18 May 2011

Steven Levitt takes paternalism rather explicitly

The state is not your daddy.
EconLog | David Henderson | Steven Levitt's "Daughter Test"
It wasn't until the U.S. government's crackdown on internet poker last week that I came to realize that the primary determinant of where I stand with respect to government interference in activities comes down to the answer to a simple question: How would I feel if my daughter were engaged in that activity?

If the answer is that I wouldn't want my daughter to do it, then I don't mind the government passing a law against it.
This is from Steven D. Levitt, "The 'Daughter Test' of Government Prohibitions (And Why I'm so Angry About the U.S. Internet Poker Crackdown)."

What if I followed that test? I wouldn't want my daughter installing a nose ring. So if I followed Levitt's test, I wouldn't mind the government passing a law against nose rings. I could multiply the examples. The fact is that I'm fairly conservative in my tastes. So if I followed Levitt's test, I would not object to a whole lot of things governments want to do to people.

What's missing in Levitt? The whole idea of tolerance. It's easy to tolerate people doing what you would do and approve of. It's harder to tolerate what you don't approve of. It's even harder to tolerate activities and behaviors that you find disgusting. Levitt has just confessed that he's intolerant or, at least, that he won't object to a government that's intolerant. That's disappointing. I had expected better of him.
I hadn't expected better of Levitt. He can be tremendously sloppy. What I didn't realize was just how immature he could be. One of the marks of growing up is learning to accept that other people like different things than you do, and accepting that you can not stop other people from doing things you find icky. Where "icky" might be drinking, smoking, serving transfats, having gay sex, gambling, speaking foreign languages, hiring foreigners, wearing religious apparel, or eating bacon-wrapped hot dogs prepared on sidewalks. The impulse towards "There ought to be a law" in which Levitt is indulging is tremendously immature.

I don't want Steve Levitt (or anyone else) telling me what to do. But just as importantly, I don't want to tell other people what to do either. Levitt has no such compunction.

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