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And Another Few Notes

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I actually read the article Mike Fisher posted the link to a few days ago.  For awhile it was showing up on Facebook on a regular basis.

And I thought then what I thought now. 

In terms of any discussion about whether government should be allowed to “nudge” or coerce  its citizens to  make its version of the “right” decisions, the information is entirely irrelevant.

The issue is not whether people often  make bad or  mistaken decisions, or whether human nature is hardwired to make such decisions more likely than not in lots of cases.

Of course all that is true.  I’ve got three thousand years of literature to prove  it.

The issue is this–what is the proper relationship of the government to the people.

Democracy assumes that the people control the government.

Government cannot coerce private choice in a democracy not because we assume that individuals will always make the right choices, but because adult citizens are assumed to have the close to absolute right to decide their private business for themselves.

What the writer of the book reviewed in that article was actually proposing was an end to democracy.

Democracy would be replaced by oligarchy. 

This oligarchy will be staffed by “experts” who will be “trained” in “science.”

They will therefore know what we want, even if we say we don’t want it. 

(One of the things I found interesting about both the  book reviewed and the reviewer is that they tended to take people’s responses to questions  like “Do you want to  live a long, healthy life?” at face value.  My guess is that no matter how the question was asked, the answers were less clear than you might think.

Consider my friend from college, with deep problems with depression. Every medication they’ve ever put her on has made her completely frozen–no depression, but also no libido and no ambition.

It turns out that she can self medicate with cigarettes.  She has none of the side effects of the prescription medications.  She’s  happy.  She’s had a spectacular career.  She’s gone all over the world.

Of course, as she  herself knows, she’s also k illing herself.

But if you asked her if she wanted to live a long,  healthy life, she’d certainly say yes.

If you asked her if she wanted to live a long,  healthy life AT THE EXPENSE OF being the way she is on medications, the answer would be an unqualified no.)

But whether it’s the “science” of how people make decisions, or the “science” of how junk food gets us “addicted,” the  purpose is the same–to reduce the individual from the status of a citizen to the status of a child, who can’t be left alone to make his own decisions because he’s just not competent to make them.

Written by janeh

February 21st, 2013 at 10:09 am

Posted in Uncategorized

9 Responses to 'And Another Few Notes'

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  1. I usually say that in a democracy the government is the servant of the people. Let me pursue that analogy.

    Suppose I am wealthy enough to employ a cook. I tell the cook that I want roast beef for dinner. If the cook replies that I have eaten too much meat this week and that dinner will be fish, then I would fire the cook.

    I do not object to laws which require the label to
    say “This drink contains the equivalent of 6 cups of sugar and may be harmful to your health”. I do object to laws which try to control my consumption of the drink.


    21 Feb 13 at 5:27 pm

  2. OK, I only disagree by one word. But it’s an important word, so I’m going to make a big thing about it.
    This isn’t about democracy. Democracy is a form of government, and the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Prohibition amendment and Mayor Bloomberg’s fancies have all been carried out in due form by the people’s properly-elected representatives. They’re more democratic than the Civil War amendments. And the only liberty inherent in democracy is freedom of speech and the press, so the voters may take counsel of one another.
    This is about freedom—literally free doom, or fate, which I get to choose: not that I will necessarily choose wisely or well, but that I do the choosing. A republic, as John Wayne once said “means you can live free—talk free: come or go, buy or sell, be drunk or sober—just as you choose.” Precisely: just as I choose. That’s freedom. But the requirements of democracy were met when a majority of the men crossed that line in the sand.

    Michael, as for your observation that people will lie to me about the purity or safety of their products to obtain my money, this is not news. It’s why Ayn Rand wrote that government was to protect me from force OR FRAUD. But if you’re under the impression that politicians, government regulators and their allied “experts” are less prone to falsehood, and often for less savory motives than greed, I have—no, you already bought that bridge to the 21st Century didn’t you? With a box of leaky condoms thrown in free.


    21 Feb 13 at 5:52 pm

  3. Mique

    21 Feb 13 at 8:21 pm

  4. “But if you asked her if she wanted to live a long, healthy life, she’d certainly say yes.”

    Um, yeah . . .

    So, you say, clever people often engage in all kinds of manipulation . . .

    Thank you for supporting my point.

  5. Nothing I said supported your point.

    When my friend answered yes to that question, she wouuldn’t be lying and she wouldn’t be manipulating anyone.

    The problem is that it’s the wrong question.

    The issue isn’t whether she wants to live a long and healthy life. Everybody does.

    The question is under what conditions she’s willing to live at all.

    Faced with an either/or–live a long and healthy life but in that flat way without real joy or accomplishment OR live a shorter and less healthy one while doing all the things she wants and accomplishing much–she vastly prefers the second.

    But our author, asking the wrong question, looks at her behavior and goes–see? we have to nudge or coerce her! she just can’t help herself from doing things that are going t keep her from getting what she already says she wants!


    22 Feb 13 at 9:26 am

  6. A long AND happy life. The and is a problem. The experts tell me that if I cut down on meat, desserts, salty foods,chocolate and wine and take a long walk every day, then I will increase the probability of a long life.

    But will I be happy?


    22 Feb 13 at 1:54 pm

  7. No, your FRIEND would not be lying or manipulating anyone — but you are, essentially, accusing those of asking the questions of intentionally asking misleading questions with the intent of distorting the meaning; of asking questions that can be deliberately misconstrued for their own purposes — you wrote “f you asked her if she wanted to live a long, healthy life AT THE EXPENSE OF . . ”

    Which is one way to say that that the way the question is ACTUALLY asked is with, quite probably if not provably absent an admission, a deliberate attempt to distort the data — by people with an agenda.

    You can’t have it both ways.

  8. Ah. Not necessarily, no. I do think that people have a very difficult time accepting that other people may be truly and fundamentally different than they are in any way they would have to respect. When people do things they find sekf evidently wrong, they answer must b that such people are in some way defective–stupid or undisciplined or addicted or something.

    In this case, it isn’t that the author is manipulating data as much as that she doesn’t actually have any. The reported survey questions are defective.

    As for the other things–people make bad decisions! they’re addicted to junk food!–they are, as I said, entirely irrelevant.

    All those things may be true, but they do not answer the quwstion of the proper relationship between the individual and her government


    22 Feb 13 at 10:52 pm

  9. At one point in my life I worked a bit with surveys. Believe me, while there certainly are people who deliberately design surveys to produce misleading results, there are far, far more people who simply haven’t thought through how people are likely to respond to their surveys. They put in misleading options or questions, leave out important possible answers that many of their respondents might have chosen, go way beyond what the data actually shows while interpreting it – I could go on and on.

    On a side note there’s a minor local fuss about local politicians manipulating those little online surveys you get on a lot of news websites. I can’t imagine why they bothered. It says right next to them that their unscientific and don’t represent anything meaningful, and anyone with half a brain could have figured that out from reading the possible responses. And yet, people take the time to try to skew the results (and possibly put anonymous comments in the comments section too).


    23 Feb 13 at 10:29 am

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