Sunday, July 12, 2009

This Works, That Doesn't

It is often claimed by politicians, especially during campaigning, that they will do away with programs and policies that “do not work”. What does this mean? How is the determination made as to a program's or policy's efficacy? This once again is totally subjective based on different peoples' perspectives and above all else opinions.

Many will say being overly “generous” with entitlements for the poor does not work. But if one is poor and lazy, how does this not work for him? Typically we as a society evaluate a program's or policy's viability based on utilitarianism. A given program might serve its constituents exceptionally well, but if the costs of this program are too high for the number of people it benefits, it likely will be construed as something that “does not work”. 

But this type of thinking is merely arbitrary because it is not always followed. Oftentimes, we will pay anything to get back prisoners-of-war or kidnap victims, for example. But this is not utilitarianism, rather it is emotions that account for this type of response.

So how do we determine whether to base difficult decisions on utilitarian principles or emotional responses? How can this line be drawn but arbitrarily? Requiring buildings to have handicap access is likely driven by emotions as the cost of implementing these standards almost certainly outweighs the utilitarian benefits.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not against basing decisions on emotional foundations. Neither am I against basing decisions on utilitarian principles. I am simply pointing out that there is no imperative as to what should be done in any given situation. It is but subjective based purely on competing opinions no doubt shaped and motivated by how these issues affect us as individuals and as groups we represent. This seems selfish. And it is! It is nothing but evolutionary group selection. This is nothing to feel guilty about. It just is!

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