Thursday, March 15, 2012

Some thoughts on "freedom of religion", contraception, and the complex web of rights

How we interpret any given right is strongly contingent on our understanding of a much wider, more complicated web of other rights. Take this recent allegation that the whole Sandra Fluke/contraception thing is about whether people respect "freedom of religion" and the first amendment or not.

Well, that really depends. If you don't think people can legitimately democratically regualte and intervene in the health care system, then a regulation that impacts religious institutions in a way they may not like probably looks like a violation of the first amendment. If, however, you think that people can legitimately democratically regulate and intervene in the health care system, then it's the special dispensation to religious institutions that starts to look like the violation of the first amendment!

Think about a more extreme case - a religion that practiced human sacrifice (or - for a more recent example - child marriage and rape). If the government doesn't provide a special dispensation to that group to go ahead and practice human sacrifice (or child marriage and rape), do we consider that a violation of the first amendment? Of course not. Why? Because of our understanding of how this web of rights fits together.

You really need to think about that before you go around saying things like "this Rush Limbaugh stuff is a distraction - it's really about the first amendment". We can play that game if you want, but don't presume that you're the one who's clearly and unambiguously standing up for the first amendment.

Practically speaking, I think a truly liberal society finds a middle ground precisely because there is disagreement about what these rights really mean. That's what reperesentative government is good at doing.


  1. Lately I've been reading all about all types of "primitive" sacrifices. As far as I can tell...people would give their "gods" something they exchange for something they valued even more. If there was a prolonged drought then people would offer prayers and sacrifices to their god(s) in exchange for an end to the drought.

    We perceive their behavior to be "primitive" but we do the same exact thing. When there are recessions we pray to our political parties and offer them sacrifices in exchange for an end to the recession. If the recession doesn't end then each political party conveniently blames the other party. If the recession does end then both parties try and take credit.

    Can you offer an economic argument for 538 congresspeople allocating 150 million people's taxes? You can't. Nobody can. It's a complete and total myth. Scarce resources are efficiently allocated when people are forced to consider the opportunity costs of their spending decisions. Therefore, if we want public funds to be efficiently allocated then we should simply allow taxpayers to directly allocate their choice.

    Of course I might be wrong. The thing very argument is based on the concept of fallibilism. Socialism majorly failed because people had all their eggs in one basket. Our system substantially fails because we still have way too many eggs in one basket. Therefore, in order to reduce the impact of human failure we should hedge our bets by implementing a tax choice system.

    1. They don't seem to be the same thing at all, Xerographica. The arguments behind policies seeking to end a recession are based in economic science. You are also mixing in the way politicians talk about it with the way policy analysts talk about it. This whole comment seems a little off-point.

    2. Well...I was primarily just curious whether you would be able to offer an economic defense of 538 congresspeople allocating 150 million people's taxes. Am I correct in understanding that you are unable to?

      It's pretty disingenuous to presume that when shamans were sacrificing humans that they didn't sincerely believe that what they were doing was effective. Same thing when George Washington's physicians bled him to death. So you're right...I'm sure in 500 years people will look back and consider the economists' efforts to end recessions to be entirely rational.

      Well...either that or they will take it for granted that recessions were a direct consequence of the resources misallocations of 538 congresspeople.

      Out of curiosity...while I'm you have any thoughts as to why socialism fails?

  2. On the question, as to whether society at large is infringing upon the liberty of the health care providers, or if the health care providers are infringing upon the liberty of the individual, I tend to favor the latter because the Bill of Rights (plus the 14th Amendment) protect the individual from governing bodies. Even so, its not clear to me if all health care providers can be generally viewed as a governing body (or an extension thereof).

  3. "The arguments behind policies seeking to end a recession are based in economic science. You are also mixing in the way politicians talk about it with the way policy analysts talk about it."

    The two can't really be separated in any meaningful way that doesn't look like special pleading.

    Anywho, there is that whole is/ought problem sitting right in the middle of this blog post.


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