Monday, January 4, 2010

Balancing individual safety and freedom of choice

Valuation as a topic has been on my mind of late and so when I hear or see it as a topic of discussion I'm easily drawn in.  Today it was a story, actually an interview by Steve Inskeep, on NPR with Raj Patel who recently wrote The value of Nothing and "says that cheap, market prices let us avoid paying the true costs of things."

His argument goes beyond referencing including the price of externalities--it's one of indirect consequences of how we may enjoy something and yet not recognize the potential for harm it comprises.  His example is about potato chips or other foods and the consequence of eating too many resulting in diabetes and obesity and the subsequent impact on all of our health care costs.  I haven't read the book, but I have been reading Deborah Stone on the Policy of Paradox and recognize that there is some natural contradictions in freedom of choice.
In other words, if we eat the potato chips freely do we also freely accept that it may lead to obesity and perhaps diabetes?  Stone makes a far more elaborate argument on basic principles such as liberty, security and how to negotiate that line between intervention to avoid harm and preservation of what in America we believe to be fundamental inalienable rights...

To quote from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Obviouslyhow these things get balanced is very much a function of how Safety and Happiness are determined.

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