Milton Friedman was a monster, but he wasn’t wrong about this.
Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.
A new way to think about utilitarianism, courtesy of the Office of Management and Budget.
Utilitarianism — the philosophy of making decisions to benefit the most people — sounds commonsensical. But utilitarianism is — and always has been — an attractive nuisance, one that invites its practitioners to dress up their self-serving preferences with fancy mathematics that “prove” that their wins and your losses are “rational.”
That’s been there ever since Jeremy Bentham’s formulation of the concept of utilitarianism, which he immediately mobilized in service to the panopticon, his cruel design for a prison where prisoners would be ever haunted by a watcher’s unseeing eye. Bentham seems to have sincerely believed that there was a utilitarian case for the panopticon, which let him declare his sadistic thought-experiment (thankfully, it was never built during Bentham’s life) to be a utility-maximizing act of monumental kindness.
Ever since Bentham, utilitarianism has provided cover for history’s great monsters to claim that they were only acting in service to the greater good.