Saturday, February 26, 2011

Limits on Ownership

The BBC has a feature on games consoles here, noting that one's ownership is not unlimited but subject to various terms and restrictions. In fact, this is quite a common phenomenon. Books often have a condition that they cannot be lent or re-sold with an alternative cover or binding, while videos/DVDs are often not for hire or public showing.

Perhaps we don't really enjoy full ownership rights over much of what we possess. After all, the government reserves the right to regulate and tax our property. Libertarians might object to such interference but, as my friend Karl Widerquist has argued, no one buys the rights to a house (say) free from government taxation. The prices we pay for goods reflect the restrictions on them.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Me on the BBC!

Well, it's only local radio, but everyone has to start somewhere! Yesterday a brief interview with yours truly on the subject of democracy and protest was aired on 'The Other One Show' on BBC Three Counties Radio around 13:50. For those in the UK, this is available from the BBC's listen again service (for one week from original broadcast): go here to access the program, then skip through to about 45-7 minutes in to get to the bit with me in it (it's all over by 52 minutes).

Friday, February 11, 2011

Drunk Patients

Apparently a Scottish patients' group has suggested that people admitted to A&E while drunk ought to pay for their hospital treatment. It's not really clear from the BBC story what the justification for this is. It could be either a) that they may be at fault for the injury causing their admission and/or b) that they are more likely to be abusive towards staff while there. In either case, however, I'd worry that targetting all drunk people is both over- and under-inclusive.

That someone is drunk does not mean that they are responsible for an injury that they have suffered or that they will abuse hospital staff. Moreover, other people may be responsible for their injuries or be abusive towards hospital staff, though not drunk. If our concern is to charge those who are responsible for their injuries and/or abusive towards hospital staff, then we ought to focus directly on those criteria, rather than taking drunkenness as an imperfect proxy.

For the record, though, I think I'd be opposed to such measures. It's rather hard to go around assigning responsibility or fault for injury and, while I wouldn't be so tolerant of those who abuse the staff caring for them, there is a rather grey area as to what counts as abuse - it runs the risks that those who feel offended could claim to have been abused. There are good reasons, I think, to avoid delving into issues of responsibility (or means testing, etc) and to keep the NHS free at point of access. (This wouldn't prohibit taking other measures against seriously abusive patients.)

For what it's worth, Aristotle thought that penalties could be increased for those who committed crimes while drunk (para. 3 of NE III.5), and J. S. Mill thought that drunkenness - in some cases - could be fit subject for social interference, despite his celebrated 'harm principle.'

Sunday, February 06, 2011

De Botton on the Nanny State

This point of view column had the potential to be rather interesting but, sadly, I found it a rather infuriating read. It seems that de Botton conflates all liberals into 'libertarians' and, for some reason, assumes that a free society/neutral state requires there to be no advertising to influence consumers. That certainly isn't the libertarian idea of the free market that I'm familiar with...

Friday, February 04, 2011

A Ban on Farting?

Apparently judicial officials in Malawi disagree as to whether a legal prohibition on 'fouling the air' makes it an offence to fart in public. One argues that it is, citing public decency, which makes it look like the law - if interpreted in this way - violates Mill's harm principle (though Mill himself had some rather incongruous things to say about public decency). It's hard to say that farting (unlike air pollution) really harms others - and, even if it does, that need not justify a ban.