Future Self Paternalism

Via Tyler Cowen, we hear Robert Fogel did not trust his future selves:

When I graduated from college, I had two job offers.  One was from my father, to join him in the meat-packing business.  That would have been quite lucrative. The other was as an activist for a left-wing youth organization.  I chose the latter and worked as an activist from 1948 to 1956.  At the time I was making that decision, my father told me: "If you really believe in that cause, come work with me.  You will make a much higher wage and you could give your extra income to hire several people instead of just yourself."  I thought, well, that makes some sense.  But I was convinced that this was a way to get me to change my views or at least lessen my commitment to an ideological cause that I found very important.  Yes, the first year, I might give all of my extra money to the movement, but every year I would probably give less, and finally reach the point when I was giving nothing at all.  I feared I would be co-opted. I thought this was my father’s way of indoctrinating me.

When I spent a few weeks at Oxford last summer, Toby Ord similarly said he wanted to commit his future selves to donating at least ten percent of income to third world charity; he did not trust his future selves to make that choice for themselves. 

These paternalism examples are striking, because paternalism is usually justified as a response to a combination of ignorance and irrationality, but Robert and Toby should expect their futures selves to be just as smart and rational, and even better informed than they.  How can they reasonably expect their future selves to be so much more biased that force is appropriate to constrain them?

Added: Tody Ord elaborates in the comments.

GD Star Rating
Tagged as: ,
Trackback URL: