Barney Frank's view of what should be legal (via Glenn Thrush) could've come from John Stuart Mill. Frank says that marijuana and internet poker should be legal, as any harms they generate are harms to the user, and it's not the business of government to address self-regarding harms. However, banning various kinds of financial transactions make sense, because as we've seen, these transactions can pose major risks to parties who aren't involved.
I haven't found anything on this specific issue in Mill, probably because he wasn't thinking about a society where a few banks could blow up the global economy by pursuing profit in ways that generated massive systemic risk. And as far as I know, the economy of his day didn't allow for that sort of thing to happen. But consequentialist defenses of liberty need to be updated for dramatic changes in the way the world operates, and I'm guessing that careful study of the issues that arise in a huge and interconnected global financial system would get him behind a reasonably aggressive system of regulation.
I'm guessing that careful study of the issues that arise in a huge and interconnected global financial system would get him behind a reasonably aggressive system of regulation.Hrm. This sort of thing is always pretty subjective, of course. Who knows what actual Mill might actually say were he to be plopped down into 2009. I've read a lot of Mill and, honestly, I would can't say that there are really any contemporary issues about which I'd say, with complete confidence, "If Mill were alive today, he'd say X." At best, it seems to me that we can say, "Mill's principles commit us to X." But it's not exactly news that the principles of philosopher X and the actual views of philosopher X are not always very consistent.
General quibbles aside, though, I wonder why you are confident that the Mill of On Liberty would end up trumping the Mill of Principles of Political Economy and the Logic?
Hayek's argument that the economy is too chaotic to predict and that interventions generally come with even worse unintended consequences resonates with Mill's views on both economics and epistemology.
I'm not saying that I think Mill would definitely end up in the libertarian camp. I have no idea, honestly. My point is only that, yes, Mill does have a number of commitments that would seem to make him sympathetic to contemporary progressivism. But he also has rather a lot of commitments that might lead one to think that he'd end up a Tyler Cowen-style libertarian.
Yours was perhaps an off-the-cuff remark. But I'd be interested if you have a sketched-out argument in mind for why you think Mill might jump left rather than right on economics.
You may well be right here, Joe -- I've only read Utilitarianism and On Liberty. I don't even know what's in Principles of Political Economy, and if you'd be willing to say more about that I'd be interested in hearing about it. The view in On Liberty at least seems to be one that presents no serious objections this sort of regulation. Engaging in some or other abusive practice of financial engineering really doesn't seem to count as an "experiment in living" in the right sense, and the other pro-liberty arguments similarly seem to totally miss it.
My general thinking is that he'd be quite moved by principal/agent problems, the creation of systemic risk, and other varieties of market failure. We utilitarians are like that -- give us a good empirical case for things going systematically wrong in some way with terrible consequences and we'll call in the law to fix it. I see nothing in his writings saying that these sorts of market failures can't exist, or that you shouldn't try to stop them if they do. The general point is just that consequentialist defenses of liberty are well-positioned to accept the gambling and the pot smoking, but reject the selling of too many credit default swaps.
And as far as I know, the economy of his day didn't allow for that sort of thing to happen.During Mill's lifetime, Great Britain experienced the Panic of 1825 and the Panic of 1847.
That anonymous comment was me. My right pinky slipped and hit the Enter key instead of the Shift key.
It's surprising that doesn't happen more often.
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