Theory in practice
I’m still pondering a reply to Jerry Taylor’s thoughtful comment — seems like it requires something substantive, and I never have time for substance. Sigh.
But let me just throw out one quick observation.
One reason why folks who push for cost-benefit analyses and libertarians alike drive me crazy is this: In the real world, their ideas are co-opted and used in service of corruption and cronyism, and they don’t seem to notice.
For instance: You think there was ever a cost-benefit analysis run on this fiasco? Of course not. When the powers-that-be get an idea like this in their head, they battle for it on political terrain, not in bean-counting terms. So we have a billion a day going down the drain. But a few millions to tear down a dam? All the sudden the exact numerical ratio of expense to payoff is important.
They pull out CBA when they want to slow something down, trip it up — they wage political battle by proxy, via bean counting. To advocate for the widespread use of CBA — as opposed to advocating for what you believe in on political grounds — is to offer de facto support for holding worthwhile endeavors that threaten the PTB to much higher standards than the PTB hold themselves.
So too with libertarianism. While in pure theory libertarianism despises all government interference and manipulation in markets alike, in practice libertarians are trotted out to argue against interventions meant to benefit the poor and disenfranchised. As for subsidies and favors channeled to wealthy political contributors, well, libertarians seem to get less worked up about that. How strong, organized, and persistent is libertarian opposition to agribusiness subsidies? How effective?
The point — which admittedly I’m not expressing very well — is not that any particular CBA advocate or libertarian is a hypocrite. The point is that they seem blithely, almost willfully, ignorant of the real-world effects of their theories. It’s comforting to take refuge in theory. It’s clean and cozy. But no matter how intellectually consistent you may be, you are not blameless when other less scrupulous folk use your work toward malevolent ends. You — we all — have an obligation to be aware of the lay of the political land, and to fashion our advocacy accordingly.