We have to understand our world if we want to shape it how we want it to be.
“The amoeba cannot choose whether to categorize, it just does. The same is true at every level of the animal world. Animals categorize food, predators, possible mates, members of their own species, and so on. How animals categorize depends upon their sensing apparatus and their ability to move themselves and manipulate objects.”
Lakoff & Johnson
Brief excerpts from the book Free Markets and Social Justice by Cass R. Sunstein
- The Myth of laissez-faire. We cannot have a system of private property without legal rules, telling people who owns what, imposing penalties for trespass, and saying who can do what to whom. Markets should be understood as a legal construct, to be evaluated on the basis of whether they promote human interests, rather than as a part of nature and the natural order, or as a simple way of promoting voluntary interactions.
- Preference formation and social norms. Unjust institutions can breed preferences that produce individual and collective harm. Severe deprivation-including poverty-can be an obstacle to the development of good preferences, choices, and beliefs. There is no way for a legal system to remain neutral with respect to preference formation. In these circumstances it is fully legitimate for government and law to try to shape preferences in the right way, not only through education, but also through laws forbidding racial discrimination, environmental degradation, and sexual harassment, and through efforts to encourage public issues and to diverse points of view.
- The contextual character of choice. Choices are a function of context. All choices might be different in a different context.
- The importance of fair distribution. It is important to develop standards for measuring social well-being that allow people, in their capacity as citizens and voters, to focus on the issue of distribution.
- The diversity of human goods. Human beings value things not just in different amounts but in different ways. They value a friend in one way; a park in another; a species in another; a spouse in another; an heirloom in another; a large check in another; a pet in still another. The way they value a funny movie is qualitatively different from the way they value a tragedy, a mountain, a beach, or a car. Insofar as economics uses a single metric or scale of value, it flattens qualitative differences.
- Laws can shape preferences. Ina system of private property, it is necessary to say who owns what, at least in the first instance. It is also necessary to create rules of tort law, saying who can do what to whom, and who must pay for injuries and harms.
- Puzzles of human rationality. Are human beings rational?