08 September 2011

Scott Adams on Government

I'm wondering if supporters of a strict interpretation of States Rights in the U.S. are anti-science. In other words, if you believe a state can make better decisions for its residents than the federal government, what evidence do you have to support that view? Is it possible to compare the performance of a state against the performance of the federal government for the topics that are relevant to the issue of States Rights? Probably not. In that case, how does a rational person form an opinion on States Rights?
The fundamental problem with Scott’s argument is that “better” is an entirely subjective term.  Because all choices in life demand tradeoffs, answering the question of what tradeoffs to make is inherently subjective.

Take, for example, the general tradeoff between freedom and security.  How much freedom should people have, and how much security should citizens enjoy?  What is the optimal ratio?

The simple answer is:  it depends on who is being asked.  Some people prefer to have more freedom at the expense of security.  Others prefer the opposite.  The optimal outcome is entirely dependent on the person being asked, which indicates that the optimal outcome is inherently subjective.

The whole purpose of states’ rights, then, was to allow for a wide variance of governmental policy at a local level under the assumption that localized political systems would more accurately reflect citizens’ desires (and, given the low approval ratings of both congress and the president, it does not seem like much of a stretch to say that states and municipalities do a better job than the federal government at representing voters’ interests).

I think that Adams’ confusion arises because he doesn’t understand that states’ rights proponents aren’t using “experimentation” in a strictly scientific sense.  Quite simply, states should be allowed to form whatever laws and systems of governance they desire in order to satisfy as many of their citizens as possible.  This should ensure maximal amounts of individual happiness, as people will generally be free to choose to live in a state that most closely represents their personal values.

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