1. Adele and the local nature of social norms Lauren Hall, RCL
  2. The evolution of a legal rule (pdf) Niblett, et al, Journal of Legal Studies
  3. Covid and the counterfactual, and the longer term Eric Crampton, Offsetting Behaviour
  4. The last great theorist of history Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, Aeon

Liberty and pro-choice arguments

Abortion never struck me as a liberty issue. Fundamental ideas that inform libertarian thinking don’t pick a “side” for or against abortion, late-term or otherwise. Abortion is a random issue. But my pro-choice credentials face greater and greater scrutiny as I pal around right-libertarians and conservatives, and I’ve had to re-investigate my own decision-making process here.

I find each political side — abortion jurisprudence — wholly unconvincing. When a sperm and egg becomes “life” is so outside thousands of colloquial years of the word, there’s nothing analytic in the definition to illuminate policy choices; I don’t think medical science is going to answer the philosophical question of the concept of “life” either (“clinical death” violates what should be commonsense notions of death); etcetera. And then, of course, the pro-choice camp (which emphasizes parental choice) rarely cares about parental choice afterward, like in education, and the pro-life camp is an absurdly broad name for their legitimate concerns. The philosophy of abortion is probably interesting — the politics is a waste of time.

Here is what, I think, enforces my libertarian advocacy of choice. I am probably more radically pro-choice than most people I know, but this provides a basic defense.

If the question of whether or not life is “worth it” is a sensible question in the first place, then it is not one that can be answered a priori. Life is an inherently qualitative experience. This is clear enough by the fact that some people would rather choose to have died at age 60 after having lived to age 80, if we take their judgment as the best authority on their own life’s worth (and I do, and I think we should). Therefore, in advance, its not knowable if a person’s life will be worth it. People generally do enjoy living (more than they would otherwise?); this might not be the case if, for instance, the Nazis won and we all were born in camps. This is an accidental property of the current world. We live in a generally worthwhile time period, suggesting life is generally going to be determined to be worth it by each individual.

Since the worth of life is not a priori, the best guess in advance is that from local knowledge. Parents have the most local knowledge about the future of their child’s immediate life, before it gets unpredictable and the knowledge gets divided by millions of individuals who will impact their life and also understand ongoing trends. Therefore, parents are the best option to make a judgment call about whether or not their child’s life will be worth it — if they can care for it, if they will have a genetic problem, etc. Not politicians. Not voters. Not interest groups concerned with in utero life in the abstract.

Thus, parental choice.

It’s been said this is an “anti-human” argument. Lots of us came from lower income or impoverished households, myself included. Our lives are still found worthwhile. Why strawman, as if we’re in countries with terrible childhood obesity, malnutrition, drug addiction, gang violence?

It’s true that in general life is found to be worthwhile. But there’s no Leibniz-like principle that it must be. Nor does the aggregate data that people do, often, qualify life as worth living, mean that random individuals overcome parental ownership of the best localized knowledge.

This, I think, is a libertarian argument for choice. It depends on the point that abortion is a unique sort of event — we’re not talking about an old man’s caretaker, who must have the best local knowledge about whether or not we should pull the plug. The question need not arise about who makes important choices once someone is cognizant and autonomous. The argument rides on the point that there’s a vacuum in decision-making autonomy for fetuses by their very intrinsic nature, and we have to make proxy choices in advance.

We give parents plenty of other choices by law. When we are debating potential- or possible-beings still in the womb, before our language game definitively identifies them as “alive,” choice should default to the parents, and I should have no right to the woman’s body to make choices for her about a possible-being I will never see, feed, care for or otherwise worry about except to force the woman to take care of it for nearly two decades.