The Deadman Night Rider

A forum for evening students of the SMU Dedman School of Law and other outlaws..

Monday, June 20, 2005

In a post last week, Eugene Volokh (a UCLA law professor and 2nd gen Russian émigré) was taken to task by one of his readers for applying an economic analysis to the decision to have children and how technological developments impact that decision. The accusation was this:

I cannot help but think that you are treating people like a commodity (reduce costs and increase demand). I think a big barrier to childbirth is actually our culture, which cannot see why investing into another is more important than investing in one's self.

As part of his response, Prof Volokh noted:

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but my sense is that many people resist economic analysis because they find it distasteful: People shouldn't be treated like commodities (as if I'm suggesting that I be able to sell my wife on the open market). We should be paying attention to the grand plan of making people more unselfish rather than to technocratic matters such as cost and incentive (as if campaigns to make people unselfish have enjoyed notable success).

I can definitely relate to this sentiment. I’ll never forget a fellow student in my first-year econ course, a young lady named Kat who was getting a degree in social work and had a tattoo of a parrot that covered her entire thigh – she was the first woman I ever saw with a nose ring (it was ’89). Kat carried on a semester-long debate with the prof because she could never come to grips with the law of supply and demand. To suggest that a seller would demand a higher price just because they could was barbaric, it just wasn’t right, how could anyone be so cruel, and so on. It just didn’t sit right with her – possibly because as an aspiring social worker, she was used to thinking about people as people, not disembodied, rational actors. Obviously, though, if you have a problem with supply and demand, you’re not going to find too many economic arguments persuasive.

I think this same bias informs politics as well. Some people resist or reject conservative arguments because they just aren’t nice. It’s not nice to turn away illegal aliens, or cut welfare benefits that disincentivize work, or oppose raising the minimum wage. But unfortunately, we don’t live in Kat’s world.


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