Thursday, December 09, 2004

Parentalism and Unalienability

James Buchanan (via Don Boudreaux) proposes a useful taxonomy of motivations for government intervention: managerial socialism, paternalistic socialism, distributionalist socialism, and parental socialism. I’m not sure why he felt the need to attach the word ‘socialism’ to all four concepts; I would have called the second ‘paternalism’ and the third ‘parentalism.’ But I agree with Boudreaux that the fourth concept, parentalism, is both the most intriguing and the most disturbing. The idea is that many people just don’t want to be free because they can’t handle the responsibility, so they actively seek out governmental control over their lives. This is distinguished from paternalism, which results from people trying to control other people’s choices instead of their own.

However, I wonder if parentalism might turn out, at least in a wide range of cases, to be a combination of standard paternalism and distributionalist socialism. Why? Because the private market does offer people (limited) opportunities to turn over their choices and responsibilities to others. You can check yourself into drug rehab clinics. You can turn your finances over to family members. You can voluntarily join a commune or cult and let the leaders decide what you can do, believe, say, and own.

The availability of these private options implies that parentalists who seek government intervention want something more. I can think of three possibilities. First, they don’t merely want to constrain themselves, but others as well. This is, of course, just standard paternalism once you “subtract out” the aspects of the intervention that could be incurred privately. Second, they don’t want to have to pay for the private alternatives; e.g., they want someone else to fund the drug rehab clinic or commune. This is redistributionalist socialism, albeit for the funding of private parentalism. Third, they don’t want an exit option. With the private alternatives, you can generally leave the arrangement – walk out of the rehab clinic, leave the commune, etc. Government intervention can remove that option, making one’s commitment to giving up one’s freedom credible. This third possibility strikes me as the only “pure” parentalism.

Considering only the third possibility, the question is how freedom-loving people can shield themselves from those who would invite government into everyone’s lives just to control themselves. I will suggest just one possibility: that we might wish to weaken the notion of unalienable rights. Something unalienable cannot be taken away or transferred to someone else, even voluntarily. Unalienability is what prevents you from permanently renouncing your freedom by, say, selling yourself into slavery. There are some reasonable arguments in favor of unalienability, so I won’t say it’s a categorically bad idea. But the problem of parentalism makes me wonder if allowing, and enforcing, some degree of voluntary alienability in basic rights might help to shield those of us actually value our freedom from those who don’t.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Are the people of Norway less free than the people of the U.S? Norway is democratic and socialist while the U.S. is a corporatocratic, plutocratic, & kleptocratic Luntzian propaganda state. (I really hate throwing out words like that but sadly they all apply.) All the Senators and the leaders of the House are very rich people, why's that? The Congress passed a spending bill that Bill O'Reilly & Fox News didn't report on, giving big business every conceivable (corporate) welfare item they wanted, why's that? Most of Bush's last-term cabinet will be taking lucrative corporate positions or becoming highly paid lobbyists, why's that? A wealthy, decent society can afford to provide basic stuff to its less-well-off citizens and provide a minimal safety net, why not? Bankrupting our country like Shrubya has has put the Republicans in a position to dismantle Social Security, the "I see dead people tax", and eviserate enviromental protection laws by tricking the masses, for instance, by calling global warming CC(climate change). Luntz and the GOP conveniently left out the the other two C's: Catastrophic Coporativistic (Climate Change). Your continued harping on poor people taking away our collective freedom is really disturbing to me especially since you claim to be part of the reality-based community. That kind of Joseph Goebbels' type of enlightenment we don't need any more of. Your freedoms ARE being usurped and your inalienable rights ARE being downgraded as we speak by the rich corporate class which doesn't have your or my best interest at heart. Someday, you will see the light in spite of all that confusing terminology. I'm convinced of that.

--Reincarnated Reichsminister for Propaganda & National Enlightenment

Anonymous said...

Your Honor, I present Exhibit A in the case against blog comments.

Anonymous said...

I simply don't allow any comments on my blog. I used to but I didn't like getting comments from people who disagree with me. I don't want any scuzzy radical environmentalist (tree huggers are the worst!) upsetting my delicate thought processes. I don't give a damn that I'm the only one reading my blog. It's not fit for human consumption anyway!

For example see (but don't waste your time reading): www.exploittheworker.com by Jonathan Dingel.

Anonymous said...

Haha! Funny: "Your honor I present exhibit A against blog commenting."

I do agree with some of the points the first poster made though, despite the angry tone.

But I think Glen is a tolerant guy. And isn't it really fun reading other people's comments assuming their anything remotely interesting. I tend to be kinda voyeuristic, so I would imagine other people are the same.

And the word : "categorically" mentioned by Glen: the first time i've heard that adjective used was from Mark Garagos when he was defending Michael Jackson, ..."blah blah accusations against MJ is categorically untrue." Since then I've heard it said everywhere by everyone on TV. I thought it was such a strange word that didn't even remotely sound like what it actually means.

sk

Anonymous said...

About Mark Garagos, Esq.--what an awful attorney, in my opinion, with such a poor recent track record: the Winnona Ryder shoplifting case (felony conviction) and the Scott Peterson case. I'd rather defend myself. Michael Jackson did the right thing by hiring his current brilliant lawyer, Thomas Mesereau, instead. I predict an acquittal. That brings up the question as to how does one become a high-profile attorney or academician or anything else. Van Gogh, Edgar Allen Poe etc. all had difficulty making it as artists,writers etc. during their brief lives. Both of them ended up dying tragically somewhere but they didn't end up on the dust heap of history. Ironically, others who were big shots during their lifetime are long since (or best) forgotten. As far as Glen is concerned, he is opinionated; there's no doubt about it. But his students universally adore him for his enthusiasm and competency although sometimes gripe that he is demanding. (They also say he's easy on the eyes!) You can see his approval rating at: www.ratemyprofessors.com

Anonymous said...

Mr. Reichsminister,

In describing the U.S. you forgot to mention militaristic. There is always plenty of money to go around for everything on the Pentagon's wish list--except for armour to protect the infantry man. Can you believe Rummy's callous response to a soldier's question about inadequate vehicle protection in Iraq: "You go to war with the army you have." It reminds me of the insensitive response Dukakis made in a Presidential debate years ago to the question: "If Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered..."

Anonymous said...

What would a German Reichsminister know about militarism? Seriously, you jest!

Anonymous said...

Just the facts mam, just the facts:

The Norweigian economy came out of the war (WWII) badly damaged, both by German exploitation and by domestic sabotage; retreating German troops burned many northern towns. Reconstruction, however, began at once directed by the Labor government, which soon took over the planning of the entire economy reinforcing the country's position in international markets and redistributing the nationl wealth along more egalitarian lines. Within three years, Norweigian gross national product had reached its prewar level. This development was accompanied by new social legislation that greatly increased the welfare of the citizens. In 1959 Norway became one of the founding members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

-Microsoft Encarta Encyhclopedia 2000

That is all very interesting to me: the central planning of free markets along with the social justice of a welfare state. All in 3 years time after a devastating war!!

Yeah, just give me the historical facts and I'll decide the truth for myself.

--Sargent Joe Friday

Toni said...

My friend wrote about this in our blog.

Anonymous said...

It is probably not correct to speak of Norway as "centrally" planned or socialist. We do believe in government intervention in the economy when necessary and in the welfare state--and we do have one of the highest standards of living in the world. Also, the Marshall Plan after the war helped us get back on our feet in a very short period of time. And now thanks to the weak U.S. dollar many of us are travelling to your country for the holidays! The vast majority of Norwegians can't understand the war in Iraq or how Bush got reelected.

Eric Paulsen, Oslo

Anonymous said...

If you really want to talk about a loss of freedom then you should talk about the shriveling U.S. dollar. I can't afford to take a vacation out of the country on account of the crappy exchange rate nor can I buy the Japanese car that I was planning on buying. The destroying of my purchasing power is what is killing my freedom not my imputed desire to be taken care of by mommy and daddy. Conversely, the Europeans are coming here in droves because it is so cheap. My mother used to say that money is freedom; she never said that love was freedom. Why did it take me so long to see that she was right?

Anonymous said...

The first thing that popped into my mind was that if we make it so our "inalienable" rights are seen as voluntarily alienable, then the day will doubtless come when some of us are deprived of them involuntarily.

This is kindergarten stuff, but I think it bears repeating as often and loudly as possible.

Anonymous said...

Not that I have anything against Norway but there is less than 5 million people in that country. Its smaller than Philadephia!

Also, GDP per capita is $37,800 and its growth rate is a flat 0.6%. So that's the best that can be done with a high educated, homogenous population in a resource full land? I don't think its anything to brag about.

I guarantee that if one figured the GDP per capita of all of the ancestors of Norwegians who have migrated to the USA then it would definately be higher than $37,800.

Anonymous said...

True anon about the U.S being more prosperous. I have a friend in Nokia-land Finland (American married to a Finnish guy), and she did tell me her income and it wasn't a whole lot. But since they are a socialist state, and pay much higher taxes, they get all kinds of things subsidized and taken care of that we slave to pay for here. So despite the income difference from the U.S, it all evens out.
They are much more anti-immigration than U.S is however, b/c of the free-rider problem (since the welfare state has such great benefits (housing, medical, even food). I'm not talking about businessmen but rather people strictly going into the country strictly for the welfare. Understandable...

sk

Anonymous said...

Suppose one person makes $1,000,000+ per year "supervising" 10 people who work to make $10,000 per year. That averages out to $110,000 per year per person. That just wonderful! But does it feel right?

Anonymous said...

I guarantee you, many people will not feel guilty about maximizing profit; neither will you if you owned a company. If they are smart and don't want to lose good employees they will naturally adjust wage rate. Salaries should be determined by the market. If the employees don't like working for peanuts, he/she can go elsewhere where they will be paid more. Competition should drive salary.

Anonymous said...

Suppose one person makes $1,000,000+ per year "supervising" 10 people who work to make $1,000 per year. That averages out to $101,000 per year per person. That's just wonderful! But does it feel right?

Suppose one person makes $1,000,000+ per year "supervising" 10 people who work to make $120 per year. That averages out to $100,120 per year per person. That's just wonderful! But does it feel right?

Suppose one person makes $1,000,000+ per year "supervising" 10 people who work for bread and water. That averages out to $100,000 per year per person. That's just wonderful! But does it feel right?

Anonymous said...

Suppose you explain to us how someone is going to run for even one year a successful capitalist business that puts a million dollars in his pocket, if his staff is made up of free, voluntary workers that earn only bread and water.

Anonymous said...

Is this final exams week or what? Where the heck is Glen?

Long answer:
I purchased the late Marlon Brando's French Polynesian Island, Tetiaroa. The only thing on the Island are 10 Tahitian wanted criminals that I generously allow to fish and pick tropical fruit at their leisure for food. I ordered built a French backery in town operated by my personal chef Claude who makes delicious French pastries & baguettes. I also had built a helioport for my personal deliveries of fine imported foods and other luxury goods. Out prospecting one day on the beach with my metal detector, I discovered a gold nugget. Lo and behold, I was standing on top of a gold mine! I began to dig with my bare hands but I decided I wasn't cut out for manual labor. I contacted the local hoodlums (the natives) to see if they wanted to work for bread. They laughed in my face those good-for-nothing ingrates saying why should they work for bread when they can get all the fruit and fish for free. I said to the soundrels, "Wait a minute boys, I own EVERYTHING on this God forsaken island including the banana trees and the 3-mile fishing rights. NO MORE FREE LUNCH!! You either mine the gold during 18 hours shifts, in the sweltering equatorial heat, in exchange for tasty baguettes and all the fruit you can pick or you can starve to death for all I care." Not wanting to die, they accepted my fair and decent proposal. (I did have to hire a bodyguard though to keep from being beaten to death by my workers.) At around $500 an ounce, I became filthy rich even though I was quite rich to begin with. A few months later I discovered, much to my delight, a diamond mine as well. Can you stand it, some people have all the luck!

Short answer:

Travel to Banladesh and visit any sweatshop with children who are working under horrid and dangerous conditions and extremely long shifts because they simply want to fill their bellies with sustenance.

Glen, do I get an A grade on my essay or what?

Anonymous said...

Yes, but we're referring to the job markets in the U.S, not in the little islands and third world countries you mentioned.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever been to Bangladesh? I have. It doesn't fit so neatly into press-release form as you seem to want it to.

Anonymous said...

Besides, your whole essay turns on having non-free, non-voluntary workers.

Anonymous said...

"Unalienability is what prevents you from permanently renouncing your freedom by, say, selling yourself into slavery."

Not to depress anybody but I hate my job and my boss and I feel like I sell myself into slavery every day of the work week. Do you mean this isn't a permanent situation and it's against public policy? Tell that to my wife. She says that if I quit my job that she'll divorce me. I've got 4 young kids to feed, two car payments, a mortgage, mounting credit card debt and an alcohol problem. I take full blame for this mess but just how did I let this happen to me? Especially around the holidays I start to have thoughts of ending it all, but then I think of the kids. This ain't a wonderful life.

Anonymous said...

Anon above: I'm so sorry if your post is real. I know what it feels like to 'slave' in corporate america. I feel doubly worse for you since you're doomed to the job you hate b/c of responsibilities like mortgage, kids and a demanding wife. She is a terrible person for saying that she'll leave you if you quit your job. Maybe she should get off her fat ass(sorry to offend you) and get a job herself, or if she has one, a higher paying one. Maybe you need to divorce your wife for a more supportive woman! My enslavement is by choice at least b/c i like my boss and it's a good job while I'm pursuing something else.
Yeah, as you said, please keep thinking of your kids and the good things in life although it's hard. And it's just the damn holidays, it doesn't mean anything. And maybe finding some support at one of those churches might not be such a bad thing.
Hope things go well for the new year, and I know it will!
sk

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the encouragement and the well wishes. SK, you are a kind and caring person. Merry Christmas and a happy new year to you in 2005!