Friday 9 October 2009

Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

Brad Taylor points to the excellent Velvet Glove, Iron Fist, which chronicles anti-tobacco paternalism in the UK. He warns alcohol may be the new tobacco.

He notes that folks have different goals and are willing to accept different risks for different rewards. I'll quibble with one contention though:
For the individual, life is made up of many parts - wealth, health, sex, love, music, sport, food and so on - of which health is but one. The British Medical Association is naturally preoccupied with health. This is hardly surprising, and is as it should be. Equally, economists are preoccupied with wealth, the Football Association is preoccupied with sport and Cosmopolitan magazine is preoccupied with sex.

Every important aspect of our lives has its experts, advocates and specialists. They are so attached to their own aspect of life that they lose sight of the other priorities people have. They get tunnel vision.
But economists aren't preoccupied with wealth. We're preoccupied with utility. And we view individuals as the best judges of their own utility. So where the BMA may be healthists, economists are hardly wealthists. Otherwise, we'd bemoan the labour-leisure tradeoff rather than just derive labour supply functions.


  1. I have a copy of the book if you want to borrow it. Have thumbed through it; probably won't have a chance to read it properly for a while.

  2. Fair point Crampton, although I think economists - like all specialists - are inclined to overlook other aspects. For example, The Economist is representative of free trade Classical liberals in supporting open borders (in theory I do too). This *might* make sense from an economic point of view but it doesn't take account of the potential social costs of unchecked immigration.

    Monetarists and communists alike could be accused of paying insufficient attention to the harm their policies created because they were so fixated on their economic dogma.

  3. For a utilitarian, the pleasure the incoming migrant enjoys has to be weighed against whatever costs are borne by folks already here: that the incoming migrant is better off counts for something too.