Friday, January 28, 2011

So, if you've been following, you may have noticed that I don't tend to discuss social policy much. I only tend to analyze things from the economic perspective.

This is because social policy inevitable involves decisions about ethics and morality which can get rather murky and involve what amount to certain gray areas. As an example, the abortion debate. I'm not going to get into my stance on it, just to point out that it involves religious beliefs, health concerns, population control issues as well as the freedom to choose ones lifestyle and what restrictions should be placed on that freedom of choice. You can't dismiss someone's beliefs, even if you disagree with them, as not being valid. If someone believes, as a matter of religion or faith, that life begins at conception then that is a valid belief. No matter when the organs or the brain are functioning, that won't change their belief because their idea of when "life" begins doesn't have to have anything to do with when the organs are fully formed and functioning. Therefore, their stance on the issue of abortion will come down to whether or not they believe it is ever okay to sacrifice the life of the child and if so, under what circumstances.

I have a friend who is obsessed with the idea that our legal system and social policies should be "fair". Define fair, please. Let's simplify and assume we're talking about fair being essentially equal to all. That leaves an important question up in the air; do we want a fair outcome or a fair process? A fair process that guarantees everyone a shot at a good outcome doesn't mean everyone will GET a good outcome. What outcome people will get will be determined by a number of factors. It's like five people with four apples drawing straws to see who has to go without; you each have an equal chance of drawing the short straw so it's utterly fair in that respect but at the end of the day one of them will be going without an apple. A fair process isn't guaranteed to produce a fair end result. So let's think about what goes into a fair result... wait, we can't because that's impossible to really define. Is it everyone getting equal shares of everything? Including all essentials and all luxuries? Is it everyone being happy with the outcome? What makes an outcome fair? And fair to who? Let's use a food analogy again. Let's say you've got five apples and ten people. Each person can have half an apple. That's fair, right? But is half an apple actually going to be enough for each person? Maybe a farmer, because of the calories he expends doing his labor day to day, needs more nourishment than a clerk who might expend several thousand fewer calories each day. So giving everyone equal amounts of the apples will leave some with much more than they need and some with much less. Is that a fair outcome?

Social policy is murky, filled with ethical issues, conflicting morals, different values and ideas of what equality and fairness means. That's why I don't like to get involved in discussing it very much.

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