lauantaina, joulukuuta 11, 2004

Parentalism, Blame and Risk Aversion

In Parentalism and Unalienability Glen Whitman argues that the 'parentalism' posited by James Buchanan as a motivation for the widespread support of socialism could perhaps be reduced to not having an exit option from a life management deal. While the question of several rights is highly interesting in itself, I don't think having such an option really nails down what parentalism is all about.

The way I see Buchanan's comment is that parentalism is essentially driven by a psychological mechanism. When people are free, they bear full responsibility for their own actions. This has a couple of implications. First, you have to exert effort to make the right choices since nobody is choosing for you anymore. Thinking is hard work and it calls for some mental discipline; most people would rather do as they feel and not think too much about it.

Second, if you choose badly you're the one to blame and the usual private sanctions that are part and parcel of how the civic society conditions people to act sensibly now get aimed at you. For example, if government social security ends up wasting your savings it's not really your fault even if you voted for bad policy, but if you waste your savings under a private arrangement, people will rightly think you're irresponsible. You'll feel sorry, which is also the point -- negative emotions are one of the most important mechanisms which maintain order among social animals, people included. People don't want to feel sorry...

If you combine these two you'll soon get the sort of fatalistic attitude towards life so characteristic of homo sovieticus. You no longer see life as a spectrum of choices open to you, but as a planned, immutable, branchless path you just have to walk. Since most good things in life are your own doing, you'll rightly feel good about them, but at the same time you get to socialize many of the emotional costs of self-inflicted hardship. The broader societal costs you simply don't think about, because that's not profitable to you as an individual. If you don't like to think too much and are extremely risk averse, the path suddenly seems much nicer than the uncertain, burdensome alternative which makes you face the real costs of your actions.

I think this precise emotional mechanism is what drives fatalistic religions, and that in Buchanan's own constitutional economics terms, the partial veil of ignorance provided by constitutional and communal decision making help risk averse individuals generalize this ideal to the society as a whole.

4 kommenttia:

Phil kirjoitti...

For thousands of years, humans have been taking care of themselves with no other help except family and friends. This whole concept of a parental-government is very new, only existing in the past 100 years or so.

How can it be that sooo many people suddenly can't take care of themselves and make decisions for themselves? We've been doing it throughout history and suddenly in the past 100 years, we are unable to do this anymroe? Has society somehow regressed during the past century?

Great article Sampo, looking forward to more.

- Phil
www.finlandforthought.net

Matti kirjoitti...

Paternalistic government is nothing new but at least thousands of years old according to history.

Phil kirjoitti...

There's no way you can compare the governments of thousands of years ago to the pareental welfare states of today.

Matti kirjoitti...

I see no reason why I could not compare ancient paternalistic states to modern ones. Maybe the ancient states were even more paternalistic compared to the more liberal modern ones.