October 12, 2011

Good vs. Great: A Primer in Economic Morality

Note: This post was originally published on The Humble Libertarian.

Justin, my good friend and loyal AOANE contributor, has agreed to pressure me (and I him) into focusing in on some of our passion projects. To figure out if there really is something big worth pursuing, and then actually pursing it. So, I am trying to clarify my "$ per good" charitable argument, and looking for you smart folks to try to internalize this argument (which, by now you're more than familiar with) and help me figure out how to tighten it up. Note: the political preamble was designed for the political reading audience.

(original post)
"I personally care more about eliminating real poverty in the world than the relative poverty of America's lower class."
As a Presidential candidate, you could never get away with this statement. But, as an individual, it's hard to disagree with the ethical argument here, isn't it?

You see, our political arguments are currently caught in a morality debate - which I think is fair game. But, libertarians keep getting caught in situations where their non-support in something "good" ends up looking evil.

You don't want the 30 year-old man without a major medical policy to have his cancer treatments covered by the government? You're a monster.

As a fellow monster, I want to have this debate. But, to do so, it becomes necessary to mainstream the concept of "good" vs. "great" in a world of finite resources. For instance, buying popcorn to support a Boy Scout troop is a "good" thing. Buying wrapping paper to support youth football is a "good" thing.

But, as an individual charitable person - how are either of these in your top 200 list of priorities? Yet, these are the ones we support. Over micronutrients. Over malaria nets. Over clean water.

We have gotten so caught up in doing good things, that we have stopped focusing on doing the most good per $.

You don't have to lose the morality argument just because you're unwilling to fund national social programs. You just need to explain the ethical and economic superiority in not doing so.