Bleeding Heart Libertarianism V: Bryan Caplan’s Ideas

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Over at our sister site, EconLog, the bloggers are discussing Bleeding Heart Libertarianism.  Caplan notes with approval David Friedman’s criticism that the BHLs have not made clear the weight which they attach to the interests of the poor.   Caplan wonders whether BHLs are claiming for the poor “anything stronger than a utilitarian would accept?”  Caplan, however, does recognize that BHL “deserve credit for pointing out the many neglected ways that government hurts the truly poor.”

These two points by Caplan give me greater confidence in my consequentialist version of BHL.  I actually don’t like the term “social justice.”  And I find it, in some BHL discussions, to be poorly defined.  By contrast, I believe that consequentialism provides both a clear and defensible normative approach that explains why the poor should receive our special consideration – to an extent.

But Caplan’s other point – that a focus on how institutions may harm (or benefit) the poor – is important.  By attending to the interests of the poor, BHL can remind us and discover ways that institutions harm them.

Finally, I should note the common criticism that BHLs are merely just trying to appear more favorable to liberals or leftists.  I suppose in some cases that may be true, but not for me.  After decades of being accused of lacking that special enlightenment that many on the left believe they exclusively possess, I feel free not to worry about it.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that the diminishing marginal utility of money can sometimes justify special benefits for the poor.