Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Street parties and benefit theory

I guess I'm not the only one who regularly teaches Nozick's argument against the fair play theory of political obligation. His classic example concerns a public address system, which is a bit dated these days. However, I noticed this recent case that can be used to make a similar point.

Someone organised a street party for the platinum jubilee. From the sounds of it, most neighbours chipped in by providing food. Then, after the event, one of the neighbours presented the organiser with a bill for the cakes that she'd baked.

The cakes were a benefit, but presumably she'd provided this benefit without indication that she expected payment in return. Nozick would agree with 'Moral Money' that she has no right to be paid. In fact, 'Moral Money' goes further and suggests that the neighbour herself cannot seriously expect this.

This example illustrates Nozick's point nicely, but doesn't necessarily vindicate his objection to the theory of political obligation. As George Klosko points out, the benefits that the state provides are quite different in kind from those in these examples.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Raising the age of smoking?

I was just talking about one case of raising age limits, and along comes another - at least, a proposal for one. As reported here, the government's Khan review into eradicating smoking has proposed further raising of the age at which one can buy cigarettes.

The proposal is in fact that the age should rise by one year every year, copying an existing policy in New Zealand (which I posted about last year). I've discussed such a possibility with my students before, but only as a theoretical proposal, so it's interesting to see it taken seriously as an actual policy. Such a policy would mean that those currently old enough to buy cigarettes will continue to be able to do so, while those who are too young will forever remain so.

This proposal may seem somewhat unfair, but it could be justifiable if we think it worse to take freedom away from someone who has it than it is merely to continue withholding it from someone who has never had it. This seems plausible in the smoker case, since many smokers are addicted, and so would face particular burdens if their access to cigarettes were to be withdrawn.

However, it's worth noting that this reasoning doesn't so much focus on those who are currently old enough to smoke, but rather on those who do currently smoke. I see little reason, besides perhaps practicality, why someone who is currently 30 and a non-smoker should retain the freedom to start smoking in future that a current 15 year-old will never have.

There may also be a parallel issue with under-age smokers. Someone might have acquired an addiction, though slightly under the current age. Under current policy, they would soon be old enough to purchase cigarettes legally but, if this proposal is implemented, then they may never be able to satisfy their addiction legally, because they will always be just under the necessary age threshold.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Things that you can no longer do at age 16...

 I've posted a few times over the last year or two about the voting age (e.g. here and here). It's an interesting topic, which I regularly discuss with students.

A common argument that comes up in these debates is an analogy between voting and other activities. The argument goes something like this: if you are (not) old enough to do X, then you are (not) old enough to vote. The X can be filled in with various things, such as get a job, pay taxes, have children, etc.

In light of these arguments, it's worth keeping an eye out for changes in various other activities that may fill the place of X. I commented last year on moves to stop 16- and 17-year-olds from marrying. This is one respect in which many other age thresholds are being raised, rather than lowered.

Yesterday, I saw that the minimum age for competing in figure skating is being raised, from 15 to 17. Admittedly, this is not a commonly cited value of X in debates over voting, but it is another example of something that 16-year-olds are no longer permitted to do.