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Chris Bertram

National-weighted consequentialism?

by Chris Bertram on April 10, 2015

I’ve been looking again at a two-year-old discussion on immigration policy between Jonathan Portes and Martin Wolf, and particularly on Wolf’s take on the reasons that ought to inform policy. As far as I can tell, Wolf’s position is a kind of national-weighted consequentialism. Immigration policy is to be viewed as an aspect of economic policy, and the relevant considerations are simply whether a policy is beneficial to existing members of society, with no weight to be given to the interests of immigrants. Portes raises the interesting objection that, once we factor time into our national felicific calculus, then the well-being of future members who have yet to be naturalized ought to count, but this is a mere wrinkle in the argument. Wolf’s view is that

countries are like clubs. They can decide who members are. Once you are a member, you matter to the club. If you are not a member, you don’t.

I hope that Wolf doesn’t mean what he says. The disanology between clubs and countries is pretty stark, since countries are compulsory associations which most people don’t have a choice about, whereas clubs are not. Moreover, most people think that countries do not have an unlimited discretion to decide on who their members are, that Nazi laws to remove citizenship from Jews were unjust, that policies that are blatantly discriminatory on racial or gender lines have no moral standing, whatever the insider electors think. We also, I hope, think that laws that condemn generations of minority permanent residents to non-membership — until recently a feature of German citizenship law — are unjust. So at best Wolf must mean that countries have a discretion to admit as members outsiders with no other moral claim to admission or membership.

The interesting question, then, when we have got the discretionary membership issue out of the way is what could justify national-weighted consequentialism? Whilst there might be all kinds of deontological reasons for states to favour insiders over outsiders (the global justice literature is about little else), in my experience, economists don’t think in those terms. Rather, they think of themselves as being consequentialists all the way down, and of rights, powers, permissions etc as being ultimately justified by outcomes. If I’m right that this is the picture, then the claim would have to be that a global system of nationally-weighted consequentialisms, perhaps by assigning the promotion of individual interests to particular states, gives rise to the best consequences overall. That’s an empirical claim, but one that is very very unlikely to be true since it locks so many people away from opportunities they would otherwise have to be productive and makes the world a poorer place as a result. So I’m still puzzled. What do economists think justifies national-weighted consequentialism?

Sunday photoblogging: Enna, Sicily

by Chris Bertram on April 5, 2015

Sunday photoblogging: Bristol, the bendy bridge

by Chris Bertram on March 29, 2015

Sunday photoblogging: Adriatic

by Chris Bertram on March 22, 2015

Sunday photoblogging:

by Chris Bertram on March 15, 2015

In the old Blind School on Hardman Street, Liverpool, subsequently trade union offices and the home of the Picket (a music venue), there’s a cupola with a mural celebrating the workers’ movement. Sadly, the damp is getting to it. The mural was painted by artist Mick Jones, son of Jack Jones the trade union leader. Arthur Scargill leads Karl Marx and there is much other detail of interest. The owner of the nearby Hope Street Hotel owns the building now and has plans for to turn it into a gastropub, so let’s hope it gets restored rather than destroyed. (There are move shots of the mural in the adjacent sections of my Flickr stream.)

Political philosophy now illegal in the UK

by Chris Bertram on March 13, 2015

Well, almost. The British government has just produced the guidance for its “Prevent” scheme for education, which aims to stop young people from being drawn into “extremism”. The elite at Oxford and Cambridge have been granted a specific exemption, allowing them to hear dangerous ideas that might corrupt the ordinary youth, and universities haven’t been given specific guidance on what they may teach. Colleges of further education, on the other hand, have been told that “All relevant curriculum areas will need to be engaged, with a single contact point for delivery of Prevent-related activity.” This so that students are not exposed to arguments that involve

“active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.”

I suppose it will be news to some that these are “British” values, particularly if they are Irish or live in the former colonies. But leaving that aside, it looks like Plato is off the menu and to make sure:

“Compliance with the duty will be monitored centrally via the Home Office and through appropriate inspection regimes in each sector.”

Well, that’s freedom for you.

A hypothesis about “ideal theory” and justice

by Chris Bertram on March 12, 2015

One of the most familiar and irritating moves in political philosophy is when a person says “oh, but my point was in ideal theory” as a response to some objection that references the grim and complicated real world. Not that I object in principle to ideal theory. But I do want to write this blog post to share a hypothesis about the ideal/non-ideal distinction and about why it has become more of a problem over time. The hypothesis is this: that in 1971 the gap between the ideal and the actual was a lot smaller than it is now. The world resembled Rawls’s ideal of the well-ordered society a lot more than it does now. Or at least, the North American bit of the world did.

Given that closer resemblance, people could do ideal theory without it looking like they were engaging in arcane hypotheses about a distant possible world. Political philosophy of the ideal variety looked a lot more relevant to what ought to happen.
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Sunday photoblogging: Florence, La Specola

by Chris Bertram on March 8, 2015

18th-century wax model for medical training. An essential place to visit in Florence.

Sunday photoblogging: Baltimore, Cork.

by Chris Bertram on March 1, 2015

Sunday photoblogging: Liverpool bus

by Chris Bertram on February 22, 2015

Sunday photoblogging: unicorn

by Chris Bertram on February 15, 2015

Most of the photos I post on Sundays are from a largish archive of old material, but this one was taken this very afternoon in the now-redundant church of St John in Bristol, which is build into the medieval city wall.

Sunday photoblogging: Southville reflections

by Chris Bertram on February 8, 2015

I’ve just gone through a big house move and we’re still in the unboxing phase (and I’m desperately catching up at work). As a result, I’ve not wandered round with a camera so far this year at all. But I’m looking forward to exploring the new area soon. But here’s a picture from nearby, that I shot a while ago.

Fire away in comments. Looking at the pattern of home and away fixtures, my money is on France if they can beat Ireland away next week. But, as usual, four teams could win it.

Sunday photoblogging: Rue de Vaugirard

by Chris Bertram on February 1, 2015

Sunday photoblogging: bike

by Chris Bertram on January 25, 2015