Tyler Cowan admires the new book by Sandra J. Peart and David M. Levy, The"Vanity of the Philosopher:" from Equality to Hierarchy in Post-Classical Economics.
David Levy combines expertise in Adam Smith, ancient Greek democracy, non-normal distributions, Victorian literature, and advanced Monte Carlo techniques.
The book's ideas catch our attention because of what we noticed while working in barely-post-Soviet Eastern Europe:
Even with a population of wonderful, warm, imaginative people, in the absence of a robust market system and its customs and presuppositions, there is much, much less reason to have any interest in your non-tribal fellow man. There is a neurological deficiency of anecdotes that begin "A stranger walked into a shop..."
[Levy and Peart] chronicle the war on "sympathy." For Adam Smith and his followers, the benefits from commercial and political exchange were not just monetary. A second, incommensurate good was involved as well -- "approbation," or respect, closely linked to the faculty of sympathy, which Smith explained as the capacity to imagine the experiences and opinions of others. But to the eugenicists, sympathy interfered with the efficient operation of mechanisms of natural selection, so it was to be supressed.
-- from a review of the book.
As an engenderer of sympathy, the market-system practices are a push-back against tyranny, which requires discounting those who are defined as "other" to the tyrant. Check out the quoted justification of euthanizing-away the Irish.
On its face, Robert Nozick's formulation based on John Stuart Mill is engaging. But the devil, literally, is in the definitions.
Robert Nozick, building on Mill, wrote: "What is desired is an organization of society optimal for people who are far less than ideal, optimal also for much better people, and which is such that living under such organization tends to make people better and more ideal."
The book leans toward less value-laden categories. Much safer. And in our opinion it is likely anyway that equality, in the long run, best serves the latter. People have immense capacities, encouraged to find, engage, and use them.
There is literally a world of difference between the measures applied to a population that is thought perfectible; and even a stern appreciation of our human capability to improve, each to his own and our benefit.
To encourage -- an active, transitive verb. Unless twisted, a kind, non-lethal, heartful word. Intense, even insistent, without coercion. Gentle. Skillful. Tireless. To map a path for anyone to find his own portion of self-possession, confidence, and brave resolve. Literally, to engender, everywhere that will, strengthening of true heart.
Not a paternalistic patrician lope toward the
quantitative and ethical dead end that begins at the receding shadowy
horizon called "just more." In encouragement stands the art and reservoirs, the law and the profits, of sympathy. And the burden on those who would make the world "more just."