"What if a poor person gets sick, doesn’t have insurance, and can’t get friends, family, or charity to pay for treatment?"

"What if an elderly person gets defrauded out of his entire retirement and the perpetrator vanishes into thin air?"

"What if a child is starving on the street, and no one voluntarily feeds him?"

"What if someone just can’t find a job?"

If you’re a libertarian, you face what-ifs like this all the time. The point, normally, is to make you say, “Tough luck” and look like a monster. What puzzles me, though, is why libertarians rarely ask analogous questions. Like:

"What if Congress passes an unjust law, the President signs it, and the Supreme Court upholds it?"

"What if the government conscripts you to fight in an unjust war, and you die a horrible death?"

"What if a poor person drinks and gambles away his welfare check?"

"What if the government denies you permission to legally work?"

"What if the President decides your ethnicity is a national security risk and puts you in a concentration camp, and the Supreme Court declares his action constitutional?"

"What if a person lives an extremely unhealthy lifestyle, so by the time they’re retired, they’re in constant pain no matter how generous their Medicare coverage is?"

"What happens if a President lies to start a war, and voters don’t particularly care?"

Once you start the what-if game, it’s hard to stop. Name any political system. I can generate endless hypotheticals to aggravate its supporters. The right lesson to draw: Every political perspective eventually has to say “Tough luck” when confronted with well-crafted what-ifs. There’s nothing uniquely hard-hearted or cruel about libertarianism. Defenders of democracy, nationalism, liberalism, conservatism, the American Constitution, and social democracy all eventually sigh, “Life’s not fair”, or “Well, what do you want me to do about it?”

The obvious reply is that some of these hypotheticals are more realistic than others. But that puts the critics of libertarianism on extremely thin ice. None of my alternate what-ifs are fanciful. Several of them - lethal conscription, unhealthy lifestyles, denying foreigners the right to work, mendacious wars - have happened or continue to happen on a massive scale in the most democratic nations on earth. In contrast, we’ve never seen a rich, modern, libertarian society. For all we know, private charity in Libertopia would more than suffice to end absolute poverty. Stranger things have happened.

Why the double standard? The root, I suspect, is status quo bias. Most people tolerate the unpleasant ramifications of the status quo because they’re used to them. You might get conscripted and die a horrible death? Oh well, that’s life. Most people won’t tolerate the unpleasant ramifications of libertarianism because they’re used to a world where government says, “We’ll never let that happen”. But what’s so great about that assurance, when it’s bundled with a long list of other evils that governments blithely tolerate - or actively commit on a grand scale every day?

- Bryan Caplan


I understand that you’re not all that into utilitarianism, but surely you understand the reasoning of those that do.

I do understand why people argue for utilitarianism, and I also see many bad arguments against it. I wanted to see if you had considered better arguments against it. Of course, if this is something you don’t want to talk about right now, feel free to not respond to this post.

The only reason I value my own happiness more is that I have hardware that makes me value it more (and also because I’m more certain of how to improve my own life). If I save my loved one, I save me and their (other) loved ones from being sad. If I save the 5 random people, I save (approximately) 5 times as many people from being sad.

I’m confused here. You say you value your own happiness more, but then what does it mean for you to think that saving five people is the right thing to do? If it’s right to sacrifice one person to save five, doesn’t that mean that you value five people more than you value one person? If you value the one more than the five, but still think that sacrificing them is the right choice, then in what sense do you value the one more?

Would you be less confused if we scaled the number of people on the other track up? Like, save one loved one, the save 1000 people?

If the person you’d have to push in front of the track is only someone you only cared about a little, and you assign positive value to human life, I can imagine that saving enough strangers would be a greater value for a certain quantity of strangers. But I can also imagine caring about someone enough to prefer to preserve their continued existence over the lives of thousands or millions.




If the person on the one-person track is a loved one, doing the right thing becomes a lot harder. Way, way harder. But it doesn’t change what the right thing is. Sacrificing one to save five is the right choice.

What makes it the right choice?

Saying that utilitarianism makes it the right choice is not an explanation, utilitarianism merely claims that it’s the right choice.


If the person on the one-person track is a loved one, doing the right thing becomes a lot harder. Way, way harder. But it doesn’t change what the right thing is. Sacrificing one to save five is the right choice.

What makes it the right choice?





tread softly, because you tread on my memes

i can’t believe how embarrassed to have printed that word combination i would be in hindsight if i were richard dawkins


to be fair it’s Richard Dawkins, I think he’s immune to embarrassment at this point


I find it very hard to understand people who don’t think pulling the lever in the Trolley Problem is the right choice.

If everyone involved is a stranger, pulling the lever is clearly the right choice. But what if the the person on the one-person track is someone you care about, such as a friend or family member?

Tags: yxoque

(Source: ordnungsokonomik)

Tags: Jon Stewart


Right and Left are useful coalitions not ideal types. This is most evident in economics and foreign policy. 

Tags: politics



Facebook why is “randomly send my conversation partner a blue thumbs up” a one-touch operation that is pretty much never something I actually want to do

are you kidding this is literally how i hold all of my conversations now

Have you considered using Yo?




when you mock a person for trait X you are mocking everyone with trait X

If I mock a homophobic politician for being gay am I mocking all gay people? (Though maybe I’m mocking the hypocrisy at a meta level but the principle seems the same, qualities good or badness depends on contextual things. Boldness and risk taking might be valuable in athletes but not surgeons)

…yes. Don’t make fun of homophobic politicians for being gay. The bad part is not the gayness, it’s the homophobia. 

I think the full context of “making fun of homophobic gay politicians” is that you’re not making fun of them for being gay per se, you’re making fun of them for supporting and enacting anti-gay policies while being gay. It’s not “Haha, you’re gay”, it’s “Haha, you’re a hypocrite”.

"The direct use of physical force is so poor a solution to the problem of limited resources that it is commonly employed only by small children and great nations."

— David Friedman

"Friends of immigration restrictions often compare nations to families. I’ll accept their analogy. I love my children more than I love the rest of you put together. This is a good reason to worry that I’ll treat you unjustly if there’s ever a conflict of interest. But it’s no excuse for me to treat you unjustly. ‘I want my beloved son to get this job’ does not justify slashing rival candidates’ tires the morning of the final interview. The same goes for immigration policy. Your love for Americans may tempt you to treat foreigners unjustly, but it’s no excuse for treating them unjustly."

Bryan Caplan


neoreactionaries: “we’re going to centrally plan society, but because we’re rightists this is magically going to work out okay, rather than a total garbage disaster like every other time people tried to centrally plan the entirety of society!”

read some Hayek lol

aguycalledjohn said: utilitarianism

strongly agree | agree | neutral | disagree | strongly disagree

(Note: in my answer I will take “utilitarianism” to be the standard normative ethical theory.)

Utilitarianism is right about a lot of things: consequentialism, weighing the morality of outcomes and rules based on utility, and the rejection of what one might call non-naturalistic* sources of value or moral rules. Where it falls short is that it doesn’t take its virtue of “no non-naturalistic sources of value” far enough, and understates the importance of the fact that all value is agent-relative, i.e. that “value” is a 2-place word, nothing is good in itself (that is, without reference to a valuing agent), and that properly “good” only makes sense in the context of “good for a particular agent”. Utilitarianism makes the mistake of defining the good (world utility) from an agent-neutral point of view, which conflicts with the agent-relativity of value.

Suppose there are two agents in the universe, Bob and Clippy, and they’re vying over a subdividable resource, that both of them derive equal utility from use of the resource, they experience diminishing marginal utility from use of the resource, and that Clippy’s enjoyment of the resource isn’t a factor in Bob’s utility function (and vice versa). The utilitarian would advise the two of them to split the resource equally to maximize world utility, but both Bob and Clippy can justifiably respond with something like, “Why should I care about world utility? I don’t even care about the other agent. Why shouldn’t I further my own ends, rather than some sum or average of the everyone’s utilities?”

By saying that the good is an agent-neutral aggregation of utility, utilitarianism admits a non-naturalistic source of value, i.e. “Regardless of what you care about or what makes you happy, the good is world utility”. What would make that the good? One common answer is arbitrary because there is nothing that makes you objectively more valuable than anybody else. The response to this is that nothing makes anything “objectively valuable” (as the concept is mistaken to begin with), as all value is agent-relative, and from each agent’s own valuation, they and those they care about are more valuable than strangers. For this reason, I reject utilitarianism in favor of agent-relative consequentialism, specifically egoism.

Though I reject utilitarianism, it gets a lot right, and much of the criticism of it is directed at the parts of it that are correct, such as consequentialism and utility calculation. To paraphrase Bertrand Russell, I’m not a utilitarian, but if there’s anything that would make me one, it would be the common arguments against it.

*I may be using this term improperly, but I hope what I mean by it will be made clear by the context.