Hooray for Steven Levitt
May 18, 2011, 11:42 PM
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The University of Chicago Freakonomist blogs:
It wasn`t until the U.S. government`s crackdown on internet poker last week that I came to realize that the primary determinant of where I stand with respect to government interference in activities comes down to the answer to a simple question: How would I feel if my daughter were engaged in that activity?
If the answer is that I wouldn`t want my daughter to do it, then I don`t mind the government passing a law against it. I wouldn`t want my daughter to be a cocaine addict or a prostitute, so in spite of the fact that it would probably be more economically efficient to legalize drugs and prostitution subject to heavy regulation/taxation, I don`t mind those activities being illegal.
In other words, Levitt wants some help from his government in keeping his daughter off the pole (to cite Chris Rock`s admonition to fathers).

This has led to much tut-tutting about how Levitt`s sense of morality isn`t sophisticated. It`s just so crude for public intellectuals who happen to be fathers of daughters to think more about what`s good for their daughters than what`s good for random strangers. Levitt is being downright discriminatory. Why should the desires of fathers with daughters be privileged in America? What about illegal immigrant day laborers who can`t afford long term relationships? Why don`t the desire for prostitutes of the guys hanging around the Home Depot parking lot matter as much as those of the desire of American citizen fathers raising daughters to keep them off the pole? Don`t the day laborers deserve a large supply of prostitutes to service their needs at low prices? Shouldn`t a just, free market morality focus on eliminating friction costs caused by the prostitution market being illegal that keep day laborers from being able to afford as many encounters with prostitutes as they would like if prostitution were legal? Etc etc ...

In reality, we do have a political system in which the views of fathers wanting to keep their daughters off the pole do count more heavily. What we lack is a widely publicized, respectable intellectual system justifying such natural political views. This means that while the public gets its way on a lot of common sense first-order issues — I don`t want my daughter to become a prostitute so I want the government to penalize prostitution — public intellectuals like Levitt (i.e., the people who are cognitively equipped to think through the impact of public policies several steps down the road) are not supposed to mention in respectable intellectual circles the second and third order effects of policies, such as immigration. Personally, I`m all for Levitt`s first-order point of view. But, I agree it`s not intellectually sophisticated enough, but for the opposite reason than most of the libertarians are up in arms about. I think he should be thinking not only about what`s good for his young daughter but what kind of country he`d like his daughter`s daughter and his daughter`s daughter`s daughter to be born into.

And his concerns shouldn`t be just first order ones like keeping his daughter and daughter`s daughter off the pole, but more sophisticated, second-order ones like what kind of people will there be in America in the future for his descendants to make more descendants for him with. What`s really going to matter is not public policies about prostitution or drugs or gambling, but what kind of people live in the America that he`s leaving to his descendants.

That`s what we need intellectuals to think through, and the vast majority of intellectuals have been flagrantly negligent at that. They are smug about their stupidity on the subject.

The Framers of the Constitution said in the Preamble that the whole point of the Constitution was for the benefit of "ourselves and our posterity." You would think that would be one of those famous "propositions" like "All men are created equal" that everybody goes on and on about today, but "our posterity" seems to have been dropped down the memory hole.