Harry Clarke On economics, politics & other things

November 5, 2014

History of violence

Filed under: ethics — hc @ 9:02 pm

Enjoyed this article  – and the video – by Steven Pinker on the history of violence both from ancient times through to the “Long Peace” after 1945.   In almost every respect the world has grown less violent through history and the decline has been most marked after 1945.  Conflicts and wars within countries, between countries, within families and violence involving marital partners, rapes, children and towards animals have all shown steady decline.  Modernity and “progress” have, on balance, been a good thing and they have not – as much popular opinion contends – involved a price in terms of increased violence.  The institutions of civilisation and the development of abstract thinking about ethical issues have been worthwhile.  We should be grateful for the progress made and not look romantically towards a distant past when things were simpler.  I am interested in the idea that the breakdown in tribalism and in the exclusive focus of individuals to family and clan have been a positive and worthwhile development.

Pinker a flexible and interesting thinker.



October 16, 2014

Empathy & sound ethics

Filed under: ethics — hc @ 9:40 am

I have been thinking about empathy and reading the psychologist Paul Bloom on this. Empathy is a type of bias – it evokes compassion for those close to us and to a lessor extent to those we can see but who need not be at all close to us in terms of actual ties – e.g. asylum seekers. It leaves unconsidered those facing peril in other countries (or awaiting resettlement in refugee camps in other countries) even though these people may face greater peril than asylum seekers. Of course we need to add reason and principles to considerations of empathy if we are to be truly ethical. Empathy can be a negative in terms of ethics – if I assign a high market to a friend in an exam or give them undue preference in a job interview that is a negative.  If I have a serious illness and visit my doctor the last thing I want is empathy – I want the doctor to use his/her brains to help me not to sob in sympathy with my problem.

The negative side of empathy is the reason I cannot take the “Care Ethics” due to  Carol Gilligan and the feminists very seriously.  These thinkers do identify important determinants of individual ethics – close relationships –  but, by themselves they are insufficient as a basis for ethics because of the implied biases.


October 12, 2014

Moralities of everyday life

Filed under: education,ethics — hc @ 9:23 pm

I am doing the Professor Paul Bloom course “Moralities of Everyday Life” for credit from Coursera. This is an approach to ethics based on psychology. Paul is a very talented lecturer (and author) based at Yale. Weekly assignments are online and students are identified from their typing style and using photographic imaging. A 70% average score across the assignments is required to get a certificate – the assignments themselves are challenging and test not only the lecture content but also knowledge of the set reading and the extra required videos. The general approach is based on a “gut instincts” theory of ethics that I am finding attractive.

Maybe this is one way university teaching can go. It costs $49US to attempt to gain credit for this subject and the teaching and materials are better than anything I have experienced in Australia. The first week consisted of 7 lectures ranging between 12-25 minutes each (that’s a good idea – not operating oppressively long lectures) and there are several readings, some excellent video clips, a text and a multiple choice assignment.  The lectures have quizzes in them that are not for credit but they do keep you on your toes. There are discussion groups although I have not participated mainly because the reading takes quite a lot of time.

The reading itself in the first week involved extended newspaper articles  by Steven Pinker and Peter Singer and video clips of quite different approaches to ethics by Sam Harris and Jonathon Haidt both of who  are experts in this area.  Fascinating.

Incidentally it was interesting for me to be a student after 35 years of teaching in a university.  Looking at course design and designing reasonable work loads as well as incentives to do the required work was much easier to see from a student’s perspective.  The idea of using newspaper surveys to introduce students to new materials makes more sense than plunging directly into academic journals.  And there is nothing “low level” about the approach at all –  real effort is required.



June 28, 2014

Prisoner’s Dilemmas, ethics & courage.

Filed under: ethics — hc @ 1:35 pm

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a key idea of modern game theory. It describes the difficulties of sustaining cooperation when individuals have reasons to defect from a cooperative agreement. This paradigm has even been used to define ethical behaviour.   Kant’s Categorical Imperative requires that for a moral maxim to be ethical (for an individual) it must be both universalizable  (everyone must, in principle, be able to live in accord with it) and the individual must will  (want) to live in a world where the maxim obtains.   Thus, if there are two moral choices: act non-selfishly (to achieve a good social outcome)  or act selfishly (to gain individual benefit) then the CI is generally consistent with acting non-selfishly.  It is certainly universalizable (everyone could live with this maxim) and individuals would want to live in a world where everyone acts non-selfishly (even if, in fact, they did not act non-selfishly).

For example, the citizens of the world would be better-off if all countries mitigated climate change-inducing carbon emissions.   Individually, however,  each citizen would be better off if they didn’t mitigate irrespective of what others do.  Libertarians and Australia’s IPA advocate the immoral action of non-mitigating  – it is the self-interested “defect” option in this Prisoner’s Dilemma.   More moral citizens advocate addressing climate change because we would all be better-off if every country mitigated so that, even if they didn’t in fact mitigate, the moral stance is to mitigate because we would prefer to live in a world where everybody did.  Indeed the difference in viewpoint here is that the moral citizens see the Prisoner’s Dilemma as an obstruction that limits worthwhile action whereas the immoral, self-interested libertarian types see it as a sound reason for doing nothing. The libertarians don’t see game theory strategic interdependencies 0- individuals make choices which suit themselves without adverse social consequences emerging.

In negotiating situations, where agents are confronting some evil, one can either act with courage (and everyone gains) or be a silent coward (and hope that others will act courageously in the face of your cowardice). The ethical stance, according to the CI, is to act courageously.   Of course it is difficult to put your neck on the line when you see widespread cowardice around you.  Indeed acting courageously in the face of widespread cowardice might convey to others that you are a bit of a crazy and that might be true.  In other situations the courage required simply reflects the risk that others will not act morally and you will find yourself stranded. That the moral stance is to be courageous is true even if the cowards discreetly praise your moral behaviour and make discreet, constructive suggestions on how you should stick your neck out further.  They gain possible advantages at your cost.  Such cowards are typically non-repentant and see their self-interest as simply human nature whereas those who see part of the reason for existence as arising from collective goals see such inaction as cowardice.

In short solidarity in seeking a worthwhile outcome facilitates an ethical equilibrium.  Some may not judge that the objective as not worthwhile and need not be unethical.  But those who understand that the outcome as desirable but defect for reasons of private self-interest are unethical cowards.


April 26, 2014

Piketty on inequality

Filed under: ethics,income distribution — hc @ 7:52 pm

Economics has a best seller. Thomas Piketty’s, “Capital in the 21st Century”. I couldn’t get a copy locally (the book is not available even at Amazon.com such is the demand) but have read a few reviews and watched a video where Piketty presents his ideas that are then analyzed by Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and Stephen Durlauf.

One can see this book becoming part of an intellectual fashion.  The core thesis – that inequality is exploding, is non-new but the claim that this reflects trends in inherited wealth and “patrimonial capitalism” is distinctive.   Several commentators have recognized the role of the book in synthesizing various contributions.  Several too have simply acknowledged the skills of the translation from French into English. (more…)

March 2, 2014

Trolley Problem

Filed under: ethics — hc @ 10:21 am

I have been reading Thomas Cathcart’s, “The Trolley Problem or Would You Throw the Fat Guy Off the Bridge”.  This is one of two popular book length accounts of this well-known problem in ethics.  It’s a fun read that taught me a lot about utilitarianism and its problems.  Many books on moral philosophy are dull and dense – this isn’t that.

Philosophy asks unanswerable questions (the answerable questions become science) but in this moral mine-field progress can be made in understanding issues even if the final analysis falls short of definitively answering them. One of the nice things about philosophical discussions is that no-one need win! (more…)

November 4, 2013

How much should we give as foreign aid?

Filed under: development,economics,ethics — hc @ 12:56 pm

(Preliminary thoughts. Comments welcome).

I don’t know the exact answer to this but who could? We should give something on the basis of deontology (Kant’s  “helping a stranger” problem – the imperative is to give at least a “little” where “little” is defined as that amount  that creates “low” costs to us). This sets a lower bound.  Would most of us suffer if our incomes fell by 3 cents in the dollar.  If not then the transfer should be at least 3% of GDP. But I cannot agree with extreme utilitarianism that insists in equalising incomes across countries even if preferences are identical.  I am persuaded by the contractualist arguments of T.M. Scanlon that giving away all your income, so that you yourself become poor, is not obligatory ethically.  Thus the upper bound is certainly something less than the equalising redistribution. More precisely it is the amount that you could give that recipients could not reasonably object to as being too small.  Thus you propose to the poor people you are giving income to that you will give some assistance but something less than the amount that would make you become as poor as they are. Scanlon claims (and I agree) that the poor could not reasonably reject this argument.   Suppose I earn $100,000 and a poor person that I am making a transfer too earns $1000.  If I give them $49,500 then incomes will be equalised and I think that excessively egalitarian. Suppose I instead  give* $5000, $10,000, $20,000, $30,000  etc.  What is the minimum amount that I could give them that they could not reasonably complain about?   The answer to this is the required transfer and my roost reasonable guess is something of the order of $5000-$10,000 implying that the aid budget should be less than 10% of GDP.

I certainly don’t agree with the care ethics position that charity begins at home  although I do acknowledge that we have special ethical responsibilities to those close to us on the basis of obligations/duties/affinities.  We also need, of course, to address issues of domestic poverty for the same sorts of reasons. But we also have more abstract moral duties to anonymous non-Australian humanity who, even though they are anonymous, suffer and feel pleasure as much as we do.

Generally though I am left in limbo as to the size of the transfer – it has to be positive but not be so large that it comprises almost everything you have got.

All that said I’ll make the claim that Australia is giving less than it should and that the stingy Coalition are worse in this respect than stingy Labor.  We need to give more than we do and could do so at negligible cost to ourselves. I tire of hearing how “tough’ economic conditions in Australia are. The claim is a purposeful exaggeration designed to rationalise national stinginess and shows how deluded and self-obsessed we have become as a nation. The statistical picture painted in this Age article supports my view.  Private contributions should fill in some of the public offerings but, in a nation of stingy people, they cannot adequately replace them.  Please read this article.

* The “give” here needs to be interpreted liberally as some kind of transfer that provides some sort of greater equality – for example equality of opportunity at birth.


September 24, 2013

Sins of the father

Filed under: ethics — hc @ 6:51 pm

This is the tragic tale of the wife of one of the Indians sentenced to hanging for rape and murder.  Her life, and that of her son, is bleak given the actions of the father.  Not because the father is a rapist but because she now has no husband to provide her with subsistence.   It isn’t in itself an ethical consequentialist argument for not administering the death penalty – the future for the two would be equally bleak were the husband to be given a life sentence. But the abysmal ignorance and stupidity of  modern India is itself on trial.  Just laws require a just social system that protects the innocent.

When you read of the wife’s story and of the impossible situation of women in these parts of India you can understand why there were some negative social attitudes towards the rape victim and her partner.  An unjust evil society.

September 4, 2013

Hitting Assad

Filed under: ethics,Middle East — hc @ 10:41 pm

There is no question that Syria’s Bashar Assad is one of the Middle East’s worst tyrants.  I am sympathetic to the American position here – that he should be punished for using chemical weapons against his own citizens – the videos I saw were horrific – particularly the distraught father trying to rouse his dead children to move.  That moved me!  Assad should (as The Economist argues) be asked to surrender his thousands of tonnes of such weapons and, if he refuses, be punished.  The question is how he should be punished and whether the almost inevitable collateral damage inflicted on innocent Syrian civilians is worth it.  Like tyrants everywhere he holds his own citizens as hostages. If he could be taken out cleanly I would temporarily suspend my view that capital punishment is a bad thing and endorse it.  Assad is responsible for too many deaths and for too many tortures of innocents – this was so before the current civil war commenced.  But Assad cannot be “taken out” cleanly.  That is the moral difficulty.  You can’t buy him out of this situation – e.g. by offering him a billion to resettle in Moscow – since this does not send out the correct message on his treatment of the Syrian people.  Attacking Syria may also just be ineffective in punishing Assad.  One suggestion is to go  slowly and eventually get him – the US can have a long memory.

Pursuing Assad but punishing the suffering people of Syria is a “means-versus-ends” problem like the “ticking bomb” problem. I don’t know any clear path through it. High to ensure that a penalty is imposed on extreme and abhorrent behaviour without having unfavourable consequences. Reader views welcome.



August 31, 2013

Merits & demerits of markets.

Filed under: economics,ethics — hc @ 10:23 am

This is a nice piece on the merits and demerits of markets.


It is a discussion by Thomas Wells of Michael Sandel’s, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.  The claim by Sandler is that markets degrade certain relationships and “products”.

Wells points out that conventional economics criticises markets strongly whenever natural monopoly or internal managerial capitalism distortions destroy efficiency.

I agree with the substance of his critical arguments on Sandler’s anecdotal critique and Wells’ rejection of capitalist rapaciousness. But I think his critique of capitalism misses the central point. As Adam Smith noted markets are amazing institutions that can create prosperity. As Smith noted that are even effective for eliminating poverty. But acting rationally/prudently in markets is not the only life ethic. To be an appreciated human being this value needs to be supplemented by a whole set of other values – a sense of justice, of altruism, of fairness and of temperance.

The argument can be reasonably put that capitalism and the “me first” society suppress these virtues. Our values get degraded because of excessively selfish concerns that alienate us from others.  Smith endorsed selfishness but simply said it wasn’t enough.  We need to be rational but make efforts to be ethical in a range of other respects as well. It is the most succinct and sensible view on markets and commercial society I have read.

August 21, 2013

Bruni & Sugden defend capitalism

Filed under: economics,ethics — hc @ 12:16 pm

J. King referred me to this piece by Luigino Bruni and Robert Sugden  that defends capitalism from the perspective of virtue ethics.  Poor old capitalism gets a rubbishing from many undergraduate Arts students because of its imperfections and outright corruption.   The undergraduates note this on their iPads just before they drive off to that new restaurant in Carlton. They want to fill up with a decent feed because it will be a long afternoon protesting on behalf of the underprivileged. Anyway the Socialist Alliance serves up poor quality unmarbled beef and even drink cask wine.

OK I am laying it on a bit thick. I did it myself so I cannot get too smart-arsed about the whole thing!

Markets should have a telos or what Aristotle would refer to as an intrinsic end or purpose. Human flourishing requires that people that people orient themselves towards their various market activities with a respect towards the respective intrinsic ends of these activities. They can’t just treat these activities instrumentally as a means to the end – they cannot be extrinsically motivated – used as a means to achieve some other objective such as wealth-making.  Goods are not produced to create art or to facilitate scientific inquiry.  Nor is there much gift-giving involved.  Yep, Aristotle didn’t like commerce. (more…)

August 16, 2013

Social insurance against kidney failure

Filed under: ethics — hc @ 10:16 am

Greg Mankiw in his recent JEP study “Defending the One Percent” provides the following contra to the Rawls (1971) “veil of ignorance” argument:

“A common thought experiment used to motivate income redistribution is to imagine a situation in which individuals are in an “original position” behind a “veil of ignorance”…. This original position occurs in a hypothetical time before we are born, without the knowledge of whether we will be lucky or unlucky, talented or less talented, rich or poor. A risk-averse person in such a position would want to buy insurance against the possibility of being born into a less-fortunate station in life. In this view, governmental income redistribution is an enforcement of the social insurance contract to which people would have voluntarily agreed in this original position.

Yet take this logic a bit further. In this original position, people would be concerned about more than being born rich or poor. They would also be concerned about health outcomes. Consider kidneys, for example. Most people walk around with two healthy kidneys, one of which they do not need. A few people get kidney disease that leaves them without a functioning kidney, a condition that often cuts life short. A person in the original position would surely sign an insurance contract that guarantees him at least one working kidney. That is, he would be willing to risk being a kidney donor if he is lucky, in exchange for the assurance of being a transplant recipient if he is unlucky. Thus, the same logic of social insurance that justifies income redistribution similarly justifies government-mandated kidney donation.

No doubt, if such a policy were ever seriously considered, most people would oppose it. A person has a right to his own organs… But if that is the case …it undermines the thought experiment more generally. If imagining a hypothetical social insurance contract signed in an original position does not supersede the right of a person to his own organs, why should it supersede the right of a person to the fruits of his own labor?”

I am unsure of this. If the kidney removal and loan process is costless why not? If you are risk-averse and worried enough about the uncertain status of your kidneys why would you not agree to such a social contract so that risks are shared and no-one dies of kidney disease? In practical terms only a few kidneys would be transferred so the expected cost to any individual is low.  If there was a cost to making the transfers – there could conceivably be a much greater cost than making income transfers – then everyone might be worse-off making them.

Another way of thinking about it might be in terms of Scanlon’s contractualism and the “reasonableness to reject” criterion.  Could people reasonably reject the option of helping others if it doesn’t cost them a lot? Presumably it is not.  But maybe transferring kidneys is a relatively high cost option that people could reasonably object to whereas shifting incomes around is not.

August 12, 2013

Professional ethics for economists: Notes on DeMartino

Filed under: economics,ethics — hc @ 10:52 am

I am teaching a new course on “Economics and Ethics” this semester. It is oriented towards students doing joint degrees in philosophy, politics and economics – a strand of work that follows a famous degree offered at Oxford University.   It came at a convenient time given that, for the last year, I have been reading in the area of applied ethics and have developed an interest in this subject.

As part of this course I will give classes on business ethics and discuss Kenneth Arrow’s ideas about how ethical codes might develop in business.  Arrow was one of the early thinkers to see “soft” ethics solutions to difficult problems in business, for example those raised by quality issues, such as George Akerloff’s “lemons problem”. In some cases these ethics solutions might outperform institutional arrangements, such as liability laws, but the way such codes might come about can be a problem.  There are Hobbesian, “Prisoner’s Dilemma” issues that made it desirable for individuals to opt out of such socially desirable arrangements.  The right institutions (industry or consumer associations) can help but so too can ethical codes.

As a sequel to the class on business ethics I thought I should think about such ethical codes for my own profession namely, economics.   So I read George DeMartino’s  (2011) The Economist’s Oath: on the Need for and Content of Professional Economic Ethics that is the primary recent reference on such issues.  For some earlier reviews of this work see here, here, here.  This book is not the only voice seeking better ethical standards in economics – the American Economic Association have recently advocated fairly narrow ethical standards for the profession relating to issues involving “conflicts of interest”.  As far as I know the Economics Society of Australia has not considered such issues. I have also purchased the film “Inside Job” that identified links between prominent economists and firms that subsequently went bust in the recent financial crisis – the video at this link suggests that conflicts of interest arose among several very prominent economists associated with the financial services industry.  I’ll show this video in class. However the ethical issues this movie raises are  private issues that can be addressed (if not resolved) quite simply, at least in principle.

DeMartino believes there is an urgent need for a broad professional economics ethics simply because economist-inspired interventions have such enormous social impacts.  If economists certify the health of a bank that subsequently collapses under a mass of bad debt, then the skills or “probity”  (here the notion that reasonable people would judge such forecasts to be acceptable) of economists can be questioned.  I summarize the main points of DeMartino’s book below. (more…)

April 2, 2013

Phillip Morris’s wrong apology

Filed under: ethics,tobacco — hc @ 12:56 pm

Phillip Morris have apologised to the Czechs for presenting, as a business case in favour of smoking, that a financial benefit from smoking is that it kills people early thereby saving the state money on health care and pensions.   Of course they should not have apologised for this since the claim is definitely true – for most countries and certainly for Australia where there is also a large surplus of tax revenues from cigarettes over health costs (including death costs).   I guess what they were apologising for was stating clearly this truth – that smoking does kill people early and since, contrary to intuition, it has relatively minor effects on morbidity – lung cancer kills you promptly – it does save the state money. (more…)

March 5, 2013

Is a species extinction a bad thing?

Filed under: biodiversity,ethics,Uncategorized — hc @ 11:17 pm

This New Scientist article suggests not necessarily. The thinking reflects the theme of a recent exhibition in London.  Some snippets (with my responses):

“Extinction, like death, is a natural part of life,” declares an epigraph at the start of this exhibition. “Extinction isn’t necessarily the end of the world, it could be just the beginning…” (The first statement is wrong if humans engineer a mass extinction while the second statement is a truism).

The exhibition aims to make visitors question their ideas on extinction. Is it any worse when caused by humans than by meteorites or volcanic eruptions? Should conservation be our watchword, or should some organisms go extinct? (My intuition is that there is something particularly abhorrent about humans causing extinctions and I think there are sound aesthetic reasons for endorsing a strong conservation ethic – perhaps not for the smallpox virus.)

The five mass extinctions in Earth’s history wiped out swathes of life, but out of the devastation new species rose – shaped and honed by evolution – to inherit the Earth. More than 99 per cent of species that ever lived are now dead, and the exhibition hammers home the point that extinction drives evolution, which results in life in all its wondrous forms. (Yes but the time horizons here are immense and we are part of the current biodiversity mix – we live with neighbours who deserve our specific respect).

But it tempers this message strongly with a second sobering one: human actions are causing extinctions in a way never before seen. “If we don’t do anything about it, make no mistake – it will hugely affect the world we live in,” says Adrian Lister, a palaeontologist at the museum whose work on the extinct Irish elk forms part of the exhibition. “It would take the biosphere millions of years to recover.” (Of course, agree).

It’s not all doom, though. There are upbeat stories on display – animals we drove to the brink but then saved through conservation efforts: the Californian condor, the Arabian oryx, and China’s Pere David’s deer. (These specific recovery efforts are worthwhile but a drop in the ocean in terms of addressing the overall extinction crisis and, more importantly, the significant reduction in intra-specific biodiversity that is occurring even when extinctions are not occurring).

Saving other species is laudable, but can we save ourselves? In a thought-provoking section, the museum presents the concept of Homo extinctus – humans wiped out forever. “There’s nothing inevitable about our survival,” says Chris Stringer, the museum’s head of human origins. “The biggest threat to us is us.” (Agreed. I am a pessimist as I have set out before).

Extinction: Not the end of the world? is at London’s Natural History Museum until 8 September. (I would like to see it). 

February 7, 2013

Adam Smith & “Virtue Ethics”

Filed under: ethics — hc @ 9:15 pm

Vulgar views of Adam Smith suggest that he is an unqualified supporter of laissez faire capitalism. That isn’t true even in his Wealth of Nations where, for example, Smith provides a rationale for the existence of public goods based on the fixed costs of supplying infrastructure.  More modern writers have recognised Smith’s criticisms of commercialism and are now beginning to recognise his articulation of ethics to combat these imperfections. (more…)

January 16, 2013

Care ethics & feminism

Filed under: ethics,women — hc @ 11:45 pm

Consider feminism and the application of care ethics to purely human ethical issues. There are related to certain environmental and animal rights ethical concerns (e.g. eco-feminism) and hence to issues I am interested in but I will not discuss such things here – they are more related in any event to feminist critiques of male hierarchy.   From an initial position of cynicism I have come to respect some of the feminist work on care ethics – particularly that due to Carol Gilligan and Nel Noddings.

Basically care ethics sees traditional ethics as male-dominated and substitutes for this an alternative female waysof thinking with an emphasis on relationships, on using emotions and on paying attention to the particulars of ethical situations. The following are some rough notes I needed for a class I will soon give. They are largely based on the excellent Ethics for Dummies by C. Panzar & A. Potthast and this wikipedia entry on care ethics.  A useful additional reading was Grimshaw (1991). My preliminary conclusion is an obvious one:  A decent approach to ethics does require thinking about gender differences in making ethical judgements. I am a bit uncertain, however, whether care ethics delivers the goods in that regard or whether it inadvertently, in fact, reinforces sexist prejudice. I welcome comments  on these notes – the treatment is elementary stuff since I have not read much in this area.  (more…)

January 11, 2013

Moylan’s ethics

Filed under: climate change,ethics — hc @ 2:21 pm

Anti-coal campaigner Jonathan Moylan’s actions in disrupting the market for Whitehaven stock a few days ago was intended to be a moral action.  It is not immoral to have principles and to take a strong stance against the use of coal given the imminent problem of climate change that the world now faces.  On the other hand, it is unclear to me that Jonathan’s action itself was sensible given that it will have almost no impact on coal usage by electricity generators and no effects on the international coal trade.  The main effect will be to increase community distrust in the general workings of our local securities markets and that is probably a negative.  We need healthy private investments in non-carbon based sources of energy and other related private sector innovations to move successfully away from coal.

The climate debate has within it some climate science denialists mainly from the ideological right of politics. These people misrepresent climate science consistently and, by their actions, imperil the quality of lives of future generations.  These people are substantial frauds without principles. By any standard they are genuinely immoral since they repeatedly state views revealled on many occasions to be lies.  Yes, these people disgust me but I don’t see any feasible way of dealing with them apart from recognising their deceit and trying to expose and publicise it. They, themselves, won’t change their views. They are resiliantly opposed to rational argument because right-wing ideology, not rationality, drives their views.   The difficulty is that their immorality and stupidity is preventing actions that might reduce the prospect of a future climate disaster.

The difficulty for Jonathan is that these genuinely immoral liars who  will inflict huge damages on society are not disobeying any law and he did.  Apart from not employing  these liars in occupations that rely on veracity (education, financial institutions) we must wait for their lies to be revealled as such.  The difficulty is that we are running out of time.

I can understand the moral tension Jonathan must have experienced.

Update: While it does not affect the principle here, as John Quiggin and others point out, the costs of Jonathan’s actions will be small. To work them out exactly you would have to know the volume of trades that occurred while the information about Whitehaven was being believed and multiply that by the losses that would have occurred if the stock had otherwise been held.  These would provide an upper bound to the losses that accrued to those who sold because of that information.  Of course there would be compensating and offsetting gains to those who made purchases.  The likely total cost will be under $300,000.

November 23, 2012

Some environmental ethics

Filed under: environment,ethics — hc @ 9:57 am

I have been engaged in trying to understand some environmental ethical issues.  Comments very welcome. (more…)

November 19, 2012

Animal ethics

Filed under: animal liberation,animal rights,ethics — hc @ 7:51 pm

I am doing some work on environmental and specifically animal ethics. Comments appreciated on this first draft on the animal ethics topic. (more…)

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