Tuesday, September 11, 2012


At the risk of accusations of callowness, let me share with you my fifth-grade-level thoughts on what "tolerance" means to me. Please bear with me, I assure you I'm going somewhere with this and I don't want to encumber the main point with correct but nuanced distinctions.

Tolerance is to refrain from objecting to or forbidding aesthetically unpleasant activity. The chief difference (as I see it) between tolerance and acceptance is a feeling of revulsion. I tolerate things that gross me out, I accept things that are orthogonal to my interests. 

What does this have to do with euvoluntary exchange? I tend to think of euvoluntary exchange as acceptable to pretty much everybody. We've written here before on organ sales and I've echoed Jim Andreoni's point that much of the objection to trade in body parts is atavistic revulsion. For people to come round to the arguments we here at EE find compelling, they'd need to overcome that dreadful icky feeling and judge the (dare I say it?) consequences of their beliefs. They'd have to tolerate organ sales as beneficial to the greater good in spite of their deontological mores. 

I know this is just one example, but I have a hunch that acceptance and tolerance can help us shed light on the euvoluntary spectrum. I'm willing to claim that a good candidate for a demarcation line between euvoluntary and voluntary is the boundary between acceptable and tolerable. I'll put up with political advertising as tolerable despite my belief that it poisons minds because I find the alternative of state control of speech intolerable. I find TLC reality programming acceptable because I consume exactly zero of it and I don't see that it really does any meaningful damage to any of the culture that I care about.

With that in mind, if you buy my description, do you think it's reasonable to consider tolerance as a latter-day virtue on either deontological grounds (which is how it's often sold) or consequentialist grounds (since more tolerance increases the universe of available transactions)? If not, what are the reasonable bounds on tolerance? If it's a matter of aesthetics, what moral arguments would you cite towards efforts to restrict tolerance or to limit the scope of commerce? Is this even an important consideration? Should tolerance remain a platitude we preach to children? Indeed, is it even being taught correctly?

Curious stuff.


  1. Was that revulsion thing Andreoni or Al Roth?

  2. For me, tolerance is just plain appealing. It's prime in my subjective moral framework. So I guess that puts me in the deontology camp.

    Tolerance, as you distinguish it from acceptance, is really close to the idea I've been throwing around lately of rejecting meddling externalities as relevant for K-H efficiency. Vanilla K-H includes the fact that there are some people out there that are disgusted by homosexuality, and therefore a ban on same-sex marriage assuages their sensibilities a bit. If we count this kind of revulsion on the other side of the ledger from the psychic benefits of increased marriage equality, the scales could tip to a side offensive to the tolerant individual.

  3. Yeah, I think you're right. Jim is altruism and crowding out. Roth is kidneys and yuckiness.


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