Public Policy

Are voters like medieval doctors?

According to¬†“In Praise of Passivity” by philosphopher Mike Huemer, the answer may be yes.

Voters, activists, and political leaders of the present day are in the position of medieval doctors. They hold simple, prescientific theories about the workings of society and the causes of social problems, from which they derive a variety of remedies-almost all of which prove either ineffectual or harmful. Society is a complex mechanism whose repair, if possible at all, would require a precise and detailed understanding of a kind that no one today possesses. Unsatisfying as it may seem, the wisest course for political agents is often simply to stop trying to solve society’s problems.

Activism seems to be the norm for politics. Why wouldn’t political activism be optimal? Huemer gives provides some reasons:

First, any government policy that imposes requirements or prohibitions on citizens automatically has certain costs. One cost is the reduction of citizens’ freedom. Another is the suffering on the part of those who violate the law and are subsequently punished by the legal system…Second, there is a kind of moral presumption against coercive interventions. Laws are commands backed up by threats of coercive imposition of harm on those who disobey them…finally, a policy made under conditions of extreme ignorance is not equally likely to be beneficial as harmful; it is much more likely to be harmful…

Next time you vote, perhaps consider voting for politicians with a Congressional record of inaction.

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