Friday, March 16, 2012

The Paternalism Presumption

As part of a bloviated post I sketched up yesterday, I flippantly asserted that the existence of paternalistic policy should be taken as prima facie evidence of non-euvoluntary exchange. My echo-chamber reasoning looked at things like drug policy (you'll regret getting hooked on crack, so we won't let you smoke it in the first place), food assistance programs (the alternative is malnourished children), handgun laws (handguns are used in crimes against external parties) and workplace safety regulations (employer-centric coercion, perhaps). The more I think about it, the less sure I am that paternalistic regulation is the smoke to non-EE's fire.

All apologies to Bruce Yandle, but the Baptist part of the bootleggers and Baptists story is that the paternalist is protecting the paternalized from her own bad choices. Given a fully rational choice calculus that correctly accounts for all social costs and using appropriate discount rates, the ward's choice would match the paternalist's. Is this necessary to distinguish non-EE? Is it sufficient? Are there examples of paternalistic legislation that regulates or modifies euvoluntary exchange?

My priors to the latter say "no". I suspect that if there is regulation that interferes with otherwise euvoluntary exchange (say for instance, tariffs on imported tree nuts) then it is almost by definition no longer paternalistic, but rather interventionary, rent-seeking or punitive. My priors here are weak though and I'm interested in entertaining other thoughts on the issue. Too bad it's Spring Break right now and lunch companions are in short supply.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?