Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Polar insanities

Andrew Koppelman, one of the writers at Balkinization, put up an absolutely brilliant post a little while ago on market intervention. Spot commends it to all of you, but especially Sticks, the boys and girls at the Institute for Justice, and perhaps D.J. Tice. It is short enough that it is difficult to find a meaningful excerpt without ripping the whole thing off (which you had better read, because there will be a test, boys and girls), but here's a sample:

Think about the question of treatment of illness – just on the individual level, as the individual decides what to do about his disease. One can imagine analogues to the communist and libertarian offering him advice. One advisor, let’s call him Dr. Frankenstein, suggests the following: “The problem with your body is that it operates by chance natural processes, without human direction. What you need to do is let me completely dismantle your body and put it together again in a completely different way, following a logic that I have carefully worked out, sitting here at my desk.” The other advisor, Christian Scientist, responds: “Your problem is that you haven’t got enough faith in the natural processes in your body. No intervention of any kind is appropriate, other than the prevention of basic physical trauma and starvation. Your body is a wonderfully self-regulating mechanism, which obviously takes care of itself most of the time without any medical intervention at all. It’s a mistake ever to try to interfere with its natural operation.”

Both Frankenstein and Christian Scientist are, not to put too fine a point on it, insane. The person needs medical intervention. The hard question is what kind of intervention he needs. There are sane presumptions that bear a family resemblance to both of these crazies: one can think that illness is evidence that intervention is appropriate, and one can also notice that, given the body’s capacities for self-regulation, intervention can sometimes do more harm than good. But both of these presumptions must await empirical testing, and each can be convincingly refuted in particular cases.

Please also read Spot's posts on the subject, Invisible hand job, Invisible hand job II, and A Spotsian dialogue.

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