The me of right now and the me that has put his hand on a hot stove are different, but nevertheless I keep my hand off the stove. Another person might place my hand on the stove and when I tell them it burns they might continue to believe it is for my own good.

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Two different cognitive biases that color people's view of issues are an easier identification with individuals than with masses and a stronger sentiment stirred by pictures rather than words. A third bias is a built-in preference for narrative over statistics.

All three biases are on display here, thus proving that slimy techniques can be deployed for good causes as easily as for evil ones.

Bias-harnessing = Jedi Mind tricks

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Hal, thanks for your comments. They really made me think even more deeply about the subject.

1. It seems to me that if it's just a warning, then you have to make a decision about whether to follow the warning or not, and you have to invest time and effort in gathering the relevant information, so you have not eliminated the information or decision costs.

But If it's a ban, then your work is done, you don't need to gather any information because you don't have to decide.

Of course, if you decide in advance to treat all warnings as bans, then you avoid the costs, but that's just changing the name of 'warnings' to 'bans.'

2. I was assuming people make a meta-decision to obey the law. If you decide not to be bound by law, then bans (about anything) are no longer bans, they are just information, and if you have to decide what to do, you have information and decision costs as above. But note, if you are not a law-abiding citizen, then other costs come into play.

3. I thought I detected a libertarian strain in Robin's arguements on this and on other issues, but perhaps I am wrong about this. If he is using libertarian arguements, then such arguements rely on a unitary self, as follows:

Libertarianism is based on a person's self-ownership, with liberty to do whatever he wants with his self, as long as he allows others the same liberty.

But with multiple subselves within the same person, when one subself takes an action it will often restrict the liberty of another subself, thus making a nonsense of the libertarian project.

For example, suppose one subself spends money or time or effort on something: the liberty of all the other subselves is restricted because they can't spend that money or time, because it is gone.

It is just like if I spent YOUR money on something; that would restrict your liberty, because you couldn't spend it on anything, because it is gone.

Now suppose your self were in here with my self (and I mean that in the most abstract possible sense, Hal), and the Bruce subself spent some money.

Then the Bruce subself would have restricted the liberty of the Hal subself, because Hal would not be able to spend the money, because it is gone.

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When the government abandons the field, they don't just leave behind a bunch of fallible humans who might stumble into making an unfortunate mistake from time to time. They leave behind a bunch of overmatched, outgunned marks who will be manipulated and cajoled and badgered into making extremely costly mistakes, again and again and again. It's not a fair fight, and only the government can even hope to even up the sides.

Corporations manipulate, cajole and badger people? OK, but what of the government? Such as making children pledge allegiance to its flag or otherwise promoting nationalism. Doesn't the government have an unfair advantage over its 'marks'?

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You made A too strong. A weakened form of it would be another considerable argument against paternalism:

A) People tend to choose what is best for them, and as they are educated, they are more likely to do so.

A.1) People learn (i.e. become educated) through their choices.

A.2) There are markets for education as well as for informed third-party decision making (e.g. doctors, lawyers, contractors), reducing the complexity of many choices.

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So was it rational for the society of the past to support those old forms of paternalism? By the standards of that time it was the most "successful" society in the same sense that ours is now.

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I would agree that on the whole, the paternalism of today is morally superior to that of the past. Of course, I am a creature of the present day. People of the past, if they could see our government paternalism in action, might be horrified to see what they would have judged as immoral actions being encouraged and even mandated. Nevertheless, I judge that humans have made moral progress over the centuries, just as we have made progress in other areas of knowledge.

It's likely that in the future, government paternalism will be substantially different from today, and that some of its policies will seem to be very questionable from our present-day moral perspective.

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David, thanks for debating with me today. I will try to summarize your position and you can correct me. You are wary of most of the paternalism in most societies at most times, such as that banned alternative religions, political groups and sexual orientations, and that limited the freedoms of women and ethnic minorities. But, you argue, since our society today is the most "successful" of all, our paternalisms should be presumed to be good on balance, and so the people who run those paternalisms should be presumed better judges than those whose acts are limited.

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Bruce - (1) Don't warnings fix this information cost as well as bans? (2) Even under bans, people still have to decide to obey the law. Consider how much effort people spend to decide when and whether to speed on roadways, even investing in laser and radar detectors. I once ordered a pharmaceutical from an overseas pharmacy rather than go to the doctor for a prescription. Bans and regulation don't necessarily take away the need for a decision. To the extent that you can decide, once and for all, to obey the law, you can decide not to violate government recommendations. (3) I think you are rebutting some argument which I don't see spelled out in enough detail to comment on. I'm not sure anyone here has made an argument that relies on a unitary self.

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1. Information cost is one reason why people value paternalism. It is far too time consuming for a person to get the relevant information about every possible drug, etc, and usually the consumer doesn't have the domain knowledge to understand the information for a particular drug even if they could get it. So we delegate that task to the FDA, and similarly for other bans.2. Decision cost is another reason why people value paternalism. If we have 'would-have-banned' stores, people would have to decide whether or not to buy the product, or decide not to decide. But we already have too many decisions to make, so we delegate the decisions.3. The libertarian idea is based on liberty, but that concept only makes sense for a unitary self. Only a little introspection is needed to see that we have multiple selves, not only at different points in time, but at same time. Decisions that are preferred by one self are not preferred by others. Literature (e.g., Proust), social psychology, and behavioral economics converge on this.

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It seems to me that much of this discussion is distinguishing advertising (Ride our Bus!) from paternalism (Use Public Transportation!) based on the motives of the actors rather than on the content of the message.

I think it's more a question of distinguishing "eat our big mac" from "ensure a healthy diet".

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I hope this debate will lead to a Disagreement Case Study or two! I'd be interested to hear about the meta issues which you use to justify continued disagreement. Do you think you would eventually come to agreement if you spent enough time together?

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I think there's another angle in all of this: bounded rationality and organization. Consumers are individual boundedly rational agents, regulators aren't individual people, they're institutions. Suppose it's the case that regulatory agencies have checks to minimize the risks of the sorts of errors that individual consumers, or individual regulators, would make? (Those checks might include, e.g., notice and comment, legislative oversight, committee work leading to applications of the condorcet jury theorem, lots of extra data, division of labor in accord with skill, multiple layers of approval required for decisions, etc. etc.) Then overall, there might be reason to believe that regulatory *agency* decisions will be closer to the truth than consumer decisions.

I think Robin misses this by modeling regulators as single individuals.

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It seems to me that much of this discussion is distinguishing advertising (Ride our Bus!) from paternalism (Use Public Transportation!) based on the motives of the actors rather than on the content of the message. And that judging a person's behavior based on the quality or purity of his motive is a bias we should avoid. Road/Intentions/Hell anyone?

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Explain to me now why the current Social Security system is a good program. . .

I'd assume that David would be in favour of the "Security" aspect of it...

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You have to believe both that the government knows better ... and that it will use this power in his interest. ... The government ... wouldn't have to be staffed with impossible geniuses in order to know better than, say, the least intelligent 20% of the population.

Ultimately my defense of paternalism rests mostly on agents being irrational and therefore systematically wrong and/or "just having no idea."

When two agents are rational, have the same interests, and do not communicate, then the one who knows more and is more intelligent will make the better decision. But if the agents are not rational, can communicate, and have somewhat differing interests, then it is not at all enough that one of them knows more and is more intelligent. You seem to be trying to have it both ways - assuming rationality in order to prefer the person who knows more, and assuming irrationality to ignore the possibility of communication.

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