Click here to learn more. In-depth analysis delivered weekly - Subscribe to our newsletter, featuring our editors' top picks from the past week. Sign in Subscribe. Subscribe Login Sign up. Foreign Policy. Courtesy Reuters There is no doctrine more deceptive than the new idea that food is power. Stay informed. In-depth analysis delivered weekly. Fear, pride, and mistaken expectations of the future might weigh as much in judgments of acceptability as material welfare. Above all, acceptability, like such other sensations as liking, satisfaction, or deprivation, cannot properly be represented in absolute, yes-or-no terms, but only in relative ones.
Acceptability is, for all we know, a continuous variable. Graphically, it is a scale along which options are ranged between the very sweet ones at the top and the very bitter ones at the bottom. Beneath the bottom, there is nothing but unfeasibility that is simply outside the choice set. Nothing is really unacceptable if it can be chosen.
Perhaps made uncomfortable by some subconscious awareness of this logic, the author can do little more than protest her good intention to steer clear of the more obvious of the threats that using this concept poses to her thesis. Such a less ambitious project would have spared her a number of difficulties. One she grapples with is the distinction between freedom and voluntariness and whether the first is a necessary condition of the second. We must, it seems, accept that injustice can arise spontaneously but there is no hint whether justice, too, can do so.
There is a lack of awareness that in looking for justice, we want the facts of the case to be ascertainable. Olsaretti, one is forced reluctantly to find, seems to feel that where the facts are not really ascertainable, judgments will do as well. Her honest and conscientious try at finding an original reason for morally condemning the free market, developed from a critique of its libertarian defense, was, it seems to me, self-defeating. They will by and large do these things if the law is enforced. The state is there to enforce it. As rivalry in enforcement would lead to a shambles, society entrusts to the state the monopoly of law enforcement and willingly shoulders its cost.
Despite occasional causes for grumbling, it is broadly agreed to be money well spent, for where would we be without the law? The double trouble with this line of soothing tale, which nearly everybody accepts and recites, is that it is not altogether true, and that even if it were, it would fall far short of an explanation of why broadly comparable legal systems are consistent with vastly different economic behavior in different societies.
The state guards its lawmaking and enforcing monopoly with ferocious jealousy.
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The fact that it is an effective monopoly should lead us to expect that it will maximize some kind of net result, achieving some high degree of compliance with the law, and do so economically. In reality, because it is a monopoly subject to a popular mandate and must not arouse dread, fear, and hatred, it is restricted in what it may and what it must not do.
It must produce compliance and serve up justice in white gloves on a silver platter—a demand it is most of the time quite unable to meet. It must be sensitive to shifts in public opinion between novel shades of political correctness and human-rightsism, as well as to pressures from single-issue groups and special interests.
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As a result, it must become a law factory, pouring out Edition: current; Page: [ 41 ] an ever broader stream of new and complex legislation. Perhaps more important, it is financed from taxes imposed on people according to criteria that have little to do with what these taxpayers, taken individually, obtain from the state by way of law enforcement services. Individuals will unload or at least have a good try at unloading onto the state responsibilities that in a well-ordered society they could and would themselves carry on their own behalf or for neighbors, partners, and peers.
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Here we reach the nub of the problem of why people in some societies behave mostly well, while in others they so often misbehave. Law even at its best controls only a small part of human behavior.
At its worst, it aspires to control a great part, but largely fails. Vastly more important than the legal system is the much older and more deeply rooted set of unwritten rules technically, spontaneous conventions barring and sanctioning torts, nuisances, and incivilities that together define what each of us is free to do and by the same token what no one is free to do to us. If these rules are kept, everyone is free, property is safe, and every two-person transaction is mutually beneficial though third persons may be exposed to negative externalities—for the rules are no bar to competition or the general rough-and-tumble of ordinary life.
How well these rules are kept depends on how well children are brought up, on war or peace, and on other ultimate causes that are not hard to divine. The proximate cause, however, is the effectiveness of sanctions. To mete out punishment for misbehavior always involves some cost to the well behaved who take it upon themselves to administer it. He and those he cares for benefit if misbehavior is punished and hence deterred, but he would benefit even more if the punishing were done and the cost borne by someone else. Rational calculus may tell him that given the likelihood of others undertaking what he would not, his best course is to undertake it himself.
If all or most calculate the same way, all or most will contribute to discouraging misbehavior and the cost to each will be correspondingly lower. Punishing the breach of the rules by individual or joint action, Edition: current; Page: [ 42 ] particularly within peer groups, will also have become a convention, one of the basic rules whose breach, in turn, will itself tend to be sanctioned by punishments that may range from reproach and the cold shoulder to ostracism and business boycott.
There are a number of ways in which the peoples of the northern half of Europe seem to be better behaved than their southern counterparts. Dependability, punctuality, respect for the given word, steadiness of effort, greater discipline at work, and lesser need for close supervision seem to be some of them, though this is but an impressionistic judgment that it is hard to document by statistical evidence. These are not traits that make life in northern societies necessarily more fun, more cheerful, or less boring, but they do make for efficiency and prosperity despite the handicaps of climate.
A brute fact that seems to bear this out is that most manufactured goods and some services originating in Northern Europe are more expensive than their close substitutes made farther south, but sell just as well. North and South have contrasting mentalities with regard to punishment for certain types of misbehavior. In the North, self-dealing, conflict of interest, and corner-cutting are punished by serious social sanctions if they are not outright crimes punished by the state.
In addition to the punishment, the perpetrator is considered dishonorable, covered with shame. In the South, though perpetrators may well be detected, they are in puzzling ways quite often allowed to get away with impunity and are not even ostracized, but rather regarded with envy and reluctant admiration.
Even stealing from the public purse may be regarded as a bit of a joke. Elected officials jailed for corruption are often triumphantly reelected when they are released. It is not too rash a generalization to say that while northern society may be priggish, the southern one is amiably and cynically indulgent. Needless to say, the prevailing impunity further encourages corrupt practices, which in turn act as significant handicaps to efficient resource allocation.
One aspect of behavior whose economic significance towers above all else is the attitude to property. It is distinctly different in Southern from Northern Europe. Beginning with land, the monarch in Spain, Portugal, France, and the Papal States had greater latitude to dispose of the property of his subjects and in terms of security of tenure, there was little equivalent in these countries of the freeholder so widespread Edition: current; Page: [ 43 ] in Northern Europe.
We could see the reasons why even if we had never heard of Max Weber. Unpopularity of property, shading into hatred and moral condemnation, immensely strengthens the hand of the state, for it is the sole seat of redistributive power that can legislate property and income away from some and to the benefit of others.
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Did you know that your dog owns your house, or rather some portion of it? If this is not immediately obvious to you, you will find it helpful to consider some aspects of the ethics and economics of redistribution. Your dog is alert, plucky, and a fearsome guardian of your property. For all we know, without his services, you would have been burgled over and over again.
Your belongings would be depleted, and the utility you derived from your home would be much reduced. The difference between the actual value of your home and its unguarded value is the contribution of your dog, and so is the difference between the respective utilities or satisfactions you derive from it. We do not know the exact figure, but the main thing is that there is one.
More thought is needed fully to unravel the question of who owns your house, and indeed the question of who owns anything. If there were no fire brigade, the whole street might have burned down and your house would no longer stand. The fire brigade has contributed something to its value, and some figure ought to be put against their name. The utilities should not be forgotten, for how would you like to live in a house without running water, electricity, and so forth? Some tentative numbers had better be credited to them.
Surely, however, you cannot just ignore the builder who erected the house, the lumberman, the brick factory, the cement works, and all the other suppliers without whom the builder could not have erected it. They too must have their contribution recognized, even if it must be done in a rough-and-ready fashion. Is it right, though, to stop at this primary level of contributions?
Tracing the ever more distant contributions at level after level, we get a manifold that is as complex as we care to make Edition: current; Page: [ 45 ] it, with a correspondingly complex jumble of numbers that purport to place rough-and-ready values on the contributions.
neemefosuntanb.ga We can count them moving sideways as well as backward as far as the mind can reach, starting with that of your dog and ending if you finally lose patience and decide to stop there with the Founding Fathers or Christopher Columbus. At this point, you give up and say that your house, and any other holdings you thought you owned, really belong to society as a whole, and so do the holdings of everyone else. A less thoroughgoing version of this argument, instead of crediting everyone for their direct and indirect contributions to the creation of everything of value, simply states that the security of tenure of all property depends on society maintaining public order.
It follows that it is really society which lets you have them on a grace-and-favor basis. Objections to such arguments, except when they were just angry and indignant outcries, have generally tended to be uneasy and often downright lame.