Thu, 23 Jun 2005


Don Boudreaux posted about a particular kind of socialism called "parental socialism". He quotes James Buchanan's Public Choice article on the subject:

In one sense, the attitude is paternalism flipped over, so to speak. With paternalism, we refer to the attitudes of elitists who seek to impose their own preferred values on others. With parentalism, in contrast, we refer to the attitudes of persons who seek to have values imposed upon them by other persons, by the state, or by transcendental forces. This source of support for expanded collectivization has been relatively neglected by both socialist and liberal philosophers, perhaps because philosophers, in both camps, remain methodological individualists.

Parentalism as an alternative to freedom is an interesting idea. Let me relate my personal experience of parentalism. I'm a very experienced computer programmer with 30 years of experience. I've written every kind of program imaginable: graphical editors, computer language interpreters, operating systems, text editors, file browsers, map browsers, etc. I'm listed as one of the authors of the Linux kernel. It is perfectly within my ability to grab the source code of any open source program, and improve it, should I find a flaw.

But here is the thing: my life energy is limited. In order to do a good job of hacking at any one program, I would need to know quite a bit about that program. There are a large number of programs that I merely want to be a user of. I'm not afraid to be free to change them. Nobody is forcing me to not make those changes. I prefer, in that certain realm, to be infantilized. I want a parent who will look after that program for me. I want that program to be reliable. I want to trust it, just like I trusted my parents when I was five or six.

The key here is not particularly that this is socialism, it is that I am choosing to be infantilized. I want somebody else to be responsible for gcc compiling my C code into the correct binary code. I want somebody else to be responsible for the reliability of the filesystem on which my files are stored. I want somebody else to write the damned serial driver, 'cuz I've already written way too many serial drivers in my life.

Similarly, many people do not want to have a choice of health insurance. They want to pay their taxes, and hold somebody else responsible for their health.

The lesson for public choice economics is, I think, that people should have the choice to be infantilized. Vive le states rights!

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