Objectivist MetaEthics: Eight

By Jimmy Wales

Date: Fri, 28 Apr 1995 10:25:14 -0400

From: Jimmy -Jimbo- Wales jwales@indiana.edu

To: ASP-Disc lsanger@magnus.acs.ohio-state.edu

Subject: Re: "special interest" groups and self-interest

Without going into all the details about the effects of principled behavior on mental health (primarily because I don't think I've established to everyone satisfaction that there is a non-question-begging way to show that mental health is a means to life), I'll answer your question, which is primarily about what a good game-theorist would say. I have a lot of reservation about my answer because I'm limiting myself only to the usual sorts of things that people consider. I think that a full answer has to treat a lot of this stuff in more detail.

You ask us to suppose that we find ourselves (as we do, for the most part) in a mixed-economy tending towards statism in which various 'pressure groups' are seeking various special privileges from the government. On the surface, anyhow, this looks like a traditional prisoner's dilemma. If one group stops pressuring, or gives up their favors, well, so much the worse for them. But if all groups keep pressuing, then so much the worse for everybody. Pressuring dominates non-pressuring.

But as is typical of applications of game theory to this kind of question, the way that the problem is presented leaves out the best course of action as even a possibility. The answer, as I said once before, is NOT for the doctors (say) to turn themselves into sacrificial lambs, nor for any particular doctor to sacrifice. The fact that in a non-rights-respecting society there are conflicts of interest is not surprising.

The right thing to do is to fight for a _principled_ departure from government policies which permit special favors and encourage lobbying. That is, to fight for a change in the government at the level of the constitution that will drastically reduce the possibilities of getting anything special from the government, and that will drastically reduce therefore the incentives for engaging in pressure-group lobbying in the first place. This kind of fight can and must proceed completely independently from specific lobbying for special favors.

I think that for an individual doctor, the right thing to do is to totally drop out from supporting any kind of illicit lobbying, and to instead channel the same effort into spreading the right kind of ideas. In doing so, any given doctor can rest assured that the rest of the profession will make sure that THIS profession doesn't lose out relative to OTHER professions. And in a solid intellectual movement, there will be roughly the same proportion of 'dropouts' from all different pressure groups. So there isn't any reason to think that a principled stand on the part of an individual doctor will result in doctor's being taxed to support other groups whose members do not take a principled stand.

There is a lot more to be said, of course, but I hope this addressed the kind of thing you are talking about.




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