Mark Sagoff: "At the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, or Why Political Questions Are Not All Economic", assignment help (1.5 pages to 2)

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Mark Sagoff:  "At the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, or Why Political Questions Are Not All Economic"

Notes on the Sagoff Article 

CBA (Cost-benefit analysis) theory says that public money should be spent on programs that will produce the largest aggregate benefits. 

Basing policy decisions on CBA is supposed to insure impartiality and legitimate the role of policy makers.

The goal of a cost-benefit analysis is to determine whether the overall financial gain from a program will be greater than the cost of implementing it.

Sagoff says we are not justconsumers(i.e., bearers of costs and benefits whose preferences can only be determined objectively based on determining what we are willing to pay for something); we are alsocitizens, or persons in the political and moral sense.

Example: I can want cheap gas for myself as an individual consumer, yet vote for higher gas taxes for everyone as a citizen. 

Sagoff asks what the justification is for adopting CBA theory as our ultimate guide for policy-making decisions. 

Sagoff distinguishes between a CBA approach to making policy decisions and a cost-effectiveness approach to implementing public policy decisions. 

Sagoff rejects a consequentialist-based ethics (in particular, he rejects the preference utilitarianism that seems to be presupposed by CBA theory) in favor of a Kantian conception of value according to which at least some values are objective (perhaps moral values, in particular).

CBA theory seems to assume, in particular, that the only way to make policy decisions objective/impartial is by basing them on a cost-benefit analysis, since all values (cultural, historical, aesthetic, moral) are subjective.  (In this context, a ‘subjectivist’ is someone who holds that all moral claims are relative to individual preferences, and so are not true independently of what particular individuals may believe about them).  So, the adoption of CBA theory is not value-neutral (bottom page 673, top page 674).

Here are some of the more important passages to pay attention to in the Sagoff reading:

What sorts of values are public values driven by public concerns rather than private values driven by self-interest?  Cultural, historical, aesthetic, moral—“they depend not so much on what each person wants individually as upon what he or she believes we stand for collectively.” (674, left)

“The role of thelegislator, the political role, may be more important to the individual than the role ofconsumer.  The person, in other words, is not to be treated as merely a bundle of preferences to be juggled in cost-benefit analyses.  The individual is to be respected as an advocate of ideas which are to be judged in relation to the reasons for them.”  (p. 673)

“Nowhere are the rights of the moderns, particularly the rights of privacy and property, less helpful than in the area of the natural environment.  Here the values we wish to protect—cultural, historical, aesthetic, and moral—are public values; they depend not so much upon what each person wants individually as upon what he or she believes we stand for collectively.  We refuse to regard worker health and safety as commodities; we regulate hazards as a matter of right.”  (p. 674)

“If health and environmental statutes reflect a vision of society as something other than a market by requiring protections beyond what are efficient, then this may express not legislative ineptitude but legislative responsiveness to public values.  To deny this vision because it is economically inefficient is simply to replace it with another vision.”  (p. 673)

“It is the characteristic of cost-benefit analysis that it treats all value judgments other than those made on its behalf as nothing but statements of preference, attitude, or emotion, insofar as they are value judgments.  The cost-benefit analyst regards as true the judgment that we should maximize efficiency or wealth.  The analyst believes that this view can be backed by reason; the analyst does not regard it as a preference or want for which he or she must be willing to pay.  The cost-benefit analyst, however, tends to treat all other normative views and recommendations as if they were nothing but subjective reports of mental states.”  (p. 674)

“The individual, for Kant, is a judge of values, not a mere haver of wants, and the individual judges not for himself or herself merely, but as a member of a relevant community or group.  The central idea in a Kantian approach to ethics is that some values are more reasonable than others, and therefore have a better claim upon the assent of members of a community as such.” (p. 675)

“Consider, by way of contrast, a Kantian conception of value.  The individual, for Kant, is a judge of values, not a mere haver of wants, and the individual judges not for himself or herself merely, but as a member of a relevant community or group.  The central idea in a Kantian approach to ethics is that some values are more reasonable than others and therefore have a better claim upon the assent of members of the community as such.”  (p. 675)

“Thus Kant discusses valuation in the context not of psychology but of cognition.  He believes that a person who makes a value judgment—or a policy recommendation—claims to know what isrightand not just what ispreferred.  A value judgment is like an empirical or theoretical judgment in that it claims to betrue, not merely to befelt.” (p. 675)

“Our failures to make the right decisions in these matters are failures in arithmetic, failures in wisdom, failures in taste, failures in morality—but not market failures.  There are no relevant markets to have failed.  What separates these questions from those for which markets are appropriate is this.  They involve matters of knowledge, wisdom, morality, and taste that admit of better or worse, right or wrong, true or false—and these concepts differ from that of economic optimality.”  (p. 676)

“The result of this is to deny the individual status as a cognitive being capable of responding intelligently to reasons; it reduces him or her to a bundle of affective states.  What Rogers’ therapist does to the patient the cost-benefit analyst does to society as a whole.  The analyst is neutral among our “values”—having first imposed a theory of what value is.  This is a theory that is impartial among values and for that reason fails to treat the persons who have them with respect or concern.  It does not treat them as persons but only as locations at which wants may be found.”  (p. 676)

“A market, or quasi-market approach to arithmetic, for example, is plainly inadequate.  No matter how much people are willing to pay, three will never be the square root of six…Similarly, we do not decide to execute murderers by asking how much bleeding hearts are willing to pay to see a person pardoned and how much hard hearts are willing to pay to see him hanged.  Our failures to make the right decisions in these matters…are failures in morality…not market failures.  There are no relevant markets to have failed.”  (p. 676)

“What separates these questions from those for which markets are appropriate is this: They involve matters of knowledge, wisdom, morality, and taste that admit of better or worse, right or wrong, true or false—and these concepts differ from that of economic optimality.  Surely environmental questions—the protection of wilderness, habitats, water, land, and air as well as policy toward environmental safety and health—involve moral and aesthetic principles and not just economic ones.”  (p. 676)

Sagoff Paper Topic

How does a Kantian conception of value differ from the conception of value embodied in cost-benefit analyses?  Why does Sagoff favor the Kantian conception of value over the utilitarian view?

Your paper should be double-spaced, with one-inch margins, using 12-point font, and no longer than two pages.  Citations from the readings can be made by simply citing the relevant page numbers from the text parenthetically at the end of a sentence or paragraph. Your only sources in answering the questions should be the article and the video from Singer, and the notes provided in this document.  In particular, you shouldnotuse any secondary sources from the Internet.


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