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The Circle Bastiat

Does every right come at somebody else's expense?

Sometimes, the 'cost' imposed on others is meaningless.

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3. I don’t think principles can depend on political context. In short, we can’t be voice-of-the-people deliberative democrats when Our Team is in power and checks-and-balances strict constructionists when Their Team is. Even if we want to be strictly utilitarian about it, we have to be mindful of unintended consequences. The power we’re enjoying today will probably be used against us tomorrow.

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Rights like private property and religious freedom also can’t be unalienable for Our Team and dependent on a cost/benefit test for Their Team. Over the summer, I discussed how this was particularly evident in the hysteria over the so-called Ground Zero Mosque, during which principles like private property rights and religious freedom were being attacked by those who claim to hold them most dear.

4. A lot of opponents of gay marriage base their opposition on alleged social costs, but the arguments I’ve heard are almost all speculative. I’d be interested in good estimates of the net effect of gay marriage on government finance and economic growth. As Jeff points out, the cost is almost certainly trivial, and I would suspect that there are good reasons to think it’s positive.

5. Perspective matters. One of my favorite books is Bryan Caplan’s The Myth of the Rational Voter, which I’m going to assign in my Public Choice class in the Fall. Here’s an abbreviated version, and here’s a podcast. One of Caplan’s points is that there is an enormous gap between voters’ perceptions of the percentage of the federal budget devoted to foreign aid (very large) and the reality (very small). Caplan discusses “anti-foreign bias” at length; “foreign” can be anyone other than “members of my tribe.”

All of this leaves me tempted to take David Gordon’s course on epistemology.

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