We like markets — a lot. We think that markets are by far the best way of organising most human affairs that involve scarce resources, because they align people’s incentives in ways that communicate where resources can be be used most efficiently, and give people reasons to come up with new ways of using existing resources. This means that markets and market-like systems are desirable in many, many places they’re not present at the moment — healthcare, education, environmental policy, organ allocations, traffic congestion, land-use planning.I agree with much of this, especially the middle paragraph. To me the only standard that counts in political economy is enabling people to live good lives. I also think capitalism works great in many areas, and I care about the poor.
We are liberal consequentialists. A system is justified if it is the one that best allows people to live the lives that they want to live, or makes them happiest or more satisfied than any other. There are no inherent rights that override this. People’s wellbeing is all that matters, and generally individuals are best at defining what is best for themselves.
We care about the poor. Caring about people’s wellbeing leads us to caring about the worst off people. Usually an extra £100 makes a pauper better off than it makes a millionaire. This diminishing marginal utility means that poor people’s lives are the easiest to improve for a given amount of time, energy and money.
But the devil is in the details. It's one thing to say that you believe in free markets and helping the poor, but how do you do those things together? High taxes, I suppose, although Bowman never comes out and says so. Consider health care. Bowman is British, and many pro-capitalist Brits love to complain about their socialist health care system. But it works every bit as well as the pro-market US system at around half the cost, so why would anybody want to mess with that? Using markets to improve education is an idea that has been around for my whole lifetime, but making it work has proved extremely difficult. Even where it does work (in the sense of raising test scores) it undermines the community solidarity that comes from having everybody going to the same school, which for many people cuts into that sense of wellbeing that Bowman says should be the overriding goal.
I would also quibble with this claim:
We base our beliefs on empirics, not principles. There is an unlimited number of stories that you can tell about the world, but only a few are true. You find out which are true by comparing the stories to reality with experiments and throwing away the ones that don’t fit. It doesn’t matter if a theory appears to be internally coherent — if it can’t stand up to experimentation, it’s wrong. In particular, quantitative empirical research is what we look for.Sure, everybody likes empirical data. But what time scale are we talking about? Should we be focused on things that seem to work over a five-year time frame? Or should we be thinking in terms of decades, or even centuries? This, after all, is the moral conservative's response to all the social changes that have happened since 1960: they may seem like fun for a while but the long-term consequences will be dire. How can we possibly have the data to determine whether something genuinely new (widespread sex change operations, say) will have good or bad effects over fifty years? We can't, so on this one as on hundreds of other major changes we are just going with our guts. Or the question I raised yesterday, about banning robot trucks; how can we predict the long-term effects, or weigh improved efficiency vs. the blow that will fall on a million men?
A broad-brush sketch of my politics would look much like Bowman's: markets when they work, government intervention when they don't, a focus on helping the mass of people lead decent lives. But I haven't published any manifestos because I am not nearly so confident that I have any particular answers to the hard problems of our world.