Pragmatic utilitarianism?

I have been a utilitarian for about 30 years now and am seen in my academic work as an extreme version of the genre. I did my Phd on the topic. I do not merely say that governments should make policy for the benefit of the wellbeing of the population, but have spent years in the weeds of government bureaucracies to help them figure out how to do it. I just published the first real Handbook on that subject, almost 500 pages long, which is already heavily used as a reference work by the UK bureaucracy. I set up and still co-organise the World Wellbeing Panel, dedicated to finding out what the wellbeing experts around the world think is the policy and behaviour that optimises wellbeing. After that effort, I feel I co-own the term utilitarianism and am allowed to say some unusual things about it.

Mainly, I think most philosophical discussions of utilitarianism – for or against – are irrelevant to decision making in this world. My own take on what utilitarianism is about and why one should be one differs from most takes I read on the subject. Let’s go over the three crucial issues.

 

Idea 1: a utilitarian in his/her own life pursues the wellbeing of humanity.

You hear a lot that a utilitarian should be the ultimate do-gooder in his or her private life. The effective altruist bunch are like this.

Well, I certainly am no angel of that type. Utilitarianism is the decision criterion I advocate as a decision-making principle for society, which is not the same as my personal decision criterion. So I want society to adopt the rule to save the whole population of Boston over any random person in the world. But if that random person is my wife and I would have to personally choose, then it is just bad luck for Boston. Continue reading

Posted in Cultural Critique, Dance, Death and taxes, Democracy, Economics and public policy, Ethics, Geeky Musings, History, Humour, Life, Parenting, Personal, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Social, Social Policy, Society | 13 Comments

Global Democracy: Guest post by John Burnham

In a Democracy it is important that the decision on any public issue, be made by a community at the appropriate level. For example; local, regional, national, continental or global. It is imperative that at each level decision on a particular matter should be decided on the specific considerations that are relevant to each, not on the basis of power games.

The all-embracing range of nation-states is a very undesirable concentration of power. The concerns of each nation-state are all framed and evaluate public policy in terms of their community, with only the slightest concern for other communities. In an era where almost all our most urgent problems can be understood and resolved only on a global scale, we have to look to decision making bodies on each matter in terms of its own nature. Some of those urgent problems are international but most of them are not a matter that is of national communities, but must be approached on a global perspective – global change, overpopulation, the world Ecology, and many other matters effect us not as citizens of the state, but as citizens of the world. Continue reading

Posted in Democracy | 4 Comments

Critical race theory

‘Critical race theory’ is the perfect villain

Christopher Rufo

I wonder if I can keep this post short and sweet. Only by reminding myself that I’d like to write about his after much more consideration and effort. So can I keep this to a steak in the ground (Here at Troppo we’re always looking for ways to get red meat to the base)?

Be that as it may, critical race theory has been identified — by its opponents — as sitting at the apex of the hornet’s nest (or is that a Gordian knot) of wokeness, though the basic structure of the ideas also applies elsewhere — think radical critiques of gender and colonisation to name just two.

And here’s the thing. I agree with most of the anti-woke agenda in various areas with some passion. But I’m hostile not to the radicalism of the ideas of critical theory. Far from it. They are, for the most part, powerful and very welcome additions to our understanding of the world. But that’s very different to the more ambitious political, social and managerial application of those ideas where my response is often strong objection. I’d say precisely the same about Marxism.

That is, Marxism was an immensely powerful lens on the world, not just on economics, but on the whole structure of ideas around which public and social life is organised. Was it ‘right’. Yes, much of it was deeply insightful, but then it wasn’t the only way you could look at life or the phenomena it foregrounded. Marxism also came with its own stratospheric hubris in which it became the first ‘truly scientific’ study of humanity, rendering all else erroneous and obsolete. Not only that, but it turned out to predict the future as the working out of an iron law. The working class would be progressively immiserised and would then rise up in revolt. Continue reading

Posted in Cultural Critique, Democracy, Economics and public policy, Ethics, Gender | 11 Comments

Citizen-jury appointments?

Dear Troppodillians, lend me your critical eye. I ask you to consider the system of citizen-jury appointments I have in mind, and tell me how the vested interests would try to game it, ie why it would not work and whether the system can be improved. Bear with me as I describe what I have in mind.

Suppose that in 10 years time in Australia, there is a citizen-jury-system for appointments for the entire upper layer of the public sector. One jury, one top position. Politicians would still be in charge of policy and Budgets, but juries would appoint all the top people working in the public sector. The system would hold for all large entities receiving significant state funding:

  • Universities
  • large hospitals
  • heads of Government Departments
  • State Media
  • Arts Councils
  • Statistical Agencies
  • etc.

So every year, hundreds of top-positions would be decided upon by juries. Consider how this would go for, saying, the director of the ABC. Continue reading

Posted in Business, Cultural Critique, Democracy, History, Law, Libertarian Musings, Political theory, Politics - national, Social, Society, Sortition and citizens’ juries, Theatre | 49 Comments

Public goods morphing through the ages: they need you!

Six years ago I posted the note below as part of Abbotsford Convent. I’m doing so again today to raise money again. Only there’s already an offer on the table to match anyone’s donation. I’m doing the same for any donation you might make, so for every dollar you donate, I donate another (up to $500), and that’s doubled by another donor.

Just go to their website, make a donation and mention me in the message field and Bob’s your uncle. Continue reading

Posted in Blegs, Economics and public policy | Leave a comment

Book Launch of the Handbook for Wellbeing Policy-Making July 1st

Wellbeing & Policy Making Book Launch Event on 1st July 5-6.30pm London Time. Attending the Launch is Free, the book is not!

[blurb from Nancy Hey, director of the WW Centre for Wellbeing]:
The What Works Centre for Wellbeing, and our commissioning partners at the ESRC: Economic and Social Research Council have been working with colleagues at The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) for the last four years to bring the science of wellbeing economics into policy making so that it can be used consistently and with confidence. This groundwork is summarised from an academic perspective in a new book from Prof Paul Frijters and Dr Christian Krekel.

Join me on 1st July 5-6.30pm for the launch of their new book and to hear from our superb panel of scholars and practitioners Prof Lord Richard LayardThe Brookings Institution‘s Carol Graham , Government Economic Service‘s Sara MacLennan , Prof Andrew Oswald from University of WarwickMcKinsey & Company‘s Tera Allas Prof Liam Delaney from The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) on their perspectives on wellbeing and policy making past, present and future and around the world.

Please register here: https://lnkd.in/dZS3baC

#research #science #future #economics #wellbeing #policy #publicpolicy

#policymaking #WellbeingEconomics #WellbeingEconomy #BookLaunch

 

Posted in Death and taxes, Democracy, Economics and public policy, Health, History, Life, Philosophy, Political theory, Politics - international, Politics - national, Public and Private Goods, Science, Social, Social Policy, Society, Theatre | Leave a comment

Confessions of a Traitor to the Cause: Some reflections looking back from John Burnheim

As I struggle with my ninety-fifth year, I would like to beg forgiveness from the true believers in sortition.

Near forty years ago, in 1985, I published a book Is Democracy Possible? with the subtitle The Alternative to Parliamentary Democracy. The sortitionists believed that the alternative could only be to reject the electoral system and replace it by sortition. The will of the people could be expressed only by the people themselves, so they assumed I must support that view.

In fact what the book advocated was something different, but it was so far outside the mainstream that it attracted little attention. There is no point in offering answers to questions people apart from a few anarchists don’t ask. Everybody assumed that democracy was a matter of ensuring that the power of the state is invested in the nation’s people. Anybody who denied that was a traitor to democracy.

My contention was that the real problem was the concentration of all public goods in the powers of the state. Those who agreed with me on that point usually assumed that the only alternative was to manage the power of money to protect the rights of the owners of property — radical capitalism. Robert Nozick, in Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), claimed that the public goods that the state did not provide could be provided on a moral basis by the rich. This was hardly a prescription for democracy. Clearly public goods are very important to human life. Many public goods are conventions that evolve from the interactions of people as unplanned byproducts. Our languages are the obvious example. However in complex technological societies, many of the goods we need to have at our disposal must involve rational choices between different possibilities that are accepted by all those who need them. Continue reading

Posted in Democracy, Philosophy, Political theory, Sortition and citizens’ juries | Leave a comment