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Libertarian Unconditional Love

March 4, 2008

Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein are big proponents of what they call “libertarian paternalism”. In short, government is here to stay. Getting rid of it is a utopia. Might as well try to make it as good as possible. Statists often believe that the problem resides with the actual people that are put in charge, “if only the right people were elected” or “if only we lived in a dictatorship where Jesus was the dictator”, etc…Libertarian paternalists instead say: “we’re aware that politicians are subject to the same forces of self-interest as everybody else. However, an elite of social scientists can design mechanisms that are independent of such forces and that will produce optimal results in the long run.”

This sounds good but I worry that the problem just gets shifted from politicians to the social scientists. Also the analogy with raising kids is problematic, because apparently parenting has very little effect on how kids turn out. Indeed, being a good parent entails being aware of the damage that your overbearing physical and intellectual strength might cause. But in final analysis what a parent learns is how to accept that kids are their own persons: they’re separate individuals who will go out in the world and who will learn from their own experiences. It’s a cliche’ but, in my experience, it’s certainly true that the best strategy is to love your kids unconditionally. So I wonder, is a government that loves everyone unconditionally also a utopia?

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