Ought Implies Can, Ethical Pronouncements without Economics Lead to Diastrous Public Policies

 By Steven Horwitz

"One of the most common objections to free markets is that they ignore ethical considerations. In particular, critics argue that there are many things we “ought” to do that they believe will make people’s lives better off. We ought to “redistribute” income to the poor, they say. We ought to make health care a right. We ought to fix the economy by bailing out the financial industry.

The problem with all these “oughts” is that they eventually confront the principle ought implies can. Can the desired end (improving the welfare of the poor, for example) be achieved by the chosen means (income “redistribution”)? If not, then what does the “ought” really mean? “Oughts” without “cans”–ethical pronouncements without economics–are likely to lead to disastrous public policies."

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