Well, I think…

Here’s a zinger from the comments of a post entitled Lawn Economics at Cafe Hayek.   The post, by Don Boudreaux, addressed an opinion column in USA Today that concluded that “front lawns are wasteful and environmentally destructive.”

Using similar logic and personal preference, Boudreaux points out that newspapers are essentially wasteful as well.

Now, while neither the author of the USA Today column or Boudreaux in his parody outright supported government involvement (in fact the columnist specifically wrote this wasn’t a good idea), commenter Eric wrote something I care to remember:

Why is it so hard for people to avoid turning their personal preferences into moral imperatives that need to be imposed on others by force?

We hear it every day.  I’m probably guilty of it myself.  It usually starts with, “Well, I think…” and is followed by some version of the following, “that something is bad so we shouldn’t have it.”

First, to Boudreaux’s point, we often make such statements through flimsy logic and bad facts and we show that we really don’t care much about it because we aren’t willing to take the effort to explore the facts and present our case for constructive feedback to see if holds water or not.

Second, to Eric’s point, we often overlook that our own preferences are preferences, not truths.  We tend to think of them as truths that should apply to everyone even if it has to be imposed by some government regulation.

Next time you find yourself saying something like, “Well, I think it would be a good idea to help out people with clunkers because everyone should have reliable transportation,” I’d like for you to do two things.

First, ask yourself how well you know the facts.  Have you done the research to defend this position?  Have you successfully defended your position against other points of view like, “getting them into a car they can’t afford to maintain will not help them in the long-run,” or “wasting productive assets is not a net positive?”

If not, then perhaps you should be a less declarative in your statement and more inquisitive.  Change “Well, I think…” to “Maybe you should consider…”

Second, ask yourself how you are expecting others to adopt your preferences.  Do you expect them to adopt by being swayed by your logic or by some government mandate?  If by mandate, consider the preferences others may have that you may not want mandated on you.

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