Monday, September 19, 2005

Haven't posted in a while...

...but I'm not too out of it to criticize Matt Yglesias a bit. In particular, he writes
People really like to toss allegations of hypocrisy around because it's a kind of short-cut method of avoiding discussions of substance.
Okay, agreed.
Life is just like that sometimes. Advocates of policy change are typically arguing for new policies precisely because the behavior they would like to see people engage in doesn't make sense under the status quo. Thus, there's no reason to think advocates of new policies have incurred an obligation to just start acting as if the new policy were in place.
I think Matt is making the (very common) mistake of thinking that there is some conflict between altruism and utility maximization, but the opposite way that most people make the mistake. Most people think that the two are incompatible, thus utility maximization is not a good model. Or, that people shouldn't be "maximizers." Whatever, maximization can certainly include an element of altruism. Yglesias takes it to mean that people shouldn't be altruistic, they should do what is in their self-interest despite whatever social goals they value.

But certainly that's not true. If you think driving SUVs is bad enough to expend energy to get a law passed disincentivizing SUVs, certainly you can give them up yourself? One would think that you wouldn't want to drive them at all. Matt's argument seems to imply that if killing someone were in your narrow self-interest it would be okay as long as the incentives were right. We can still hold people morally accountable, even if they maximize utility.


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