.

As the conservative I am, rather than the liberal my critics would suggest I should be, I am also concerned with the fact that people do seem to act irrationally and that, sometimes the State might want to intervene to nudge things in a particular direction. For the most part these are negative nudges (drug, food and gambling restrictions) but there are also positive nudges as well - I support public education and activities of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and SBS.

I can justify these views by appealing to pragmatism but justification is probably unnecessary since many in the Australian community support these public interventions.

The age old issue of the appropriate role of the state is a broad question and one that I will return to. But how involved do you believe government should be in changing habits of citizens? Are activist drug, food and gambling policies valuable or are they are pernicious interventions by the nanny state?


melanie said...

One person's rationality is another's irrationality. I know this is an extreme position, but if you consider that people consider it rational to worship figments of their own imagination, perhaps not so extreme. Do you think people should be 'nudged' to abandon religion? It's what gets nudged and who does the nudging and for what purpose that counts.

hc said...

I think that all people are entitled to enjoy a secular education devoid of propaganda from any church but I wouldn't force the issue.

As I have posted before religion can be (and usually is) foolishness which advances society's interests (here).

On 'who does the nudging/' I agree. This the difficult bit. I don't have a grand theory. Democratic institutions need to develop with a respect for minority interests. Already becoming a mine field.

conrad said...

It would be good if we could use automatic software for marking exams and assignments -- but there seems to be huge resistence against it, which is odd, because it is not like the average tutor is going to be much more reliable.