A Utilitarian Party Platform

Jonathan Baron proposes this Utilitarian Party platform:

Utilitarians try to help people achieve their rational goals. We focus on the issues where policies can make a big difference. We count all people. We are internationalists. We are concerned with what is best for the world, not just the U.S., or our race or people with the same name.

We aim toward a mix of policies that will optimize benefits minus costs. We must try to find the best policy for each major goal, subject to the limits imposed by other policies. For example, population control is often advocated as a means of promoting development in poor countries, by giving technology and infrastructure more time to adapt to population increases, and it is also advocated as a means of reducing the contribution of rich countries to world environmental problems such as global warming. Although the latter goal is an important one, there are probably more efficient ways to achieve it aside from limiting the population of rich countries, which are already growing very slowly. Attempts to limit the population of rich countries imply immigration restrictions, and immigration from poor countries to rich countries may serve as another safety valve for the former.

Utilitarians often agree with economists. But there are some crucial differences. We do not assume that utility is the same as willingness to pay. The poor are, by definition, less willing to pay for anything, but they are equal to the rich in our concern for them. The biggest world problem right now is the gap between rich and poor nations. This gap has nothing to do with incentives, it is just a matter of luck. The biggest determinant of a person’s outcome in life is what country she is born into.

We also sometimes agree with libertarians, not as a matter of fundamental principles but rather because certain freedoms DO maximize utility, as Mill pointed out in “On Liberty.” The most important freedom is that of speech.

So here are the points:

  1. Most of the time we are for free trade because, on average, it does more good than harm. We should make sure that we are able to buy the products of poor countries, especially those products based on sustainable economic policies.
  2. Rich countries should give more foreign aid to poor countries, and we should increase research on what is effective and what isn’t, in collaboration with agencies such as the World Bank.
  3. Immigration can be a useful safety valve. In general, we are pro-immigration, but we must be careful to try to avoid excessively rapid change, and we must be aware of the brain drain from poor to rich countries.
  4. The biggest environmental problems are world wide. The U.S. government should accelerate those changes that will protect the world environment and ultimately be worthwhile economically. These included conversion to renewable energy, increased energy efficiency, recycling, and basic sanitation.
  5. The rate of world population growth is too high, and this makes adaptation to everything else more difficult. Rich countries must vigorously promote world-wide birth control by providing aid for contraceptives and related health services (including abortion and sterilization) and by encouraging repeal of laws against abortion and sterilization wherever they exist. We should not oppose the effective use of incentives to control family size. Indeed, we should encourage the use of mild incentives now, in order to forestall the need for Draconian incentives later.
  6. In the U.S., too many children are being born to those least able to provide these children with a good education and upbringing. We should experiment with methods to reduce births to teenagers and single mothers, and we should adopt the methods that work.
  7. Environmental laws in the U.S. must take into account all relevant values but avoid litigation as much as possible. So we support reform of environmental laws, but not in the way proposed by the Republicans, which encourages litigation. Many environmental laws are too rigid. On the other hand, some laws are not rigid enough, such as those that protect biodiversity and those that prevent overfishing.
  8. We support increased funding of research, including new initiatives in areas that would help poor countries, such as tropical health, vaccines, new methods of birth control, and agricultural research.
  9. The U.S. should cut its defense budget and encourage other countries to cut theirs, including poor countries. We should increase support for U.N. defense efforts.
  10. In the U.S., taxes should increase for the rich. Health insurance should be universal and paid for by ability to pay. Coverages should be decided on the basis of cost-effectiveness. These policies would make it easier for the non-working poor to begin to work. Funding for education at the primary and secondary levels should increase, including education in morality and citizenship.

Many of these proposals will require increased government spending. Defense cuts can pay for part of this. Cuts in agricultural subsidies and other subsidies to corporations can also help. But taxes may need to be increased. One reasonable place to increase taxes is a tax on non-renewable carbon-based fuels.