Sunday, February 28, 2010

Happy Hour, Lunch, & Dinner

Jeff and I have managed to get out and enjoy DC a bit in the last few days, despite all the time spent working and reading.

On Thursday, we went to Elephant and Castle, a relatively new pub on 19th and I St. NW. It was pretty busy for happy hour even at 5:30pm, but we were able to get a table and still get happy hour specials. In general I thought it was a good place - the sweet potato fries and pub pretzels appetizers were really good. Price-wise, I'd have to say that with $5 beers and 3 for $16 appetizers (fairly small portions), it's not the best happy hour deal in town.

Yesterday, we met up with Stephanie and Arthur for lunch at Chef Geoff's at 13th and F St. NW. It had an odd mix of foods available - everything from sashimi to burgers to carnitas and plantains. I ended up going with the turkey avocado sandwich and sweet potato fries, which was pretty good. We also had duck corndog lollypops - which are about what they sound like - mini corndogs, but with duck inside instead of hotdogs, and on a stick. I was pretty happy with all the food, though I think it's a bit on the expensive side (lunch specials were around $12-16 for a sandwich and fries).

We went to dinner with Jeff's cousin and aunt, Sarah and Liz, at Cork - a wine bar at 14th and R St. NW. It's right in our neighborhood, and we've been meaning to try it. We actually went and had a glass of wine on opening night, but it was so crowded that we didn't stay long. It actually wasn't much less crowded tonight. They don't take reservations, and though you can call ahead, you can pretty much count on an hour wait (even with a party of only 4 people, like we had). It's nice to have a glass of wine at the bar, though the chances of actually getting a spot at the bar are fairly low - it's usually packed at least two rows deep, so that you have a bit of trouble ordering/reaching and are also in the pathway of waiters traveling back and forth to tables. We did manage to order a flight of Spanish white wines to share while we were waiting. (They had four flights to choose from.) There are some tables up in front where its very crowded, but luckily we were seated in the back where its much more calm. The food is all tapas style (each about $7-$10), with about 20 different items on the menu. Amazingly, we were able to find 8 items to share that we all liked and that worked for Jeff's cousin, who is vegan. The Avacado was one of my favorite dishes - it's avocado, pistachios, toasted pistachio oil, and sea salt all on grilled bread. The asparagus was also great - with ricotta cheese and also served on grilled bread. There were wild mushrooms and also a dish with chick peas in safron that was very good. The cheesecake (shared) and a cup of coffee were a nice way to finish the meal. It's definitely a place I'd try again, though maybe on a slower night.

Snow is Gone

Jeff and I were out the other day, and I was thinking it is incredible how quickly the snow disappeared. These are pictures from February 12, 2010 and February 27, 2010 - just 10 days apart.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Morals By Agreement

Chapters 1 & 6
By David Gauthier

In Morals By Agreement, Gauthier puts forth a theory to show why an individual, reasoning from non-moral premises, would accept the constraints of morality on his choices. He defines two types of dispositions: a straightforward maximizer and a constrained maximizer. In prisoners-dilemma type games, the straightforward maximizer chooses the solution that maximizes his individual benefit. The constrained maximizer, if she believes she is interacting with other constrained maximizers, chooses the joint action if, in the case that everyone chooses the joint action, the outcome is fair and the benefit is greater than if every person, including herself, chose the individual action. If people’s dispositions are transparent, the CMs would have a benefit, because they could always achieve the increased benefits of mutual cooperation, while SMs could only achieve the individual benefits. In reality, people are not transparent, but translucent, so the rationality of being a CM increase as the ratio of the probability of all-CM interactions to CM and SM interactions increases, and as the ratio of the benefits from joint action to the benefits of defection increase. In this theory, the ability to distinguish people’s true disposition would be very important.

Chapter 1: Overview of a Theory
Some philosophers have aimed to show that acting morally is in each individual’s best interest. However, if this were the case, there would be no need for morals, as people would do the ‘right thing’ no matter what. Gauthier suggests that rational choice theory – the same theory that is used in economics, game theory, and other social sciences, can be applied to moral theory. This was done to some extent by John Rawls and John Harsanyi, however, they only show ethics as part of the theory of rational behavior. Gauthier aims to prove more than that connection, and to show that “morality can be generated as a rational constraint from the non-moral premises of rational choice. Moral principles are a subset of rational principles for choice.” Gauthier shows why an individual, reasoning from non-moral premises, would accept the constraints of morality on his choices

Gauthier describes two conceptions of rationality. There is the maximizing conception of rationality, in which the rational person seeks the greatest satisfaction of her own interests. You may take into account about other people’s interests, but only to the extent you personally care about their interests. This is a nearly universally accepted definition used in economics and other social sciences. Another idea is the universalistic conception of rationality, which suggests that what makes it rational to satisfy an interest does not depend on whose interest it is, thus the rational person seeks to satisfy all interests. You take into account other people’s interest, simply because they are interests. This definition would make it easy to show a connection between rationality and morality, but you have to defend this conception of rationality, since it isn’t the most widely accepted. Therefore, Gauthier sticks with the more commonly accepted version: the maximizing conception of morality.

An individual first understands what he can and cannot do, but it is not clear how he decides what he may or may not do. Morals by agreement is based on a contractarian rational; it suggests that moral principles are the result of a fully voluntary ex ante agreement among rational persons. Of course, this agreement, taking place before morals exist, is hypothetical, but there it is true that in the real world, people acknowledge a distinction between what they can and cannot do. The problem with the contractarian theory is not the idea of moral agreement, but the problem of moral constraint: it makes sense to have everyone agree not to harm each other, but why does a person actually stop themselves from harming someone after the promise is made? This issue has its roots in the earliest philosophical debates. In Plato’s Republic, Glaucon argues that it seems that being secretly unjust (stealing, lying, etc.) would be more beneficial than acting just, and asks Plato to refute this idea. In his book, Hobbes argues that society must be constrained by a political sovereign. However, Hobbes’ ideas form the conceptual underpinning for Gauthier’s theory. Gauthier theorizes that if social institutions and practices can benefit all, then some set of social arrangements should be acceptable to all as a cooperative venture However, there is an incentive, in some cases, to defect – it may be in your interest to make an agreement, but then break it. (i.e. set up a scheme for everyone to pay taxes, but secretly don’t pay your own taxes). Gauthier aims to use rational choice theory to show how a system of moral constraint might exist.

Chapter 6: Compliance: Maximization Constrained
Hobbes provides the underpinning for Gauthier’s theory, so it is important to review Hobbes’ theory. He argued that in a state of nature, everyone has the right to everything – even to one another’s body – therefore, there can be no security (it is a constant state of war). To get out of this situation, Hobbes’ argues that reason could be used to identify “Laws of Nature.” The first law of nature is that everyone should endeavor for peace, if it is possible. The second law is that a man should be willing, when others are too, to create peace, and he should be willing, for this reason, to give up his right to liberty if others will do the same. If others won’t lay down their right, then he shouldn’t either. The third law, argues that a person who keeps the agreements he has rationally made is just. This agreement-keeping is what allows society to have morals by agreement. Hobbes’ writes that the fool may say that “there is no such thing as justice,” because a person will break the agreement if it is in their best interest. Hobbes argues against this criticism by saying that a person disposed to break their agreements will not be allowed into society, so he won’t get the security of the society. However, Hobbes’ still makes use of the absolute monarch to keep society in line. Gauthier argues that this is a costly solution, and that it would be less costly if, like market forces, society were able to keep agreements on its own just by acting rationally.

Gauthier presents two types of dispositions, a straightforward maximizer and a constrained maximizer. The straightforward maximizer (SM) is a person who seeks to maximize utility given the strategies of those with who he interacts. (This is the normal strategy used in game theory and other rational choice theories.) The constrained maximizer (CM) is a person who seeks in some situations to maximize her utility, given not the strategies but the utilities of those with whom she interacts. She is conditionally disposed to base her actions on a joint strategy as long as the utility she expects were everyone to base his action on joint strategy would be no less than what she would expect were everyone to employ individual strategies. She is willing to cooperate in ways that, if everyone does it, the outcome is beneficial and fair. Someone who actually acts on this conditional disposition should have an expected utility greater than what she would expect were everyone to employ individual strategies. It’s important to note that the CM is not just a person taking a longer view of straightforward maximization – she constrains her options to the situations where everyone cooperates or no one cooperates. The main difference between these two dispositions is seen in prisoner’s dilemma type situations, where cooperation by all is more beneficial than everyone taking an individual strategy, but where defection from mutual cooperation is more beneficial for the individual that defects than is cooperation.

Normally, straightforward maximization by everyone results in everyone getting the basic level of utility, u, from the individual action (as opposed to joint action or defection). This is the normal dominant strategy conclusion in game theory. However, if you assume that people’s disposition is transparent, so that everyone knows whether each person is a straightforward maximizer or a constrained maximizer, the game changes. If people are disposed to constrained maximization, then it is possible for constrained maximizers to get a higher level of utility, u’, by cooperating. It is not possible for the person disposed to straightforward maximization to get any benefit higher than u, because those disposed to constrained maximization would not choose cooperation if they know they are interacting with a straightforward maximizer. However, the assumption of transparency is not very realistic. It may be more realistic to assume that people are translucent – i.e. we can sometimes tell whether a person is disposed to constrained maximization or not.

If people are translucent, then the likelihood that being disposed towards CM is more beneficial than being disposed to SM if the ratio between the probability that an interaction involving CMs will result in cooperation and the probability that an interaction involving CMs and SMs will involve exploitation and defection, is greater than the ratio between the gain from defection and the gain from cooperation. Basically, all else constant, as the proportion of CMs in the population increases, the likelihood of increased benefit of being a CM increases. And, all else constant, as the ratio between the gain from defection and the gain from cooperation decreases, the benefit of being a CM increases.

We earlier assumed that the agreement a CM would agree to need be not only beneficial, but also fair. A broadly compliant CM that would agree to terms that offer her only a small benefit compared to others, would likely only find herself in situations where a small benefit is possible. This would make it less beneficial for this person to be disposed towards CM (since the ratio between the benefit from defection and the benefit from cooperation would be large). Therefore, it is better to be a narrowly compliant CM, and limit cooperation to fair situations.

There are a few important considerations that follow from this theory. The theory doesn’t need to apply to all social institutions. For example, if you’re paying taxes, but believe your tax dollars are being used to increase the chances of nuclear war, then tax evasion may seem rational. However, this does not show that it is irrational to comply with fair and beneficial social arrangements, but instead that it is irrational to allow yourself to be exploited. Also, it is only rational to dispose oneself to constrained maximization if one also is sure to exclude straightforward maximizers from the benefits from cooperation. Otherwise, there is no added benefit to being a CM rather than an SM.

The idea of translucency will have important implications for society. Since CMs want to be recognized by other CMs, it will be difficult to hide their disposition from SMs. Therefore, a CM will rely on a well-developed ability to tell the dispositions of others, so they aren’t exploited by SMs. As CMs and SMs both get better at ‘disposition detection’, the SMs will benefit because they are better able to detect CMs and exploit them, but the SMs will be hurt by others’ ability to detect them. However, the CMs will benefit because they are better able to detect and will benefit from others CMs’ ability to detect them.

In general this theory looks as a ‘maximizing disposition’ rather than a maximizing choice, and that is why it comes to different conclusions than more traditional rational choice theories.

The Heart of Justice: Care Ethics and Political Theory

Chapter 1
By Daniel Engster

In the first chapter of “The Heart of Justice,” Engster provides a definition of caring, justifies the obligation for caring, and proposes a distributional framework for caring. Engsters definition of caring includes “as “everything we do directly to help individuals to meet their vital biological needs, develop or maintain their basic capabilities, and avoid or alleviate unnecessary or unwanted pain or suffering, in an attentive, responsive, and respectful manner.” Based on the ‘principle of consistent dependency,’ he argues that our obligation to care for others is based on the dependency of every person on care. Each individual’s claims on others for care prove that they at least implicitly agree with a moral basis for a right to caring. Finally, Engster argues that caring is a moral duty that can be carried out more efficiently when particular people are assigned special responsibility for particular portions of a task. Therefore we have a responsibility, first, for self-care, second, for those we are closest to or in a special position to care for, third for those within our social web, and finally for everyone in general.

Chapter 1: The Nature of Caring and the Obligation to Care
There have been a number of previous definitions of the nature of caring. Some believe that it can be defined by virtues, while others argue that it must take into account the exercise of the ability to care. Nel Noddings creates a definition of caring by starting with a description of the best homes and then moving outward to the larger society – identifying central goals of maternal caring as preserving life, promoting growth, and achieving acceptability. However, using parenting as a basis for care has limitations since it can be argued that morally competent adolts do not usually have motherlike responsibilities for each other. Also, by identifying a particular conception of the good life, these definitions tend to be of limited applicability, and more relevant to Western liberal democracy. Other definitions are more broad. Tronto and Fisher define caring as “a species of activity that includes everything that we do to maintain, continue, and repair our “world” so that we can live in it as well as possible.” However, this broad definition would include plumbing, housebuilding, and other activities not usually thought of as caring.

1.1 The Definition of Caring
Engster defines caring as “everything we do directly to help individuals to meet their vital biological needs, develop or maintain their basic capabilities, and avoid or alleviate unnecessary or unwanted pain or suffering, in an attentive, responsive, and respectful manner.” Focusing on vital biological needs, such as access to adequate food, sanitary water, appropriate clothing and shelter, etc. ensures that they can survive, develop, and function. Helping them sustain basic capabilities such as sensation, movement, emotion, reason, speech, and literacy, for example, allows them to function is society without being tied too closely to one ideal of human life. Helping people avoid harm and relieve pain and suffering often overlaps with the first two goals, but is generally aimed at allowing people to function in society. Direct care means that it would not be possible to successfully complete the task without caring for anyone. A task such as producing and selling hamburgers, houses, or shirts do not direct result in caring – the itmes are often sold to someone who will use them for caring.

In addition to having caring actions, it is also necessary to have caring virtues. The first virtue is attentiveness, which means noticing when a person is in need and responding appropriately. Attentiveness asks the question: Do you need something? The second virtue of caring is responsiveness, which means engaging with others to discern the precise nature of their needs and monitoring their responses to our care to be sure they’re getting the care they really need. (e.g. Sending food and clothing when what is needed is building materials is not responsive.) Responsiveness asks the questions: What do you need? The third virtue of caring is respect, meaning the reconition that others are worthy of our attention and responsiveness, and are presumed capable of understanding and expressing their needs. Respect asks the question; What can I do to help you, or even better, what would help you to be able better to meet your needs?

The definition of caring takes into account the importance of caring for one’s self. It precedes and in many cases trumps caring for others. The definition does not require emotional engagement, because though this may sometimes be important, we are still required to help, for example, a stranger that is drowning, even if we don’t have any connection to them. Others argue that the definition of caring should only take into account situations in which the person being cared for cannot take care of themselves. Engster arges that care for those who are capable of meeting their own needs is still defined as care, though it is not morally obligatory.

Based on this definition, there are three ways of caring for others. One may personally care for others, one may care for others by providing their caregivers with the resources and support to provide good care for them, or one may care for others collectively by supporting institutions and policies that directly help individuals to meet their needs.

1.2 The Obligation to Care
Some argue that the obligation to care is based on emotions such as sympathy and compassion, which do not require further rationale. However, Engster argues that a reason must be given for why emotions such as sympathy and compassion, which are central to care, should be encouraged and developed in society. There are a number of existing theories justifying the obligation to care. Goodin argues that we are obligated to care for family and friends because our family and friends are especially vulnerable to our actions and choices. He extends this argument to strangers in foreign countries. However, this does not explain why we should care about the interest or vulnerability of our family and friends.

However, it is important to acknowledge that we are dependent on others for care. At the least, as an infant, each person is dependent on others. Most other people will have periods of illness, disability, and old age which require care. We are also dependent on others to care for others – parents who raise happy, healthy, and successful children create an important public good. We might assume from this that it is prudent to care for others, since we’ll need to be cared for – a principle of fairness. However, Engster argues this is inadequate because it focuses too much on reciprocity to those who directly care for us. Instead, he offers an alternate argument, based on the ‘principle of consistent dependency.’

Since all human beings depend upon the care of others for our survival, development, and basic functioning, and at least implicitly claim that capable individuals should care for individuals in need when they can do so, we should consistently recognize as morally valid the claims that others make upon us for care when they need it, and should endeavor to provide care to them when we are capable to doing so without significant danger to ourselves, seriously compromising our long-term functioning, or undermining our ability to care for others.

Basically, this ‘principle of consistent dependency’ argues that since we are dependent on others, we make a claim that they should care for us. Since we make this claim, we are recognizing this type of claim as morally valid, and must also respond when others make a claim on us for care. This is similar to the principle of fairness, but is based not in reciprocity, but in common human dependency. It’s not just doing to others as we’d have them to unto us, but rather responding to their particular needs. Since all humans fit this description, they are all covered by this obligation.

1.3 The Distribution of Our Caring Duties
Given the limitations of time, money, and other resources, we cannot care equally for everyone. We need a way to order our caring priorities so that the obligations aren’t overwhelming. Goodin defined ‘distributional general duties’ as moral duties that are pursued more effectively if they are subdivided and particular people are assigned special responsibility for particular portions of a task. For example, it is better (more effective) for doctors to have particular patients, then to just float around the hospital feeling equally obligated to each patient.

The first priority under this model is for self-care. An individual usually knows best whether he is hungry or cold and can best identify what whill best nourish or warm them. The second responsibility is to individuals with whom we share a special relationship or are in a special position to help. This can be children, parents, spouses, friends, etc. However, it may also be the injured hiker you come across on a remote hiking trail, even though they’re a stranger, since you are in a special position to help them. Another special responsibility may be to those in our direct social environment, who may become our partners, friends, or care-takers. Finally, there is a general duty to care for all others in need. We may be least well positioned to help distant strangers, since we have little contact with them and may not fully understand their position.

In addition to this basic distribution, there are some individuals to whom we have a particular responsibility. If a parent is sick, it is not always clear which individual has a responsibility to help him. However, in some cases, obligation is clearer. If parents choose to keep a child, rather than giving it up for adoption, they assume a special responsibility for the child’s care.

This framework does not answer the question of the level of resources we can justifiably spend on the care of ourselves and our dependents. Can you buy toys for your children and symphony tickets for yourself? Engster argues that there is nothing in the theory of care that gives caring moral predominance. Care theory just suggests that we should balance our goals of achieving the ‘good life’ and caring as a basic moral duty. Finally, the theory does not obligate us to care for those who won’t care for themselves. However, if someone does need care, that person’s past choices, even if unwise, don’t affect our obligation: if an ice skater recklessly skates onto thin ice and falls in the water, she still deserves to be saved.

Virtue Ethics

(Chapter 3 In Three Methods of Ethics)
By Michael Slote

In this paper, Slote provides an overview of Virtue Ethics, describes what makes it different from other moral theories, and then provides four types of virtue-ethic theories. Virtue ethics is agent-focused, and based on the virtuous individual and on the inner traits and motives that make her virtuous. Some virtue-ethicists argue that morality is too complex to be covered by any ethical theory, but Slote disagrees, and suggests that theory is useful for ensuring consistency. Commonsense virtue theory is based on intuitive ideas of which traits are admirable. It improves on Kantianism and Consequentialism because it does not require the moral agent to devalue herself with respect to others, allowing her to balance self-regarding and other-regarding virtues. Three agent-based virtue-ethic theories are presented: morality as inner strength, morality as universal benevolence, and morality as caring. In each of these cases admirable traits are derived from the one central virtue. Individuals ought to take actions based on the admirable motives, which often requires the person to incorporate information about the world into her actions to ensure that she adequately acts in accordance with the admirable motive.

1. What is Virtue Ethics
In virtue ethics, the focus is on the virtuous individual and on those inner traits, dispositions, and motive that qualify her as being virtuous. Virtue ethics is agent-focused. This is in contrast to many modern philosophers who think of the moral life as a matter of relating to moral rules. Virtue ethics uses aretaic ethical terms, such as morally good, admirable, and virtuous rather than deontic works such as right or wrong, permissible or obligatory. Agent-based, rather than merely agent-focused, virtue ethics argue that the ethical character of actions is independent on how and why and by whom the actions are done, and only motives and habits are important to the agents who perform the actions.

2. Theory versus Anti-Theory
Anti-theorists are critical of ethical theory’s quest for hierarchically ordered, exceptionless, and universally applicable moral principles. They argue that moral complexities are not reducible in this way. Slote disagrees, arguing that simplicity and unifying power have some weight in deciding what type of ethical view to adopt. Intuitive considerations are also important. He believes that moral intuition, however, sometimes falls into paradoxes. For example, a driver who isn’t paying attention and swerves into another lane is blamed much more for her action if there happens to be a car in that lane, and if she causes damage or injury, even though the existence of the other car at that time and place is just a matter of luck. Given that intuitions are inconsistent, ingenuity is needed to come up with something that avoids paradox.

3. Virtue Theory versus Kantian and Common-sense Morality
Aristotle’s views are the basis for one form of virtue theory, however Aristotle’s views are not directly relevant. He suggested that virtues lay between extremes – e.g. courage is between foolhardiness and cowardice. However, this does not work for some virtues, such as truthfulness. However, the neo-Arstotelian view is structurally similar to Aristotle’s views.

The structure in a number of other theories is asymmetric. In common-sense morality, we seem to have moral obligations in regard to the happiness of others that we lack in regard to ourselves, which leads to paradox. We usually think it’s better to help someone else more rather than less, but it is not considered good to do more rather than less for yourself. This asymmetry also exists in Kantian morality. Promoting the well-being of others is meritorious in a way that benefiting oneself is not. The asymmetry of Kantianism and common sense morality seem to devalue the well-being of moral agents and thus the agents themselves.

Consequentialism is self-other symmetric, as it is considered just as important to advance your own well-being as to advance others. Commonsense virtue is also self-other symmetric. We value resourcefulness and prudence, for example, even though they are virtues primarily valuable to those who possess them, rather than to others. We also value virtues that primarily benefit others, such as kindness and honesty.

4. Common-sense Virtue Ethics versus Consequentialism
Consequentialism doesn’t have inconsistencies of moral luck mentioned earlier- since it defines good and bad in terms of consequences, it is ok with the idea that the consequences might be a matter of luck. However, this is a somewhat unintuitive conclusion. Utilitarianism is self-other symmetric; it requires that one’s obligations to one’s self are no stronger or weaker than one’s obligation to other. It may require self-sacrifice if more people can be helped. This demand of sacrifice seems to devalue the agent’s natural concern for her own well-being. Utilitarianism is self-other neutral.

Commonsense virtue ethics favors a balance between oneself and other people considered as a category. We have a balance between the value of self-regarding virtues (resourcefulness, prudence) and other-regarding virtues (kindness, honesty). Moreover, both types of virtues are compatible with each other, which suggests that balance rather than specialization in these virtues is best. A trait like selfishness, on the other hand, is not compatible with other-regarding virtues, and this may be why it’s not considered an admirable trait of character. A commonsense virtue ethics suggests one should be concerned to promote one’s own well-being and virtues and also concerned to promote the well-being and virtues of other people (taken as a group) . This is in contrast to Kant, who urges concern for one’s own self development, and the happiness of others, but not for one’s own happiness, or for the moral development of others.

To prove that there are cases where it is more admirable to help oneself rather than others, Slote provides the example of a dutiful daughter. Her mother has died and her siblings are in university, so she takes care of her ailing father. A sibling is injured and comes home to be cared for. A sister gets divorced and moves back home with five children. If the daughter decides at some point to move out of the house and pursue her own studies or career, most people would think well of this self-interested decision.

5. Further Aspects of Common-sense Virtue Ethics
Slote argues that the aretaic terminology favored by virtue ethics is not weaker than the deontic terminology. For example, saying something was morally wrong does not seem much stronger than saying something is morally bad. Therefore, when virtue ethics defines something as morally bad, it is easy to see that we shouldn’t act in that way.

It is possible that many virtues that seem to be other-regarding have self-regarding components that have been ignored due to the asymmetry of Kantianism and other moral theories. For example, trustworthiness may apply to an individual. An alcoholic who has vowed to stop drinking, but does not, may berate himself just as bitterly as he would criticize other-regarding untrustworthiness.

6. Making Sense of Agent-based Virtue Ethics
Commonsense virtue ethics is agent-focused, but the next theories presented are of a more radical, agent-based, form. Agent based virtue eithics must derive its evaluations of human actions from independent and fundamental aretaic characterizations of the inner traits or motives of individuals or of the individuals themselves. This means that the agent and her inner life is the basis and measure for all moral activity; this is not based in an independent or action-governing moral standard.

Others have previously suggested an agent-prior form of virtue ethics based on Aristotelian theory. In this case, acts are said to be right if they exercise virtue(s), and a trait is a virtue if people need it to flourish or have good lives. However, Aristotle defines flourishing as acting virtuously, so this seems somewhat circular. The theory allows a moral agent to act virtuously, but be self-sacrificing. This seems impossible if virtue is defined as traits that cause agent happiness.

In contrast, agent-based theories treat the admirability of traits and motives as ethically fundamental and derive moral judgments of actions from evaluations of traits and motives. This may seem to remove the common distinction between doing the right thing and doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. For example, a prosecutor who does his duty by trying to convict a defendant, but who is motivated by malice rather than a sense of public duty creates this paradox. His duty can be understood in agent-based terms by considering what happens if, horrified by his malice, he doesn’t prosecute. In this case, his motivations are still bad, and also make his action wrong. This allows us to say that the prosecutor has a duty to prosecute or allow someone else ot prosecute, because if he doesn’t, he’ll still be acting from the deficient motivation. Yet, if he prosecutes, he acts wrongly, even if another person, with different motivation, would have acted rightly in doing so. This shows that agent-basing is able to make fine-grained distinctions in these cases.

On the other hand, if agent-basing is only concerned with the inner states of agents, it seems that for a person with the right set of inner traits, it doesn’t matter morally what the person actually does. However, even if an individual has the virtue of benevolence, if she fails to express that trait, her actions would not be admirable. This view seems to suggest that agent-based models have a one-way direction of fit – from the moral agent to the world. However, for many virtues, it is necessarily to get information from the world to know how to best use one’s virtues. If one wants to be benevolent, one doesn’t just throw good things around, or give them to the first person one sees, benevolence in the fullest sense involves caring about who is need and to what extent they are needy.

7. Morality as Inner Strength
“Cool” agent-based virtue ethics are based on virtues such as health and strength, which don’t have any clear link to altruism. “Warm” agent-based virtue ethics are based on ideas like compassion and benevolence, which build altruistic human concern explicitly into their foundations. “Cool” theories have their basis in Plato’s theory that good action is based on the strength of the soul. This can also be thought of as ‘morality as inner strength.’ This type of theory must treat strength (in various forms) as an ultimate admirable way of existing and being motivated as a person, and must show us how to frame a plausible morality of human actions on that basis.

Inner strength seems justified by the value we put on the strength to face unpleasant facts, independent of any benefits it occurs. Altruism can also be based on strength. People who are strong enough to see when they have enough, and are able to give to others is more admirable than a person who is too dependent or week on the things he keeps for himself to be willing to give anything away. The primary problem with morality as inner strength is that it treats benevolence, compassion, kindness, and similar traits as only derivatively admirable and morally good, which doesn’t seem to fit well with modern moral consciousness.

8. Morality as Universal Benevolence
An agent-based virtue-theory based on universal benevolence focuses on benevolence as a motive that seeks certain ends, and is not focused on the probable occurrence of those ends. This is different than a utilitarianism based on motives. A utilitarian might judge motives by their consequences. If a person builds a hospital, but is motivated by the desire to see her name on the building, a utilitarian might define this motive as good, since the consequence is good. However, a theory of morality as universal benevolence will treat such a motivation as less than morally good (though not necessarily bad).

Like criticisms of utilitarianism above, morality as universal benevolence might be said to devalue the moral agent. However, this can be countered by supporting a satisficing version of the theory that argues acts are right if they come from a motive that is close enough to universal benevolence, without being over-demanding. Morality as universal benevolence also doesn’t require consensus on the definition of human well-being. Because benevolence involves not only the desire to do what is good or best overall for the people one is concerned about, but also the desire that no one of those people should be hurt, morality as universal benevolence can explain why we might be horrified at killing one to save many, even if in the end that is what we morally ought to do.

9. Morality as Caring
Past theories have suggested a particularistic morality of caring that puts a premium on caring for some rather than others. An agent-based morality as caring should say that it is best to be motivated by concern for others in balance with self-concern. Even a particularistic morality that suggests greater concerned to those near and dear to us could deplore indifference to strangers. The admirability of caring fits well with agent-based morality, since we generally believe it is admirable to care, but not particularly admirable to be cared-for, suggesting that the admirability of caring is not based in its help in realizing certain goods.

10. Agent-basing and Applied Ethics
It may seems like agent-based morality doesn’t have real-world application, since it is based on motives rather than facts about the world. However, admirable motives often require that we find out relevant facts about the world in order to act according to virtuous motives. If it’s impossible to find out more information, it is a strength of the theory that it doesn’t attempt to provide moral answers in cases that outrun our human knowledge or reasoning powers. An example of the practical use of agent-based virtue-ethics is seen in arguments made by proponents of NAFTA. They argued that rejecting NAFTA would show a fearful or despairing attitude to the world about America’s future. This shows that traits rather than just consequences are relevant in policy.

11. Conclusion: Comparisons within Virtue Ethics
Neo-Aristotelian as well as the three agent-based forms seem to be promising directions for the future of virtue ethics. Morality as inner strength is weak in that it treats compassion as derivative, but strong since it doesn’t rely on more traditional ideas of morality, which may appeal to skeptics. On the other hand, some may believe morality as benevolence is inherently forceful and attractive, and not in need of justification by other motives. Morality of caring seems to have aspects of both common-sense virtue ethics and morality as universal benevolence, and is a compromise between the two.

Park on 14th

On Saturday night, Jeff and I met up with Beth, Emma, and Kris at the club, "Park on 14th." Emma had found an online flyer for an Olympics-themed party and $5 drinks at this place, so we thought we'd try it. Unfortunately, there was no sign of the Olympics and no sign of $5 drinks, either. But the music was good and we had a nice time so it all turned out, anyway.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Logic of Congressional Action

R. Douglas Arnold

This book aims to provide a theory of how Congress works. For example, why do they sometimes pass laws benefiting targeted groups and other times focus on more diffuse benefits? The book suggests that there are three levels to consider. Individuals make decisions about policies either before-hand (what they believe the policy will do) or after the fact (whether they think a policy worked). Congress members try to anticipate the preferences of individuals, and how they will take the Congress person’s actions into account when voting. Coalition leaders try to frame issues in a way that takes into account these calculations by the Congressmembers, making it easier for them to vote for a particular proposal. Coalition leaders can use persuasion, procedures, or modification to help build support for a particular bill.

Chapter 1: Explaining Congressional Action
Three groups are involved in explaining congressional action. Individuals need to assess how they are affected by policy decisions and how policy decisions will affect their voting. Legislators need to decide what to vote for. Coalition leaders need to formulate policy that will be supported by legislators. Arnold lays out these steps to explain the logic of Congressional action:
1. Citizens establish policy preferences by evaluating both policy proposals and policy effects.
2. Citizens choose among congressional candidates by evaluating both the candidates’ policy positions and their connections with policy effects.
3. Legislators choose among policy proposals by estimating citizens potential policy preferences and by estimating the likelihood that citizens might incorporate these policy preferences into their choices among candidates in subsequent congressional elections.
4. Coalition leaders adopt strategies for enacting their policy proposals by anticipating legislators’ electoral calculations, which in turn requires that they estimate both citizens’ potential policy preferences and the likelihood that citizens might incorporate these policy preferences into their choices among congressional candidates.

Chapter 2: Policy Attributes and Policy Preferences
We first need a better understanding of how individuals develop policy preferences. Their decision may be based on their understanding of cause and effect and on their understanding of the distribution of costs and benefits. A citizen’s policy preferences at any given time are going to depend on the magnitude, timing, proximity, and availability of an instigator. If the magnitude of the costs or benefits are large, or if they directly affect the citizen, the citizen is more likely to perceive it. The timing of the costs and benefits are also important. A citizen’s ability to evaluate policy proposals may depend on the number of intermediate steps needed for a policy to produce its intended effects. For multi-stage policies, the early order effects will be much more visible and traceable than the later-order events, so that citizens will pay more attention to early order effects than later-order ones. General benefits or costs fall uniformly on members of society and may be less perceptible, while group costs or benefits (including geographic costs and benefits) affect only specific groups, and are more likely to be noticed by those groups. The proximity of the citizen to others closely affected by a cost of benefit affects perceptibility. If the citizen interacts with others affected, either through an interest group or geographical group, they will be more likely to notice it. Finally, an instigator can have a major impact on perceptibility. This person can help reveal citizens’ stakes in outcomes. Ralph Nader was an instigator for consumer products.

Chapter 3: Policy Preferences and Congressional Elections
Once citizens have developed policy preferences, there are a number of ways they may incorporate this information into their congressional election voting decisions. Arnold suggests four decision rules for citizens: the party position rule, the candidate position rule, the party performance rule, and the incumbent performance rule. A citizen using the party position rule first chooses their favorite party, based on the parties’ positions, and then selects the candidate representing that party. For this, citizens only need to know where the party stands on issues. A citizen using the candidate position rule chooses between candidates by comparing their positions on the issues. To do this, a citizen must know at least some of the candidate’s positions, or at least know that they don’t like the other candidate’s positions. A citizen using the party performance rule first decides whether the party in power deserves to be rewarded or punished for the effects it has produced and then selects the candidate representing the favored party. To do this, the person must have some idea of whether conditions in society are improving or deteriorating, and must know which party controls the government. (If there is divided control, this is usually considered to be the president’s party.) A citizen using the incumbent performance rule decides whether the incumbent legislator deserves to be rewarded or punished for his connection with various pleasing or displeasing effects. To do this, the effects must be traceable – i.e. the citizens must be able to plausibly trace an observed effect back to a government action (law) and then back to their own representatives individual contribution (roll-call votes, committee activity). This is easier for early order effects. Though these rules may seem to take a lot of effort, it is important to note that citizens are constantly receiving and processing political information, so all these calculations don’t need to be made during campaign season.

Chapter 4: Electoral Calculations and Legislators’ Decisions
Legislators must estimate the impact of their decisions on votes on future elections at home, and make decisions about what to do. The book assumes that the quest for reelection is the legislator’s dominant goal – when choosing between two alternatives, he’ll choose the alternative that most contributes to his chances for reelection. Since the legislator has little control over the party positions, he will focus on his own policy positions, refusing to join unpopular coalitions. The legislator must consider the effect of his actions on both attentive and inattentive publics. Attentive publics are citizens that are aware of specific issues on the agenda, know the alternatives, and have preferences about what Congress should do. Inattentive publics are those who don’t have firm policy preferences about an issue. In this case, the Congressman must guess what the potential preferences of these publics would be if they were made aware of the issue, and what the likelihood is that an instigator will exist to make them aware. They might ask themselves how a particular vote might be used against them by an opponent in their next electoral race.

Legislators are particularly concerned with policies that will produce large, direct, early-order costs on constituents, because effects can easily be traced back to their roll-call votes. They will be more likely to vote for policies with perceptible benefits for their constituents – particularly geographic benefits. They also must consider how their policy positions will sound to constituents. If the intended effects of a policy are popular, even if the proposed means may not work, citizens may see a vote against the policy as a lack of support for the ends. Citizens are also less likely to support policies when they don’t understand the relationship between the proposed instruments and the intended effects. For example, efficient cap-and-trade policies have less citizen support than strict regulation.

Chapter 5: Strategies for Coalition Leaders
When a particular coalition leader wants to build support for a bill, there are three primary strategies that she can use: persuasion, procedural, and modification. In general, coalition leaders would like to use these strategies to get the largest coalition possible, since it will better able to survive over time, however, they must trade-off this benefit with the costs of modifying policies to bring in more supporters.

The strategy for persuasion involves influencing the preferences of legislators, attentive publics, and inattentive publics so that they support the proposal. This can be done by mounting a campaign to shift mass opinion, convincing people it’s a problem government should tackle (i.e. tie it to security, economic growth or define it as a public good), convincing legislators the policy instruments will work to produce the intended effects, and altering the perception of costs and benefits (by mobilizing those who get disproportionate benefit, for example). Under normal circumstances, the persuasion strategy is the best, because it produces long-term support and doesn’t require that the policy be modified. However, it is difficult and time-consuming, and it may be impossible to convince people that they should favor policies that would impose large costs on them in the near term. Presidents and other visible figures are the most successful with this method, since they are in a good position to influence the opinions of the public.

Procedural strategies attempt to influence the legislators’ political calculations by using legislative rules and procedures. The aim is to decrease the ability of an instigator to rouse inattentive publics or of a challenger to make a campaign issue out of a particular roll-call vote. The rules are used to strengthen or break the traceability chain for policy effects. Traceability should be broken if you want to impose large, direct or early order costs, or strengthened to deliver large, early-order benefits. Traceability can be broken by delegating responsibility for unpleasant decisions to the president or others (i.e. Congress passes across the board budget cuts and lets the president decide how to allocate cuts across problems). It can also be done by working behind closed doors or using unrecorded votes. Traceability is also broken by passing omnibus bills (bills with one large, complicated package) under closed or restrictive rules (i.e. the bill is an all-or-nothing vote). However, this strategy could be used equally well by opponents, and it really depends whether agreement can be reached in rules committees, party leadership, and other groups within Congress.

Strategies of modification involve altering the various components of a policy, ranging from the policy instrument to the incidence of costs and benefits. The aim is to most a policy so that it conforms better with legislators’ and citizens’ preferences and potential preferences. This can be done by enacting incremental rather than comprehensive reforms. However, this can backfire by removing the political pressure for solving the broader problem. (For example, medicare alleviated the most serious problem in financing health care, but also eliminated the most potent argument for national health insurance.) Also, sometimes incremental reforms do not deliver sufficient benefits to make them worth the trouble. (For example, eliminating individual tax loopholes doesn’t generate much revenue, but each has passionate defenders, therefore comprehensive tax reform is likely easier than incremental tax reform.) Another strategy is to disperse costs widely to minimize intensity of the opposition, or to offset group or geographic costs by adding benefits targeted to these same groups. Similarly, geographic benefits can be added to attract additional supporters. Modification almost always happens to some extent in the evolution of a policy.

Chapter 6: Policy Decisions
This chapter looks at why Congress sometimes approves proposals that serve organized interest and sometimes approve those that serve a wider public, and why it sometimes seems to favor geographic benefits, but other times focuses on general group benefits.

Congress often serves particular interest groups because they are attentive to what’s happening in Washington, communicate a precise policy message to legislators, and possess considerable information about what legislators are doing to advance their causes. They also have the ability to reward or punish legislators based on their actions. Legislators are particularly likely to serve the interest or organized groups (attentive publics) if the issue is important to those groups, but not potentially salient to substantial numbers of inattentive citizens. They can do this by introducing amendments, demanding roll-call votes, and using procedures that allow interest groups to hold legislators accountable for their actions. Legislators are particularly likely to serve inattentive publics if the issue is salient or potentially salient to substantial numbers of inattentive citizens, which is usually the case if there are large, concentrated, early-order costs. Inattentive publics are served when leaders in Congress use procedures to create a connection between legislators individual actions and the policy effects (i.e. the costs imposed on the public). In either case, opponents can reverse these methods by meeting behind closed doors, drafting omnibus bills, and reporting to the floor under restrictive rules.

Congress is often dominated by geographic concerns because they are elected from geographic districts and have a natural concern with how specific programs affect their constituents. Obtaining benefits for their districts provides them with free publicity, which is valuable for reelection. Legislators are particularly likely to make decisions based on geographic considerations when their votes are public (traceable), and programs provide copious geographic benefits but only meager group or general benefits or when they’re asked to make explicit choices about geographical allocation of costs and benefits (for example, closing military bases). The strongest coalitions tend to be those in support of programs that deliver large and regular funds to the same citizens year after year. Geographical considerations are less important when there are abundant group and general benefits (such as in medical research, the national park program, and defense expenditures). However, legislators are still likely to fight for the locations of these things unless questions of allocation are kept off the floor.

Legislators are forced to serve the diffuse or general interest only if the general costs or benefits of the program are salient or potentially salient to substantial numbers of citizens, and if leaders employ procedures that encourage traceability for general effects rather than group or geographic effects. This can also be done when coalition leaders place organized groups in direct conflict with one another.

Chapter 7: Economic Policy
There is an important distinction between explicit economic policy and derivative economic policy. Explicit economic policy is a policy that is proposed to solve a specific macroeconomic problem (fiscal policy, wage and price controls, investment tax credits, etc.) The focus is on general costs and benefits rather than group costs and benefits. Derivative economic policy is proposed to ameliorate some other condition, although it also has macroeconomic effects (expenditure programs, tax modifications for non-economic goals, etc.). The focus is on group costs/benefits rather than general costs/benefits. This can be seen in recent history. From 1846 to 1961, Congress maintained a balanced budget. In the 1960’s, Kennedy (following Keynesian Theory) suggested increasing the deficit as explicit economic policy. During this time, congress voted on parts of the budget – tax reductions, spending increases – but not the budget as a whole; this allowed them to avoid voting in favor of deficits. In the 1970s, Congress increased the president’s proposed expenditures and decreased recommended revenues. However, the theory that deficits would improve the economy did not turn out to be correct in this case.

Chapter 8: Tax Policy
Some wonder, how is it possible for legislators to sometimes increase taxes, when this seems like it would be a very unpopular activity. The original creation of the income tax occurred during the war and was on very small proportion of public. The tax gradually expanded the number of people involved, and inflation caused more people to move into higher tax brackets. In general, tax increases require working behind closed doors, ensuring difficult votes can’t be tracked back to individual legislators. It is also beneficial to group together many cuts so that organized groups aren’t targeted one at a time. Working ‘in the sunshine’ makes tax cuts difficult, because legislators tend to vote to keep or increase tax breaks for particular groups when being closely monitored. Work done in public benefits interest groups who can monitor the procedures more closely than the general, inattentive public.

Chapter 9: Energy Policy
In energy policy legislators sometimes pass regulations favoring producers, and other times pass regulation favoring consumers. In general, legislators focus on producer needs when it isn’t visible to the consumers (general public). For example, consumers could have had lower prices with deregulation early on, but consumers did not notice the missed opportunity. Price controls were implemented for oil and natural gas, through an unanticipated result of a law. Though the price controls were inadvertent, they were very difficult to get rid of, since their removal would result in near term, large increases in costs to consumers (even though the long term benefits would be high). Deregulation that would cause higher prices for consumers had to be done gradually and behind closed doors to pass

Chapter 10: Citizens Control of Government
Given the logic presented in this book, it is important to understand what effect citizen decision-making has on legislators. If citizens use the party performance rule or party position rule, then when there is a conflict between an individual legislator and their party, they will aim to make themselves look better personally, rather than have a small marginal effect on improving party performance, since they can’t do much to affect these citizens votes either way. If citizens use the incumbent performance rule or candidate position rule then legislators will try to avoid voting on issues that will be unpopular and can be traced back to their actions. However, which citizens the legislator is attentive to varies – when voting on specific issues, hemay be more attentive to interest groups, so citizens may suffer (or not get benefits they could get); but legislators do consider potential preferences when policies may have a large effect on citizens. In addition to looking at roll-call votes to understand what legislators do, it’s important to consider what issues come up for a vote to start with. It is possible that interest groups and consideration of potential preferences has an effect on which issues make it on the agenda – things that would be controversial or unpopular to the public may not be considered in the first place.

The Rise and Decline of Nations

By Mancur Olson

“The Rise and Decline of Nations” put forth Mancur Olson’s theory to explain macroeconomic growth. Why do some countries grow quickly and others slowly? Why do some countries grow quickly at some times and slow at others? Though he doesn’t claim that it is the only factor, he answers that a main reason for this effect is that over time, in stable countries with unchanged boundaries, distributional coalitions (interest groups, collusive organizations) start to form and grow. The longer the country is stable, the more distributional coalitions it will have. These groups influence politics to gain benefits for their group, thereby imposing economic inefficiencies on the country. Collusive groups of businesses may set prices higher than the market rate. These inefficiencies slow growth in these countries. In countries that undergo upheaval (Germany and Japan after WWII, for example), these coalitions are broken down, and once they are stable again, these countries will have a high growth rate for a period of time. He applies this theory to countries around the world, uses it to suggest an explanation for the caste system in India and apartheid in South Africa, and uses it to explain unemployment throughout time and stagflation in the 1970s.

1. The Questions, and the Standards a Satisfactory Answer Must Meet
A satisfactory theory about macroeconomic growth must be able to explain why there are different growth rates at different times and in different places – it can’t simply explain one issue. It should match up with microeconomic theory, so it is possible to understand why individuals are making particular decisions. In general, a good theory should be parsimonious (short) and explain a lot.

2. The Logic
In Olson’s previous book, “The Theory of Collective Action,” he explains how and why groups form. In general, it is difficult to form groups for collective action if there is no way to exclude people from the benefits. Any member could refuse to participate, and not make any contribution, but that member would still benefit from the work of the group. (For example, if you’re fixing up a neighborhood park, one person may not help fund or work on the park, but others won’t be able to keep that person from using the park when it’s finished.) This is called the ‘free rider’ problem. Furthermore, if the benefits to each group member don’t exceed the costs each pays, they will not take any action. From this understanding, Olson argues that smaller groups are easier to form than larger groups. He also suggests a number of ways that people can be influenced to join groups. One is social pressure – if there are small groups of people that know each other, there can be pressure on individuals not to be “free riders.” Another is selective incentives. Selective incentives are things that are provided to members, but not to non-members – it could be a magazine, special insurance rates, or any other item that can be provided only to group members.

3. The Implications
Building on the logic about groups presented in the second chapter, Olson lays out nine implications that form the basis of his theory, which is used to explain particular situations in the rest of the book.

1. There will be no countries that attain symmetrical organization of all groups with a common interest and thereby attain optimal outcomes through comprehensive bargaining. Essentially, through groups will continue to be created and grow over time, the power will never even out so that the groups perfectly represent society and don’t hurt efficiency – some, the poor, consumers, and other dispersed groups, will not be as well represented.

2. Stable societies with unchanged boundaries tent to accumulate more collusions and organizations for collective action over time. The longer the country is stable, the more distributional coalitions they’re going to have.

3. Members of “small” groups have disproportionate organizational power for collective action, and this disproportion diminishes but does not disappear over time in stable societies. It’s easier for small groups to form, and the benefits they can each get from redistributing wealth (through political action) to their own small group is greater than the benefit that each member of a larger group would get from redistributing the same amount of wealth. Basically, interest groups are more likely to represent a relatively small group of farmers, industries, etc., rather than large dispersed groups like consumers, the poor, etc.

4. On balance, special-interest organizations and collusions reduce efficiency and aggregate income in the societies in which they operate and make political life more divisive. It is more beneficial for the groups to spend money to redistribute wealth to themselves (through political lobbying or collusion), rather than increasing overall efficiency of the economy (investing in new technologies, etc.), since the redistributions go only to their small group while the overall efficiencies would benefit the economy as a whole. The involvement of many special interest groups in politics makes issues more divisive and complex.

5. Encompassing organizations have some incentive to make the society in which they operate more prosperous, and an incentive to redistribute income to their members with as little excess burden as possible, and to cease such redistribution unless the amount redistributed is substantial in relation to the social cost of the redistribution. If an organization represents a very large group of society, then the benefits of overall economic growth may be more beneficial than redistribution. An example is a national labor union, which may be more interested in economic growth and creating more jobs, rather than protecting one particular type of job.

6. Distributional coalitions make decisions more slowly than the individuals and firms of which they are comprised, tend to have crowded agendas and bargaining tables, and more often fix prices than quantities. Since there is so much bargaining, lobbying, and other interactions that need to occur among groups, the process moves more slowly in reaching a conclusion. In collusive groups, prices are easier to fix than quantities because it is easier to monitor whether other industries are selling at a different price, while it may be difficult to monitor the actual quantities they are producing.

7. Distributional coalitions slow down a society’s capacity to adopt new technologies and to reallocate resources in response to changing conditions, and thereby reduce the rate of economic growth. Since it is difficult to make decisions, and since many groups have an interest in the status quo, it will be more difficult to adopt new technologies, create new industries, and generally adapt to changing environments.

8. Distributional coalitions, once big enough to succeed, are exclusive, and seek to limit the diversity of incomes and values of their membership. Since any benefits that are gained through lobbying or collusion need to be shared among the members of the group, once the group is large enough to be successful, it will not want to admit more members. For example, if a small number of companies has a monopoly over a particular market, it will be in their interest to make it difficult or impossible for new-comers to enter their market, so they can maintain their monopoly benefits.

9. The accumulation of distributional coalitions increases the complexity of regulation, the role of government, and the complexity of understandings, and changes the direction of social evolution. As the number of distributional coalitions grows, it will make policy-making increasingly difficult, and social evolution will focus more on distributing wealth among groups than on economic efficiency and growth.

4. The Developed Democracies Since World War II
The implications discussed above suggest that a country that has just undergone major upheaval, once it is stable again, will experience increased economic growth. This is the case in the “miracle” economies in Germany and Japan after WWII. It is not surprising, under this theory, that countries such as Britain had relatively slow postwar growth, since they had been stable over a long period and had a large number of distributional coalitions. He also looks at the growth of various states within the U.S. over time, finding that in the 1960s and 70s, the states in the west and south had higher growth rates than those in the northeast. This agrees with the theory, since the northeastern states have existed and been stable for the longest period of time.

5. Jurisdictional Integration and Foreign Trade
Though the theory would make it seem that occasional upheaval or revolution would be beneficial to economic growth, that is not the policy implication that Olson aims to provide. He notes that similar benefits can be had by opening boarders – i.e. implementing free trade. He gives the example of France (and many other countries) which in medieval times was broken into largely autonomous towns and cities. There were often tariffs imposed by each city, and tolls imposed to pass through them. In each town, the people who practice a particular art could fairly easily collude – these were the medieval artisan’s guilds. Olson uses these guilds to illustrate implication 8 – that once groups are big enough to succeed, they aim to limit their membership. Therefore, once guilds were formed, increasingly strict rules were put into place to ensure it was difficult for outsiders to join the profession. People could only begin the profession if they first became an apprentice. In many cases, each professional was only allowed one apprentice. In this way, the guilds were able to maintain multi-generational monopolies in their occupation in each of the autonomous towns. When national monarchs began to take more control and removed the tariffs and tolls, it was difficult for the guilds to maintain their monopolies – people could buy in other towns for less, and even if sellers tried to keep the monopoly in their town, they’d have an incentive to sell in another town at a price under-cutting that town’s guild. This breakdown of barriers put distributional coalitions into disarray and allowed countries to have a period of more rapid growth. Similar effects are seen after the creation of the European Union and even after unilateral free trade decisions.

6. Inequality, Discrimination, and Development
Though it is more difficult to get historical data, Olson argues that the theory applies not only to Europe, but to all parts of the world. He gives the example of guilds that existed in ancient China and India. He even suggests the theory could help to explain why India’s caste system has seemed to grow more rigid. He argues that the castes were similar to occupational guilds, and that rules such as endogamy (only marrying within the group) were put into place to keep the power of the group over multiple generations (limiting the size of the group once it is successful – implication 8). Ensuring people only marry within their caste ensures that the group does not mix and become so large that the benefits to each member would be diminished. Encouraging prejudice among groups reinforces the rules for interacting and marrying only within the group. He gives a very similar explanation for apartheid in South Africa. He argues that when the Boers first came to South Africa, the separation between white and black was not as extreme, and there were a number of mixed-race relations. In the beginning, mining companies hired cheaper, black laborers for the unskilled labor and hired the more expensive, white workers for the semi-skilled and skilled positions. The mining companies, however, then believed that it would be in their interest to provide the black laborers with some training so that they could take over some of the semi-skilled and skilled jobs at lower wages, thus decreasing costs for the mining companies. However, the white laborers started lobbying the government to pass legislation setting wages for semi-skilled and skilled jobs. Legally imposed high wages meant there was no incentive for mining companies to train or hire black workers for semi-skilled or skilled jobs. Additional laws were passed, increasingly separating white and black, with the aim (implication 8 again) to keep the interest group from growing, now that it was successful. Political efforts were paired with other things, such as endogamy within groups and cultivating prejudice to keep the powerful group from expanding. Olson argues this evolved into the strict apartheid regime.

7. Stagflation, Unemployment, and Business Cycles: An Evolutionary Approach to Macroeconomics
When both high inflation and unemployment occurred in the 1970s, it went against many of the prevailing economic theories – Keynesian theory suggested inflation and unemployment could not happen simultaneously, and traditional monetary theory had no explanation for long periods of unemployment. Olson suggests this phenomenon can be explained using the theory presented in this book. He notes that the result and reaction to depressions had been changing over time. He compares the crisis in 1839-43 to the great depression in 1929-1933. In the earlier period, the contraction in money supply was greater and the fall in the price level was substantially greater, both of which would suggest the effects would be worse in the earlier period. However, in the earlier period, real consumption was positive, while in the second period, it was negative. Similarly, in 1839-43, the real GNP rose, while in 1929-33, the real GNP fell. Olson argues that the growth of collusive organizations and distributional coalitions was the cause of this difference. In a crisis, it is best if wages and prices are flexible, so that employers can offer lower wages and employees get jobs at lower wages, but still continue producing things and continue working. However, if there are labor unions that insist a wage stay set at a high level, then the wage is not flexible, and employers and employees can’t make mutually beneficial agreements to work together at lower wages – less people can be employed and the system is less efficient. This was the case in the great depression. In this situation, all of the people who can’t get jobs try to move to industries that do have flexible wages. In the great depression, many people tried to move to farming, for example, but since there were so many people moving into this area, it flooded the market, and the value of farm goods decreased significantly, so that people couldn’t make a good wage in this area either. Olson argues that this trend continues, so that unemployment and inefficiency become more and more of a problem during crisis over time in stable societies.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Moral Ground for the Means Principle

A Moral Ground for the Means Principle
By Alec Walen

This paper focuses on providing a rationale for the ‘means principle.’ This principle suggests that there is a prohibition on treating people merely as a means. It looks at the differences between the ‘Fat Man’ and ‘Trolley Switch’ cases, and argues that the difference cannot be explained simply by intentions. He suggests instead that the difference is based on the distinction between ‘restrictive rights’ and ‘un-restrictive rights’. If the victim restricts your ability to act as you otherwise would if they were not present (e.g. the victim on the tracks in the ‘Trolly Switch’ case), then that victim only has ‘restrictive rights’ which are relatively weaker. A victim that does not restrict your ability to act as you would if they were not present (e.g. the fat man) has ‘un-restrictive rights’ which are relatively stronger.

The paper begins with the description of two scenarios central to the means principle.

Fat Man Case: You can save five whose lives are threatened by a runaway trolley only by causing a fat man to fall off a bridge into the path of the trolley, thereby slowing the trolley but killing the fat man. Killing the fat man in this way is a paradigmatically impermissible act.

Trolley Switch case: You, a bystander at a switch, can save five only by turning a trolley away from them and onto another track, where it will then run over and kill a single person, who I will call the “side-track man.”

Walen argues that killing the side-track man seems, to most people, himself included, permissible. The most intuitively appealing explanation for the difference between Fat Man and Trolley Switch is that in Fat Man you would use the fat man merely as a means of saving the five, whereas in Trolley Switch you would not so use the side-track man.

Walen begins by noting that the two traditional arguments for the means principle are not sufficient. The intentions rational, which focuses on whether you mean to use the victim as a means to some end, can be significant, but doesn’t account for the means principle. Similarly, the causal rational, which focuses on whether the victim occupies the causal role of a means of achieving a good, is inadequate because causes cannot carry moral weight on their own, and can only get their weight from the intentions or rights of agents. He replaces these theories with the Restricting Claims Principle (RCP), which rests on the idea of moral externalities. The point to emphasize here is that if it can be defended as a sound moral principle, then it would explain why the claims of those who, without their consent, would serve as your a means of achieving some good are relatively stronger than the claims of those whom you would harm only as a side effect of doing what you could do without them.

Part I: Unsuccessful Attempts to Explain and Defend the Means Principle
A. The Implausible MPI
The MPI is concerned with the intentions you have in your mind as you act. One problem is that in acting, you do not show proper concern for the victim as an end in herself. Another problem is the lack of consent resulting in a use of the victim as merely means (rather than a means and an end, as in a contract). Quinn argues that if you see the victim as ‘material to be strategically shaped,’ you are trating them merely as a means, which is forbidden by the MPI. This doesn’t take into account the objective reality picture of morality – the idea that an act can be impermissible regardless of what reasons you have for acting. Though there are some categories where reasons matter – if promises were made, if a judge or other person with authority who must act only on legitimate reasons, and inherently illicit reasons (such as racism in private life) – these exceptions do not extend to the Fat Man or Trolley Switch cases.

B. The Mysterious MPC
According to the MPC, causing harm to someone who, without her consent, plays the causal role of a means to achieving some good is harder to justify than causing the same harm to her if she does not play that kind of causal role. The challenge here is to make mere causal facts morally relevant. This cannot be done adequately without tying causal explanations to the conception of rights claims.

C. Earlier Discussion of Rights and the MP
An earlier argument suggested that the difference between Trolley Switch and Fat Man by appealing to the thought that you are allowed to redirect a threat if you “can make it descend onto the one by means which do not themselves constitute infringements of rights of the one.” This means that ‘pushing’ one into the path of the trolley would constitute a rights violation, but throwing the switch would not. However, she realized that the stringency of a right, or the existence of one, depends on the results from what you do. In this case, the side-track man in Trolley Switch has a claim against you – that you not throw the switch – that is at least as strong as his claim that you not kill him. This makes his situation the same as the Fat Man. She claims that the claims of the Fat Man and the Trolley Switch man are the same, and thus appeals to rights cannot show the difference between the two stories.

2. The Structure for Balancing Claims
Rights are claims that you morally respect, which require you to perform or avoid performing some act. You have a duty or liberty right to act or not as you deem fit. Walen illustrates with Trolley Switch: the claims of the five on you are that you save them by turning a threatening trolley away from them, while the claim of the side-track man is that you not kill him by turning a trolley in his direction. The agent has claims as well. You have a claim not to be required to turn the trolley if you do not want to, and a claim not to be prohibited from turning (i.e. to be permitted to turn) the trolley if you want to. If there were only people on one of the tracks, then you would have a moral duty to turn the trolley away from them, but with people on both tracks, the claims are close to balancing and you have the freedom to act.

3. Six Familiar Factors that Affect the Balance of Claims
These six factors are easily defended in terms of the purposes of rights – providing a normative space that helps individuals promote their welfare and also allows them to lead their own lives while remaining respectful of others as equals who seek to do the same. The factors are: (1) welfare (more you can affect someone’s welfare, the greater their claim on you), (2) special relationships (promises, contracts constrain your liberty to act), (3)property (you can exclude others from your property), (4) the difference between positive (to be helped) and negative (not to be harmed) claim (negative claims have priority over positive – based on the need for freedom to live your own life), (5) culpable behavior (someone who harms or threatens to harm has weaker claims not to be harmed or to be helped), (6) numbers count (five positive claims can outweigh one negative claim, for example). This helps to show that the only place for a difference in the claims between Fat Man and Trolley Switch is in the ones – the fat man and the side-track man.

Part II: Restricting Claims Principle as the Grounds for the Means Principle
A. The Restricting Claims Principle and Moral Externalities
The distinctive idea in the RCP is that a claimant can have a claim that has the potential to make other claimants worse than they would otherwise be – i.e. a claimant could impose moral externalities on others. This type of right would morally restrict you from doing what you would hae otherwise been able to do to help or avoid harming others. Since this ‘restricting’ claim unduly limits what you could have done from others, is weaker than an ‘unrestrictive’ claim.

For example, in the Trolley Switch example, the man on the tracks has a claim to not be killed, which would morally bar you from what you would have otherwise done to save the five. Symmetrically, the five each have a ‘restricting’ claim on you that morally bar you from what you would have otherwise done to save the one. However, the fat man’s claim in Fat Man is not restricting. His claim not to be thrown on the tracks does not bar you from doing whatever you would have done to save the five if he was not there. Respecting his claim as a right does not make anyone any worse off than they would have been if he had not been present. This explains why it is valid to flip the switch, but not to push the fat man onto the tracks.

B. The Moral Ground of the RCP and, Derivatively, of the MP
Why should a restricting claim be weaker than a non-restricting claim? It is based on one of the framinig ideals for rights – that each person has her own life to lead. Insofar as a person has not done anything as an agent to make others worse off, and (the new thought) insofar as she has no claims as a patient that have the potential to make others worse off, she should not have to make a great sacrifice of her welfare for the sake of others.

The symmetry of the restricting claims of the five and the one in Trolley Switch allow us to make a decision to save the five based on the greater number of positive claims outweighing a lesser number of negative claims. The key to RCP is showing why the restricting claims are weaker than they would otherwise be.

C. Further Clarifying the RCP
The RCP does not attach to persons, rather, it concerns the strength of claims in particular justifications for action. If the act is permissible, then the various actions that correspond to it are also. Also, restricting or not restricting is not related to whether claims are positive or negative. Only the restrictiveness of the claim affects its strength.

D. Responses to a Famously Problematic Case: The Loop Trolley
A new scenario: This case builds on Trolley Switch, adding one significant change: the tracks do not continue to diverge; rather they circle back to form a loop. In Judith Thomson’s original formulation we are to imagine: that the five on the straight track are thin, but thick enough so that although all five will be killed if the trolley goes straight, the bodies of the five will stop it, and it will therefore not reach the one. On the other hand, the one on the righthand track is fat, so fat that his body will by itself stop the trolley, and the trolley will therefore not reach the five. In this case the claims of both the group of five as well as the individual are all non-restricting – without either group there, you could not save the other. This symmetry again allows the issue to be resolved based on numbers, so that the five may be saved rather than the one. RCP argues that if a person has a non-restricting claim, she can claim that her welfare is held independently of others, but this is not the case in the Loop Trolley – each side depends on the other for their lives. Given this interdependence, it seems fair to treat their claims as on par.

E. A Gesture Towards Handling Other Challenging Cases
There a wide variety of cases to which this theory could be applied. It may be of interest in areas involving property, positive and negative claims, and others.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Actions, Intentions, and Consequences: The Doctrine of Double Effect

Actions, Intentions, and Consequences: The Doctrine of Double Effect
Warren S. Quinn

The article discusses situations in which the outcomes (in terms of lives lost or harm caused) of two scenarios are the same, but there seems to be some intuitive moral difference between them – in particular, the situation in which the harm caused was intentional is thought to be worse than the situation in which it was only foreseen, but not intentional. Quinn suggests that the difference between these two types of situations may be based on whether they intend to use other people, against their will, to achieve their desired ends. Quinn suggests that this situation is worse because it shows less respect for people’s ability to choose whether or not to assist in someone else’s plans – a theory that agrees with Kant’s formulation.

The Doctrine of Double Effect aims to capture moral intuitions about differences in situations that seem to have the same consequences as far as lives lost and harms suffered. It discriminates against action in which there is some kind of intending of an objectionable outcome as conductive to the agent’s end, and it discriminates in favor of an action that involves only foreseeing, but not intending, an objectionable outcome. Three pairs of scenarios are given to illustrate:

Strategic Bomber (SB) vs. Terror Bomber (TB
In the Case of the Strategic Bomber (SB), a pilot bombs an enemy factory in order to destroy its productive capacity. But in doing this he foresees that he will kill innocent civilians who live nearby. The Terror Bomber (TB) deliberately kills innocent civilians in order to demoralize the enemy.

Direction of Resources (DR) vs. Guinea Pig (GP)
In both there is a shortage of resources for the investigation and proper treatment of a new, life-threatening disease. In the first scenario doctors decide to cope by selectively treating only those who can be cured most easily, leaving the more stubborn cases untreated. Call this the Direction of Resources Case (DR). In the contrasting and intuitively more problematic example, doctors decide on a crash experimental program in which they deliberately leave the stubborn cases untreated in order to learn more about the nature of the disease. By this strategy they reasonable expect to do as much long-term medical good as they would in DR. Call this the Guinea Pig Case (GP). In neither case do the nontreated know about or consent to the decision against treating them.

Craniotomy Case (CC) vs. Hysterectomy Case (HC)
In the Craniotomy Case (CC) a woman will die unless the head of the fetus she is trying to deliver is crushed. But the fetus may be safely removed if the mother is allowed to die. In the Hysterectomy Case
(HC), a pregnant mother's uterus is cancerous and must be removed if she is to be saved. This will, given the limits of available medical technology, kill the fetus. But if no operation is performed the mother will eventually die after giving birth to a healthy infant.

Some of the major differences in these cases are he need of the agents for the victims. For example, in GP, the doctors need to have the disease continue in the victims to study its effects. In TB, the pilot needs the deaths of the civilians to lower enemy morale. It may be true that the terrorist is not directly interested in the deaths of civilians – he wouldn’t mind if they were magically resurrected after the war – he only needs to create the appearance of death and destruction. However, even if this objection is allowed, it is still true that the civilians’ involvement is critical to his plan.

There are a number of possible ways of making the distinction between the cases. One could base it on what was intended in each case, but this could be viewed differently depending on how the choice is described. Similarly, an effort to examine how closely linked the choices are to the death or harm would have subjective aspects and often would not help make distinctions between the cases.

One researcher suggested asking ‘why’ an agent is doing something. If that agent answers in the form, ‘to…’ then he accepts the question and shows that the choice was intentional. If he rejects the question, with an answer of the form, ‘it couldn’t be helped…’ or ‘I don’t care about that,’ then the choice was unintentional. However, this may not work in all cases. The DR doctors, if asked why they didn’t treat one group, may respond, “to save our resources for the more easily treated cases.” On the other hand, the terror bomber may say “the actual deaths couldn’t be helped if I’m to create the appearance of death and destruction.” So this method doesn’t seem productive.

A more promising method of distinguishing among these scenarios is to look at the intentional structures of the contrasting cases – i.e. in some cases, harm comes to the victim through deliberately involving them to further his purpose, while in others the victims are not central to the agent’s purpose. The first instance is one of direct harm and the second of indirect harm. For example, the TB intends for the civilians to be involved in a certain explosion, while the SB intends an explosion, and is aware that it will kill civilians, but their involvement is not related to his purpose.

Another distinction can be made between harmful exploitation and harmful elimination. In the CC case, the doctor is eliminating an obstacle, rather than exploiting individuals. This may be why the CC and HC cases are seen as different than the others by many people. Following on this theory, we can think about the case of hostages. Does shooting through or running over hostages involve a direct intention to harm them? Quinn suggests not. He argues that if they were not there, we would act in exactly the same way – shooting/driving, to get the criminal. Despite this conclusion, Quinn points out that the effect of the DDE doctrine should be to raise rather than lower moral barriers. It should show how much worse direct agency is, not allow people to become more tolerant of indirect agency.

Quinn argues that the most promising rationale may rest on special duties of respect for persons – over and above duty not to harm them – not just giving victims interests too little weight. Someone who causes harm by direct agency treats the victims as if they were there for his purpose – the victims are made to play a role in the service of the agents goal. Discriminating against this type of action reflects a Kantian ideal of human community and interaction – that each person be treated as an ends, and not as a means.