Cafe Hayek, And “Perfection”

Not surprisingly, I am really enjoying Russ Roberts’ and Don Boudreaux’s Cafe Hayek. Take, for example, Don Boudreaux’s recent post on Kerry’s reinvocation of the misery index, a 70s concept that should have, like Seals & Crofts and Hall & Oates, stayed in the 70s:

One of my most powerful memories of the 1970s is that, as a teenager, I waited several hours in long lines just to buy a measly five gallons of gasoline on each visit to the gasoline station — and this when I found gasoline at all. This experience was miserable. Today, in contrast, we have none of the price controls that caused gasoline shortages (and the corresponding long queues). More importantly, there’s no serious movement to reinstate such controls, despite the recent run-up in prices at the pump.

And Russ’s post on the Howell Raines article in the May Atlantic Monthly. I read both the April and May Atlantics on the plane on the way home from Mexico last week, and I thought both the cover articles were incredibly self-indulgent. I understand why the Atlantic published them, but in both cases I think the articles reflect very poorly on the author. Russ’s post on the Raines article, and his reference to Nietzsche (I can’t believe I just spelled it right without looking it up!), nicely sum up the core of my reaction to the piece.

While on the subject of the Raines and Sandel pieces in the Atlantic, Tyler Cowen and Will Wilkinson have good posts on the Sandel piece. I am a very maladroit philosopher, and a very intuitive one at that, so my reaction to arguments like Sandel’s about genetic modification and “perfection” tend to be visceral; I can’t necessarily articulate why I think his argument is utterly fatuous, but I know that it does not sit well with my world view of individual autonomy, determination, and choice. Tyler and Will are more adept than I at this, and I recommend their posts to you.

Gordon at Venturpreneur sounds a more cautious note in his post on the matter.

I have to think, though, that even with our quest to understand and manipulate genetic characteristics, there will continue to be a lot of physical/intellectual/spiritual traits of individuals that cannot be predetermined, and that all gene selection will do is change probabilities of particular traits at the margin. Given the complexity of the system we’re talking about here, large changes are unlikely. But, small changes can still have large impacts …