In an earlier essay, I told the intellectual history of mmutilitarianism and explained its flaws in detail in my previous article and although mmutilitarianism is useful for government and business, it is easy to improve on it by thinking about traditional utilitarianism or deontological systems. Another improvement in ethical thinking that is as simple as mmutilitarianism is medianism.
Medianism seeks to make a tiny improvement to economic thought by replacing mmutilitarian measures with measures based on medians. There is nothing inherently ‘median’ about all of the positions that medianism.org advocates, but it is a useful focal point for thinking about “the economy” and the economic wellbeing of people. Economic policy should focus more on measuring the economic welfare of the median individual rather than measuring the mean dollars of a group.
Problems of mmutilitarianism include:
- Egoism in its various forms: Mmutilitarians are philosophical egoists in three different ways:
- Ethical egoism: moral agents ought to do what is in their own self-interest without altruism.
- Rational egoism: Mmutilitarians think that selfishness is rational. This is also a normative stance because rationality is normative. Rational egoism is closely related to ethical egoism. After all, it is hardly ethical for people to systematically behave irrationally! Ethical egoists, like Ayn Rand, believe in rational egoism too.
- Psychological egoism: Mmutilitarians think that people are psychologically motivated by self-interest and even apparently altruistic behavior is really motivated by the desire for selfish benefits according to this theory. Although this is usually described as a positive form of egoism rather than a normative form, psychological egoism tends to lead to ethical egoism because they see selfishness as a natural human tendency. It is only natural for people to accept things that they perceive to be natural as being benign. This is sometimes called the naturalistic fallacy, and it is hard to avoid making appeals to nature when making normative statements. Students who are taught that selfishness is natural and common really do become more selfish!
- Positivist fallacy: Mmutilitarians believe in the fallacy that economists can avoid ethics and do a completely neutral, “positive” science. This is nihilism. Avoiding ethics is impossible for any community of people who work together on shared ideas, but ethics is particularly important for a social science like economics whose ideas have, in Robert Heilbroner‘s words, “shattered empires and exploded continents; they buttressed and undermined political regimes; they set class against class and even nation against nation.” ¡¿Yep, nothing ethical about that. Move along now!
- Medianist alternative: We need to recognize that there are ethical underpinnings of every community of people including economics. Self-awareness of our ethical judgements can help us consciously create better judgements. If we persist in the fiction that economics can be nonethical (positive), then we will end up with an accidental ethics like mutilitarianism. Medianism is a push towards a more ethical economics.
- The efficiency-equity tradeoff: Mmutilitarians worship at the altar of mmutilitarian efficiency. This would not be so bad except that they emphasize a tradeoff between efficiency and equity that doesn’t always exist. As a result, an unstated goal of mmutilitarianism is to increase inequality!
- Medianist alternative: There are many policies that increase both efficiency AND equity. Doing so is more medianist because it is more likely to benefit the median person.