Bryan Caplan  

Dochia On Analytical Egalitarianism

Can You Save Egalitarianism By... Wording the Questions...

Econlog reader (and former Avian Flu blogger) Silviu Dochia writes:

I'm with Scott Clark on this one. Levy’s point has nothing to do with nature vs. nurture.

Then why the Smith and Mill quotations, which are specifically about nature vs. nurture? I've talked to Levy about this many times, and an environmentalist stance on the nature-nurture debate is clearly an important component of his view.

The "analytical egalitarianism" simply points out that a dictator's preferences do NOT count MORE when it comes to policy than those of a regular person, regardless of IQ. It is a direct response to Plato's Republic: there is no reason to hand policy over to "philosopher kings", however “smart” and good at geometry they may be. At the end of the day my low/high IQ does not give me the right to ban wrestling and make skiing a national, heavily subsidized sport. My preferences are no “better” or “worse” in some absolute sense than those of the next person: de gustibus non est disputandum.

What if smart people want to let people be free to choose their favorite sport, and stupid people want to subsidize skiing? Empirically, that's a lot closer to the actual structure of public opinion than what you're suggesting. The average person with a high IQ is not a libertarian, but he's a lot more libertarian than the average person with a low IQ.

Historically, the discussion was of course very often falsely linked to that about IQs. This is misleading, and comes from confusing ends and means. IQ helps you choose better means perhaps, but provides no guidance as to what the goals themselves SHOULD be. The smartest person in the world has little right to tell you which ice-cream flavor is “best”.

Most choices are based on a blend of knowledge and preference, so high IQ does provide guidance. For example, high IQ people are less protectionist, which partly stems from their greater understanding of economics.

Big picture: Dochia seems to think that analytical egalitarianism has libertarian policy implications. That's wishful thinking. The policy implications of analytical egalitarianism are democratic, not libertarian. If all preferences count equally, and the majority wants to ban marijuana, what's an analytical egalitarian to say?

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COMMENTS (6 to date)
eric writes:

Assume IQ is perfectly and positively correlated with income in a free market. The lower IQ half could form a coalition with the those with random IQ's who are really good at politics (or ruthlessness), and enact massive redistribution (or a union-like seniority wage system). They would then be on top of the new social hierarchy.

Atlas could shrug, but perhaps status (eg, Frank, Layard) is the key to happiness, not absolute wealth. We're doomed. :(

Silviu writes:

My original comment was mainly intended to separate the nature vs. nurture debate from collective choice discussions. I still feel they are philosophically different.

On your second point, which is separate, I think, you are right: with meddlesome preferences, analytical egalitarianism leads to democracy. Of course, the same meddlesome preferences make libertarianism impossible.

Ragerz writes:

Caplan's suggestion that primarily "stupid people" want to subsidize particular choices while "smart people" want to leave people free to make whatever choice they want is ridiculous. As Caplan notes, the ability to be brainwashed by Ayn Rand (libertarianism/objectivism) is positively correlated with intelligence (Or maybe its not intelligence as much as nerdiness. And then that nerdiness happens to be correlated with the kind of intelligence measured by IQ tests.) I am also certain that the ability to be brainwashed by most ideologies in general is positively correlated with intelligence. Nonetheless, as Caplan also noted, most high-IQ people are not libertarians. Which means that libertarianism must be wrong, right? Or maybe IQ and other types of ability aren't really relevant to normative questions.

Why giving difference in abilities high normative significance does not imply that one will advocate the same policies as Hitler, it should be noted that he made this same mistake too. That is, assigning high normative significance to differences in abilities was necessary, but not sufficient to the moral disaster that was Hitler. And it is a slippery slope.

Is isn't Ought. Period. That you wish to privilege libertarian ideology doesn't change this. If you want to privilege libertarian ideology, you have to do so on normative grounds, not with reference to normatively irrelevant facts.

To respond to the point about preferences, of course we should give greater weight to certain preferences than others. We should not give equal weight to those with evil preferences, for example, pedophiles or those who would engage in racial discrimination. We also should give less weight to hedonistic preferences.

Saying that we should give equal weight to different preferences is not a product of intelligence, it is a product of being amoral AND lacking discernment.

However, preferences are not the same as interests. As far as interests go, we should not give any more weight to one person's interests than to another. Ultimately, in the realm of interests, rather than mere preferences, that we should all be considered equal.

Lars Smith writes:

One possible downside to high IQ is gullibility. An extraordinary ability to find patterns may lead to the identification of patterns where none exist. IQ may not be correlated with common sense.

Cyrus writes:

The 'moral disaster' argument is weak for both sides of this debate. Would-be oppressors have historically recruited whatever argument(s) are at hand to justify atrocity, whether based on the in-group's supposed superiority, the victim's supposed moral failings, supposed divine preferences, or plain amoral arbitrariness. When the Celts sacked Rome, they needed no more justification than, "All things belong to the bold."

That said, though, I submit the hypothesis that our Constitutional form of government was framed under the assumption that at least in some important respects, all men are created equal, and that this form of government does not function well if informed by contrariwise ideas. I make no hypothesis on whether some form of government exists that does function well when informed by non-egalitarian ideas, but ours is not one of them.

Tom West writes:

More to the point, can anyone point to *any* government that:

(1) assumes basic inequality, and
(2) has lasted 3 or more generations

that isn't utterly abhorrent to modern sensibilities?

I cannot see any form of non-egaliatrian government that doesn't (and usually quickly) end up stewing in the corruption of the supposed elites.

While *in theory* a society that doesn't embrace egalitarianism can work, given the reality of human beings, they're (as far as I can see) doomed to failure.

I have to admit I'm getting a little worried about Bryan. He seems to be drifting down the path that has been blazed by a number of very smart, but perhaps not particularly socially observant people. (See discussions on Mensa mailing lists from about 10 years ago about sterilizing/eliminating the mentally handicapped.)

While it's fun an an undergrad to discuss all sorts of theories completely free from moral constraint ("Would the world be better off if we could instantly eradicate every white person on the planet?"), as adults, we are expected to include automatically include the moral aspects in any problem we examine ("the act of genocide in and of itself makes examination of 'better off' worthless").

Between this topic and holding the mentally ill responsible for their actions, he seems to be sliding down this slope...

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