Monday 3 March 2014

Samuelson versus Schumpeter, and a few philosophical questions

SMBC reckons Samuelson got around.

They've forgotten about Joseph Schumpter:
Early in life I had three ambitions. I wanted to be the greatest economist in the world, the greatest horseman in Austria, and the best lover in Vienna. Well, I never became the greatest horseman in Austria.
John Maynard Keynes was also rather prolific.

Friedrich Hayek moved to Arkansas so he could divorce his wife and marry his second cousin.*

Economists are interesting people.

* Jokes about ACT being fans of Hayek would be cheap shots. Whyte answered the question as any philosophy lecturer should.

I, for one, wish we could have an all-candidates debate in which each party leader is required to give a straight answer to each of the following:

  • You are standing at a railway switch. A runaway train is hurtling down the hill and will run over five people with certainty. If you throw the switch, it will divert to another track and will run over only one person. Do you throw the switch? Does your answer depend on whether the five people are wearing your party's or your opponent's t-shirt?
    • If you agreed that we should throw the switch, would you also support compulsory vaccination? Why not? You know that you're doing exactly the same thing here as standing by the switch, watching the train hurtle towards the five people, right? Except that, given the safety of vaccinations, it's more like a thousand people killed for every adverse reaction to vaccination.
      • If your answer, above, was that compulsory vaccination interferes with legitimate individual autonomy for too little public health gain, explain your stance on the regulation of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and heroin. Does compulsory vaccination do more to violate individual autonomy than banning the private consumption of tobacco or marijuana, or than taxing the heck out of alcohol?
  • A young person lives in Temuka and moves to Auckland in search of a better life. The young migrant finds a far better job than would have been available in Temuka and is much happier than otherwise. He outbids a native Aucklander for a house, but only slightly. A person who lives in Auckland also, as consequence, gets a slightly worse job than she otherwise would have gotten. Should the government ban migration from the South Island to Auckland? 
    • Would your answer be different if the young person lived in East Timor instead? What moral theory allows you to distinguish between these two cases?
  • A man cheats on his wife without her knowledge; she is never aware that it has happened. Has he done her harm? If so, should adultery be banned? Why not?
    • A married couple fall in love with a third person. They live together as a family. They raise their children together. They wish their relationship to enjoy formal recognition to ensure easier survivorship rights in case of death and so that their children will be more comfortable in talking about their {Three Moms, Moms and Dad, Dads and Mom, Three Dads}. What harm would be done were they allowed formal legal recognition of their relationship? Why should polygamy be banned? What set of consistent moral principles leads to {allow adultery, ban polygamy}?
Feel free to propose other questions for the never-will-happen all-candidates' debate.


  1. This would be the best television ever (made in NZ).

  2. On trolley problems, have you seen Cory Doctorow's latest?

  3. I'd skimmed that on the phone while stuck in traffic yesterday. Looking at it now, bit lame. If a one-kid margin of error were built into The Cold Equations, then we just need a brother-sister pair to stow away. He's trying to work his way out of lifeboat problems by Kobayashi Maru moves rather than recognizing that we sometimes do have unavoidable lifeboat problems even if they're not particularly common, and that it can be fun to think about them.

    Might as well damn Sophie's Choice for not figuring out a way that Nazis don't exist.